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Sunday Sermon 16 October 2016 – Pray without ceasing

Readings: Psalm 121:1-4; Micah 6:6-8;  Luke 18:1-8

SERMON      (16 October 2016 at Bay of Islands Uniting Church, Paihia).

We’ve just spent 8 weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer in a series of sermons. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and he gave them that template. I’ve enjoyed preparing for these and presenting them. Prayer is at the heart of our faith, our lifeline if you like. (The series starts here:  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/sunday-7-august-2016-lords-prayer-series-part-1-our-father/  Lord’s Prayer Part 1)

Jesus also models prayer in his own life. He often goes off alone to pray. (Luke 4:42; Luke 5:16 Mark 1:35).

His passion for prayer is seen in the one incident when he looks like a protester. You will remember this startling scene when he clears the temple with a whip in hand, overturning the tables. (Mark 11:17; Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:46 as examples, plus John 2:15 who along recalls the whip being fashioned).

In Luke’s account he declares: “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ (Luke 19:46).

So Jesus gives a parable. Usually parables leave us thinking – even scratching our heads as we try to figure out what their meaning is (with the exception of the parable of the sower).

In the gospel reading today the parable is unusual in that Luke tells us what it is about before we hear the story. Luke 18:1 says:  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

The parable is often labelled “The parable of the unjust judge” – which is quite topical here in New Zealand. There have been a number of debates and discussions about judges – in our case people have felt some of them have been too lenient. If so they can appeal to a higher court, we are told. And they do.

The case of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa also hinges on the view that the judge was too lenient. It’s amazing how angry people get when they think that justice has not been done. And what experts they are suddenly in law!

In this case in our reading today the judge is more problematic when you think about the context in which Jesus was speaking: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. (v2)

There’s a recklessness in this description. Here’s a judge who sounds like a loose cannon – it’s possible that he has no restraint at all. In those days one would expect at least some fear of God in a judge.

In this case it’s more serious – the greater crime for a judge would be indifference towards the plight of people treated wrongly.

Especially as in this case when a widow is seeking justice. The Scriptures made it clear that widows and orphans were a priority. They were vulnerable – there was no husband to take up their concerns.

We don’t know what injustice had taken place – we know only that she says repeatedly: ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'(v3). In those days she would have to represent herself, even in a criminal case.

We can assume that the case had implications about her survival. Someone had probably done her in financially. Or maybe she had lost her home.

There’s a curious twist in this parable. It’s the reason the judge gives for surrendering to this persistent and bold lady. I’m not sure what Bible translation you use normally.

The one I have used for over 30 years – the NIV – says this: “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” (vs 4-5)

The readers of Luke will make the connection to the purpose given for this parable – it’s about persistence in prayer. Her persistence paid off.

The twist is in the phrase the judge uses to explain why he gives in to her pleas – “That she won’t wear me out with her coming.”

The phrase “wear me out” can also be translated as “give me a black eye’ – it’s a boxing term for pummeling your opponent.

That’s persistence. It’s a word that implies bruising! She beats him black and blue emotionally.

So Jesus’ point is this. If persistence can wear down a bad judge, how much more will persistence pay off in our prayers to a good God – a righteous judge.

Remember when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray? In Luke 11 and Matthew 6 we have these two accounts where he gives them what we call the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for prayer?

  • When you pray say “Our Father.” This is about a relationship. In Luke 11 after the teaching on the prayer he says these important words: If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(11:13)
  • In Matthew’s account we read: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (7:11). Again this is about a relationship.

God is not being compared to the unjust judge in terms of similar behaviour – it’s about the contrast – the difference. It’s a classic “how much more” approach which was a standard Jewish argument in those days.

So this is how Jesus explains the parable:

Luk 18:6  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Luk 18:7  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? Luk 18:8  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

Psalm 121 comes to mind – He neither slumbers nor sleeps (v4).

How quickly will they get justice? That’s a great question. Sometimes we pray for decades before we see a result. I think sometimes that God’s economy is very different from ours. And God’s sense of timing.

It brings to mind that lovely passage in Isaiah 55: Isa 55:8  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isa 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There are Christians around the world who are crying out to God because their lives and loved ones are threatened. Clearly those who are martyred may not get justice immediately, but that too will come.

Our prayers, also,  are not merely that we be rescued from challenging situations. Even Jesus’s prayer in John 17 touches on this: Joh 17:15  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13   is no different:  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

The persistence for us is not just in pleading for God to hear our prayers because we need a solution – or healing – or help. We need to persist in our prayer life because like any relationship, you can drift away if you don’t keep communicating. It’s the relationship that upholds us, that sustains us.

In a broader sense, persistence for us means practicing consistency. Paul says simply “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). This does not necessarily mean a 24/7 prayer meeting, although these do take place around the world. Those who hold down jobs can’t be there 24/7, but their relationship with God is 24/7.

Philippians 4:6 & 7 are a powerful help too: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Once we have presented our requests to God, we are promised peace, no matter what the outcome actually is. The prayer could be answered with a “yes”, a “no”, or a “wait”. The relationship with this good Father is unchanged. And if the end does come, He has a place prepared for us (John 14).

The last line of the parable is worth looking at too. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

For us – it’s about faith now – each day – as we trust him on our faith journeys. Many of Jesus’ parables are about readiness, preparedness, alertness and watchfulness.

May you trust him – may you not give up – may you be persistent as you keep praying and never give up.

May you build a 24/7 relationship with Him, constantly listening to Him and remembering His promises, and lifting all people and situations before His throne of grace (including our leaders on the world and national stage.- see 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

When we were first married, my wife and I lived on the 11th floor of a block of flats. She waited often until she heard the bus then jumped in the lift and rushed off to catch it. Economy of time is one of her gifts. She had thirty minutes on the bus to close her eyes and pray. I complained as I had to drive – one cannot pray with one’s eyes closed when driving!

There’s a lesson in this little story. Pray with your eyes open – watch and see what God is doing, especially when you pray for individuals who are sick or have special needs. Pray with your eyes open as you watch the world around you too. There will also be times when your eyes are closed and you enter into another place with the Lord, into intimacy and into a special sanctuary, wherever you are.

Jesus modeled prayer with his requests to, and time out with His Father. Prof James Torrance of King’s College Aberdeen used to say that “the heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son” (C Kruger Baxter: The Great Dance, p21). With His prayers came a cultivated listening ear and a desire only to do the Father’s will.

Our relationship with God means that we too can pray without ceasing. And we too can seek His will and His ways. Every day.

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday sermon 20 October: Never, never, never give up!

Readings:

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8

Message

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 

It really makes it easy when the bible explains the purpose of a parable. What a nice start today!

We tend to see this parable as a simple matter of persistence. Fair enough – always pray and don’t give up – is Luke’s comment here.

In short – if an unjust judge gives in to a nagging widow – how much more will God hear our prayers when and if we persist.

Don’t give up! Winston Churchill comes to mind! Never never never give up – was one of his famed speeches at a school prize giving, if I recall. At Harrow in 1941 at the height of the battle of Britain. And yes – dealing with the Nazis was a matter of justice. If the just war theory holds water it seems to when you have world domination by a man who does ethnic and other cleansing on a grand scale.

The parable itself has more in it that Luke alleges. Listen to it on its own.

He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’

Jesus explains further: And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

And then Jesus has this to say – in what is a separate issue about the Son of Man returning:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’

Which involves a separate sermon altogether.

In the reading from Timothy today we read:

 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful (profitable) for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

And also:

“preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction – says Paul to Timothy.

So what does the word have to say to us today? About

  • Teaching
  • Rebuking
  • Correcting
  • Training
  • Encouraging

Is it about prayer? Yes

Is it saying God is unjust? He is being compared to a pretty horrible judge. No, although some say he is. Remember those long polar nights we spoke about – for some the sun never seems to rise. There are some who mistake the long lesson of waiting for an uncaring God.

This is one of those “how much more” parables.

Like Jesus in Luke 11 when teaching on prayer there. You may remember that message – or you could read it here:  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/sunday-sermon-28-july-when-you-pray/

It’s the Lord’s Prayer on that occasion. And after sharing that prayer Jesus also said: ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

If an unjust judge can surrender to an apparently powerless woman and grant her request – how much more a Good Father – a Good God – who by the way – says Jesus in Luke 11 – will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Great verse – the Holy Spirit is the presence and power and life changing love of God in action! You need to ask in order to receive! That helps! In fact there is no other way! “Seek the Lord while he made be found” says the prophet Isaiah (chapter 55). “Call on him while he is near!”

So return to Luke 18 – again about asking. In this story – fact or fiction – or fiction based on fact – the woman has no power! This also is about injustice – a sombre reminder of how people are abused. She is in her own strength quite powerless.

In fact at best she is a squeaky wheel – and “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil”.

Pressing in on God is the key.

We had a taste of that yesterday at our leaders’ retreat – a few hours that went quickly. And not all those hours were prayer hours – but we have to press in! It was a start.

So is it about persistence and constancy? Yes.

But not a silent stoic waiting – here a riotous old widow woman who presses the buttons of this guy – literally “giving him a black eye” – so that he wants to shut her up (or close her campaign down). The term the judge uses is very funny! A black eye indeed – this little widow with no father or husband or son or brother to plead her cause in a man’s world and an unjust judicial system of the day!

So if the bible is useful (profitable) for

  • Teaching
  • Rebuking
  • Correcting
  • Training
  • Encouraging

The lesson to be learned is persistence.

The rebuke to be issued is this – at the worst extreme you can never pray – never ask God for anything because you’ve given up! That way you get nothing! That would be a rebuke! Don’t be daft! There is treasure here!

The correction – and the rebuke probably belong together. There is an interesting twist at the end of the passage. The broader context is the return of Jesus: and so we read: ‘However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ – the implied answer seems to be a bit dubious!

The rebuke – the correction from this story and teaching of Jesus – is a warning against prayerlessness. Faith dies when the praying stops.

It is said that if God was not present and many churches today – many people would not notice.

Here’s my rebuke! And I say this with all sincerity! Chatty noise and riotous friendliness is no substitute for prayer. We are often quite noisy on a Sunday before worship. But prayer is more important than just fun and fellowship. It’s the prayerful congregation which will win the cause! Which will reach people – and which will still be here in years to come – sharing the love of Jesus!

P.T. Forsyth was England ‘s greatest preacher in the nineteenth century and an authority on the power of prayer. Forsyth notes that the worst sin is prayerlessness. “Overt sin,” he writes, “crime or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this or its punishment. We are left by God for lack of seeking God.”

And then he gives this advice on how to pray:

 Go into your chamber, shut the door and cultivate the habit of praying. Pay no attention to literary form… Read a passage of Scripture and then sit down and turn it into a prayer. Learn to be particular, specific, and detailed in your prayer… Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s experiences.

The training – read your bible and practice what it says about prayer! Do it!  Pray the bible – pray the Psalms! They are powerful prayers and hymns themselves and we can easily relate to the cries of the writers.

Come and do it here together! Wednesday morning – Thursday evening – Sunday before church. In the meeting room! There’s even a prayer box there – pop in and write a note requesting prayer! Sign up for our email prayer list!

The encouraging – that’s always easy. Especially if you are powerless! Persist. And sometimes you have to be a squeaky wheel. Keep reminding God of the situation – the need – the challenge – the pain – the injustice of your situation. Cry out to God!

Martin Luther, we are told, used his dog as an illustration about our passion for God. He once dangled some meat in front of the dog – showing observers the dogs persistent barking and leaping. His comment was that he wished he could pray with similar passion, desire and longing – with the dog’s intensity and concentration. He went on to tell his onlookers that with that kind of single mindedness his heart and soul would look only to Christ.

How much more us and God! We don’t need high clever language as we pray. We wouldn’t speak to our friends in fancy English. Our approach to God ois more like that of children and their parents! We do need to persist and not lose heart as we bring our prayers to God!

Never, never, never give up!

Amen.