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


2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8


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:

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!