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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.

 

 

 

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

Amen.