Learning from the Window
The following sermon was preached by Paul Landahl, Coordinator for Candidacy, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, October 18, 2010.
On St. Luke, the Evangelist Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on one of St. Luke's interesting parables. The parable of the unjust judge is one of the teachings of Jesus that is based on a very simple principle: If humans can be expected to do something right, how much more can we expect righteousness from God.
I love this little story. It takes me back to my first call, to develop a congregation in Warren, Michigan, a northeast suburb of Detroit. I had no formal training in developing a congregation. The one thing I had beside the call and the Gospel was persistence in doing what I had been called to do, develop a new congregation. Prior to becoming bishop in Metro Chicago I was the mission director for the synod. I learned rather quickly that persistence was not a characteristic that was high on the list of qualities that were looked for in mission developers. And we wonder why we have not been very successful in the development of new congregations in the ELCA.
Fred Danker in his commentary on Luke says that "this parable is an answer to the problem of survival in the face of persecution. He goes on to say that the disciples' prayers are to offset cowardly resignation in the face of hazards they will face. The disciples are not to grow weary, the widow did not receive immediate redress of wrong, but her persistence won a favorable verdict." And it is so Lucan, that the principle was applied to the pleas of a widow and the response of a judge. Jesus said this judge was without virtue, yet he finally yielded to the pleas of a poor woman - if only to get her off his back.
We've all been there in one way or another. What's the old adage? "the squeaky wheel get the oil." I have certainly seen this at work here at LSTC, students begging for more time to finish papers or candidacy paperwork, being persistent in their pleas. Professors, I don't know how often you have succumbed, but I know in candidacy, I do not control the process and so I have to share the consequences of what it will mean to them if their paperwork is not in on time.
The point of the parable is that God hears the cries of people and responds to them accordingly. However, God's timing is not always our timing.
In medical circles they talk about "vital signs": temperature, pulse, respiration. When we are sick or recovering from surgery, these vital signs are carefully monitored. If they are all normal, we are at least in fair condition.
For the Christian life, the act of prayer is one of the "vital signs." Prayer to God, prayer without ceasing, prayer in good times, prayer in the down times, prayer with hope. There is a line in old hymn, "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, prayer is the Christian's vital breath."
Reflecting on Luke's parable, I read an invitation by God, through Jesus, to sustain the vital signs - the vital breath - to pray always and not lose heart. The original hearers and readers of Luke's Gospel were being persecuted. Luke saw this teaching of Jesus as vitally important to be shared. They needed to know that God was with them in their ordeal.
Like the widow who kept the pressure on the judge, we are invited by Jesus to keep the pressure on God. Apparently, God is not upset over our hounding. On the contrary, God invites it! The parable is an illustration of the beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Not necessarily with the answer hoped for, but with faith that keeps us connected to God.
At times it is difficult to hang in there with God. Things go wrong and it seems that our prayers rise no further than the ceiling. At times there is no Jacob left in us and to wrestle with God all night seems a futile thing. We can so easily slide into the words of the Psalmist "0 Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?" (Ps. 80:4) But dare we let our prayer depend on how many times we receive a "yes" from God? No, if we received all that we asked of God, we would soon treat God as a convenience and we would look upon prayer as magic. Then our faith in God would yield to faith in prayer; and that is not the way God would have it.
This is a prayerful community. We are kept informed of the goings on of the community on a daily basis with the encouragement to lift members of the community up in prayer. We are encouraged to pray for those beyond our community and in the world. And especially we are encouraged to pray for the church, the church catholic and our own ELCA, especially in these days of cutbacks and down-sizing. Let us not forget those who no longer have positions.
Prayer is the language of faith, and the words of our prayers help connect us to God. Jesus invites us to pray always and not lose heart. We are to pray with a will and to pray with hope. We don't search for magic words, but rather come to God with words that flow out of the concrete, actual, real experiences of our lives. The words of our prayers flow from the depth of our hearts, for we pray as ourselves - saints and sinners that we are.
0 God, give us some of the persistence of the widow so that we may be known more for our fervency of prayer rather than a luke warm approach in communicating with God.