Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Many of you may be thinking or feeling this, so I want to throw it out there right away. The gospel reading that is before us today is difficult. To be honest, it might be one of my least favorite texts in the entire bible. I want you to know that you’re not alone in any of those thoughts or feelings. But you know what, there are many things other than these few verses of scripture that I don’t think we will ever understand either, especially in this life.
I mean, why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?
Why is abbreviation such a long word?
Why is a boxing ring square?
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
How do they get the deer to cross the road only where those yellow signs are posted?
And my guess is that all of us have days when we feel a little bit like Norm from one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Cheers. Norm walks into the bar and Sam the bartender asks him, “How’s it going, Norm?” To which Norm pretty matter of factly says, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”
So if these eight verses of scripture from our gospel reading today are the only verses from the bible that you have ever heard, I won’t be surprised if you are looking for the nearest exit so you can get out of here as quickly as possible. Or maybe you’ve claimed to be a follower of Jesus your entire life, but after hearing today’s parable from the gospel of Saint Luke – you feel like throwing your arms up in the air and shouting to God, “You know what God, I give up! I just don’t get it.”
Don’t give up too quickly though, the gospel reading today might seem a little challenging, but at the heart of it, I think it’s also very encouraging. Prayer is central to Jesus ministry and teaching throughout Luke’s gospel. So the question that I’ve wrestled with while preparing for today is, what is Jesus trying to say about prayer through this challenging parable.
Prayer, after all, is one of the core disciplines or practices that Christians are invited to focus attention on in their life in Christ. And I would claim that we are to take spiritual practices like prayer way more seriously than simply viewing them as something we’re invited to do if we are able to squeeze it into our day or feel like doing it from time to time. As people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, I believe that we are expected to live out spiritual practices like prayer in response to God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.
And I can’t say this strongly enough, when I say that I believe spiritual practices are as significant to our life in Christ as is breathing or eating to our physical body. If we’re ever going to experience life in Christ at its fullest as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, believe it or not, we actually need to participate. But too often, spiritual practices like prayer fall by the wayside just like others do – regular worship in community gets in the way of seemingly more important activity or we think that serving our neighbor is too much of a burden to us or giving of our resources is really not necessary for making a difference in the world or taking time to experience rest once in a while is only for the lazy.
You and I are distracted by many things. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t pray enough or think you don’t know how to pray in the right way or maybe it’s something that you’ve given up on a long time ago because you feel that you just aren’t very good at it, Jesus says to you today, “pray always and do not lose heart.”
One of the great teachers on spiritual practices over the last thirty years or so is Richard Foster. He formed an organization called Renovere’ many years ago that travels around the world teaching people like you and me about spiritual practices and how to incorporate them into our daily life. Actually, they’re going to be at the University of Mary right here in Bismarck in a few weeks teaching about that very thing at a conference called Renew. I encourage you to check it out – I’m planning to be there. Anyway, Foster writes this about prayer – “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.” [Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, pg. 33]
Foster claims that prayer transforms us. Transformation through prayer is one thing, but before we get there we should probably take a step back and consider Pastor Kathryn Huey’s thoughts on prayer. Because she wonders, “how many of us Christians are ‘deeply engaged’ with Christianity. Jesus wanted his followers to do more than pray as a habit or a requirement.”
Prayer, for followers of Jesus is not like remembering to brush your teeth each morning. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that prayer, “keeps our hearts chasing after God’s heart. It’s how we bother God, and it’s how God bothers us back.” Like the widow in today’s gospel reading – be persistent in your prayer. And by persistence all of your prayers should not be about asking for your favorite football team to win a game. If prayer is transforming us, the prayer that we offer to God better involve more than winning football games.
And I also believe that if we are truly transformed through prayer in our life in Christ, our response to the deepening relationship with God that takes root in our hearts through prayer should cause change in us that everyone around us will notice.
Pastors Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne recently wrote a book together called “Red Letter Revolution” The subtitle to this wonderful book is “What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?” Pastor Shane reflects about the transforming change that prayer can cause in God’s children. He says, “I’ve learned that prayer is not just about trying to get God to do what we want God to do but about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do. Training ourselves to be the kind of people God wants us to be.
A lot of times,” Pastor Shane says, “we use prayer as a way of excusing ourselves from action. You know, when you share a deep dilemma you face and someone says, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ often they are really sincere and don’t know what else they can do. And we do need to prayer for each other. But sometimes when someone says, ‘I’ll pray about that,’ it is code for ‘I’m not going to do anything else for you.’ So we have to be careful that prayer and action go together. If we hear someone asking for prayer over and over because they need work done on their leaky roof, we should keep praying, but we might also get off our butts and get some people together to fix the roof! When we ask God to move a mountain, God may give us a shovel.”
Maybe when Jesus said, “Pray always and do not lose heart.” He really isn’t all that interested in whether we are always praying in the right way or in the right location or even for the right things. He simply wants us to pray and to not be surprised when we are transformed by it. Brothers and sisters in Christ, for what do the children of God pray…?