Sermon for October 20, 2019
This week, I saw a wonderful story on the news. Caleb Freeman is a high school student from Oklahoma who ran cross country. Two years ago, he was involved in a terrible automobile accident that left him in a coma with a severe brain injury. His father was told that he would probably not live. If he woke up from the coma he was not supposed to eat or talk or walk. It took two months for him to wake up from the coma. That was just the beginning of a long struggle for Caleb to recover from his injury. But Caleb would not give up. Now, two years after the accident, Caleb was able to run a race once again. His steps were unsure, he fell down four times on the course. He did not finish until well after the other runners completed the course. The other runners went back to run with Caleb after they had finished to encourage him to continue. So, he persisted until he finished the entire three-mile course.
One message that I found in Caleb’s story was that the family prayed at his bedside throughout the ordeal and the family also set up a pray for Caleb’s Facebook page to track his journey back. Prayer can be powerful. Caleb made the point that he just needed to cross that line to give people hope. Caleb and his family persisted in prayer and Caleb was committed to the rehabilitation program necessary for him to return to running. He still has a long way to go but his persistence is making a big difference in his life. I ask you to consider the incredible story of Caleb and to be inspired by his words and actions. Caleb’s persistence and perseverance fits perfectly with today’s Scripture selections. Jesus told us to be persistent in our prayers and another reading encourages us to be persistent in following the commandments of God.
In the 2nd letter to Timothy we are encouraged to be persistent in witness. Our lives should proclaim the message of God. We are to be steadfast to the sacred writings because we know that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching. We must always be listening for the truth, for we may be led astray by false teaching. As the writer said, we may have itching ears, searching for someone who tells us what we want to hear not what God has told us.
The parable in our gospel is referred to as the unjust judge but I prefer to call it the parable of the persistent widow. In our judicial system today, we wish for judges to be impartial and unbiased to provide justice based on the law. We don’t have an expectation that a judge must be God fearing or have respect for people which was the problem with the unjust judge. We only expect the judge to understand the law and to apply it properly. During the time of Jesus, judges were expected to watch out for the powerless, the poor and the foreigner, and especially for widows who may have nothing and no one to help them. The widow in our story returned time and again to the judge until finally he granted her wishes. He may have done so simply because she was complaining time and again and if he gave her what she wanted she would leave him alone. Jesus told his disciples that if the unjust judge will grant the widow’s request won’t God in the same manner grant justice to us when we pray to God unceasingly? We know that God is merciful and loving. So, we pray continuously to God. Certainly, our prayers will be heard.
On Friday and Saturday, nine people from our church attended the diocesan convention. The theme of the convention was “Walk in Love.” It comes from the phrase “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God”. I often say that at the beginning of the offertory. The verse comes from Ephesians. At convention, we broke out into groups so that we were not with anyone we knew. We were asked to share how our church was walking in love. It was good to meet with other people and I believe that it helped create a sense of community across the diocese. Our guest speaker was Scott Gunn who leads Forward Day-by-Day Movement. Scott said that for us to walk in love we need to focus on Scripture and on prayer as the way we will ensure that we are following God through Jesus Christ. It is as if he was giving a sermon on today’s scripture. The reading from 2nd Timothy calls for us to be constant in our study of scripture and the gospel tells us to be persistent in our prayer life. Scott Gunn asked us to go and live that life of love and to share it with others. How might we be even more attentive to our life of prayer and our study of Scripture here at Transfiguration? Today, we focus on being persistent in prayer and study.
As we heard in the sermon at convention, it can be difficult to pray constantly when we must wait for God to respond to our prayers. It is difficult when God doesn’t respond in the timeframe that we expect. We are in good company for the disciples were also impatient with getting a response from God. The parable of the unjust judge comes not long after Luke shares a question from a Pharisee about when the kingdom of God would be coming. The disciples of Jesus were concerned and worried about when Jesus would return. When Luke wrote this gospel, there must have been a feeling among the followers that God was not listening to their prayers for the return of Jesus because they were being persecuted or because they just wanted Jesus to be with them. The words of Jesus comforted his disciples and his followers after he ascended into heaven and those same words comfort us today. We are still praying for the return of Jesus, and we pray that the kingdom of God will come soon.
The feast of Saint Luke was this past Friday. Our gospel is named after Luke and we remember that Luke was a physician, a healer. In response to Luke’s feast day, we offer unceasing prayers for healing. Our prayers of the people will focus on prayers for healing and we will offer an opportunity for you to come forward and receive an individual prayer for healing as well as anointing with oils. It is one more way for us to be persistent in our prayers just as Jesus taught us. We know that God hears our prayers but we do not know the timing or the way by which God will provide healing. We offer this prayer of healing:
“Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal”
When we pray, we should never be concerned about whether we ask for the right thing in our prayer or whether we say our prayers using the right words. An Episcopal priest named H King Oehmig, offered these thoughts about our prayers, “The only mistake we can make is by not praying. Jesus never rebuked a disciple for asking wrongly in prayer.” Many of us imagine that God will make fun of our prayers but Oehmig suggested that God will not shame our requests and run off howling with rage or doubled over in laughter. Mahatma Gandhi said “it is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart”.
Let us then take Jesus at his word. Let us be persistent in our prayers. Let us pray without ceasing. We do so not because God needs to understand what we want. God already knows that. Instead, we pray because we need to be reminded that we are limited in our ability to meet our needs. Our prayers are not intended to wear down God’s indifference because God has mercy. Our prayers are meant to wear down the unjust judge in ourselves, so that whatever is wrong in us may be made right by God’s grace. Jeremiah told us that No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. Yes through our unceasing prayer we will come to know God. Amen.
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