mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
have a question for you: How’s your prayer life? Are you praying
regularly? What—and who—are you praying for? And how
is prayer affecting the rest of your life?
ask because consistent, persistent prayer is a key spiritual habit;
a spiritual discipline. Prayer is important to our Christian life
and important to our relationship with God and with other people.
On most occasions when you pray, you are not just praying about issues
concerning yourself, but also others.
you look at our Gospel reading from Luke 18 again, we see Jesus telling
a parable illustrating why it is necessary and important that we keep
better understand the story, it is helpful to jump back a little way
in the Bible and see the context in which Jesus told this story. Back
in Luke 17, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would
be coming. They, like the disciples asking the same thing at other
times, were being impatient. You don’t know anyone like that,
why do you think they asked this? Perhaps what they were experiencing
in their lives did not resemble what they believed God’s kingdom should
you ever feel that way? Do you ever think there is a huge difference
between the life you are living now—with all the problems and issues
you see, cause, and hear about—and how you think life should be as
a Christian? Do you feel there is currently something incomplete
about your faith that believes God has not only made you part of His
blessed kingdom, but also assured you that the kingdom itself is your
own present possession?
I feel that way, all the time. So do you, I expect. Jesus
has not yet returned, so our lives are filled with a mixture of countless
blessings from God and the negative effects of a sinful world that still
fall upon us.
we experience as reality now is not how God intended life to be.
It is not what He wants us to have. We often criticize the Pharisees
when we encounter them in Scripture, but they got this issue right,
in a way. They recognized that there was something wrong with
life as they knew it. It was not godly and satisfying in spite
of their efforts to fix it. They knew that the Kingdom of God
offered something far better—far superior to the broken, tarnished
life they were experiencing. So, they wanted to know when that
better life would become a reality. The widow in Jesus’ parable
is likewise dissatisfied with her current situation, and asks for something
to be changed.
you ever wonder when you’ll see God’s kingdom? When you will find
a little more “heaven on earth”? Well, Jesus—in answer to
the Pharisees’ question and to our question—responds by telling
them that the kingdom of God is among them, or within them. It
came among them in the person of Christ Himself, and it could
only dwell within them through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
He told them that first of all, they had to be discerning about the
kingdom—not led astray by false desires and false teachings.
Second, they had to be ready, for it is easy to be caught up in the
activities and distractions of life and miss the signs of God’s presence.
Third, they had to be faithful, for only those remain so will be taken
to heaven. Finally, in the parable we heard today in Luke 18, Jesus
encourages everyone to seek and receive His kingdom by continuing to
is a reason for this! When we pray—just like when we remember
our baptisms, sing a hymn, read the liturgy or the scriptures, or receive
the Lord’s body and blood in His Supper—we are not bound to today’s
reality. Yes, we still experience this life’s problems and disappointments.
Yes, we are still limited in our understanding of God, and weak in our
faith and our resistance to temptation. Yet when we pray, our
hearts and thoughts are directed to the future God has prepared for
us. We are talking with God about our life and our hopes and dreams—here
on earth and there in eternity. More importantly, we are talking
with God about His hopes and dreams for us!
that a great opportunity; a wonderful privilege? Being able to
talk to God about your life, your concerns, your worries, your joys,
and also His plans for you?
is something very helpful to remember: Communication works best
when you are not the only one talking. We also must listen.
God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason; use them proportionally!
The same is true in prayer. This is crucial to understanding this
parable, and to a healthy prayer life.
is not just about us jabbering to God; spilling out all our worries
and problems and desires, muttering “Amen,” and then going back
to our daily routine unchanged, wondering when God will answer our prayer
or wondering why He hasn’t yet. Prayer is far more than this.
Prayer involves talking to God and then listening to see how God responds—not
with a perceptible voice in our ears, but with a faith-formed heart.
This may take time. It could involve allowing more time for daily
prayer, and talking only a small part of that time. Use the rest
to reflect. See what God puts into your prayers.
find that prayer with God—in contrast to prayer that is just
to God—is one of the most beneficial and helpful things
I do. Sometimes my prayer time is quiet and filled with solitude
and tranquility. Other times I get frustrated with God, because
I am frustrated or disgusted with myself or others. I may even
express this frustration out loud: “God, why has this problem
gone on for so long? Come on, help me! Fix it, already!”
Have you ever been like that? Repent, O Pharisees, and pastor
prayer also involves testing and even adjusting your prayers.
Open up your Bible; read it to see if what you are praying about and
asking for is properly aligned with His Word. I’ll bet that—in
one way or another—you pray as we all so often do: “MY will be done,
Lord” rather than, “Father, Thy will be done.”
involves allowing God to confront you, also—to respond to you through
many different, sometimes surprising situations and people. I
have discovered that when I have been praying about an issue persistently
for a while, like the widow’s persistence in the parable, God may
use this to help me see some other perspectives. He presents some
other approach to address the issue or the people—a way that I may
not have considered if He had answered my prayers as promptly as I might’ve
else often happens, too: He helps me see how I, as one of His
believers, could be involved in being part of the answer to the prayers
I have prayed.
any of you heard of Richard Curtis? Maybe you’ve seen the movie
Four Weddings and a Funeral, or Notting Hill? How about
the TV show, Mr. Bean? Well, Curtis wrote the scripts for
one of his other passions in life is using the wealth, talents, and
contacts that God has given him to help people in need. He is
one of the founders of the “Make Poverty History” campaign.
He once made a very profound discovery that might hit home with you:
After praying about poverty for a long time, Curtis finally realized
that he might be part of God’s answer. After all, God has given
us “body and soul, eyes, ears and all of our members, our reason and
all of our senses,” as the catechism puts it, for His good purposes,
right? Perhaps God wants you to do something about what
you are praying for, instead of sitting on your duff hoping someone
else will do something, or waiting for God to impress you with a miracle.
You might be the miracle God has already provided to answer
your prayers, or those of someone else.
not to say God stands back and leaves us alone to solve our own problems;
far from it. But it does mean that we have to remember that God’s
solutions aren’t always dramatic, aren’t always someone else’s
duty, and aren’t always what we might concoct ourselves.
think about your prayers. What have you been praying for recently?
How are you allowing God to use you to help your prayers be answered?
On which reality do you focus the priorities of your prayers:
The reality you see and feel and are repulsed, rejected, and traumatized
by? Or the reality God assures you is yours, and you accept with a trusting,
faithful heart? When we pray, God has the opportunity to reveal to
us how life should be. Being persistent in prayer means that,
rather than just being focused on what we perceive to be today’s
reality, God begins introducing to us His dreams for us and for the
world—now and for eternity.
another way of looking at it: How many of our prayers are concerned
with God’s kingdom coming about? How much of your praying is
focused on wanting people to be connected to God’s kingdom?
And how often do you ask God to change you and those with whom
you share His kingdom, so that His love and His gifts are more obvious
in you, this congregation, and His Church?
his explanation to the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism,
Martin Luther wrote on this very point. He states the very real
truth that God doesn’t need our prayers to make His kingdom come.
Rather, we pray this because we hope and trust that God’s kingdom
will come to us.
this may take time. Anyone who has experienced a change by God
knows that. Occasionally, we’ll have someone join St. Paul through
adult confirmation, and from time to time this may also involve him
or her being baptized. Sometimes we might think, “Oh, how
wonderful…look how God has used us!”
often surprised—though I shouldn’t be—to find out that perhaps
for many years prior to this miracle, the Holy Spirit has been touching
this new believer through others. Some of them may have been praying
for this person the whole time. So, keep praying for people—for
those who don’t yet believe, and for those who once were part of the
Church but have fallen away. Take every opportunity to patiently
reveal God to them in the same way God has been revealed to you:
Not in pillars of cloud and fire, or the falling down of fortified cities’
walls, or lightning from on high consuming sacrifice and altar, but
through His scriptures—in His revelation of who He is and what He
has done for all.
be patient in allowing God to work in you. God can work quickly
or slowly; immediately, or not for years and years. Sometimes
the Holy Spirit does it instantly; other times God is patient with us
and helps us through the process.
is one final point we should look at in relation to today’s Gospel
reading. That is in the area of justice. Now, justice is
an important issue, and it can also take time to come to fruition.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison awaiting justice—not only
for himself, but for the people of his nation. Eventually it came
about because of his perseverance and that of many others. People
have been exonerated from death row after many years, too.
Christians, we do seek earthly justice, not just for ourselves,
but even more so for others. Justice on earth is something God
can use us to bring about, providing a small, temporary glimpse of His
infinite, eternal mercy and love. This earthly justice isn’t
the same as the coming of His kingdom, like the liberation theology
crowd teaches, but it’s an important aspect of how He governs His
creation. If we are going to be involved in praying for and bringing
about justice, we should understand a little of what God means by justice.
to Isaiah, chapter 1:
to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
have a problem with many social activists, even when I agree with their
cause. For a long time, I wasn’t sure why. From that passage
from Isaiah, however, I realize that it’s not their causes that bother
me—it’s their approaches. Too often they seem more focused
on punishing the wrong-doers than fixing the problem or helping those
who have been wronged. But in the following verse in Isaiah, God
reveals a different way of solving our main problem—He wipes out the
stain of our sins and abates the punishment we deserve for them, turning
them from the scarlet red of our blood-guilt to the pure white of snow
or clean wool. The just suffered for the unjust; the righteous
died for the sinful; robes get whitened with blood; life is achieved
today’s Gospel reading, the widow who was wronged never gave up seeking
justice for herself from an unjust and uncaring judge. She didn’t
seek to harm her adversary, but only to receive what was beneficial.
Jesus wants us to know this from this parable: God is not like
this unjust judge who had no intention of helping the widow. God
promises you better justice; real justice. He will fix the great
wrongs of your life—all the wrongs caused by your great enemies, the
devil and the world; even the wrong inflicted upon your soul by your
greatest enemy, your own sinful flesh.
justice is not the sort of justice that is truly fair, though. The Lord
has dealt with all the wrong in your life by removing your wrongness
and its well-deserved punishment, and replacing it with Christ’s righteousness
haven’t yet fully seen the effects of God’s work for us and in us,
but we will. God promises that you will be welcomed into heaven.
He promises that He has prepared a place for you. He assures you
that you will be brought to a place where nothing perishes, spoils or
fades. Jesus has already paid the penalty and won the victory
over everything that would prevent you from receiving this great joy
kingdom come; His will be done. In Jesus’ (+) name, we pray: