Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pray always. Do not lose heart.

Proper 24/C October 17, 2010
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Ps. 119: 97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

We’ve been with Jeremiah a long time, now, hearing him tell us how God is plucking, up, breaking down, overthrowing, destroying – and even bringing evil (how can God bring evil?. The people of Israel have been in a tough place with God, and even the moments where Jeremiah have brought them a word of hope have been difficult. Last week we heard about how God wanted them to put down roots in Babylon, and to care for even that place of their hated captivity. By the waters of Babylon, where we sat down and wept?

We who know something about dislocation can appreciate Jeremiah: we who have lived in houses that have been foreclosed, forced to move when we didn’t want to – we who left our families and loved ones far behind and far away – we who long to be home, where home is someplace other than here?

In times like this, what does Jesus tell us? To pray always, and not to lose heart.

For a few years I was a Chaplain in a nursing home. A lay pastoral care giver worked with me, and she was a fervent, evangelical, pentecostal and born-again pray-er. She believed that if she laid hands on someone, the Holy Spirit would heal them. Like the persistent widow, she believed that if she asked God for something -- in her case, to heal someone -- God would act as instructed.

That did not always work so well at Castle Rest. Those disturbed by Alzheimer's continued to roam the halls, restless and inappropriate. Those succumbing to cancer continued to decline. People continued to be angry that they had to live there, or were poor, or that the staff did not attend to their needs on time. And every week our recreation therapist gave us a list of residents who had not survived the week. I think my friend prayed always, but I think she did lose heart, sometimes.

Prayer as a list of things God is supposed to do for us does make me uncomfortable. We know all too well – and reading Jeremiah these past weeks confirms it – that God’s plans for us don’t always coincide with our idea of a happy life. Yet I do think prayer has something to do with our passionate desire to return that which we perceive as out of whack to a state of blessed equilibrium. I may make light of my friend's fervent prayers, but she knew that those suffering from pain or confusion were not living the lives God
created them to live. She knew God heard their -- and her -- daily and nightly cries, and that surely God felt their pain, too. "Will God delay long in helping them?" When Jesus said that, he was filled with confidence; when we say that, we are more likely filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

Prayer, Jesus says in this parable, is about justice. God will quickly grant justice to those deserving it. "... yet," to quote an old hymn, "saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, 'How long?'" What is taking God so long?

To get a different reading here, let us turn this parable around. Picture the widow not as the downtrodden of humanity, but -- as God. We are the unjust judges, to whom God, as the ceaselessly begging widow, asks for her own just deserts. If we will act justly for no other reason, perhaps we will act justly just to get God off our backs.

This reading is not so different from the way the prophet Jeremiah has been portraying God. For example, in today's reading, he speaks of the old covenant with Moses, made when God brought the people out of Egypt. God's love was like that of a husband for a wife, Jeremiah says, and yet the faithless people broke the covenant anyway. God doesn't want any more rules like that, Jeremiah says. God wants us to love God and our neighbors from our hearts, from the deepest essence of who we are, from that place in ourselves where we most clearly reflect the image of God.

God, like the faithful husband, or the really annoying widow, never gives up. God wants justice, and God wants us to act justly, on behalf of "his chosen ones who cry to him day and night." That is prayer: persistence and patience, in the cause of justice.

And with whom does God stand in the cause of justice? This is the cast of characters in every story in the gospel: God stands with the least, the last, the lost, and the littlest. God stands with us when we are at our weakest. For it is in the welfare of the least among us, in the shalom of the people we least expect, in the justice for those who are strangers to us, that we will find the answer to all our prayers.

Jesus said, Pray always, and do not lose heart. For what do you pray today?

For what justice in your life, or in the world, do you need to hear Jesus say again to you, do not lose heart?

1 comment:

Mompriest said...

I went with a "Pray always" theme as well, although took a slightly different approach to the idea of prayer as a way through which God's justice comes into our lives and the world...

I'm holding you in prayer...