... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 22 Year C
Message October 20, 2013

Patience Persistence & Prayer – Products of Faith

Text: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Last week we saw in the parable of the ten lepers that thanksgiving is one of the products of faith. As the Samaritan leper lay at the feet of Jesus giving thanks and praising God Jesus responded “get up and go one your way, your faith has saved you.” Immediately following this Luke tells us that Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming. To this Jesus replied that the kingdom would come without announcement just as it had with the flood in Noah’s time and the fire and sulphur in Lot’s time. This response is then linked to another product or outward measure of faith: persistence, patience and prayer. The time of God is not known to humanity but that is not meant to deter the creature from basing all aspect of living on the relationship to the creator.

In Jeremiah’s words of prophecy which are given in the 1st person voice of the Lord we hear the future promise of salvation for the chosen children, even as the Babylonian army was laying siege against the nation. In that time hardships will no longer be upon the faithful, the children will not reap the sorrows carved by the parents nor will the old covenant and its penalties be adhered to or kept in effect. In its place will be a new covenant wherein the true law will be in the hearts of the people and each will know God and their relationship personally as well as corporately. This new relationship is not promised immediately nor will it be necessarily in humanity’s concept of time but rather in God’s time.

Just as Jeremiah was encouraging a sense of hope and an admonition to have faith, the psalmist lays out a practice of piety and patience. The entire psalm is in reality a prayer in which life is laid out before God: a life with all its fears, all its desires and all its dreams. But at the very core of these personal pleas is a firm foundation of reliance and trust in God. In this section of Psalm 119 the author voices an understanding of God’s ways, of the hardships and difficulties which might be experienced and of the help to handle them as found in the Torah. The strength infused by the scripture enables one to have patience, to be persistent in looking for God’s presence and to be prayerful in all aspects of life.

In his letter to Timothy Paul encourages his pupil companion and successor to be persistent in the proclamation of the Gospel whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, and to do so with the utmost patience. He predicts that the time will come when even the past adherent follower will tire of sound doctrine and turn to ways suitable to their own desires and preferences. Written in the 1st Century – how does it sound in a 21st century culture? Paul could just as well be writing to any of us! Faith needs to be fueled, to be kept bright and to help one another so as not to lose heart.

And so we come back to the Gospel lesson for today – In the context of the future coming of the kingdom and the need to be faithful, Jesus tells his disciples a parable often called the parable of the unjust judge. Often preachers get stuck on this parable emphasizing either the judge or the widow. One must not get hung up in this trap. True there are attributes of character of the two main figures which ignite our imagination but that was not the intent of the original story. Suffice it to say the judge in being described as having no fear of God or respect for persons is being objectified as the epitome of the legal setup – to administer the law impartially without deviation from the letter of the law. The widow is to be seen as one of the poor unfortunates of life who has been caught up in the system. It is her persistence which finally draws her case before the judge. Just as she has been persistent in her petition so are the disciples encouraged to be persistent in their own lives and in their prayers. They must also be patient as the kingdom will not be obviously present nor will the coming of the Son of Man. The themes of patience, persistence and prayer are linked in their context by the final words of Jesus in this story, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Everyone listening to me can probably tell me more about persistence and patience than I can tell you. Indeed, anyone who has even sat at a slot machine or opened up solitaire on the computer can probably tell me more about patience and persistence. You sit there either popping in quarters or dimes or clicking on cards so sure the next spin or card will win the game. The vary attraction just keeps you there often for hours on end. Now that’s persistence and patience. If only we could learn to pray like that! Before anybody drags me on the carpet for this analogy – gambling vs. prayer, let me state that the quests are totally along separate lines. Although I’m sure there are some who often say to themselves, “Please Lord let the next spin be three bars.”

Such my friends is how we often pray and about whom Paul was speaking to Timothy. We as a people as a culture as a society have come to see God as a personal intercessor coming to our rescue or giving us what we desire or think we need. As the baseball season is winding down and the various league championships are being determined I venture to say there are not just a few praying for one team or the other. And I’m just as certain that the victor will offer verbal thanks to God for the victory. We must also then ask ourselves what the other teams think or say in their locker room. Yet we all do this – we pray that God will let us pass this exam or get us through this traffic snarl-up. We pray for good weather, a lotto win, a new job or a bargain at the next big box-store sale. We have become egocentric and selfish in our prayers. We have lost the true sense of prayer that a faith-filled community ought to know and understand. We have become theologically void in the realm of prayer! In his commentary on this Gospel passage John Buchanan quotes Huston Smith’s observation, “When the consequences of belief are worldly goods, such as health fixing on these, turns religion into a service station for self-gratification and churches into health clubs. This is the opposite of religion’s role which is to decenter the ego, not pander to its desires.”

Prayer is an avenue to divine strength and understanding for humans in their relationship to God. By it when undertaken in its proper perspective we come to align our desires to those our Creator has for us. By it we come to see our needs not as we might have first imagined but as the Creator’s understanding of what is in our best interests. It may well be that what we truly need is the very thing we dread the most, and it is not until many years later that we realize that fact! To put this into a human situation let us recall both our childhood and our parenthood. Many of us at Christmas time as children wrote to Santa or asked our parents for things we at the time, thought we truly needed – a horse, a particular game, a certain item that was the “in-thing”. And we didn’t get it. At the time we felt devastated. But our parents knew – a horse in the city was really not only inappropriate but a travesty to both family and horse. When we became parents and had similar requests from our children we realized the wisdom of our parents.

Praying – true praying as Jesus recommended and gave as an example is to be found in scripture and in our liturgies. We know it as the Lord’s Prayer. We should take the opportunity to look at this prayer and see the various petitions and how these petitions are placed not in our own narrow “what I want” but in a great scope of the Divine will. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Such praying will change us to seeking God’s will for us and how we might come to fulfill the Creator’s plan for our lives. Such prayer will definitely result in Jesus finding faith on earth when again he comes.