Persevering in Prayer (Luke 18)

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Persevering in Prayer
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

What can you do with a rubber band?
Rubber bands are elastic. So are Jesus’ parables- stories with a deeper spiritual meaning. They both stretch in many directions.

You can read a parable one day and hear from God. You can read them a month later or even years later and receive another important truth from God.

It reminds us the scriptures are living and active. God meets us exactly where we are in the Word of God.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
From the point of view of followers of Jesus as the widow
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus sets up a contrast between God and the unjust judge.

The judge is powerful, probably the most powerful person in his community. He’s worldly, corrupt, slow to respond, indifferent, disrespectful, unbelieving.

God is more powerful, attentive to injustice, quick to respond, faith-full, compassionate.

Even the ungodly relent in the face of persevering. How much more will God answer you when you pray!

Followers of Jesus are to be like the widow, the person with the least amount of power in the community. Folks would have laughed at the powerless widow getting the judge to do what she wanted him to do.

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The widow had faith that her persevering would bring a result. Faith looks like praying always and not losing heart. Does God find you resilient and full of faith? Actively trusting in God and persevering in prayer?

How’s your prayer life?

  • Using prayer as a rubber stamp as you make plans to fix whatever needs fixing in your own strength?
  • Using prayer as a last resort when everything else you tried didn’t work?
  • Have you just given up on prayer? You’ve been praying about the same situation for a long time with no change. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose heart.

Luke 11:9-13
Luke 11:9 Jesus said, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

A Translation Closer to the Original Intention- Present Progressive Tense
Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and it will be given you, Keep on seeking and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened unto you.  For everyone who continues to ask, receives, and the one who continues to seek, finds, and for the one who continues to knock, it will be opened.  What father among you, if your son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Example of Persevering Prayers Being Answered

Name your persevering prayer. Keep praying, do not lose heart.

  • Reconciliation of relationship
  • The salvation of a loved one
  • An answer to a question
  • Deliverance from an addiction
  • The end of corruption, evil, injustice, oppression
  • Peace and plenty for all

Trust God is good. Trust God is near and attentive to your needs. Trust God will make the wrongs right. It may not be in this life, it may be in heaven. But it may be now.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Stretch the parable in a different direction, from the point of view of God as the widow and we as the judge.
2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Pleading Widow by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume
the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow.
But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people?
That would be us. And who continually demands
that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

Sorry, we don’t get the high ground here, denying our privilege,
pretending we’re faithfully imploring God
with our persistent quest for justice.
We’re the ones deaf to the cries of the poor.

God comes in the voice of the vulnerable, the easily ignored
while we in our arrogance easily ignore.

How disconcerting that in this story
the ball is in our court, not God’s!
The demand has been made, over and over.

Jesus warns us: God can outlast us.
But when God comes, will God find us listening?

Prayer and Action
Prayer is coupled with action. If we are praying for that relationship to be reconciled, what are we doing for that relationship to be reconciled? If we are praying for our loved ones to come to faith, what are we doing to create an environment where they could hear the Gospel? If we’re praying for an end to evil, injustice, and oppression, what are we doing to end evil, injustice, and oppression?

The dual truths of persevering in prayer and prayer in action stretch me. I need to pray before I act so I don’t use it as a weapon. I need to persevere in prayer because God is the one who makes things new. I need both.

And I need the Holy Spirit filling me so I don’t lose heart when it seems like nothing’s changing. Persevere in prayer. Prayer and action.

Prayer-
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you hear us. That you want to have a relationship with us. You want to bless us, empower us, encourage us, forgive us.

Help us to talk to you. To talk to you honestly, openly, and often. Help us to persevere in prayer. Help us to not lose heart. Help us to trust you.

Help to know the path we’re on with you is the path of goodness and glory. Help us to know it’s the path of truth and humility, the path of light and life. We need that assurance so we can persevere.

In our praying, help us to hear if there’s an action we are to take. Grant us the courage, grace, and wisdom to act.

You are making us new. You are making this world new. Thank you for the gift of prayer. Amen.

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Persevering in Prayer © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Poor in Spirit, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

Sermon Series beatitudes 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 1 of 4: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn 
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/25/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Set the scene

  • Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry
  • He calls his first disciples – the educated and advantaged? No. Some fishermen
  • He travels around his home region of Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease
  • His fame begins to spread. Large crowds started coming- Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, Judea, and beyond the Jordan

People started bringing him all the sick

  • folks in crippling pain
  • folks possessed by demons
  • folks with seizures
  • paralyzed folks
  • poor folks
  • suffering folks
  • desperate folks
  • the outcasts and the unwanted

Every day the crowd grows bigger and bigger and bigger.

One day Jesus heads up one of the mountainsides and sits down. This would have caught everyone’s attention. When a rabbi sits, he’s indicating a time of formal teaching. It’s unusual, he’s outside, not in the synagogue.

Everyone gathers around and settles down, expectant, waiting. What are the first words out of his mouth?

Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What??? Who in their right mind would look out over this massive crowd of broken, desperate, mourning, pain-ridden people and call them blessed?

The kingdom of God couldn’t possibly be for the likes of these. Many rabbis were teaching all over the region that the reason you were hurting, broken, sick, or poor is because you weren’t right with God and God was punishing you.

Jesus says, “Nope. That isn’t right.” Jesus says God loves them and welcomes them into the kingdom and they are blessed

I imagine Jesus looking out on that crowd on the side of the mountain and seeing all of humanity. Every person who ever lives.

I imagine Jesus looking down the mountainside and down through the ages and seeing me and seeing you.

We may have access to better medical care and clean water and be more educated. But deep down Jesus sees us and sees our brokenness and our pain.

I am those people on the mountain.
We are those people on the mountain.

We are the broken, the ill, the demon-possessed.
We are in pain, desperate, outcast.
We are loved and we are blessed and we are welcomed.
We need Jesus just like they need Jesus because we are all spiritual beggars.

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dallas Willard’s translation of Matthew 5:3 from his book The Divine Conspiracy
Blessed are the spiritual zeros- the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them. 

I work so hard to not be a spiritual beggar. What child says, “When I grow up I want to be a beggar?” We don’t aspire to that.

I don’t want to be a beggar. I don’t want to be a beggar spiritually, financially, emotionally.

I don’t want to be a beggar, so I work hard. I want to have something to offer God when God comes to me.

  • God will love me if I do good things
  • God will love me more than others if I do more good things
  • So doing good things and being a good person will earn me brownie points with God
  • So when the Kingdom comes and Jesus comes I have something to offer.

I’m a good person and I do good things and that will save me. Nope.

The nope is good. Aren’t you thankful we don’t have to get good to get God!

Being a good person and doing good things will not earn me brownie points with God. It will not save me. My hard-working hard turns salvation into a transaction. If I do this then God will do that. Salvation isn’t a transaction – its grace, its mercy, it’s a gift.

Yes, Jesus is correcting the twisted theology of those who would judge and exclude people from God’s love and grace. But he is also reminding them and reminding us that we all spiritual beggars and we all need a Savior.

Isaiah 64:6, NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.

Romans 3:23 puts it even more simply- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Now hear the Good News, Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What does spiritual poverty mean? (Adapted from a definition by Jim Forest in his book The Ladder of the Beatitudes)

  • It starts with self-awareness. I cannot save myself.
  • I am basically defenseless. Neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death.
  • No matter what I achieve, no matter what I acquire, it will fall short.
  • Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14.
Look at the reason why Jesus tells this parable.
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We recognize we are spiritual beggars. We recognize our poverty of spirit. We recognize we cannot save ourselves and this naturally leads to us mourning our sin. 

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We mourn the foolishness of our boasting.
We mourn how we’ve wasted our time, our talent, and our resources.
We mourn our self-centeredness
We mourn our self-righteousness
We mourn our apathy to God and the ways of God

We mourn how our words, our action, our inaction separate us from God, others, our true selves.

We mourn and we do what the tax collector did.

  1. We recognize our reality- we are all spiritual beggars, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
  2. We stop trying to save ourselves
  3. We place our trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus

The ground is even at the foot of the cross. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all there together.

Receive the promise: blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.        

How many of us carry around the burden and guilt of sin? We mourn it, we confess it, and we are comforted. We receive the grace and forgiveness and healing we need.

How many of us carry around the burden of resentment? The burden of bitterness? The burden of judging others? The burden of getting busy enough to earn our salvation? The burden of self-medicating the feelings we hide?

Mourn them. Be honest with them. Hand them to Jesus. Receive the grace, mercy, and comfort Jesus is ready to provide. That’s the Good News. That’s our hope.

It feels upside down and backward. We’re “supposed to” pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and put on our big girl pants. It is actually surrender and truth and blessing.

Will you recognize who you are and receive the blessing, the comfort, the Kingdom?

Prayer based on James 4:8-10: Jesus we claim the promise that if we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Cleanse us. Purify us. We are double-minded. We deny. We hide. Help us release and lament and mourn and weep the things we have done, the things we have said, the things we have left undone. Help us to humble ourselves before you, Lord, so you will lift us up.

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Beatitudes Sermon 1 of 3 © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.