10/21/01, P20C

“Keep on Praying and Never Lose Heart”
Luke 18:1-8

"Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." (NRSV)

As in many of Jesus' illustrative stories we here have a conflict between the powerful and the powerless and in this eternal struggle, persistent prayer prevails.

There are two players in this drama, and as usual, to most alluring is the bad guy.

Perhaps we are drawn to him because all of the judges we have known have been fair and honest leaders of their communities and churches. This has been my experience with jurists in my circles. The vast majority of the members of the legal profession are decent, disciplined and dedicated servants of we the people.

This was not so with Jesus' Judge: "He neither feared God nor had respect for people." (v.2) Our text does not say that he was an atheist, he evidently believed in God and felt free to flaunt himself in His face. Like a spoiled child constantly embarrassing his parents, this jerk of a judge probably thought everyone else would bear his misbehavior. Folks never do, for long. You see, his major problem in life was that he somehow had never learned to love or respect people, and he was in the people business. He was sworn to seek justice for people and he only cared about himself. This sad nameless man probably died alone in shame, yet unyielding and unrepentant.

There is a legend of a frontier Texas "Hanging Judge" who was fond on repeating at sentencing, "Hang him it will teach him a lesson!" Then one day he died and appeared before the Righteous Judge and God said, "Forgive him it will teach him a lesson!" Of course the story could not be true because God grants us but one lifetime to learn our lessons, but it underlines a truth about forgiveness that can remodel every living creature.

The second actor in Jesus' parable is a widow. Why a widow? Because widows were powerless in Jesus' day, and in many parts of the world they remain so. You immediately think of the pitiful plight of the widows of Afghanistan. A half million widows resulted from the ten year war with Russia and unless these women had close male family supervisors, many of them were executed. The "women of cover" that remain have few civil rights and can not be taught to even read and write. Our police action against the terrible Taliban fanatics is for the preservation of civilization and for the freedom of the women, and widows, of that oppressed country.

The widow in Jesus' story did not have equal civil rights under the law either, but she had the right to seek "justice against her opponent." We are not told the nature of her case but she was evidently in the right and she eventually received justice, not only because she was right, but because she kept seeking her rights.

Of course, the obvious point of the story is that if an infidel unjust judge can be swayed by a woman who would not give up, we can clearly see how persistent prayer always prevails with our loving God. However, as a just judge He will not grant our request if we are not in the right. Of course, it would be unjust for God to do so. He would want to simply excuse us but He is self limited by His own rule of law. As a lowly adjunct instructor at the Candler School of Theology, which was by the way founded in our church by the brothers Warren and Asa Candler, I found the hardest part of the task to be granting final grades. I wanted to give all A's, as I was almost able to do. Yet, one did not do her work and another did his work, but did not care about getting it right, and I had to give them a lower score. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do but I had to make a judgment call by the set standards.

However, the Good News is that if we persist in coming to God in the right way, He will hear and answer every prayer. When God does not seem to be dancing to our tune it us usually because we were praying in the wrong manner. Maybe we were asking for the wrong things, or were seeking an unjust request.

So, what is the right way to pray? Basically, we need to pray that God's will might be done and that we might be positively responsive to it. Really now, is it not His best that we seek? Who are we to arrogantly presume to instruct God? We ask that God might see fit to grant our heart's desires, if it be within the framework of His will. Submission to God's will is humanity's chief fulfillment. Prayer is our means of surrendering and finding God's plan for our lives. We submit in the name of God's own Son, whom himself submitted to the cruelty of the Cross. Thus, God knows our needs and He is able to meet them, even if we do not see it in the midst of crisis.

The feeling that our prayers are not being answered is never a good feeling in itself, but as we gain years of experience we learn that in time we will see how God has faithfully brought about the best for us in the end. Football coaches teach their worn our players that, "There is no gain without Pain." Now the pretty girl in the salon commercial never looks like she is in pain, but that's not the truth about the hard work of exercise, much less about the pain of learning teamwork and the rudiments of football. In spiritual things tribulation is necessary for redemption.

Jesus story is talking about matters of the heart. He is encouraging us to not only never give up, but to "never lose heart." When we have lost heart we are lost. Depressed failures feebly meandering down the roadway of life have not so often lost their money, or their way, as they have lost their sense of their soul's connection with their Heavenly Father. It is obvious that folks can lose heart because we see frightening examples of it, and because Jesus wondered whether when He comes to receive us, "if he will find faith..." We do not know when our day will come, or when the world's day will come but we know our heart.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

10/20/01, P20C