In this sermon, based on Luke 18:1-8, I explore the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge. At first glance, it seems like its just about praying a lot. But there’s more going on here.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Have you ever heard the expression…10,000 hours will make you an master at anything. (pause) I like that expression…because it implies the importance of hard work and perseverance…that if you are driven and persistent…sticking with anything long enough, then the practice will allow you to master it. I’ve heard it applied to all kinds of different things like drawing or learning to play an instrument just to name a couple.
I was thinking about this whole idea earlier this week, and I found myself wondering…just how long is 10,000 hours? So I did some math…and I did some research…If we started right now…on October 16th, 2016 at about 10:30 in the morning…10,000 hours would be up on Dec 7th, 2017 at about 2:30am. 416 days and 16 hours…of non…stop…work.
That’s a lot time…you can do a lot in that amount of time…and to give you some reference…in that amount of time, you could watch the entire Harry Potter movie saga…8 movies…508 times over. You could also watch the Star Wars sage, currently at 7 movies…645 times.
Or, given our current activity…considering that my sermons are typically in the neighborhood of about 13 minutes, you could hear me preach 45,153 sermons…which if you’re wondering is about 868 years’ worth of sermons. (pause) I call that, persistence.
Now the notion of persistence is on display today as we hear the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge…which is a really long title for a really short parable…its only 4 verses long after all…and it can be summed up pretty easily.
There’s this widow in the city…and she comes into the judge’s courtroom day after day…making the same request time after time…looking for justice…looking for vindication over her opponent in what is some unknown grievance.
Now the judge ignores her pleas for a while…and interestingly enough, despite anything else that might be going on here…from a legal standpoint, he’s not actually doing anything wrong. Keep in mind that in Jesus day, women had no legal baring…so she would have needed a man to come into the courtroom with her…not a lawyer per say, but someone to speak for her…different times, different customs. But this lady, being a widow…didn’t have anyone…and so the only things she’s got working for her is a stubborn streak that would rival any 2 year old who has just learned the word “no” and is faced with broccoli at dinner…and as we hear…she just keeps coming. (pause)
And then there’s the judge…and he’s a real winner isn’t he? Despite the legal precedent that I mentioned, it would seem that this guy is pretty much just a jerk. He’s in a position of power…and it seems likely that he abuses it…we don’t know that for sure, of course…but we do hear, more than once, that he has no fear of God and no respect for other people…we even hear him acknowledge this about himself…so there can be no doubt…he’s an A-1 creep…and as such he continues to ignore the widow, day after day, time after time…but after a good long while, her persistence pays off…and he says to himself…even though I don’t care…she won’t leave me alone…and as the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…and so finally he grants her justice…he finds in her favor. (pause)
That’s the parable…that’s the story that Jesus shares in order to illustrate a point…and interestingly enough…it seems as if Jesus is even telling us what the point of this parable is…something that I appreciate, as it makes interpretation of this parable that much easier.
Listen to the two statements which set up, and then wrap up the story. “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.” Then we hear the parable, and then we hear Jesus say directly “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant his chosen ones justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night.” (pause)
Seems like a no-brainer. Pray more! HALLELUJAH!!!! That answers the question…I guess I’ll say Amen and go sit down. (pause)
All too often, that’s the take away from this parable…that’s what people hear…that if you want something…all you have to do is pray really hard…over and over again…and eventually you’ll wear God down and he’ll give you what you want. (pause)
There’s a name for this sort of thing…its called Prosperity Gospel…and it’s a simple notion…if your faith is strong enough…if its, BIG enough…well then God will bless you…and God will bless you in ways beyond measure…AKA you’ll be rich and have a lot of stuff…but only if your faith is strong enough.
The theme song for this might as well be (sing) I BELIEVE I CAN FLY…the lyrics include “if I just believe it, then I can do it…there’s nothing to do it.” (pause) Needless to say, this notion doesn’t really sit well with me…and neither does the understanding of today’s parable that all I have to do is pray often enough and I’ll get what I want.
Because we’ve seen evidence to the contrary haven’t we? Haven’t we all? Think about it…in this life, you will have trouble…Christ himself tells us that…and its true…faith doesn’t excuse us from troubles…often times it almost seems to be the opposite.
But I’ve seen it time and time again with countless individuals who encounter a situation that is totally beyond them, and they pray, and they pray and they pray…and it doesn’t work. I’ve seen families praying for their loved battling disease, and they don’t get better. I’ve seen people praying that the company they work for will stay open but it doesn’t and they lose their job. I’ve seen couples pray for healing in their marriage and they end up divorced….and I’ve heard the question many times…where was my miracle…where was God on that one? (pause)
It’s a fair question…if all it takes is persistence in prayer then why didn’t I get an answer to my prayer…if the widow received justice then why didn’t I? Isn’t God the judge in that parable? Can’t we wear him down like the widow did? And the answer…even though we might not want to hear it…is No…you can’t wear God down. (pause)
But what if that’s not what this parable is really about? What if the thing that we’re really supposed to be hearing in this parable about prayer is the other thing that Jesus opens with…not losing heart. (pause) Well if that’s the case, then what’s he talking about in this parable that is still about prayer? (pause)
Maybe we need to be asking ourselves what it is that we’re praying for. I heard someone say this week that when it comes to prayer, venturing too far away from the Lord’s prayer has the tendency to get us in trouble…and as I thought about that, I thought about the teaching that our great reformer Martin Luther wrote in the small catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, something which we study together in confirmation class…something that many of you sitting out there have likely read at one time or another.
Our father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. None of this becomes true by us saying it, but it is true…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. And as Luther says “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us…and the good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done also among us.”
In moments like this, I think its important to remember who taught us that prayer in the first place…Christ, who rest assured, knows what he’s talking about. (pause) Is it our prayer to give praise to the Lord for who he is…and then to pray for the coming of his kingdom and will here in our lives?
Because Jesus tells us, here in today’s story, that when we pray for this God does it. Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, He will quickly grant justice to them.”
Now this is not to say that God grants us whatever we claim as justice…God does not bow to our judgment in any situation…but rather, we need to remember what justice is…and so allow me to reword it. He will grant justification to those that cry out to him.
The presence of the kingdom, which we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer does not equal God giving us whatever our fickle heart desires. Rather, it is the presence of God’s grace justifying us. The kingdom comes to us through God’s actions, and words, and promises to us…all on the basis of his love for us…God’s grace, which justifies us through the saving act of Christ’s death and resurrection, is not dependent on us praying enough, or doing anything else for that matter. God’s grace requires no persistence on our part. God’s grace simply is…and it is already given to you. (pause)
Now all that being said…is there anything that we can learn from the parable today? And I think the answer is yes…and ironically, we learn it from the bad guy…the unrighteous judge…You’ve likely heard me say that when something is repeated in the scripture, its usually important…and the thing that’s repeated today is the judges attitude. He does not fear God, and he doesn’t respect other people…and he’s unrighteous…which might as well be called unjustified…aka, he hasn’t received God’s grace.
I bring this up to remind us of the importance of Jesus’ teachings in another part of the gospel, for when asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says “love God and love your neighbor.” Not in order to earn anything, but out of gratitude for the free gift already given to you…allow your life, flawed though it may be, to reflect gratitude for the amazing gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
And so, if we are going to be persistent in anything, let it be this…reflecting the love of God for us as individuals back to him, and outwards to those that we encounter. And if we can persist in that…who knows that the world might look like. Amen.