Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 18th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 1st verse.
18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He 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?”
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you've done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your Spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your Spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
"Persistent and Patient Prayer"
Jesus told His disciples in a parable that they should always pray and not lose heart. Jesus was training and preparing them for when they would no longer see Him walk the earth but would, instead, have to "watch and pray." Jesus was teaching His faithful about faith in Him, and the life of prayer, which flows from such faith.
In the parable, we find an authority figure, a dishonest judge. He doesn't fear God or people and probably has sticky fingers, expecting a bribe. The person appealing to the judge is an irritating widow. She keeps showing up in his courtroom day after day, demanding justice.
The corrupt judge, however, couldn't care less about justice. Yet, the judge is tired of this woman wearing him down with her persistent petitions. So, reluctantly, he gives this woman justice, hoping she will finally leave him alone. That's the picture of persistent and patient prayer!
So what's the point of this parable? Jesus points us from the lesser to the greater, from the judge to God. However, God isn't like the judge in the parable. Oh, He's a judge, but He's not unrighteous. He's the righteous Judge whose pronouncements are pure and holy.
So what's the point? If the persistent petitions of a woman seeking justice can persuade a dishonest judge, how much more will God, who is righteous, work justice for His people? Bribes won't deter God from being a faithful judge. He won't drag His feet. He will do justice and carry it out as best serves His people.
The focal point of the parable is patient and enduring persistence—the true and persistent prayer that flows out from faith. John 9:31 says, "God does not listen to sinners." Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." God will only hear the prayers of those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, those washed clean by His blood.
That's why it's pointless to think that an unbeliever can truly pray. True prayer is not an exercise of unbelief; it is nothing less than an act of faith. True prayer is trusting in God's promise that He will hear and answer you. Even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed, even if your faith is but a hairline crack in the bulwark of unbelief, you can still pray. And God will still hear.
That's why the parable ends as it does. The point is not if people will pray when Jesus returns on the Last Day. Oh, that will happen. The point is this: will Jesus find faith, for only true faith leads to true prayer that God will hear and answer!
So why do you lose heart and fail to pray as you should? Is it your impatience? Impatience kills faithful, persistent prayer. Prayer is an exercise in faithful patience. And the character of faith is to endure patiently, persisting in the face of difficulty. Faith is long-suffering and enduring. In the parable, the woman keeps coming back to the judge. She doesn't quit.
Yet, we often lose patience in our life of prayer. We don't get what we want. And if we do, we don't get it fast enough. And so we quit or look for something else that we think will work. Our prayers are shallow, sporadic, undisciplined, and lifeless. We pray like we often exercise. We go to the gym a few times, lift a few weights, and then decide, "This exercise stuff is for the birds. I haven't lost an ounce of fat."
Prayer is an exercise of faith over the long haul. Prayer is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash. That's why the Apostle Paul encourages us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But we quickly lose interest, thinking, "What's the point when it looks like prayer doesn't do anything?"
Jesus says, "And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?" The answer is, "Yes." And so we, as God's people, pray. We pray for relief from the problems that afflict us. We pray day after day, week after week. Some problems get better; some don't, and some stay the same. Yet, we persist in prayer because that's what faith does. That's what faith does!
We have this crazy notion that God is a divine-vending machine high in heaven. Put in your quarters of prayer and praise, and out pops the blessing you demand. Many preachers are willing to serve up that false teaching to indulge you. Don't be deceived. Prayer is persistent as it is patient.
Our prayer life is like Jacob wrestling with God after crossing the Jabbok River. After wrestling through the night, Jacob finally pinned God down. Even with his hip knocked out of joint, Jacob wouldn't let God go until he received His blessing. That's the tenacious persistence of faith.
That's what we are as the Bride of Christ. Baptized believers are wrestlers with God. We wrestle with God in prayer. And, like Jacob, we walk with a limp, for we walk by faith and not by sight. Yet, walking by faith isn't all that troubling, for when we are weak in ourselves, we are strong in the strength of God.
Look at Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane for His suffering to be taken away—if there were another way to save you. Yet, He still prayed, "Not my will [O Father] but yours be done" (Luke 22:42)! He prayed for those who scorned Him: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed the 22nd Psalm when the Father seemed oblivious to His suffering. He prayed, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In the deepening darkness, Jesus prayed in His dying breath to the seemingly silent Father, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).
Jesus prays: He prays for the world, His Church, and you. He intercedes at the right hand of the Father, reminding Him of His once-for-all Sacrifice, for only Jesus wrestled with God in your place. But He didn't lose His hip joint. No, He lost His life—all to save you and bring you into an intimate, divine life with God.
Well, let's get back to the parable. If we are to see God's goodness even in the corrupt character of the judge, who then are we to see in the widow? She doesn't represent you or me. No, she represents Jesus. Jesus persisted where you failed and faltered. He pleads for justice in the courtroom of God and wins salvation for you. He has done what God's justice demands. And so God the Father always hears His prayers. And through Jesus, in His Spirit, the Father also hears your prayers. After all, we are to pray in "Jesus' name."
Prayer is not an empty, religious exercise. Prayer is the voice of faith breathing out. Prayer breathes out what God has breathed in through His Spirit-breathed Word. Praying is going to your gracious Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the family conversation of God's household, where our deepest longings and hopes, our yearning for forgiveness, life, and salvation, are placed before our Father, where He hears and answers.
In the Book of Genesis, Jacob wrestled with God. Where he wrestled became known as "Peniel," which means the "face of God." Jacob rejoiced, "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:30). And where is the face of God for you? Jesus told His disciples, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
The place where you meet God is through His Son. Here, His Son baptizes you. Here, His Son forgives you. Here, His Son gives you His Body and Blood. Here, God's face shines on you, and here He delights in showing you His favor. Here, you get His God-given peace.
So when you doubt God, remember today's parable. Remember today's parable when you wonder how God can still be patient with you, a sinner. God will not fail you because Jesus has not failed you. Jesus is persistent. Jesus still saves. He still comes to you today, doing just that: persistently and patiently saving you.
Here, in the Divine Service, you see God face to face and are delivered. Here, God comes to you in His Word and Spirit, where He forges your faith ever stronger and stronger. Here, God shapes and feeds your faith. And here, the faithful people of God are moved toward a life of persistent and patient prayer.
Heavenly Father, hear our persistent and patient prayers for the virtue of patience and perseverance in our hearts, homes, and our lives. We want to wait patiently for Your will to enfold in our lives. May we learn to wait patiently for You to bring Your answers to our prayers. This we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Richard Futrell.
In the Parable of the Persistent Widow, Jesus was training and preparing His disciples to “watch and pray.” Jesus was teaching His faithful about faith in Him, and the life of prayer, which flows from such faith.