Monday, February 27, 2017

Just Prayer Results in Perseverance of Faith (Exodus 3:7-14,,Luke 18:1-10)

It’s just prayer right! When we think of prayer…

We May think of candles, incense and psalms and set liturgy mumbled or chanted in unison.

We may think of our daily prayer time each morning, maybe sometimes rushed or missed as we grab what we need for the day and scramble out the door.

We may think of a small group of people huddled together in the corner of a church or church hall, heads bowed, eyes closed and long silences followed by softly spoken words, usually the same people praying the same things in the same order.

We may think of that turning to God when we are faced with tragedy and crisis hoping that he hears.  We may think of many people gathered together with a band and lights, all the people speaking together, shouting, declaring this truth and proclaiming that promise, hands raised and faces upturned expectantly.

It’s all just prayer Right! How does it connect with what is going on in the world around us?

If we just pray it’s going to be Ok… and if it gets harder we are going to pray harder.

You are going to just pray… come on we need to get off our knees and do something, take action!

If we would just pray… we have all these ideas and strategies to make change but in the end they don’t seem to make a difference. Where is God we are just prayer-less we need to be prayer-more. 

It’s just Prayer. Right! What difference does it make…

It had started off as a small group praying on Monday nights in a church in a city in a communist country. Praying for peace… then after a few years they had been bold enough to put a sign outside inviting people to join them. People came, the church was one of the places where people felt free to speak their minds and hearts. Over the next three years, it grew the place filled with thousands of people gathered together praying and hoping for peace and change. Amazing as this was a country that had been under a n atheist regime for more than a  generation. The authorities threatened its leadership, planned to close the church. A protest was organised and the troops were called in. doctors warned the leaders of the prayer meeting that rooms at the local hospital had been set aside to treat people with gunshot wounds. Despite that they prayed other churches had to open to take the over flow, people joined them around the country. Those at the prayer meeting joined those on the street and marched past the secret police headquarters chanting ‘we are the people’ and  ‘no violence’   and at the last moment the soldiers stood aside. The next week 120,000 joined in the prayer meeting, two days after that Erich Honecker the head of the communist party in East Germany resigned. 300,000 people joined in the Monday prayer the next week and a month to the day after they had feared the police would violently quell their prayer meetings the berlin wall came down the cold war ended. The East German authorities said ‘we were ready for anything, violence terror uprising but we were not ready for candles and prayer. In an article called “did a Prayer meeting really bring down the berlin wall and stop the cold war’ BBC journalist Peter Crutchly said that while there were other important contributing factors you couldn’t dispute the significant role of prayer in the fall of communist east Germany and German reunification. The pastor of the church in Leipzig St Nickolas went back to his everyday routine they still meet in a small group to pray for peace every Monday. When questioned about his motives for doing the whole thing, he replied It wasn’t to attract numbers to the church… ‘we did it because the church has to do it’

It's just prayer right!

In the passage we are looking at today Jesus links just praying with the perseverance of our faith until the end. He encourages his disciples to always pray and never lose heart by telling them a parable and it finishes with the question… Will the son of man find faith on the earth when he returns. Jesus parable is the conclusion to what he has been speaking about previously, correcting the ideas of the Pharisees and his own disciples about the kingdom of God. They were looking for a political and military victory, that with the coming of the messiah, that Israel would defeat the Romans and become a world power, “be made great again’ if you will… Jesus tells them that God’s Kingdom wasn’t going to be that tangible, it wasn’t going to be identified with a place or a time, this nation or that system, In actual fact it would be inaugurated by Jesus death and his followers would face time of trouble and distress. He tells them the parable we read today to encourage them to always pray and not to lose heart.

It a parable whose power comes from its two characters. A widow who will not stop pestering a judge till he gives her justice, and a Judge who does not fear God nor regard humans, who sees she gets justice or she will wear him out. But it’s also a parable which can leave us scratching our heads and wondering how is this encouragement.

I’ve preached on this passage many times and I’ve always seen that encouragement coming from the judge. In our legal system we may look for a judge who didn’t fear God or regard human beings, we would look for one who did not have a religious or social bias, who could judge impartially. But often the legal system and justice are not the same thing, the powerful and rich can get the best lawyers, and work the system. In the Jewish court system, judges were supposed to fear the Lord, they were asked to ensure that the powerless and marginalised received justice and were cared for. It was one of the things that was to set Israel aside as God’s people. But the judge in Jesus story is portrayed as indifferent or even dismissive of the widow and only seek justice because she might ware him out. He was sick of her continual plea.

The encouragement does not come from the judge rather Jesus affirmation that God is not like the judge he will make sure his people receive justice quickly. It does come from prayer itself but the one we pray to…  God is a judge who will see his people get justice, we know what his character is like and that he can be trusted to be about justice and righteousness. God hears our pleas. God answers. In our bible reading from exodus we heard God speaking to Moses from the burning bush, saying he had heard his peoples cries he had seen their misery, their mistreatment and oppression and was about to act to free them and bring them to the place he had promised and they would be his people. God hears, God sees, God cares and is not inactive but rather is working in history to see his purposes and plans come to fruition.

But this time I found myself being very encouraged by the widow in the story. She is portrayed as an amazing person. AS a widow she would have been marginalised and considered amongst the poor. Widows were dependant either on their children or nearest male relatives to look after them, without that they were dependant on the good will of the community. Look at the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, or Ana in the temple as part of Luke’s nativity narrative. . The legal system also belonged to men, without a male relative to speak for her she would have found it very hard even to be heard, as a woman her testimony was not able to be accepted in court. Yet here she is so convinced of the rightness of her cause, and we don’t know what it is she is seeking, that she is prepared to knock on the judge’s door, sit in his office anti room, leave message after message on his answer phone, when he no longer takes her calls. She will not give up on seeking justice. This is an encouragement for us to be like this widow. Unrelenting about seeking justice.

How does this connect with us today, how does consistent prayer lead to faithful perseverance?

Firstly, there is the encouragement that God hears and God cares and will answer our prayer. As a church we are reminded of that by our logo the burning bush from Exodus 2. We can have that assurance as we face inevitable opposition and injustice. Both in our lives and in the society around us. We have become a society that seek instantaneous gratification. Instant coffee, fast food, plug and play, the buy now pay later trap of credit card debt. We do know that God does hear our prayer and answer instantaneously; as we confess our sin he will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   But at the same time people are discovering that good things take time, craft beer, real coffee, slow cook BBQ, bespoke this and that. Faithfulness is trusting God when the answer is wait, even if it is that it will only be finally sorted when Christ returns, trusting that because of the character of God we know he is just and will see his people get justice.

 Of course as we saw in Exodus, the God who cares and who hears and see is also the God who calls his people to Go with his message of liberty and freedom to speak to the powers of this world and lead his people to a better God breathed alternative.

Secondly, there is a link between prayer and the pursuit of Justice and the kingdom of God: faithful Christian living. Prayer is the starting point, It connects us to the one whose kingdom it is, who is just and righteous in all he does, It is the place of compelling vision, the sustaining companion, fresh start in the face of failings, the  opening of hands for reconciliation and coming together, it is the shield in times of temptation and opposition. That’s best seen in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and that we say together each week… the Lord’s prayer.

It starts with ‘our Father’ a recognition of relationship, that we together are children of the God most High, co heirs with Jesus Christ who has made that relationship with God possible. It is our hope the relationship that defines who we are and how we are to relate to the world around us.   AS Jesus was about his father’s business so are we to be about our father’s business.
‘Hallowed be thy name’ sets the agenda of seeing the holiness and glory of God be recognised in our lives and our world.

‘Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is heaven’, gives us a compelling vision, of God’s purposes and plans. Its one of seeing people come to know Jesus as Lord and saviour, in 1 Timothy 2 Paul tells Timothy that all people should pray all kinds of prayer, because it is God’s desire that all come to know Jesus as Lord and saviour. The Kingdom starts as people come to know its king. But it Also invites us to have a vision of good news for the poor, widows and orphans cared for, the prisoner and the oppressed set free, the broken hearted’s wounds bound up, the blind receive sight, the stranger welcomed, debt cancelled, land and wealth shared so all may prosper. As we pray and allow God to be part of that conversation through the word of God, which is why its important that regular bible reading go hand in hand with a vibrant prayer life, its in that that we capture a compelling vision, God’s vision for his church and this world, His Kingdom.

‘Give us today our daily bread’ is not just a prayer for sustenance to survive rather it a call to God to help us with what we need each day to work towards that compelling vision of the Kingdom of God. It’s not just a prayer for us individually but one for the world. We can forget the feeding of the five thousand, where when confronted by people in need of food Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them ‘well you feed them” then takes what they have blesses it and feeds everyone with more left over. I am always reminded of an open letter to the pope in the form of a video called viva Christo rei, from the border of America and Mexico where a group of catholic people sat down to a Christmas dinner in El Paso and as they said grace, gave thanks for the food, they sensed God’s call to go and share it with people who lived on the rubbish dump in  Ciudid Juarez across in Mexico. They put their meal on the back of pick up  and went across and started carving and feeding and after three hundred had been feed there was nothing left, and it started a great move of compassion and cooperation to help the poor, it started a revival.

‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…’ The starting point of reconciliation. Of recognising on a personal level and on a societal level where we have wronged people or we have been wronged and starting to make things right.

‘Lead us not in to temptation, but deliver us from evil’ God’s continued guidance and protection, not into ease or freedom from problems and difficulties, but through them to righteousness, God’s just society and to overcome evil with Good.

It’s just prayer right!
I'm not advocating just the repitition of this prayer without throught like amantra rather that it leads us in our prayer life, nurtures us in our faith as we make it our own and allow Jesus patern for prayer to lead us. MArtin Luther put it like this in a letter outlining how he uses the Lord's prayer in his daily prayer life...“ I do not bind myself to words and phrases but say my prayer in one fashion today and in another tomorrow, depending on my mood and feelings.”  TheLord's prayer guides his prayers for himself and his world each day, in a new way.
It's just prayer right!

The Moravians were a group of refuges looking for shelter from persecution for their faith in their home land. They were welcomed in by count Zinzendorf a German nobleman. In their community, they started a continuous prayer meeting for the world round them. An around the clock prayer vigil that lasted for 100 hundred years, during that time they sent out well over 300 hundred missionaries to preach the kingdom of God. Some were willing to go as slaves to America and the west indies sharing their faith with salve communities in those countries. On a journey to America John Wesley was so taken by the spirituality of the Moravians he felt the need to find what they had which lead to his own experience of God’s Holy Spirit. It was instrumental to the great revival in England which lead to the enlightenment, social reform, abolition of slavery, the end of child labour, moves towards universal education, even the RSPCA. 

Its not just prayer… but just prayer leads to faithful perseverance.  So let’s pray and not lose heart. 

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