Monday, October 21, 2019

Why Pray?

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday morning.]

Luke 18:1-8
The widow in the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel lesson is desperate and helpless. She needs vindication. The culture in which Jesus lived during His time on earth gave no legal standing to women. Yet, this widow incessantly seeks vindication anyway: Whatever her standing in society, she knows that she cannot survive or live without a judge vindicating her, justifying her.

The judge is a particularly corrupt and nasty human being. Precisely because widows had no standing in the ancient world in which God raised His people Israel into being, God repeatedly commanded the Jews to care for widows, as well as for orphans, foreigners, and those the world often marginalizes, ignores, or leaves behind. But the judge had no concern about the will of God or the niceties of the law.

The meaning of this parable is underscored in part, by what Jesus has to say just before He tells it. At the end of Luke, chapter 17, Jesus talks about what His disciples, including you and me, are to expect from life in this world until, on the last day, the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus returns to this world to judge the living and the dead and to make all things right. This world, the world as it is between Jesus' ascension and His return is the one in which you and I have lived our entire lives. As it progresses, we are called to be about God's business: trusting in Christ for life and forgiveness, living in love for God and the world, and in fellowship with His Church.

This is a dangerous time.  

It’s a time in which believers in Christ are subject to the possibility of rejection, even persecution, of course. 

But more certainly, it’s a time in which we may be lulled into thinking that this world and its rewards are all that we need, that there is nothing better that God can offer us than the baubles this world so values. Or that because we endure hardships and grief, God must be absent and His gospel false. 

Listen: The central truth of human history is that despite our sins, God, the lovesick Father Who sent the Son Jesus to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and to lift the burden of sin, death, and darkness off of our shoulders for all eternity, then raised Him from death to kick down the door to eternal life with God for all who believe in Jesus, and even now, sends His Holy Spirit to create faith in Jesus when God’s gospel Word comes to us, has never and will never give up on us! He has never given up on you

That’s why Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)  

That’s why Jesus also said, in a passage you’ve often heard me cite, “...the one who endures [in faith in Christ] to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) 

The disciple of Jesus is called to cling to Christ, Who has endured everything you and I have ever or will ever endure, including death, yet rose. We are to cling to Christ, knowing through Him that God will never leave us and never forsake us

He will walk with us through all the valleys of the shadow of death we experience in this world and at the end of the ages, He’s going to call out to us in our graves and say, “Rise!” 

And He will tell us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) 

All who turn from sin and trust in Jesus as their God and Savior will experience eternal vindication for their faith in Him.

But how are we to live now, in these dangerous times? Jesus tells us how in the parable that makes up today’s gospel lesson, Luke 18:1-18. Take a look at it with me, please. 

Verse 1: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” 

The word used here for lose heart in the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel is ἐκκακέω. It’s a compound word literally meaning called out from. A good definition might be to be overcome on the outside--in our actions and thoughts--by the weariness that we feel on the inside

Jesus says that we need to avoid allowing ourselves to be so wearied by the things we experience in this world that we stop trusting in Him and in the promises He has guaranteed by His death and resurrection. 

God knows that life in this world can be wearying.

It’s why Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

It’s why we’re told in Isaiah 40:31: “...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” 

Jesus tells us that we will not grow weary in following Him in these in-between times when we pray.

Verse 2: “[Jesus] said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’ And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

The judge in Jesus’ parable is as unlike God as it’s possible to be. 

  • God the Son Jesus, as we see from His cross, divested Himself of His power to become a servant to the human race, selflessly cleansing us of the filth of sin and the rot of death by His innocent blood. This God wants nothing more than to vindicate us, to justify us, simply for trusting in Christ. 
  • By contrast, the judge is vain, self-centered, corrupt, and, it would seem, likelier to give justice to the high and mighty than to lowly people like this widow. Yet even this judge, Jesus says, will get around to bringing justice to the widow simply because she will not stop petitioning for vindication and justice.
How do we stay faithful to Jesus in a world that largely ignores Him? 

How do we stay faithful when we experience stress and challenges, the monotonous demands of everyday life, the drudgery of inglorious tasks, the pain of suffering, grief, rejection, conflict, uncertainty, and death? 

Like the widow, desperate and helpless, we turn to the Judge, not a corrupt judge like the one in Jesus' parable, but to God, the Lord of all creation

We pray to the God in Jesus’ name. We find in this God we meet in Jesus a Father who will not delay in vindicating our faith--even in the midst of the in-between world in which we live

As we meet Him in prayer in Jesus’ name--as well as in His Word and in the sacraments we share in the fellowship of believers--the righteous Judge of all will assure us once again, as His Word promises, that nothing can separate us from the love of God given to us in Christ Jesus. “I know that Jesus is right here with me” is a message I have heard from more than one dying Christian over the years.

When I was young and strong, I deluded myself with the idea that I was strong enough to take on any challenge...before breakfast. 

I thought that I was, “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” 

I thought that I was virtuous and deserving. 

I believed these things deep down even after I had come to faith in Christ and had been ordained as a pastor and should have known better. 

I didn’t realize I thought those things, but they were there and still remain as part of my sinful nature from which I will only be finally free after I have died and rise with Christ on the last day. 

I am older and weaker now. And, if I live into the future on this earth, I will be older and weaker still. It has become untenable for me to pretend to be Superman or that I’m self-sufficient, or virtuous or deserving. 

I am none of these things. 

I am an undeserving sinner made a saint only by the grace God gives to those who acknowledge their sin, their weakness, and their desperation and fall in faith into the arms of the One Who died and rose for people like me. 

It is only sinners who turn to Christ, like the helpless widow, who are vindicated by the God of all creation Who is anxious to grace us with His forgiveness, His love, His life.

So when you feel defeated, pray that God will lift you up. 

When you feel victorious, pray that God will keep you honest about who and what you are. 

When you feel accosted by temptation, pray to God to confess that you are too weak to resist the sin that would otherwise drag you into hell. 

When you sin, pray to God in the name of the Son Who died for sinners like you and me and you will be forgiven. 

When you face decisions or are called to do things beyond your capacity, pray and God will guide you and do through you what you cannot do in your own power. (I know this to be true because I’ve been doing a job I am incapable of doing for thirty-five years now.) 

Whatever your circumstance, when you go to the Father in prayer in Jesus’ name, He will always vindicate you. Even after you have died, the God Who died and rose for you will vindicate your trust in Jesus and welcome you into His eternal embrace.

At the end of our lesson today, Jesus asks, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 

We are saved from sin and death not by anything we do. 

We are saved by a faith given to us by God the Holy Spirit that recognizes the helplessness and desperation of our human condition and, by the powerful Word of God, empowers us to believe that as we call out to Jesus, we are saved. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” God’s Word tells us. 

So, keep calling on the Lord. 

Pray in Jesus’ name. 

Whether now or in eternity or both, Your faith in Christ will be vindicated. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]