God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Persistence. Persistence is the theme that runs through our lessons this morning. In our Old Testament lesson, Jacob wrestles with an opponent all night. He persists with this unknown person, who turns out to be God, until he receives a blessing. Jacob's name is then changed to "Israel". The blessing and the new name signifies that Jacob has been transformed by the presence of God and is now ready to assume the inheritance of God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation.
In our Epistle from Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the message of Christ, whether the time seems favorable or not. He needs to be patient in his teaching so people will hear and understand sound doctrine, and not listen to those who are saying just what they want to hear. His ministry may incur suffering, but he is to persevere in all things.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching his disciples to persevere in prayer and not to lose heart. He tells then the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. The unjust judge will not listen to the pleas for justice from the widow. He doesn't care about God or anyone else so he tries to ignore her pleas. But she persists and is at the point of driving him crazy. So the judge grants her request for justice, only so she will stop bothering him, not because he had and compassion or cared about her injustice.
The judge does NOT represent God. Our God does not need to be nagged and badgered into giving us what we need, what is best for us. God loves us and cares for us, unlike the unjust judge. Jesus is not saying that we should persist in begging God to give us what we want. This parable is not about the mystery of answered and unanswered pray - why some prayers seem to go unanswered and some are not answered as we would like.
Jesus is contrasting the unjust judge to our loving God. He is making the point that if the unjust judge responds to this widow who is a stranger, and gives her justice, how much MORE will God respond to and answer our prayers.
So Jesus, by the telling of this parable, is teaching his disciples, and us, about persistence in prayer, in deepening our relationship with God. We pray, not to change God's mind or convince God that our ideas are better, but to become more clear in our hearts and minds about God's will for us. Prayer means trusting in God, not in ourselves. Perseverance in prayer and not losing hope are elements of faith. Prayer changes us, not God. When we pray to God, when we spend quiet time with God, we become better able to discern what we are to pray for, what directions our prayers should take, what is best for us and for those around us.
But perseverance in prayer is hard, especially when we don't see the results we want to see, when our prayers seem to go unanswered. But our prayers are answered in God's time and not our own. And the answer may be "no" or "not yet" or "not in this way." It's easy for us to pray for something once or twice and then say, "God didn't answer my prayer so I'll stop praying."
But prayer is about relationships, not about getting what we want. Prayer is about deepening our relationship with God. Prayer is about hope and faith in God, and in God's timing.
With what we see in the news and on the internet every day and what we see in the world around us is heart breaking and it questions our hope that things will get better. We pray for an end to the wars that rage around the world, and yet the fighting continues. We pray for the families and individuals who are trying to escape poverty and violence in Central America and have traveled hundreds of miles on foot to get to a place of freedom and a fresh start, yet families are separated and the poverty and violence continues. We pray for an end to the senseless violence in our country, yet the violence seems to get worse. We pray for the hungry and the homeless, yet their numbers seem to increase. When will God answer these prayers, we ask? When will justice come for those who desperately need it?
Jesus tells us to be persistent in prayer. God's will will be done in God's time, not in ours. In the meantime, we are told to pray without ceasing, to keep striving for justice by doing what we can, and to not lose heart.
The last sentence in this parable is the most striking. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" That is a very good but a sad question. We now live in a secular age where unbelief is a valid option for many. We no longer enjoy the quiet Sunday mornings when no stores are open, no athletic games are being played, and the whole family goes to church together every Sunday morning. Those days are over and we have to adjust to a new reality.
"When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" The answer will be "yes" if we continue to persevere in prayer and in our relationship with God, if we remain constant in our faith and pass that faith to future generations. We need to continue to hope and continue to pray.
Because of our faith and our prayers, we do not lose hope. We find the faith not to lose hope in a world where evil and self-interest seems to have dominion, because there is good in the world, there is love in this world, there is care for others in this world, because God is present.
God will set things right in God's time, not in our own. We need to do our part by spreading God's love and peace to those around us, by doing what we can to make this world a better and safer place, a place filled with God's care and love. Amen.
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