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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, M.Div.
Proper 24/Year C: October 16, 2022
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
Where did you first learn about prayer? Was it at church during Sunday school as a child? Was it in church as an adult? Was it through reading the scriptures or watching a TV show? I suspect that for many of us, we first learned about prayer, within our own homes and from the prayerful family members who modeled prayer practices—like praying before meals, without really explaining much about what was going on.
Several of my life’s most precious memories include watching my mother, for as long as I can remember, pray on her knees at her bedside, before she went to sleep, even until she was 73 years old. Witnessing her discipline imprinted within me the necessity of regularly communicating with God. Only a few months ago, I learned that my mother would also watch her father, my grandfather, pray on his knees at his bedside. Having a close relationship with both of them, I witnessed this disciplined practice throughout my life, and integrated it into my own life. I am reminded of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy when he told Timothy that he remembered his sincere faith, a faith that first lived in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, a faith which Paul was sure lived in Timothy.1
In today’s Gospel Jesus instructed his disciples about the necessity to pray always and to not lose heart through the parable about the widow seeking justice against her opponent, and who, on multiple occasions, engaged a dishonest judge. The widow turned to a Godless judge with no regard for the welfare of people. Many of you may remember the country song from the 1980’s, “Lookin’ for Love.” Recall that the refrain was, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places; lookin’ for love in too many faces.” From the start of this parable, it seems the widow was looking for justice in all the wrong places.
We know nothing about this nameless, faceless widow, other than her extreme persistence and how worrisome she became to the judge. She was a passionate self-advocate, holding the judge accountable to his obligation to uphold the societal expectations to care for orphans and widows.
We also know nothing about the widow’s opponent, we do know that the woman was so desperate to resolve the situation that she was willing to repeatedly face rejection before the judge.
Whatever the situation was, the widow was incapable of resolving it on her own; she went to the source whom she believed could act on her behalf to ensure justice. She was looking for someone to save her, but she was looking in the wrong place and seeking compassion in the wrong face.
In the Book of Deuteronomy there are 12 curses and the fifth is, “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (Deut 27: 19). Recall the judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. By ignoring the widow’s repeated pleas for help, the judge operated in complete disregard for Jewish law. To whom, then, would this man be held accountable? He operated above the law and on his own terms. Now, the widow, it would seem, was completely at the mercy of both her opponent and the judge. But the widow did not lose heart; she remained persistent, and was unrelenting in her pleas for justice. For the Lord is the judge who “will not ignore the supplication of the widow when she pours out her complaint” (Sir 35:17).
If we think about persistence, it is hard to deny that it is rooted in hopefulness. No one would repeatedly advocate for themselves, having experienced multiple rejections, unless they had some glimmer of hope that their efforts would not be in vain; that at some point, “no,” would be transformed into a “yes.” The individual would need only to show up with their petition, anticipating the possibility of their petition being heard and granted.
Wouldn’t you know it, the judge finally gave in, realizing that the woman would not. We know from the judge’s inner-self talk that the widow had gotten on his last nerve and that granting her justice was an act of his own self-preservation—nuisance be gone so that the woman would not wear him out by continually coming.
Now, please don’t let the takeaway from this sermon be that our prayers get on God’s last nerve. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our prayers are pleasing to God and they are the way that we show God that we are clear about the source of our hope and justice in a world that is so often the antithesis of God’s love. God wants us to do our best to try to wear Him out with consistent prayer, day and night, and to continually come to Him. Unlike the judge who feared being worn out by the persistent widow, we can’t wear God out.
At various points in our lives, each of us will experience what it is like to be the assertive, self-advocating widow, pleading to the unjust structures of society for justice against our opponents.
We are reminded to resist the urge to go looking for justice in all the wrong places, and putting all our hope in Godless faces. Whatever your situation is, know that, like the widow, you are incapable of saving yourself, and that there is only one source of divine justice. God’s faithful people trust that God acts on our behalf always, never being worn out by our petitions, but delighted.
Jesus calls us to model within our own families, and for those who have no relationship with God, the many ways in which prayer is engaged—individually and corporately within the community of faith. Praying over your meal in a public place, models your practice of prayer for others. Praying before the flight takes off, and when it lands, is a great way to model an integrated prayer practice. People see and notice, and perhaps, are reminded to pray themselves.
When we pray, with the hopeful expectation of the widow, expecting God to act on our behalf—God acts upon us, so that over time, our human nature and our character are transformed into the full stature of Christ. As that happens, we are, with God’s help, able to confidently face myriad opponents and injustices in this life.
It can be challenging to patiently wait on the Lord, but in the midst of anxiety, fear and impatience—do not lose heart, insert prayer. When God shows up for you in ways that are more than you could have ever imagined—insert prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
For Jesus, prayer was a matter of life and death, and we must regard it in the same way. For the faithful, a disciplined life of prayer, as it was for our Lord and Savior, is a matter of life and death. We NEED to pray, always, as if our very lives—our very souls—depend on it…because…they do.
1 2 Timothy 1-5.