10/17/2010 – Pray without ceasing

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 17, 2010
Psalm 119:97-104
Luke 18:1-8
The Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer

When my girls were small we started a way of praying that was a review of their day and their emotions. It started “Dear God, today I felt happy when… sad, mad, powerful, scared, peaceful.” Madeleine loved to pray this way, she usually had more than one story to tell for each emotion. Carlisle was younger and found it harder to think of how she had felt each day. One night, when Carlisle was about 4, I sat down on her bed to pray. “Mom,” she said, “Can we pray this way?” She got out of bed, knelt down, crossed herself, pressed her palms together, and closed her eyes. I knew our two girls were different, but this reminded me … they are very different! And so is everyone, when it comes to what prayer works for us.

People often ask me to pray, something about the career I chose I guess. Sometimes I feel a fraud. I think people imagine that once a day I put on a long white robe, come into the church, light candles, kneel on the hard wood floor and pray for a couple of hours. If you believe that I’ll tell you which numbers to play on the next powerball for the simple price of $1,000. Remember when I was doing 20 minutes of silence a day? Well, even that fell by the wayside.

Today we heard “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Have you noticed this about Jesus? The Hebrew Scriptures require that a person give 10% of their income, or potatoes, or time to the Lord. Jesus says “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” The Hebrew Scriptures suggest that righteous people pray five times a day. Jesus says, “pray without ceasing.” Thanks for upping the anti Jesus!

Do you pray all the time? When someone asks me to pray it means they are put into the Sunday bulletin and their name is read aloud by the whole community. If a person is on the long-term prayer list they are prayed for every Wednesday. My praying for someone might mean giving them a call, thinking about them, or checking in with friends or family.

How do you pray? Some of you take the bulletin home and use it in your own private prayer. I don’t spend hours on my knees but someone else at St. John’s does. Some people make casseroles and deliver them. Some people call or visit, or write a card. Sometimes giving a ride, or talking about the situation with other friends is a prayer. If I read a poem that reminds me of you, I send it. I had a good friend who cut out newspaper articles and pictures and sent them to me. I always felt held in his prayers.

And what is prayer?

Is it sitting by someone’s side in a hospital bed, holding their hand?

Is it a kiss or a hug?

Is it shouting “help!” or “oh shit!” Or “oh my God, I can’t do it anymore?”

Is it going back to bed to cry?

Digging a hole or washing the car or running around the block?

Sitting up all night with a crying baby?

What is prayer?

When I first read the gospel, the story of the persistent widow, as it is called, I thought I would preach about justice, because clearly that is what it is about. She cries out and finally she gets what she deserves. Why? Because even though the judge has no fear of God and no respect for anyone she irritates him enough so he relents and gives her justice, for his own selfish reason.

But God is not like the unjust judge. We heard last week in the letter to Timothy that even if we lose faith, God must remain faithful, because God cannot deny God’s self. God fears God, and has respect for all people, even the worst of us. So, Jesus says, “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?”

Reassuring; just what we want to hear. God will quickly hear our prayers and grant justice. Perfect end to the story; neatly tied with a bow.

Except it isn’t the end. Jesus has one more question, “will he find faith on earth?” In other words, is anyone taking this promise seriously? Is anyone crying out to God? Do you pray without ceasing?

Scream, cry, fold your hands, get off your butt, pray, where ever and when ever. Because if you don’t, how will God ever hear you?

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