Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 10/20/2013

Back when I lived in New Hampshire, on the road between Peterborough (where I lived) and Keene (a larger city to the west) on the eastbound side of the road there was a house painted a hideous purple color; you couldn’t help but notice it every time you drove by.  It was kind of a landmark; everybody knew what you meant if you mentioned the purple house.  I also remember that at some point during the years I lived there the house was repainted, the same color, maybe a little brighter; Kathy seems to remember some polka dots too but I’m not sure.  The house is probably still there, I don’t know, I haven’t been that way for quite a few years.  It wasn’t attractive or tasteful though and it made you wonder why did they do this?  No one could possibly think this looks good.

There must be a story, and there was one although to be honest I can’t tell you for sure if it’s true or if it was just one of those urban legends.  Anyway, the story was that the woman of the household kept nagging her husband to paint the house but he didn’t want to paint the house.  She kept nagging though and finally to shut her up, during a time she was gone for a few days, he painted the house…purple, and that was that; end of story, end of nagging.

Luke’s introduction to today’s parable says that it’s about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.  The trouble is, the way prayer is described in the parable with the widow appearing repeatedly before the judge to plead her case, it kind of sounds like nagging thus raising the question, if this is about prayer, can prayer become nagging so that what God finally gives you is a purple house? 

Luke’s gospel has a lot about prayer, more than any of the other gospels.  Jesus himself prays a lot in Luke and he also talks a lot about prayer and the need for prayer; it’s definitely an emphasis and this parable today is another example although it is a little confusing.  Despite the fact that Luke seems to tell us the meaning of the parable in the first verse, that it’s about the need to be persistent in prayer, this is still cited as one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. 

In part it’s difficult because in the commentary Jesus provides in the last couple of verses, he seems to go in a direction that isn’t so much about persistence in prayer.  What he first talks about is the justice loving nature of God as opposed to the nature of the unjust judge who doesn’t really care about anything, and then he kind of shifts again at the end with the enigmatic question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” and one wonders what that’s all about.  It doesn’t seem to fit which causes some commentators to suggest that these last three verses are misplaced, that Jesus didn’t say this in conjunction with this parable. 

As I was thinking about it though, I think this lesson today, in its entirety, does hold together and can serve as something of a follow up to the Jeremiah lesson from last week where he encouraged the people in exile to get on with life as best they could.  With parables of course, there’s never just one correct interpretation, but let me offer one possibility. 

The parable Jesus told about the widow and the unjust judge was about persistence in prayer, the need to pray always and not lose heart.  But the persistence he’s getting at isn’t persistence as nagging; it’s not the kind of persistence that causes you to wind up with a purple house.  As I’ve said before, prayer is one of those things that many of us tend to feel guilty about.  We know we should pray but don’t feel like we do it as well or as often as we should.  In part though, that can be because of how we define or understand prayer.  Too often we limit what we think of as prayer to just asking God for stuff, asking for healing, well being, comfort, wisdom, guidance, understanding whatever. 

That’s definitely part of prayer and maybe it’s a part that we don’t feel we do as well as we should or we only do it as a last resort or, on the other hand, maybe it does get to feel like nagging after awhile and we wonder if it’s doing any good anyway.  This week though, I came across a definition of prayer that I thought was helpful and which I think helps get closer to what this parable is about and what Jesus’ comments at the end of the parable are about.  Instead of narrowly limiting what you consider prayer to be, think about prayer as “involvement with God as we deal with the world in which we live;” involvement with God as we deal with the world in which we live.

That broadens things quite a bit.  Prayer as involvement with God as you deal with the world is much more than offering your list of wants, not that that’s a bad thing to do; Jesus himself engaged in that kind of prayer and he tells us to do it too.  But still, that’s just one way of involving God in your life; there are many more, some obvious, some less so. 

There are all the classic and traditional forms of prayer that you learn about if you read enough books on it or take the Lay School class on spirituality, but even those don’t include all the ways of involvement with God.  Activities you don’t normally think of as prayer, might be prayer.  Bible study for example; that can be prayer because as you study you’re involved with God and maybe you say, “Well, that’s obvious,” but prayer can also be reading a story or a poem or watching a movie and thinking about how God might fit into it, how God might be revealed even though the story itself might not be overtly religious. 

Worship can be prayer, it should be prayer.  There are formal times of prayer during worship but how about listening to the choir anthem, singing the choir anthem, singing the hymns, listening to the sermon; all of them represent involvement with God.  Listening to or playing music, any kind of music, sacred or otherwise, that quiets you or makes you more attentive, that can be prayer; sitting quietly staring at the lake or gazing at a sunset; visiting someone who needs a visit, making a quilt, remembering to buy something for the food table when you’re out shopping. 

All of these things and many more can represent involvement with God; they don’t automatically represent that kind of involvement, but they can; they can be a form of prayer and I would bet that for all of you, at least some of the time you do those kinds of things and they are prayer.  Mindfulness is word that gets used in talking about prayer this way.  It’s being mindful of God’s presence even in the ordinary things and activities of life.  Sometimes it’s conscious mindfulness but I would suggest that sometimes it’s unconscious, you’re not really thinking about it but it happens because your mind has become quiet and more open to God’s presence; it’s hard to put words to, but you can feel it.

All of this can be prayer; it can be involvement with God as we deal with the world in which we live and I hope this makes you feel like your prayer life isn’t as bad as you might have thought it was.  There’s still a place for and a need for bringing your petitions and your thanks to God, but you might also be praying in a lot of other ways that you hadn’t thought that much about, ways that are persistent but which aren’t likely to bring any purple houses your way.

That brings me to Jesus’ question at the end of this parable, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  At first it may seem disconnected from the parable, as if Jesus had changed the subject.  But think of it this way; if prayer is a path to faithfulness and prayer is defined as “involvement with God as we interpret and deal with the world in which we live,” then Jesus’ question is quite appropriate and quite timely actually.  You know that there are more and more people living life with no involvement with God, living as if God were not a factor at all.  In addition to that there are many who are living with a very skewed idea of God.  Faith on earth does get harder and harder to find.  But it’s around and it’s evident in all these different ways that we pray.

There are those who persist in the faith because they know the life giving nature of the relationship that has been offered.  God is not an unjust tyrant like the judge in the parable nor is he a God inclined to serve up purple houses.  The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the God described so often in the Old Testament as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Knowing that, in many and various ways we persist in the relationship, we continue to be involved with God and through that involvement we witness to others.

The answer to Jesus’ question is yes; there will be faith on earth.  The answer is yes, and each of us has something to say about it as we carry on with life mindful of God’s presence.  By doing so we witness that there is faith on earth; we do pray always and we do not lose heart.

   

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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