Sermon preached by Archdeacon Trevor Harrison at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity 25 December 2019 It’s a marvellous, wonderful,... read more
‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. IN everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus’
Usually we read in the Gospels that Jesus tells a parable and then explains it to his disciples, often quizzing them as tits meaning. In this parable he is very clear, or at least the evangelist is so that the hearers are without a doubt about what the meaning of the parable.
The reading begins ‘Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.’
It’s obvious enough isn’t it. We are told that the unjust judge nether fears God not has respect for human kind. The Jews took great pride in having a compassionate and impartial judiciary and the Torah, the Law lays it down that they should have especial care for the poor, the widows and orphans. Not so this guy. We might well imagine that he was hoping for a bribe, but in the end he decides to give in. The widow is seriously embarrassing him and he might well be fearing for his reputation. This woman is making it very public and clear what a corrupt and unscrupulous judge he is. Of all people, this woman, the least powerful in Jewish society, is not going to succumb, defer or give in
He says ‘though have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this woman keeps bothering me [and he might be saying and seriously embarrassing m in such a public way, to the extent that others might begin to ask questions about his integrity as a judge], I will grant her justice [so he acknowledges that she is being denied justice] so that she may not wear me out. The words we have translated here as’ wear out’ actually mean punch me in the face or below the eyes. She might give him a bloody nose! This woman n is not going to give up what so ever...
Clearly we are not to compare the unjust Judge with God but to see the very clear contrast. The widow goes to the unjust judge time and time again and only gets anywhere because the judge wants to be rid of her. With God, the widow can go time and time again and will get God’s full attention every time. Jesus isn’t saying that the widow won’t visit any the less if it’s God. He’s saying that, unlike the unjust judge, God isn’t interested only in his own comfort and getting the pestering widow out of his hair. When we go to God in prayer, no matter how persistent we are, God will always be there to listen and desires only what is good and best for us, each one of us... In fact, God is so unlike the unjust judge that he wants us to keep coming back to him, to seek his will and his guidance, his love and support in our concerns and care.
A deep and meaningful relationship with God is built over a lifetime of meeting God in prayer, not just going for a quick fix for instant gratification, nor simply in times of crisis and need [though then too does he reaches out to care and love us.]
These meetings with God augment each previous one, building up, over a lifetime, a cumulative richness in our souls that bespeaks something of God. Like a piece of treasured antique furniture that has been handed down through the generations, it will have its share of knocks and dents, but will also a have a precious, unique sheen patiently gained through years of everyday, prayerful life.
‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus’.
Persist in prayer. I think this does not mean constantly making petitions to God but seeking to live in the presence of God, being constantly aware that I live in that presence and that presence is moving and encouraging, sometimes challenging and cutting me to the quick sometimes deeply apparent, and sometimes apparent only through faith in the darkness of feeling God’s absence, though he is constantly present. The OT lesson describes something of this persistent striving, this wrestling with God in prayer – it can be dynamic, gut-wrenching as well as filled with joy and peace. It can be filled with angst and anger as well as determination and new imsight. Look at the psalms, they are filled with lament as well as praise, our human struggling towards become who we truly are and can be, seeking to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ. To know that I live in the presence of God
There is a snag with the gospel though. As I said in my letter in the pew sheet this week, When I read the gospel as I began to prepare for this sermon, I immediately thought of the words of Jesus -'Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open for you.' We know these words so well. But they are very hard to take when it feels so often that our prayers are not being answered, that the door seems to be locked, that I keep not finding what I think I'm looking for.
There was a so-called Christian group in England some years ago that advertised Prayer Cheques. Each cheque had a serious of boxes for you to tick depending on what you were after – a new car, a new boss, a new wife even! You sent your 2 pounds to an address in Manchester and the group promised to pray for you and you were certain to get your prayer answered. Would you believe that a sizeable group of people were sucked in by this scam? They were!
A TV show called 'Nationwide' chased this story up and discovered rubbish bins full of these prayer cheques. The cash was gone of course!
Every day I pray for those I am closest to of course, for those I have been asked to pray for, I pray for peace and for justice, I pray too that with all my doubts and uncertainties I can be God's faithful priest and that I will not get in God's way. Above all else though, there is a prayer in which all my prayers are held – and that is, whether or not my prayers be worthy- 'Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, Your Kingdom come, your will be done'. Take my prayers and do with them what you will, for you know above all else what is best. Remember Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? –‘Father take this cup away from me [what a cry of pain and dereliction] yet not my will but yours be done’.
When I pray for the sick I pray for each person's healing and wholeness. What might this mean? Recovery of body, mind and spirit? – yes often. To be given all that that person needs to face whatever the challenges of their condition may be and to find peace in their inner being? Above all else, yes. That God's will may be done in and through them and that they may choose to be open to the grace and love of God in the midst of their suffering? Absolutely! For this peace is deeper and stronger and so beyond our mortal life and its pre occupations. It is the love and life which will never die and in which we will live for ever. For at the end of the day, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The tears of the grieving are God's tears too. The tears I weep for those who are in pain are my ears too, are God’s tears just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, over his friend Lazarus. The pain of the suffering is God's pain too. In every moment God is being crucified by the evil and inhumanity which we do to one another. The yearning of those seeking peace and justice is God's yearning too. Indeed it is the Spirit of God groaning within us calling us to newness of life and love, calling us to keep working for the peace which is of the Kingdom of God. And we will not give up because we believe and know that all that separates and injures and destroys is and will be overcome by all that unites and heals and creates. That is the truth of the Resurrection. In time and out of time as Mother Julian of Norwich said all those centuries ago ‘and all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner thing shall be well’. She also said ‘put your mind into your heart and stand in the presence of God all day’. Yes indeed, amen
Our morning prayers on Wednesdays start with the sentence from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians – 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus'. I love that verse! It's hard sometimes, in fact quite often, but I will do what Paul says!