Equipper
Equipped for a mission-focused
Journey With Jesus

Sermon for October 16, 2022 – Proper 24

Speaking Of Life 4047 │ Prayer: It’s Not a Transaction

Have you ever bought something online or from a vending machine, it takes your money, but nothing comes out? It’s frustrating, right? It could feel like that sometimes when we pray. The truth is prayer is a way for us to know God more. Let us learn to seek God daily, to know him more, and hopefully recognize what he wants best for us and His glory.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4047 Prayer: It’s Not a Transaction
Michelle Fleming

Have you ever bought a snack from a vending machine? You put your coins in, push the button, and then your treat drops down behind a small swinging door where you can retrieve it. That’s what happens if the vending machine is working right. But sometimes the vending machine takes your money and doesn’t drop any treats. You push the coin return, but no coins come back. So you put more coins in, and this time you choose something else. But then that doesn’t work, either. You might give up, or you might file a complaint, but more than likely, you walk away disappointed. The vending machine is part of a transaction where you put money in and expect to receive goods in return.

Sometimes we get the idea that our relationship with God is transactional. We think if we offer up the right prayer, or get the right number of people praying, God will answer. We might also misinterpret scriptures, thinking they are telling us what to do, when what they’re really telling us is how good and gracious God is. A good example of this is in the parable of the Unjust Judge found in Luke 18.

The story goes like this: there was a judge who didn’t care what anybody thought – he only cared about himself. But there was this widow who kept bugging him, night and day, saying, “Give me justice!” Finally, the judge did what the widow asked because he was sick and tired of being bothered.

Many of us who remember this parable might think that Jesus is saying we should keep praying, much like plugging more coins into that vending machine, until God answers our prayer. You may have heard phrases like “storming the gates of heaven,” referring to a particular style of intercessory prayer. These types of prayer are more interested in outcome than in relationship. This parable is about how not to pray.

Notice Jesus’ words as he interprets the importance of the parable’s meaning:

6-8 “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will.
Luke 18:6-8 (The Message)

The main point of the parable is not about what we do, but it’s about who God is. In the parable, Jesus contrasts the character of an unjust judge with the kind and compassionate character of God. Jesus says that if someone with such low character finally listens to a widow who had no status or money, how much more likely it is that our loving Father God will hear and answer us?

Prayer was never intended to be a transaction, like coins we plug into a vending machine, expecting our desires to be granted. Instead, prayer offers us the chance to develop a relationship with God. Prayer is about knowing God and seeing his divine love and comfort for us and for others. Parables like the Unjust Judge are intended to show us we can always rely on God’s good and gracious character.

My hope is that we all experience prayer as it was so beautifully intended –
a life-giving, loving relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

 

Psalm 119:97-104 • Jeremiah 31:27-34 • 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 • Luke 18:1-8

The theme for this week is the loving power of prayer. Our call to worship in Psalm 119 speaks about our role in meditating on God as a form of prayer, lifting our thoughts beyond the mundane and ordinary to consider God’s perspective of our lives and choices. In Jeremiah 31, we’re reminded of God’s covenant, his faithfulness, and his willingness to forgive. Studying Scripture, thinking about church doctrine and traditions, and then integrating them with personal experience in prayerful contemplation is addressed in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. Our sermon text is Luke 18:1-8, where Jesus shares the parable of the Unjust Judge (also called the parable of the Persistent Widow) to help us understand more about the purpose of prayer.

What Prayer Tells Us about Love

Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)

You might remember hearing some years ago about the humanitarian Mother Teresa. She was a nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her efforts in founding the Missionaries of Charity, which managed and supported homes for people dying of leprosy, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. She lived in India for most of her life, and worked to organize soup kitchens, schools, and orphanages. There’s a story told about Mother Teresa. In her efforts to raise money, Mother Teresa was meeting in New York City with the president and vice-president of a large company. They had already agreed ahead of time that they were not going to donate to her organizations, but they said they would meet with her. Mother Theresa sat across from them and shared about her work and the need of the people she served. After she finished, the executives told her, “We appreciate what you’re doing, but we can’t donate at this time.”

Mother Teresa responded to them by saying, “Let us pray,” and then proceeded to beseech God to soften their hard hearts toward the poor and the sick. After she said, “Amen,” she asked again for their support, and they again refused to help.

“Let us pray,” Mother Teresa said, and at this, the president relented and wrote a check.

We might laugh at Mother Teresa’s version of persistent prayer, but we find a similar example in the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8. Let’s take a look.

 

Read Luke 18:1-8, NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

Depending on the translation you choose, the parable in Luke 18 could be titled “The Parable of the Persistent Widow” or “The Parable of the Unjust Judge.” This difference in perspective highlights the many layers of the parable that offer insight into social justice issues, God’s loving character, and our faithful prayer. Let’s consider:

The Need for Justice:

Jesus begins the parable by describing the character of a judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2, NRSV). A widow in need of justice kept coming to see him, yet he refused to help her. In the cultural context, Jesus’ Jewish listeners would understand that this judge was ungodly because biblical texts, such as Exodus 22:21-25 or Deuteronomy 24:14, 17-18 specify protections for widows, along with others who are considered among the most vulnerable.

However, this widow’s actions showed her determination not to submit to exploitation. In v. 5, the original Greek can be translated like this: “because this widow causes trouble for me, I will give her justice so that she may not give me a black eye by her coming (hypōpiazō). Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:

So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating (hypōpiazō) the air, but I punish my body and enslave it so that after proclaiming to I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NRSV)

Notice the word is used in the context of boxing where something was taking a beating. There was an intensity in the widow’s refusal to accept injustice despite her situation. She knew she deserved justice, and she refused to take less.

We can consider our response to social justice issues, where human beings are oppressed and marginalized by human institutions. What if we are struggling from injustice? God is big enough to give us peace – even in the midst of struggling? He doesn’t need our help to fix things, but we can we seek to join in what he is doing?

Do we intentionally seek God for wisdom, insight, and intervention? This parable highlights our need to pray and not lose heart. When we see others struggling because of injustice, will we seek God’s direction? Sometimes we fall on the side of being overly critical for someone’s desire for justice. Can we hurt when others hurt? Can we go to God on their behalf? The parable suggests that praying for justice on behalf of vulnerable people is part of our responsibility as God’s children.

God’s Goodness and Love

Jesus contrasts God’s loving character with the unjust judge in vv. 16-18a:

 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” (Luke 18:16-18a, NRSV

Contrasting God’s care with the uncaring, unjust judge helps us remember to whom we are praying. We are not approaching the throne of an abusive father, one who would delight in our demise, but instead, we are running into the arms of our Creator, the one who made us and delights in us:

The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV)

We are loved by a God who renews us and who sings over us. If an unjust judge finally gave a persistent widow the justice she deserved, how much more likely it is that God will intervene on our behalf.

Persistence in Faith and Prayer

Jesus ends the passage with an important question:

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8b, NRSV)

We often think of faith as belief: belief in a set of theological doctrines or belief that there is a triune God who created everything there is, including us. However, we can expand our idea of faith to encompass the belief that God truly is who he says he is, that nothing surprises him, and that he is in control. Our faith in and through Christ motivates us to participate with him, joining him in doing good in the world by pointing to the one who can fix all things. In other words, our faith trusts in God’s ultimate power and authority despite the presence of evil and injustice.

This brings us back to the first verse in the passage:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. (Luke 18:1, NRSV)

We remember Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NRSV), but sometimes we view this as a requirement to having our prayers answered rather than seeing it as a means of developing a deeper connection with the lover of our souls. When an answer to prayer is delayed, we sometimes think to ourselves, “I must not be praying enough or praying the right words.” This type of thinking is based on the wrong idea that we control God by our prayers – or actions. In reality, we must redefine faith as a willingness to persist in seeking to connect with God, believing in God’s goodness and love even when faced with difficult circumstances. This type of faith is a way of living that refuses to turn away from the connection with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even when life doesn’t make sense. This type of faith persists in the face of sorrow, and it’s the faith the prophet Habakkuk spoke of:

For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay…but the righteous live by their faith. (Habakkuk 2:3, 4b, NRSV)

Our faith enables us to persist in hope and love, living out our Christian value of loving others as ourselves. Our faith makes us take our troubles to the One who provides what is best for us. Consider these New Testament examples who were commended for their faith:

  • The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his slave (Matthew 8:5-13)
  • The paralyzed man and the friends who lowered him through the roof to be healed (Luke 5:17-39)
  • The bleeding woman who touched Jesus’s robe and was healed (Luke 8:43-48)
  • The grateful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:11-19)
  • The blind beggar on the road to Jericho who was healed (Luke 18:35-43)

Notice these people who received healing had suffered, some of them for years and others for their entire lives. Their healing was a long time coming. Even Jesus was not resurrected for three days. But God’s justice and healing will prevail, and when we think about the certainty of this, we can see how God might be more like the determined widow in the parable who refuses to give up in her pursuit of justice.

Think of prayer as our way of saying “Yes” to letting God love us. This can help us be persistent in prayer without turning it into a transaction, expecting God’s response in direct proportion to our effort. Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows offers these thoughts about our role in persistent prayer:

Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, [and] illusions multiply…. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving the divine Self in love… We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love. (Essence of Prayer, pp. 1-3, 5)

Author and therapist James Finley sees setting aside time for quiet contemplation as essential to cultivating receptivity and awareness of God’s loving presence:

Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), God’s ways are the ways in which love awakens you again and again to the infinite love that is the reality of all that is real…. Your heart becomes accustomed to God, peeking out at you from the inner recesses of the task at hand, from the sideways glance of the stranger in the street, or from the way sunlight suddenly fills the room on a cloudy day. Learning not to be surprised by the ways in which you are perpetually surprised, you will learn to rest in an abiding sense of confidence in God. (Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, pp. 33-34).

Persistent prayer and “unceasing” prayer stem from cultivating an awareness of God’s love that is ever-present in our day-to-day lives. We grow more confident of God’s presence and goodness, and when our prayers seem to go unanswered, our faith is resilient and patient.

Application:

  • Recognize our role in ensuring justice for those who are marginalized in our culture. Jesus’s parable tells us we are to pray with purpose and seek God’s direction – all while not losing hope. This parable shows that justice for the most vulnerable is important, and we need to consider our response to those who cry for justice.
  • Realize that we are loved with an everlasting love. God delights in us and always has our best interests in mind. He is persistent in loving us and providing what is best for us.
  • Understand that faith means persistent hope in our loving God, and unceasing prayer is our confident “yes” to rest in God’s presence and care. By living in this confidence, we learn to see God’s presence in everything, even the most difficult of circumstances.

Mother Teresa was persistent in prayer, wearing down the executives who were reluctant to support her work with the poor. In the “Parable of the Persistent Widow,” we see persistence demonstrated and we see justice for vulnerable people. If an unjust judge eventually heard a poor widow or a couple of New York City execs finally paid attention to a nun from India, how much more will a loving God attentive to our prayers. Our understanding of prayer moves from a stance of control and transaction to a relationship where we seek to say “yes” to God’s love and allow it to flow to others.

For Reference:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-4

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/taking-the-fork-in-the-road

https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2016-10-10/luke-181-8/

https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-181-8/

Burrows, Ruth. Essence of Prayer. HiddenSpring, 2006.

Finley, James. Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God. Harper San Francisco, 2004.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W3

Video unavailable (video not checked).

October 16 – Proper 24
Luke 18:1-8 “Persistent Prayer”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W3

Anthony: Let’s transition onto our next passage, which is Luke 18:1-8. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 24, which is on October the 16th.

And it reads,

1Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not become discouraged, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect any person. Now there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect any person, yet because this widow is bothering me, I will give her justice; otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge said; now, will God not bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long for them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

And Walter, I’ve often heard this text preached something like this, be prayerfully tenacious, like the persistent widow. And I think we both agree that it’s good to be persistent in prayer.

But what can happen is it gets communicated that we somehow have to twist God’s arm or maybe even condition him to be good to us. If we get enough people praying, we can bum-rush heaven so we can wear God down and he will relent and give us what we want. What is a Christ-centered exegesis of this passage?

Walter: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a really true observation that prayer is something that everyone will always feel guilty over, right? You, if you want to humble someone, you just ask them, so how’s your prayer life going? And that will inevitably produce the response, oh man, I should be praying more or better or differently, and I need to work on that. And I throw myself into that very camp.

But I think again I would like to put this parable in context, and that is typically when a parable is told, it’s told it as an illustration, like every good preacher, there’s a point. And then you want to illustrate that point. So, for instance, when Jesus was asked, who is my neighbor, he illustrates the point by just telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So, the question that arises in my mind when I read this parable, we hear it read, is what’s the issue that Jesus is trying to illustrate. Why did he tell this story? What’s the point that he’s trying to get across? And again, if you go to the previous passage, there’s this description of the coming kingdom of God that is not yet. That we all are living in this space of the already and not yet. We know that the kingdom of God has come, but we want it to come in a certain way, in a certain package.

And they thought, followers of Jesus at that time, the disciples thought it would come in a certain way, and it would result in the vindication of Israel by the annihilation of the Roman empire and the restoration of the land. And so, they were all waiting for that with expectation for justice to be done on earth.

But of course, the justice would look a certain way and come in a certain time. And I think it’s so appropriate for us to ask the question, what is it that we are longing for that would make sense of this parable? What is it that we deeply desire in life? And is it the coming of the kingdom? Is it that justice would be done on earth?

Because the nature of the widow’s request is for justice, it’s longing for things in the world to be put right. And again, it’s really important to see the context of the widow being the one asking this, like the leper in the previous pericope that we had discussed. So, all throughout the old Testament, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among us and the poor, there’s these four categories of people that represent the marginalized in society, those in most desperate need of justice.

So, what’s going on in this passage? I don’t think it’s primarily intended to be a guilt trip for Christians to pray better, longer, harder. I think it’s completely misguided to think in those terms. For two reasons, one here, this is an argument from the lesser to the greater, even if there’s injustice in this world, unjust judges that prevent the widow from getting her due.

The point here is God is not like that. So, whatever the parable is trying to say, is trying to say that we have a generous God who loves to hear us, but simultaneously so much of what Scripture teaches us over and over again in its stories is that it’s profoundly realistic. On the one hand, we have this amazing picture of the generosity of that he is not like to unjust judge, that he is generous in how he wants to restore the world, that he thinks of the widow, the orphan, the alien among us, the poor, and he has them close to his heart. He cares deeply.

On the one hand, we can say how much more, if God does this for us sinners, now that we are right in Christ, that he would listen to our prayers, that he would treat us without condemnation, that he would enable us to say, Abba father, all of that is true.

And yet it’s also true that we are not fully there yet, that we are waiting for the ultimate vindication and restoration of new creation and new earth, new heavens, and the fulfillment of the kingdom. And in this world, there is a kind of waiting and yearning and longing that we have. And I think the parable is trying to get us into that place.

Not of guilt. But of longing, longing for God to make things right, longing for the love of God to be fully manifest. And we know that longing will always be left slightly unfulfilled in this world. It awaits the fullness of God’s kingdom at the consummation of God’s redemption in this world. And so, creation, we, as God’s people, we all grown with longing.

I find this a beautiful invitation to long, to seek for justice, to have confidence in God’s love and to bring all those things in prayer.

Anthony: No, that’s so good. I appreciate what you said about the longing while also seeking justice, because if we’re not careful as we think about this inaugurated kingdom, the already not yet, we just wait around for the, not yet. So, we’re just waiting for Jesus to reappear, but there is an already aspect as if we can be active participants in the justice that God is bringing to his good earth.

What else do you want us to see or know from this pericope?

Walter: Yeah, that final question is haunting, isn’t it?

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? We hear this phrase, so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Sometimes as a critique of Christianity or maybe certain forms of Christianity, they’re just concerned about one’s eternal salvation as if it were something of an eternal fire insurance so that you don’t go to hell.

There is a legitimate place for critique of a vision of Christian life that is narrow and only focused on getting people saved and in this narrow way, but that’s a caricature. I actually think, in order to be any earthly good, you actually have to be heavenly minded because Earth’s problems are too great that they would overwhelm you and you will end up either being swamped by it or choosing to ignore it. If you do not have a hope greater than earth and to understand what the end point, what the finish line, is supposed to look like actually gives you strength to untangle yourself from sin and to engage in the race that is set before us.

I think that final question really puts on its head the critique, oh, you’re so earthly, heavenly-minded, by basically saying in order to be earthly good, be heavenly-minded. Remember that there will be a day when the Son of Man will come back, and all of this will be consummated.

The question is, will he find faith on earth?

Anthony: That is haunting for sure.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Thinking about prayer as if God is a vending machine can be problematic. When prayer is thought of as a transaction, what issues do you see when a person’s prayers are not answered?
  • When we pray for specific outcomes, we are attempting to control situations or people. How can we pray so that we don’t attempt to dictate God’s response to our request?

From the sermon

  • Which “layer” of the parable spoke most to you? Was it the need for justice, God’s goodness and love, or persistence in faith and prayer? What was meaningful about this aspect of the parable to you?
  • Have you considered quiet contemplation as a means of making space for an awareness of God’s loving presence? If so, what does that practice look like for you?

Leave a Reply

© Copyright 2022 Grace Communion International

GCI Equipper Privacy Policy