Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church Oct. 16, 2016. Sermon Topic: “In a Heartbeat”


Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar Oct. 16, 2016. Sermon Topic: “In a Heartbeat”

Prayer – God’s love beating right here in our hearts, God’s law written right here on our hearts.
Prayer, only a heartbeat away. Yet just as we rarely think about our hearts beating until they get into trouble, so with prayer, we lose heart and forget about its power.

There once was a tent evangelist who was very successful. He had a charismatic personality and was a good man. After a particularly good evening revival meeting in a small village on the south shore of Nova Scotia, he was counting up the money.

Just as he finished and placed the money in a cloth bag, a young man who wished to speak to the pastor was ushered into the tent. As they spoke, the man’s despair was obvious. He and his family had left their home seeking employment, which never materialized. They had spent the last few nights in the car and were completely out of money. They didn’t know what to do.

But the pastor did. He said, “Let us kneel and pray.” And they did. They prayed for help and salvation and grace and comfort. And when the prayer was over, the pastor opened his eyes and there, directly in front of him, was the bag of money.

“Let’s pray some more,” said the pastor. And off they went, praying deeper and longer and more powerfully, calling on the saints and the angels to help this man. When the prayer was complete, the pastor opened his eyes…and there was the bag of money.

“Let’s really pray,” he said, and pray they did – passionately, begging, cajoling, pleading for a sign of hope for this young man and his hungry, destitute family. After that prayer was done, they once again opened their eyes. And there was the bag of money, still sitting silently by.

Finally, the pastor picked up the bag, passed it to the man, and bid him farewell.
Be careful what you pray for!

Prayer is a problem for many people. Does God hear my prayer? Am I really speaking to God or am I only speaking to myself? If I pray to God for healing and I am healed, does that mean that God would not have healed me if I had not prayed? Prayer lays many frightening questions before us.

Luke says that Jesus tells them this parable of the widow and the unjust judge in order that they might “pray always and not to lose heart.

If you think that prayer is a peculiarly modern problem, think again. Why would Jesus have told this parable to his own disciples? Why would he have given us the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer, if everybody back then believed in prayer? In fact, throughout Luke-Acts, there is a great deal of talk about prayer. All of this suggests that prayer is not simply a modern problem – it is a problem for anyone who believes in God. Prayer raises threatening issues, troublesome questions. Is there a God? If there is a God, is there a God who hears and acts for us? Our problem is often that we simply lose heart.

If we really believe in the power of prayer, if we really believe that prayer can affect world peace, if we were truly convinced that prayer changes things, changes us, heals broken lives and restores severed relationships, then we would be praying constantly. You couldn’t keep us from praying. But isn’t the problem with prayer the one that Jesus addresses here? We lose heart. We lack persistence.

So Jesus tells a parable about a very persistent woman. She is a widow, which means that she is very vulnerable. In that day and in that culture, she had no one to look out for her interests, no one to protect her.

She has a case against someone. Perhaps someone has taken advantage of her in business, someone has used her vulnerability in order to get something out of her. So she takes her case to a judge, and not a very conscientious one. Perhaps he is overworked – many judges were. At any rate, he basically tells the pleading widow, “Get lost!”

What hope does this poor widow – without political protection, totally powerless – what hope does she have before this judge’s bench? This one thing is her hope: she has the ability to pester the unjust judge. She won’t give up or give in. She is persistent.

Finally this judge says to himself, “Even though I could care less about God and can’t stand humanity, I will give this woman what she wants, just to be done with it. Jesus told us this parable in order that we might pray always and not lose heart.

How does this story keep us praying with persistence?

Maybe in this story, Jesus wants us to understand that, even though the world may look broken, unjust, and corrupt, if we keep working at it, if we persistently believe the world to be a basically good place, things will work out.

Perhaps we are supposed to understand this parable as saying, prayer really does work – if you keep at it. Sometimes prayer works slowly, but never lose heart – it works!

And maybe this story is also about the character of God. If this sleazy judge will open up his hand to those who seek justice, how much more so will God?

When your child suffers from great injustice, receives some great blow from life, what do you do? You attempt to comfort the child. “There, there,” you say. “It’s all right.” What do you mean when you do that? You don’t mean that the child’s pain is silly. You don’t mean that everything is going to be all right in this moment, or that fate will be reversed and everything will work out in this particular circumstance. You know enough about life to know that often things don’t work out all right.

What you mean is that finally, ultimately, in the larger picture, the world is structured in such a way that things will be all right. The pain will not last forever. Even the worst setbacks can be integrated into life and you will be able to go on. In other words, when you say “There, there, everything will be alright,” you are making the statement of faith about the ultimate character of the world.

So yes, I think this parable is a story about the character of God, the trustworthiness of God.

But how do we know? We have no proof. All we have is our relationship with God. This is the God who came to us in Jesus Christ, the one who loved us persistently, all the way to the cross. That is why we pray and do not lose heart. That is our model of persistence

There was a woman who worked for the Phone Company in the area of customer complaints. She took a call one day from someone complaining about some grave problem with her telephone service. The caller was told that her problem did not come under telephone company guidelines. In other words, it was the customer’s problem to solve.

But the customer persisted. She said, “I’ve always loved and respected the Telephone Company. Since I was a young child, coming home alone, my mother always told me, ‘If you have any problem, just call the operator at the telephone company and she will help. I trust the phone company to do what is right.'”

A light went on in the phone company employee’s brain and she realized that this was a discussion about the character of the Telephone Company. Even though the guidelines could not fit in this case, she reached out and helped the woman, just like in the parable today.

Perhaps Jesus is saying, “If even an employee of the big, impersonal phone company will ultimately be true to the good character of the company, how much more so will your Father in heaven be true to you when you persist at your relationship with God.” And that is why we do not lose heart.

Let us pray,

Lord, sometimes we lose heart.
We go through peaks and valleys in our relationship with you.
The valleys tend to defeat us.
In church on Sunday, you seem close to us, your word is vivid and real.
Yet we leave, go back to live on Monday, and matters of the Spirit can seem far away,
the flame that once burned brightly in our hearts grows cold.
We find it difficult to keep at it, to persist in the faith. Lord, give us a spirit of tenacity.
Make us determined in our desire to serve you, to seek your way and,
having seen your way, to walk in your way.
Make us tenacious, persistent,
determined to run the race of discipleship with perseverance.
We ask this things in Jesus’ name. Amen.