Read Luke 18:1-8
Prayer before sermon
Gracious God, enfold us now in your perfect plan for us, we pray.
Enter into our depths by the power of your Holy Spirit so that we may indeed become the people you intended us to be.
May our prayer life take over our lives, as our dependence on you grows, and leads us to revel in your kingdom and pray intentionally for your kingdom to come here on earth.
Speak into our lives, here and now, Holy Spirit as you shape my words to be your words and our thoughts to be your thoughts,
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Saviour,
Have you ever wanted anything so much that you’d do anything to get it?
You’d go, in fact, way out of your comfort zone, even straying beyond the normal confines of your personality to achieve your goal. Do you remember your passionate petitions to God, and your faithful, persistent prayers.
The short parable we are exploring today which Jesus told of the widow badgering an unjust judge is placed in Luke’s Gospel following teaching in an apocalyptic style. Jesus has been explaining to the crowd about the return of the Son of Man and the coming kingdom of God. Luke includes a warning about the danger of following false prophets, as do the similar passages in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels. So the tension is escalating. Something is about to happen. A sense of urgency prevails. You wouldn’t want to experience what happened to all those who were destroyed when Sodom was wiped out because of people’s wickedness, Jesus warns, in this previous passage, in Luke chapter 17. Don’t dawdle, or be indecisive about whose side you’re on, Jesus tells us. Look what happened to Lot’s wife! An intensity is building now in Luke’s Gospel. This urgency has both a faith and a social justice dimension to it. The city of Sodom was destroyed because people turned from God’s ways, and oppressed others.
So by placing this brief ‘slice of life’ encounter of the desperate widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18 immediately after declarations of the coming Kingdom of God, Luke is clearly indicating to believers the right ways to prepare for the second coming of God on earth.
Prayer is absolutely central to an authentic Christian life style, Luke goes on to demonstrate.
As we noticed back in January in our introductions to Luke’s gospel and have observed throughout this series on prayer in Luke, praying is a central feature of Luke’s portrayal of Jesus, and of his teaching. Prayer and praying are mentioned over thirty times in Luke’s Gospel and in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, including here in this brief parable where Luke emphasises the necessity and effectiveness of constant prayer. The early Christians who read this scripture would have sat up and taken notice of its protagonist, the pleading widow, because they were well aware that Jewish law emphasised that widows and orphans were to be particularly well cared for. Deuteronomy 24: 17 warns the people not to deprive the aliens or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.
This judge wouldn’t have been a Jewish judge. He would have been one of the paid magistrates appointed by the Romans or by Herod. These judges were well known for their oppression rather than for justice. Their title was even made fun of. Instead of calling them by their official name of Dayyanah Gezeroth which means ‘judges of punishment’ people called them Dayyoneh Gezeloth – ‘robber judges.’ – because that’s what they were.
This widow symbolised all who were poor and vulnerable. In our day sadly we have many groups of people who could be described like this, but refugees including those from Syria who will soon arrive to settle in Dunedin must surely be one of the most obvious examples of fragility and vulnerability in our time.
This parable appears only in Luke’s Gospel, and has much in common with the parable in Luke chapter 11 which we explored last week of the friend at midnight, desperate for three loaves of bread to share with another friend who had arrived late at night in need of hospitality.
It was the widow’s persistence that produced success. The unjust judge, who although he relents in the end, because he’s fed up with her badgering, and is frightened that her next move will be to hit him, is compared unfavourably with God’s unconditional mercy to His children. This dramatic slice of life demonstrates how much more readily and willingly does God love to answer our prayers because it is his nature to care for his children.
The thing is that as well as the gracious gift of God’s abundant answer to our prayers, you have probably discovered that as we pray, we are changed, by God’s power at work in us. Yes, prayer changes situations, and some of our prayers are answered by God in incredibly miraculous ways, but in the answering of our prayers, God also changes our hearts. We are softened, and moulded as we become more like Jesus. We find it easier to do God’s will and to know what God wants us to do, as we spend more time alone with our Heavenly Father, bringing everything to Him. When we pray God speaks into situations that have previously been intolerable, and transforms our hearts.
An example of a faithful servant of God whose prayer life lifted her right into God’s presence and above challenging hurdles is the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor who lived from 1848 till 1915, reaching people for Jesus in Nigeria from when she was 28. As a child I was impressed with stories of her courage and faith.
Even at home in Scotland when young she knew how to tap into God’s strength to cope with frightening situations. Her father was a violent alcoholic, often terrifying his family when drunk. Mary and her mother ‘prayed to quieten their hearts’ comments her biographer.
On the mission field, Mary Slessor was constantly on the move – under pressure to save the lives of those condemned to death under the harsh primitive religion of the people she was ministering to.
One intolerable practice Mary sought to abolish was the ritual of killing one of the babies when twins were born. There was also an existing ritual where, to establish guilt, the parties suspected of committing a crime, would eat a poison bean – and if they died, it showed that they were guilty. Mary was desperate to know how to handle this situation, and so she prayed passionately for God’s guidance. When she rose from her knees her fear had vanished and she was tranquil and confident.’ She was able to defuse the situation by facing down the chiefs and she saved the men’s lives, because she had prayed. (Website, ‘Streams of Living Water’ by Rev. Dr. Colin Dow.)
The two parables we’ve looked at this week and last Sunday, from Luke 18, and Luke 11, emphasise the power of prayer to change us, our relationship with God and with others, and to change situations.
We are the blessed recipients not only of answered prayers, but of God’s infinite mercy because God gave us everything in Jesus – forgiveness, friendship, hope, abundant life on both sides of the grave, and the precious gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire us.
Shortly we will celebrate the holy meal of communion that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was put to death, as an innocent man, as the sacrificial lamb. No one else could have ever done this for us, except for Jesus, the Son of God, who saved us. As we share in this holy meal together we are united with Christ, who gave everything for us.
In this time of remembering God’s gift of Jesus for us forever, we acknowledge that God’s power transforms our weakness. If you are struggling with a reality that is beyond your control and is bringing you down, hand it over to God in prayer. People would love to pray with you following our service here today, so you don’t need to leave here with burdens on your heart. If you’d like someone to pray with you after our service, just take a seat up the back, and someone will pray with you.
Let’s pray now, as we still our hearts to hear God’s voice of hope….
We your children depend on you for everything, and give you thanks in all circumstances. We know that you fill our lives with good gifts, and we delight in the plans you have for us. This day, this week, fill us with a deep desire for your ways and your wisdom. Help us to never give up praying but to trust you for everything,
in Jesus’ name we pray,