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LSB Proper 24C Sermon – Luke 18:1-8

October 16, 2016

October 16, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

What will cause you to lose heart? What brings enough frustration to lead you to despair and give up hope? The answers will vary by individual. And even in the same individual’s life, the events that cause them to lose heart will differ by degree. Our students might consider failure to master quadratic equations or the proper conjugation of verbs to be reasons to give up learning mathematics or foreign languages. The recent graduate whose job applications are repeatedly rejected or the 20-year worker who’s been persistently passed over for promotion can lose heart. Or we see the despondence among our seniors who have been told that they can no longer live safely on their own and will have to move into a care center. More examples can be given, several for each individual.

Jesus knows that His disciples could lose heart. But in their lives as disciples, that is even more hazardous, because it’s not a matter of academic prowess, employment, or residential independence. When the possibility of losing heart arises among Jesus’ disciples, it becomes a matter that could cost people salvation. Could what Jesus’ disciples experience bring them to the point of just chucking it all? Would they stop being people who trust that God the Father will provide what they need? Would they abandon their belief in Jesus?

Those are the issues that lead Jesus to tell the parable that you hear in the Gospel Reading. The Gospel Writer includes the preface: “And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus’ story is meant to teach His disciples a truth, so that they won’t be led to despair and give up hope. Instead, they would be encouraged to be constant and steadfast in their faith and in prayer, which is an act of faith.

Jesus’ story focuses on a judge: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” This is not the type of person that we would want as an arbiter. Such a person is a poor administrator of justice. He has no concern for what God might think about his actions, whether they are right or not. He has no concern about how his fellow citizens might think of him. So this judge fears no temporal or eternal moral evaluation. Yet, he is the one who has the authority to hear cases.

The other character in Jesus’ story comes seeking justice from this unjust judge: “There was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’” This widow—a vulnerable, powerless individual—needs the judge to render a verdict in her favor. She has been wronged in some way and needs to have the court compel the offender to make her whole again. The story doesn’t tell what the matter is, but we can infer that it must be serious, since Jesus says that the widow “kept coming to [the judge]” with her suit.

Now Jesus tells you what the judge does: “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” He finally responds rightly to the widow’s suit. He finally issues the order that gives her justice against her adversary. But not because this was an attempt to do what was right. Not because the judge was showing his moral character. Not because he wanted to be lauded by his fellow citizens. No, Jesus reveals the judge’s thinking: he finally does the right thing because he doesn’t want to be bothered by this widow anymore. He wants his courtroom to be free from her and her constant clamoring.

Jesus’ story might resonate with some of you who have had to deal with judges or other people in authority, like your supervisor or teacher or mayor. Maybe even for our younger members, how they deal with their parents. If you just ask enough times, the person will approve your request just to get rid of you. But that’s not the point of Jesus’ story. That’s not the reason why His disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” He isn’t telling them that if they will just ask enough times God will acquiesce and give them what they ask for.

No, the point of Jesus’ story is seen in what He says afterwards: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” Jesus wants His followers to think of God in light of the judge in the story. He is using a lesser-to-greater comparison. The unrighteous judge finally does what is right, even though doing so is not a true reflection of his will and character. He just wants to be rid of the widow. But God’s will and character are much different. God desires His people to ask Him for things. In fact, He commands it. He also promises to hear and answer His people.

Part of having faith in God is trusting that this is so. This is why the Small Catechism includes its note about the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer. When commenting about the “Amen” at the end, Martin Luther included these words: “This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘Yes, yes, it shall be so.’” The trust that Jesus’ disciples are to have in God the Father includes believing that He desires us to ask Him for all things good and that He hears us. But even more importantly, that He will provide what is good. That is the justice that we ask for: that whatever is good and right according to the LORD’s will for us be granted. This is why Jesus asks and answers the questions: “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”

But what do you experience? What do you see? Do Jesus’ words seem true to you? Or do they appear to be only partly true? In the lives of the LORD’s people, that speedy response promised by Jesus doesn’t always seem to occur. Evidence mounts that prayers don’t get answered and that justice is delayed, if given at all. Perhaps as you’ve been listening, the thoughts have gone through your mind: “Sure, there are some prayers that God answers. But I can think on that prayer Jesus taught us and find times when those petitions weren’t answered. Where is God’s will being done here on earth? Daily bread seems scarce. I’ve done things that God could never forgive. Look at all the evil around us that we have to endure; there’s no deliverance from that.” Those thoughts stand behind what the Gospel Writer said about Jesus’ story: “And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

And lest you think that you’re the only type of people to have those thoughts, you can look at the record of the LORD’s people in the Scriptures. They have the same ideas. They were expressed in the psalmist’s words: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” The Old Testament Reading showed you an example in the person of Jacob. He was left alone, facing the appearance of his brother Esau who had a death wish against him. It appeared that no good end would be forthcoming. Yet in that night, Jacob wrestled with God. This was a physical manifestation of prayer. Jacob was clutching at the LORD’s promises and clinging on to them. And he receives the change of identity: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

The prayers of the LORD’s people are like that wrestling. That is especially so when the matters are serious and the answers don’t seem to be quickly forthcoming. But this is when Jesus’ words are spoken so that you would not abandon hope, but would continue to pray and not lose heart instead. They aren’t words to distract your mind or to deceive you. No, they are words meant to embolden you. The repeating of the promise is to point you to the justice that the LORD is giving to you. What is good and right for you according to the LORD’s will is being carried out.

Even if what is being endured appears to be unjust, the LORD is still accomplishing His will and fulfilling His promise for you. You are not lost. You are not condemned. You are not abandoned. The testimony about the LORD is true for you: “He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber…. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand…. The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” The LORD is present with His good gifts and spirit, bringing you through what you endure to the fulness of your salvation. That’s the justice, that’s the good and right end that He is accomplishing for you. It is the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection that has brought you salvation and everlasting life.

So Jesus asks the question at the end of the Gospel Reading: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” That question is posed to you. You have heard the testimony about the LORD. You have heard the commands and promises concerning prayer. You have been given examples of how the LORD is with His people. You have also been told how prayer can seem like wrestling with the LORD or like the widow’s constant petitions before the judge. What you’ve heard is meant to drive your action.

Prayer, an act of faith, is called for. The LORD wants to hear you praying for what is good and right according to His will to be done. So ask it. Be persistent in doing so, knowing that you aren’t governed by an unjust ruler but a righteous and merciful LORD. Ask for His justice in your life. Ask for His justice in your home. Ask for His justice in your community. Ask for His justice in your congregation. Ask that His will be done and fulfilled for you and through you. What His will determines is good and right will take place. And when the Son of Man comes at the Last Day, He will find faith on earth among you and all the other disciples who have prayed and not lost heart.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

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