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Sermon by the Rev Sandy Montgomerie

A little boy knelt down to say his bedtime prayers and his parents heard him reciting the alphabet in very reverent tones. When they asked what he had been doing, he told them, "I'm saying my prayers, but I cannot think of the exact words tonight.

So, I'm just saying all the letters. God knows what I need, and he'll put all the words together for me."

We might find that amusing but is not far from a way to pray! Particularly when we are not sure quite how to word our prayer

So we ask God to take our words and fit them into the correct prayer. We ask him to edit our prayers by cutting out the unnecessary and adding the necessary.

We ask God to use our minds and make them his. We ask the Holy Spirit to pray through us. Jesus assures us of this in the gospel message as we are reminded of the need to pray and not to lose heart.

Perseverance is paramount in prayer and this is focussed through this story of the unjust judge who finally redresses the widow’s wrongs because she will not leave him alone.

It becomes clear that this parable of Jesus is not about God, because it was certainly not Jesus intention to suggest that evil in the world is the consequence of God’s justice or the perception of injustice, rather it is about us, humanity in general, about the need to be persistent, to be determined, to not give up even when all seems against us.

Unless we can be faithful to a vision of a better world it will certainly never be realised.

So this challenge of faithfulness is passed on to us.

Often when we speak of faith we speak of doctrines, concepts, teachings. But these readings today speak of an attitude, a style of living, they speak of daring to swim out into the ocean, where we will get more than our feet wet. To take that risk of swimming in the ocean where we can’t see bottom perhaps, not to argue that it has no bottom but for that act of swimming itself. That is faith.

The widow who wants justice will not stop knocking on the judge’s door to demand action, and her situation is such that she will not and cannot let the matter rest and no amount of familiarity with her plight will make her stop from being a nuisance.

You will probably all have heard the expression “familiarity breeds contempt”.

Well I wonder if this makes sense, familiarity can lead us to stop praying.

There is a strong case for the idea that our worst and most ensnaring enemy is a word that is never mentioned in the bible.

That word ‘familiarity’ never seems to occur, perhaps the nearest we get to it, is when the biblical writers refer and make use of the theme of blindness.

Simply blindness makes us incapable of seeing what is going on around us.

Faith as determination and persistence is a powerful legacy we have to follow.

Pope John Paul II in a newspaper article was quote that he told a friend “prayer is the only weapon that works” and “that you must defeat evil with good”.

I think these two statements are worth bearing in mind as we think of our readings today.

It is all too easy watching our TV screens and seeing the sad world around us, a world that appears to be rapidly sliding down hill.

This seems to be the case no matter what countless faithful people do in serving God and humanity, in their respective posts in every nation of the globe.

Maybe it is because there are now more people in the world, and of course the activities they pursue are so accurately reported through the world embracing media of our day.

There appears to be more pride and hate, rebellion, ingratitude, violence, prejudice.

Its the I come first attitude, these kind of things are seen more and more and you really can get hung up on the idea “what can I do about all this?” in the negative sense.

How can we do anything to bring justice to these kind of world wide problems?

And I suppose we are only kidding ourselves if we think that there are immediate solutions. And that is the heart of the matter. Instant cures just don’t happen.

But surely that should not stop us from trying! 

An e-mail message that was entitled “Things I Really Don’t Understand”.  It had a list of questions for which there seems to be no clear-cut answer.  Here are a few of them:

Why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?

Why is abbreviation such a long word?

Why is a boxing ring square?

What was the best thing before sliced bread?

How do they get the deer to cross the road at those warning signs?

How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

These questions represent a light hearted humorous reminder that there are indeed a lot of things in this life that we just really don’t understand.

But let me take it to a deeper and more disturbing level.

For example, we don’t totally understand disease.  Why is a youngster perfectly healthy for 13 years of life… and then suddenly just happens to be in a place where they encounter some germ or bacteria that invades the body and destroys it?

I understand this happens in meningitis cases.

And we don’t understand accidents.  They are so random and indiscriminate.

You start out a day that is like any other day… and then something happens

in a matter of seconds… and life is forever different. 

You can never go back beyond that accident.

On and on we could go with our list… of things we don’t really understand.

Why is there so much pain in our world? Why do good people suffer?

Why do we hurt one another? Why can’t people get along? And why do some of the

best prayers seem to go unanswered?

Now, all of these difficult questions prompt us to raise yet another crucial question:

Can we count on God?  When we face the troubles of the world, the heartaches of life, the tough challenges of this existence… Can we count on God?

I think this parable from Luke points us toward an answer because it is there in that parable. Jesus then makes his point and he frames it in the form of a question.

He says, if an unjust judge gives this woman justice how much more will God bring about justice for his children?

We can count on God to answer our prayer but perhaps not in the time scale or result that we might hope.

God is not like the judge in the parable who began to see that to grant the widow’s request would make life easier for than if he were to refuse it.  

So God is the opposite of the judge, but it seems that we have got to pray almost as if God were as reluctant to give, although we believe that is not true.

He is ‘always more ready to hear than we are to pray’, He is ‘far more willing to give than we are to ask’.

Yes we can count on God to be with us when we are hurting, to be there with us in our suffering. Remember the footprints in the sand.  “It was there that I carried you my child”.

We can count on God to go with us wherever we may go.

Prayer should be part and parcel of our life as followers of Jesus, and it is not just for Sundays, there is always an opportunity for prayer, it is our direct contact with the almighty.

There are no charges to pay here, it is free.

In prayer we aren’t trying to badger God, that for the sake of peace he will give into our requests. It is much more an opening up of ourselves to God’s mind and purpose.

It’s being more ready to be the instruments in the answer of our prayers.

It is letting God into a situation in a more complete way, because of our willingness to seek his help and co-operation.

There is a story of the founder of the China Inland Mission, a man called Hudson Taylor. He realised, as many others have, that prayers can often lack determination and persistence.

His prayers for China had not been specific enough, As he said, “I have not been given more because I have not asked for more”.

From that point on he began to pray that 24 missionaries be found for China, two for each

of the eleven provinces and two for Mongolia.

Before eight months had passed there were 24 men and women ready to go. He prayed and he never lost heart.

On a lighter note there was story about a six year old boy who wanted a pet.

He asked his father for a puppy, but his father said, ‘sorry not now son, but if you pray really hard for two months, perhaps God will send you a baby brother’.

Well the little boy prayed faithfully for a month and then as it seemed pointless praying

any more he gave up. Of course he was really surprised one month later when a little baby boy arrived at the family home. That is what he thought when he saw the squirming bundle beside his mother.

His proud father drew back the covers and the little boy saw not just one baby brother, but two. It was twins.

‘Aren’t you glad that you prayed for a baby brother?’ asked his father. I am, said the boy, ‘But aren’t you glad that I stopped praying when I did?’

To be alive in the world as it is, is to be caught between two forces; that is the pressure of things as they are and that of the things as they ought to be. If we are alive, we are aware of the conflict between injustice as we experience it in our world and as we see it practised compared with the justice that we believe should be.

Why is there no justice we ask? Why does God do nothing?

Well prayer is the expression of that awareness, developed as it is through faith.

To cease to pray is to lose heart, to become hardened.

We need to keep our eyes and minds open to what is going on, and as we pray; then and only then will we experience the contradiction between the way things are and the will of God.

Because this is Faith!

And the question Jesus asks is, Will it continue? 

I’m sure we all hope and pray that it will with God’s help. Amen.