Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5; Luke 18:1-8
The woman in the Luke passage (Luke 18:1-8) annoyed the judge by being persistent in her asking for mercy from her opponent. At first the judge would not do what she was asking. But she persisted, and finally the judge did what she asked simply to stop the annoyance in his life. Jesus was telling this parable to his disciples to make the point that they, and therefore we, should be persistent, be faithful in our prayer. Eventually, God will succumb to this persistence, this pesting, just to get relief from our begging. Jesus is making the point that we should pray always and not lose heart.
In the New Testament lesson, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Paul is telling his protegé, Timothy, to persist in proclaiming the message whether the time is right or not right. Timothy shall also persist in living righteously, even enduring suffering.
In our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob persists in a fight he was having with an unknown person. All night long, Jacob and this stranger wrestled. Jacob persisted until the stranger struck Jacob in the hip and put it out of joint. But the real outcome is that the stranger was really God in disguise. God gives Jacob credit for persisting but at the same time gave this suffering to Jacob. God renames Jacob. The new name is Israel which became the name of the whole group of God’s favored people – the people who would not obey for any length of time. These Israelites did not persist in their faithfulness.
The Psalmist in Psalm 121 tell us, “ … the Lord watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand … the Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore.” So here God is being persistent in his watching over us.
George thought he knew what should be happening in his life. He wanted to stay in his own home and have his children take turns caring for him instead of his going to a retirement facility. You are probably wondering if he had enough money to go where care would be available for him, three meals plus snacks, medical services including doctors on the premises. A barber was in a nice, comfortable barber shop right in the building. Yes, George had a nice amount of money with his name attached to it. Also, George’s home was in good shape and he could realize much money in selling it.
Many people who knew about the family’s dilemma were praying that George would have a change of heart and mind so that no one would need to take the upper hand and be insistent with George against his will. Praying, praying, praying; every day praying for George to have a change of mind. One open assisted living room after another was filled while George kept his steel attitude, all the while needing emergency trips to the hospital, all the while causing his children and their families to suffer because they did not want the guilt which would result in neglecting this person who was their father.
On the other hand, Hannah also came to the state of poor health. She believed that her family should not be burdened with the care that was required to keep her safe and in as good health as possible which means regular healthy meals, the right medication at the right time. While she still was capable of doing research herself, Hannah planned exactly where, how, and when she would sell her home and belongings and sell her car and enjoy a carefree life in an independent living apartment in a lovely retirement community. She was careful to check that this same facility had an assisted living area and a nursing area so that as time went on, she could move from one to the next to the next as her health dictated. She was still taking care of her own finances but she streamlined them so that whichever son or daughter would be taking care of them, as time went on, could easily move into that position with little effort. Hannah was persistent until she had accomplished all of this decision-making and actually accomplished it.
Both George and Hannah were being persistent. George persisted in staying in his home, steadfast to the end in his determination to stay put, no matter whose life was being held hostage. Hannah’s persistence was with herself and guess who else! Yes, she claimed God as her guide, protector, companion. She could enjoy her family; not demand of them more than they could handle. She could join the Psalmist in saying, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Behold the keeper of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep, the Lord will keep you from all evil and will keep your life.” Did you hear, “Keep your life?”
What exactly is life? Is it the opposite of dying? When does being alive change from feeling pleasure to being feeble with pain and no choices remaining? How close are you to this point? Many feeble and hurting people want to die. Many! If God permits one of these persons to die, is this God’s mercy showing or is it God giving in to pesty prayer? It could be a result of pesty prayer. However, it could be that God actually agrees that this person has reached God’s time of being called into the heavenly kingdom.
In our present age, our elected senators and representatives are being persistent and going nowhere. Where is God in this ridiculous situation? God is in us. God is in our praying – our persistent praying. We may and can send letters or e-mails to whomever we think could make a difference and who will pay attention to our opinions. We could assemble a group to demonstrate at a strategic location. Or, we could spend our time in fervent prayer concerning the punishment of the citizens while our well-paid elected officials play at “who blinks first” and accept pay for it while millions of people suffer.
Should our prayer ask for vengeance against the people who are acting so hurtfully? God says, “No.” God says that he himself will take care of the vengeance. We can calm ourselves, relax, place the anger in God’s hands and snuggle into the closeness of prayer. We can be praying for the hearts in congress to melt; to be brought to a halt with clearly seeing what they are doing to people and caring about it. We are expected to be persistent or pesty in our praying for this situation in the United States of America.
Are there no sensible senators and representatives? Yes there are. We need to look for them and communicate our support to them. We need to cover them in prayer so their boldness can be maintained; so that their numbers will grow. We need to persist in remembering who is who for the next election. That is what democracy is all about.
All the while we are praying for the stalemate to end, we need to examine our own behavior and posture. Is God pleased with how we are living? Is our relationship with God similar to the Israelites? Where is my back at this very moment? Am I facing God or am I facing the power of my credit card? Am I grabbing my earthly possessions to myself? Am I wondering what I would try to save in a flood or fire or war? How about you! Where is your face? Do you spend more time thinking about the people who do not have paychecks or are you thinking about the raise you may not get?
We shall be persistent but with what? The answer is ………. . We shall do as Elizabeth does. Elizabeth spends more time in helping the people in the homeless shelter than she spends enjoying her nice home. She has come to love these people who cannot keep themselves and their clothes clean or hair cut. Paul spends his day off from the barber shop to come to the shelter to cut hair free of charge. These people cannot afford tissues for their persistent colds and cannot afford medical care for their pneumonia. If they somehow get to the emergency room of a hospital, the hospital often pushes them out the door totally unable to help themselves and they surface in the town library or in one of the social services facilities needing healing both of body and soul and mind. Barbara is a nurse and uses her precious hours off-duty to use donated medicines and bandages gathered from people who care. Barbara drags herself home feeling grieved for the people to whom she has just ministered. But she is persistent as is Paul who cuts hair and washes hair.
Then there is Viola whose heart breaks for the people who walk past her door during the day because the shelter is only open at night. She prays and prays, asking God what God wants her to do with her guilt because she is so blest. Well, Viola decides that God will protect her and will somehow sustain her as she opens her doors and the pathway to the shower. Viola has been led by God to also show the path to the clothes washer and dryer. How old do you think Viola is? She is old enough to know that it would be very smart to have a kind, but strong man assisting her with this daily project – people coming and going each day until the week has past when she welcomes repeat guests. Viola was helped by God to find such a man who appears with the first person from the street and leaves with the last person. “Hallelujah,” she says, not to herself only but to everyone who happens to be in the house one-by-one. Persistence, perseverance! Yes, indeed.
And what do I do? What do you do? Maybe you are persisting in another direction to help your sister or brother in the Lord. Maybe you are taking food to the food pantry or to the homeless shelter. Maybe you are volunteering to help people with walking through the maze of paperwork to receive the assistance they need. Many of these people cannot read so maybe you are tutoring. Maybe your are renovating houses. Maybe you are helping with the community garden. Maybe you are persistent in keeping the streets and sidewalks free of litter.
Maybe you are leading a recovery group such as AA or NA or whichever one you have needed yourself in the past. Are you being persistent in talking about Jesus wherever you are free to do that? You may be one of the Christians who cannot keep from sharing the good news with other people because you are so excited to be one of God’s baptized children. Maybe you offer an after-school club so the young people are not home alone or walking the streets where trouble finds them.
How then are we being persistent? And when will God answer – yesterday or tomorrow? Amen