by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Please Turn in your hymnals to hymn 405 and we are going to start by singing!
Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
Seek, and you shall find.
Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.
Thank you. This song is based on a scriptural explanation on how we should interact with God. As praying people:
- we ASK (and it shall be given)
- we SEEK (and we shall find)
- we KNOCK (and the door will be opened)
But prayer doesn’t always work that way… we pray and pray and nothing happens. We pray for safety and instead we get danger. We pray for riches and instead get debts. We pray for health and get illness. So, when we encounter a scripture lesson like this one from the gospel of Luke, it is a bit confusing. HOW do we remain faithful in our prayers? DO we really think prayer works?
Let’s turn to the gospel lesson from Luke 18: 1-8. Now, this is a unique one, because it tells us exactly what we are supposed to get out of it, right at the start. It begins, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
In this parable, there are two characters: the judge and the widow.
What do we know about the judge?
(“neither feared God nor had respect for people”)
He was not a good man. He didn’t fear God; he didn’t honor the God who created him; he didn’t humble himself before the Creator; he didn’t look to a higher power for help or guidance. He didn’t fear God.
Nor did he respect people: he didn’t empathize with others or care about others; he did not see others as human beings. He did not respect people.
So he did not have God or people, but what did he have? Power. He had the power to bring about justice in the case of the widow.
So what do we know about the widow?
The widow, as a woman alone in the first century, was vulnerable to being taken advantage of in any number of ways. Because she did not have a husband, she may have been easy prey to those who would take advantage of her financial straits and her physical vulnerability. But…despite her weak position, she does not give up and eventually gets her justice. (1)
Now, one way to unpack this parable is to understand God as the judge and Christians in the role of persistent widow. Author Sharron R. Blezard explains, “That makes for a nice example, but there is one major issue with that approach: God is NOT like the judge at all. God’s nature is to love and to give lavishly. God doesn’t give just to get rid of us; the Creator of the universe desires to be in relationship with the created. Perhaps, then, this approach is not the most fitting application of the story.
One could liken the judge (who neither fears God nor respects anyone) to the forces in this broken world that run counter to God’s way of being, and to the powerful who abuse their power, exploit the marginalized, and ignore the injustices and suffering around them (sometimes a result of their own doing). We, then, are urged to be persistent in opposing these forces and calling for justice. Perhaps our persistent pestering will indeed wear down the will and the walls are barriers to justice. Plus, in the midst of all this pestering, God is with us. God is active in the world, and God hears and answers prayers.” (2)
So how do we emulate the persistence of this pesky widow in our own prayer life? What elements from her story can we incorporate into our lives?
* Let’s go back to the song. We ask, seek and knock.
First, we ask. And the widow is a great example of persistence in asking. She does not give up after asking once. She does not take no for an answer. She demands to be heard and she persists until she gets what she wants.
Like many people, I am a fan of the “Harry Potter” books written by JK Rowling, and a majority of the seven books takes place inside the castle, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In the fifth book, Harry and his friends discover an amazing room called the “Room of Requirement.” The door to the Room of Requirement appears to the seeker that has a grave need, and repeats that need three times. Once the door appears and you open it, it is filled with everything you’d can imagine to fulfill that need. There are times in the stories where Harry and his friends walk back and forth before the wall, trying to word their request just right in order for the door to appear. I can imagine us in front of that wall before God, asking God in prayer for something. “I need to be rich.” we repeat and walk past.”I need to be rich.” And the door doesn’t appear.
So we try again, “ I need lots of money. I need lots of money. I need lots of money.” And the door doesn’t appear.
And we change the wording and the phrasing time and again. Until we end on “I need help to feel grateful for the life I have. Please help me.” And that door opens.
Keep asking. But also, modify and change to ask the right questions.
Then, we seek. Where are we looking? What are we looking for? Would we know it if we saw it? Did you play hide and seek when you were a kid? What was the more difficult job: hider? or seeker?
I think the seeker was the harder job, because often those children hiding would move, run and hide somewhere else; many times it was strenuous and active, not just opening our eyes to see… SEEKING means that we overturn every rock, look in every crevice. Similarly, in our prayer life, we must actively SEEK… not just look for God’s answers in the obvious places, but under very rock and in every crevice.
And finally, we knock. But we can’t knock on EVERY door. Some of those doors are not our doors. Your answer may not be mine. So, we need to find out which door is ours? The widow knew her door. Her doorway the judge who stood in her way. And she kept knocking until the door was opened.
* I’ll finish today by repeating Psalm 121, as a reminder and as a prayer for us:
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let (our feet) be moved; he who keeps (us) will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is (our) keeper; the Lord is (our) shade at (our) right hand.
The sun shall not strike (us) by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep (us) from all evil; he will keep (our lives).
The Lord will keep (our) going out and (our) coming in from this time on and for evermore.
“This final verse of Psalm 121 reminds us that God is in control no matter what calamities (human-induced or natural disaster) may befall us. It is important to note that the verse implies security as we go out from the beloved community into the world. We are sent by God to live in the world, and that can be tough; however, we do not do this alone. Jesus calls us to pray always and tells us not to lose heart.” (3)
So let us Ask and Seek and Knock with persistence. Let us lift our eyes to the hills and be assured that God is with us in times of joy and sorrow. And let us pray for guidance on this road of life. Amen.
- Alyce Mackenzie, found on https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/power-persistence-alyce-mckenzie-10-15-2013.html
- Sharron R. Blezard found on http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/10/pester-pester-pester/