Sermon 16 October 2022 | Frank Gillies |
Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart, – “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Prayer and Faith are the subjects of the opening and closing lines of today’s Gospel reading.
A parable is a means of explaining spiritual truths through human situations, and this is one of the many that Jesus uses in his teachings. What is Jesus trying to explain in this brief story of the widow? Likely an elderly woman, who with dogged determination – tenacity and persistence – repeatedly asked for justice, until she got her judgment, from someone who really didn’t care. So God, Jesus says, who does care for us, will respond to our prayers.
Prayer is Important.
Martin Luther said: “to be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing”.
People all over the world pray. In all nations, all cultures, all religions, prayer happens. In a basic, generic sense, prayer is a person communicating with a higher power. In the Christian faith, prayer is our direct line to our Creator, to God. It is bringing our petition to God no matter what it may be. If we need help, or comfort, healing, strength, encouragement, direction, thanksgiving… in all things we can go to God in prayer.
It is also about relationship – it puts us into a personal connection with God. Prayer is an act of putting oneself in front of God, that will bring you closer to God. The closer one comes to God the more peace and joy will fill your heart. In Prayer we may find a haven from the turmoil of life. We can pray at church, at home, at work, on a bus, train or plane: we can pray anywhere – it may just take a moment to still our mind and heart, to connect ourselves to being with God.
How to pray
A thing to bear in mind is that there is no right or wrong way to pray. We are all different and we will all connect with God in various ways. It is invaluable, particularly in times of anxiety and fear, to be able to pray and so already to have developed and strengthened our own habits of prayer. We can best learn to pray by praying and being persistent in prayer. We can make our own extempore prayer – it can be something brief and simple or use one of many set prayers found in prayer books and online. And we have a great resource right here in our own New Zealand Prayer Book that contains a collection of diverse prayers that can be used by individuals, groups or families, including daily Devotion, Midday Prayers, Night Prayers and Family Prayer.
Don’t give up on prayer if you think your petitions are not answered. God answers in His time: we need trust and patience. God will listen, but he may not necessarily grant us what we ourselves think we want or need. After the Last Supper, on the last night he was alive, when Jesus went to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives before his arrest, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done”. (Luke 22: 42). The answer, as it did for Jesus, may come in God’s wider purpose.
St. Luke, earlier in his Gospel (Luke 11: 13), has it this way: “If you ……, who are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask him!”. It is not the secular, material things of this world that God is concerned with or is going to default to in his answer to us. It is through grace and the Holy Spirit that God will answer us.
Jesus also taught us to pray with sincerity, to avoid vain repetitions. We should pray with faith – belief and trust – and with real intent. “When you are praying do not heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6: 7). Or in another translation: “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as …some do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again”. (Matthew 6: 7)
Pray from the heart – even if we pray with ‘the words of another’ they should be declared as if they are our own. Put your whole soul into your prayer. John Bunyon said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart”. So, when we pray, we should try, in our mind’s eye, to briefly think on the meaning in the words……that is, not to recite on autopilot without thinking, but to say with an understanding of the meaning of what it is we are seeking or asking for before God – to God. Praying with meaning is probably most readily achieved by extempore prayer when we have to make an effort to say what we think, but it is also important that when we say set prayers: to think on the meaning in the words as we say them.
Faith & Trust
The last sentence of today’s Gospel was, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?“. That is “how many will he find who have faith?” That Faith is not just believing, but also putting our trust in God by responding to the Call of God by living the faith we do have – in what we do, how we live our lives, both in relationship to God and to the lives of others.
The earlier reading from 2nd Timothy was, “you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”, or put another way, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Jesus”. Trust requires a relationship – it has to be lived, and prayer is a part of that.
What do we gain by prayer? The ability to pray, to put oneself before God, is a gift from God. I said earlier that in prayer we may find a haven from the turmoil of life. Those who place their full confidence, their trust in a loving God, can experience a peace, an inner calm in their whole being. St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (4: 6-7), says it better than I, when he wrote (NLT), “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”. This is a peace that comes from being in a right relationship with God. It is not the peace of this passing physical world – for that we need to pray.
Jesus taught us to pray always. Keep at it … do not give up. Pray with faith – belief and trust – and with sincerity, real intent. Jesus made the distinction between His peace and the world’s. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives“. Such serene peace is also a gift from God. It is a peace that can come to us through prayer.