Persistent & Continual

We sat watching the presidential debate on a recent Sunday evening with our youngest son & his girlfriend. It was a strange experience even though good questions were asked by capable journalists and concerned citizens. The strangeness for me was the number of times the content of the question was ignored and answers not given… But these moderators kept emphasizing and asking questions again and again. Eventually some answers eventually came forth… and less frequently small bits of clarity were gained. Their persistence paid off over the long run of that arduous process over the hour and a half.
In looking at the lectionary readings for October 16th I could not help but be reminded of the debate, and of political campaigns at all levels. Especially when we read the portion of the second letter to Timothy where Paul writes about people “with itching ears” looking to find people who” will turn them away from listening to the truth and help them wander into fantasy”. That sounds like the current political climate where for many candidates and their supporters opinions and innuendo replace facts. It is evidenced in so much so fact checking now being an important element in the political commentary. Facts, and especially scientific facts, don’t seem to matter as much. It is as if one doesn’t have to be bothered by facts, especially if one doesn’t happen to like the facts. Ignore the facts or deny them and one does not have to face questions one doesn’t like.
We keep hearing from people who are discouraged about the political process. They talk about their fears, their disappointments, and some even predict the destruction of parties, and a few fear for the nation. More than one person has threatened to go into exile if the person they support is not elected. And the thought has occurred more than once to us as well.
The reading from Jeremiah this week was written in a time there has been fear, destruction and exile. A time in which the people of God felt forsaken – even though God was with them. But rather than allow them to marinate in their misery the prophet Jeremiah shares a word of the Lord with these same people. It is time, he declares, to build and to plant. It is time for action, a time for renewal of life and rebuilding. God has made a new covenant with us all which is not written on tablets, or parchment. It is a covenant written within us, written on the hearts. A covenant with God’s people based in the life and on the values of God. And for we who follow Jesus this is especially revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Reading the Gospel of Luke I again recalled the debate. Luke writes of Jesus telling about a judge who “neither feared God, nor had respect for the people”. This is another way of describing a person whose center is totally self. Someone who is entrapped in needing affirmation and whose ego pushes aside all other concerns. This judge is approached by a widow. In that culture a widow was one without wealth, power or influence. She demands justice but does not get it. Usually a person without wealth and power would just accept their fate from such an unjust judge. But this woman keeps demanding justice… again and again and again. After a while the judge grants justice simply so as not to be bothered.

Jesus uses this image, which was probably a familiar example of how the poor of his day and many of the poor and marginalized today experience the judicial system.

Here Jesus is saying if this judge who neither feared God nor respected people can provide relief will not a God who advocates for the poor listen, support and help those who ask?

But for me there is a further message. This widow gives us an example of Continual Prayer. Prayer that is focused and persistent.

Jesus, through the character of the widow, gives us a model of continual prayer. Continual prayer starts, stops, and starts again. It is the practice of returning to God day after day in prayer. Prayer that persists… Prayer that is not limited to words, nor does it bear the expectation that God will fix things.

So what changes when we pray? If we pray for the poor, for the sick, for those in need…do we expect that our words are like an order to a celestial Sears and Roebuck? We put in the order and eventually it gets delivered? That is not a good image of prayer. What changes the most in prayer is the one who is praying!

When any of us lift up the hungry in prayer, for example, it should make me aware of what I am or am not doing to help, or my prayer may show me what I could do. It may give me insight into how we might approach the causes of hunger and poverty in our town, our country and the world.

The widow shows us Continual Prayer is action that comes out of what we know that God values. One aspect of that action is continuing to be in conversation and reflection with God about the issues or concerns. The second aspect is discerning what we need to be doing to see changes that represent the scriptural values of radical hospitality, radical acceptance, forgiveness and boundless love for all God’s people – and most especially for the marginalized, the poor and the powerless.( Specifically in scriptural language: the widow, the alien in our land, the poor, the dispossessed and others who are different from us.)

Prayer is not just words to make us feel good or feel that we have done something… One of our favorite slogans about prayer is on the tee shirts worn by Exit 0 volunteers. “Don’t talk about it – BE about it.” That is continual and persistent prayer.

Driving to church on Sunday a breaking news story was of men arrested for plotting the bombing of a Muslin Somali Community on the day after the election, in the heartland of America. A planned attack on immigrants who moved to America get away from violence in their homeland is deeply disturbing and of itself invalidates the idea of Muslims as the source and threat of extremist views and tactics. Here we have our neighbors, (using Jesus definition of neighbor) who are being threatened by fellow citizens. What do we prayerfully plan to do about that?

In this election season, in any and every season, remember the new covenant written on our hearts. Do not succumb to discouragement and give up – do not give in to exile; or hopelessness. There ARE things we can do to create the justice we seek for ALL God people. But the widow did not get it on her first approach. And we must continue to caringly demand these things first of ourselves, and then of our courts, our political leaders, our police, our government and our citizens – for only then shall we see God’s will “done, on earth as in heaven.

Nancy & Don

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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