Summary: A sermon on prayer based on Luke 18:1-8 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
“Are Your Prayers in the Dead-Letter Department?”
By: Ken Sauer, Pastor of East ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN
No doubt you have heard about the Postal Service’s “Dead Letter Department.”
That’s the place where mail goes when it’s not clearly addressed or doesn’t have enough postage and the sender’s identity can’t be figured out.
There the letter is opened and it is examined for clues as to where the letter came from.
If the return address can’t be found the letter is destroyed.
It never reaches its destination and any requests made by the writer remain unanswered!
How about you?
Do you feel like your prayers end up in some kind of dead letter department?
Do you feel like your prayers never reach God?
If so, this parable is for you.
As we take a look at the New Testament it becomes obvious that Jesus was never afraid to ask things of God the Father.
He asked for wine at a wedding party.
He asked for more bread and fish to feed a crowd.
He asked God to heal the blind, the lame, the mute, and the possessed.
Jesus asked a lot of God.
And He never felt as if He were imposing.
And here in our Scripture Lesson, Jesus is telling us to do the same.
The problem, of course, is the identity of the “judge who neither feared God nor cared about [people].”
Jesus is speaking here not of God, but of a human judge—and a rather cold and heartless one at that.
No doubt, it can be hard to knock on someone’s door.
That’s something many of us learned early in life—perhaps as paperboys or girls, or trying to sell fund-raiser candy.
There we would stand, on the doorstep, wondering who was inside, wondering what kind of reception we’d get.
If there was a barking dog, that made it much worse.
And sometimes when you ring the doorbell; you don’t hear anything.
“Did the doorbell even ring? Does it work?” we might ask ourselves.
Then we might wonder, “Should I ring it again—or should I wait? And if I ring it again, how long is the acceptable interval?”
Most of us who have been in that situation would probably agree: “Doorknockers are superior to doorbells.”
With a doorknocker you never have a question.
“Rap, rap, rap” on the brass plate, and if anyone is lurking inside, they have to hear that noise.
Jesus tells us about a woman who stands knocking on someone’s door: knocking and waiting, knocking and waiting, wondering if the judge will ever answer.
Now, Jesus doesn’t tell us that she is literally knocking on the door—but He does tell us that she “kept coming to him with a plea,” saying, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
This woman is a widow, and very likely lived in poverty.
In the male-dominated culture of that day, she had no social standing of her own and no right to file a complaint in court, unless a man did it for her.
The law of Israel said that judges were to take special pains to hear the complaints of people like this widow.
The Scriptures are very compassionate when it comes to the likes of her.
The first Chapter of Isaiah upholds this high ideal of justice: “…learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
It doesn’t appear, though, that this judge has read the Book—at least, not recently.
He’s a tough customer.
Some theologians speculate that he would have been a crook, a charlatan, a thoroughly corrupt person.
He was just out to make a buck.
And this woman had no money to pay him.
“Why, she can knock on the door forever,” as far as the judge is concerned.
More than likely, this judge is a bureaucrat.
His desk is piled high with paper work, and this paperwork requires his stamp of approval.
It can be tough to be heard through a whole lot of paperwork.
One time Mother Teresa signed into a California hospital for heart tests.
After signing her name to the umpteenth legal-release form, she put down her pen, shook her head, and said softly, “So many signatures for such a small heart.”
Yet, here is this widow, standing on the bureaucrat’s doorstep.
Who does she think she is?
She just keeps pounding on the judge’s door!
And as time wears on, the judge’s resistance begins to falter.
It’s hard to sleep when you’re lying in bed with a pillow over your head and when you glance out the window and see all your neighbors’ lights going on, as they look out to see who’s causing all that racket.
Finally, the judge admits that he’s beaten.
“Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!”