Summary: Discipleship and Stewardship are so closely related as to be indistinguishable. We are called to be as generous with our prayers as with our money or service.
A young man went into a drugstore to buy 3 boxes of chocolate: small, medium, and large. When the pharmacist asked him about the three boxes, he said, “Well, I am going over to my new girlfriend's house tonight for supper. Then, we are going out for the evening. If she only lets me hold her hand, then I'll give her the small box. If she lets me kiss her on the cheek, then I'll give her the medium box. But, if she really lets me smooch seriously, I'll give her the large box.”
He made his purchase and left.
That evening as he sat down for dinner with his girlfriend's family, he asked if he could say the prayer before the meal. He began to pray, and he prayed a most earnest, and intense prayer that lasted for almost five minutes. When he finished his new girlfriend said, “You never told me you were such a religious person.”
He said, “And you never told me your dad was a pharmacist!”
Prayer is the first commitment we make as United Methodists. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that the Methodist life was one that matched works of piety with works of mercy. For him, the first work of piety was prayer. Methodists are praying people, or at least, we were. For Wesley, prayer was the foundational practice of a disciple of Jesus Christ. As such, when we join the UM Church, our first commitment is to support the congregation with our prayers. Certainly, we should be generous with our prayers toward our church, but prayer is so much more than prayer for something. Jesus, in our Gospel passage today chose two parables to teach his disciples the necessity of prayer. As I reflect on these parables, I find three elements of generous prayer that should anchor us as disciples of Jesus Christ. I see that our prayers should be persistent, transformational and humble.
According to many public opinion polls, prayer is important to most Americans. Gallup pollsters found in one recent poll that 90% of Americans pray, and 86% say they believe in God. It’s interesting that more people pray than claim to believe in God? 83% said they favor prayer at graduation exercises, and 70% favor prayers be allowed in school.
In today's Gospel reading Luke 18:1-14, Jesus focuses on prayer using the parable of the Unjust Judge and the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican to encourage us to persevere in our prayer and to remain humble in our prayer. Prayer is precious to our Father in Heaven. The Apostle John, who was listening as Jesus told these parables, says that the prayers of the saints are equated with incense offered to God at the altar (Revelation 8:3-4).
I need to first remind us what Jesus is NOT saying with these parables, especially with the unjust judge. He is NOT saying that God is as tightfisted in answering prayer as the unjust judge was frugal in granting justice. This judge was likely one of the paid magistrates appointed either by Herod or by the Romans. These judges were notoriously corrupt. Unless a plaintiff had influence and money to bribe his/her way to a verdict they had no hope of ever getting their case settled. These judges were said to pervert justice for a dish of meat. The people, using a play on the Hebrew words that made up the title of their position, even called them robber judges. The implication in the story was that some rich person had bribed the judge not to give the widow justice. We don’t know the reason. Reason doesn’t impact the point of the story. The point is her persistent prayer won the day.
So, what is Jesus saying? If the Unjust Judge in this parable gives justice to the woman, surely God, who desires our prayers, will do so, too. The Jews in the first century limited prayer to three times a day, usually 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. They didn’t want to wear God out by their petitions. It is the routine the disciples would have been familiar with, but Jesus was teaching quite the opposite.
God inhabits our praise and our prayer. The real danger is that we will run out of energy, or that we will abandon our commitment and give up praying. We should note that the woman came to the judge because she expected to win. She had faith in receiving a fair judgment from the judge. Eventually. She was employing the only weapon she had—persistance. Too many of us, far too often, do not expect God to answer prayer. And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s be honest. How many of us here today find prayer too hard? The reason we don’t seem to get anywhere may be that our motivation is suspect. Why do we pray? Do we see prayer as something to do, to appease an angry God? Sort of a divine insurance policy? Do we see it as a religious duty? God wants me to pray, so I must do it. Do I do it expecting a reward? Pray looking for a blessing? Or, do I come to the Lord to be in Fellowship, to hear His Voice?