Summary: Today’s passage challenges us to think about the Christian discipline of prayer. How is your prayer life? How is our church prayer life? How do we measure a faithful prayer life? Jesus’ parable from Luke 18 offers us some freedom from guilt…and a call
Opener: Please allow me to rant…I often wonder if we Christians take time to reflect on what we look like to the unbelieving world that is outside the four walls of our church…Sunday after Sunday.
Why go to church…why be a part of the church community? – This is a question that I have been grappling with lately…here are my thoughts…
· I don’t think we’re supposed to be competing with popular culture by making our music and our church experience “easy to swallow” for the unbelieving world. What I mean by this is that I agree with Marva Dawn who describes Christian community as an “alternative society.”
“We dare not make worship too easy, for God is always beyond our grasp. Worship cannot be only cerebral or emotional, for God is mysterious and wise. Worship must be unceasingly comforting so that through it God will address our suffering. It must be perpetually paradoxical so that we know we must worship forever. Strangers will have no need to return to our worship services if they can understand all that our worship offers of God in one Sunday gulp.” (Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn, p. 289)
· If this is true, then what do we have to “offer” to an unbelieving world?
i) I think we offer a place for authentic relationship. A level playing ground where different generations and socio-economic groups can put aside their differences and worship the living God (and actually live together in harmony!)
ii) The church is the only place where the Holy Spirit ministers from one believer to another….through prayer, Bible Study, worship and encouragement. You can’t get Holy Spirit blessing from Dr. Phil!
iii) The church humbly offers the Eucharist as the means of hope, forgiveness and life. When we partake of the elements, the presence of Christ is supernatural and his ministry is powerful yet mysterious.
iv) The church SHOULD offer a place where people can be “held” and ministered to on a weekly basis so that they can go back into the real world and be ambassadors of this “alternative society” that we have been called to. Being “nice” and “moral” people is not enough...it’s a pleasant bi-product of the Christian life but there are lots of “nice” and “moral” people in the world who don’t go to church. This should have significant implications on what we choose to do for worship, prayers and our teaching/preaching. Are we just making ourselves feel good about being Christians, or are we participating in something that is essential for our hearts, bodies, souls and minds?
v) The church should be a place where we can know and be known (this can’t happen just on Sundays….therefore we need small groups!)
vi) The church ought to be a place where people are invited into the rhythm of God. This might mean that we are intentional about honouring Sabbath. Why is it that Christians are just as tired, busy and burnt out as the rest of the world? Do God’s people have a different rhythm and rest that would intrigue the unbelieving world?
vii) We are gathering to declare that God’s “empowering presence” is in our midst. God touches, heals, renews and redeems. And we invite others to experience this…is our community “trade-marked” by grace, unity, mercy…?
We should be often asking the question… “Why would my unbelieving neighbor, friend or family member want to be a part of this community?”
All this to say…what kind of message are we sending outwards…or even to each other… of what it means to live a life of following Jesus? Well, one of the areas where we send off lots of disconcerting images is in the area of prayer. I am weary of our response to prayer….because it’s often….“Oh, I know I really don’t pray enough.” We carry around a perpetual inferiority complex…I’d love it if we started being a group that turned it around…what if we said…we pray…and we pray enough…and we pray together…and we pray for one another…and it’s our life-line to God…we can’t live without it!
And so in today’s gospel passage, Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer…he’s not going for a guilt-trip here…instead at the heart of this parable is encouragement…and this encouraging lesson happens in the context of an upside-down courtroom.
The context for these 8 verses is in the midst of the disciples being stressed out about the Kingdom of God that Jesus was establishing. They are constantly struggling with how it would come together…in some ways, it probably seemed so close (miracles happening) but then it seemed so far away because Jesus would talk about suffering and struggle that needed to happen.
In Luke 17, Jesus talks to his disciples of what it will be like at the end of the age…this is not apocalyptic (end times) talk….like many of Jesus’ teachings - - - in Luke - - - it refers to a future time when the enemies of Jesus and this kingdom talk will wreak havoc and destruction…this must have been quite a story for the disciples to comprehend…