Keep on Keeping On

My sermon title didn’t make it into the bulletin today, because it took me too long to collect my thoughts about this passage.  For those of you who are curious…I’ve entitled it “Keep On Keeping On.”

by Mandy North

In 2010, Danny Bradfield of Long Beach, California preached a sermon based on this text in Luke and he began it this way:

[quote] “ It’s nice to have a scripture to preach on which tells you upfront what it’s about. That’s not always the case with scripture. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell just what the scripture is about. Sometimes, the meaning of Jesus’ parables isn’t obvious at first glance. Sometimes, Jesus would tell a story, and when he would finish, the disciples would just stand there in silence, scratching their heads, until one of them would blurt out, “What are you talking about?” And then Jesus would explain it to them, or, in some cases, just shake his head and say, “Oh, ye of little faith….”

The parable of the unjust judge is not like that. The introductory sentence explains very clearly what this story is about – or, at least, what the gospel writer Luke thought this story was about. It says that this is a parable about the need to pray always and to not lose heart.

And since Jesus told a parable about the need to pray always and to not lose heart, it seems that the disciples, despite their commitment to following Jesus, did, at times, lose heart, and that they also, at times, gave up – or were tempted to give up – on prayer.

They’re not alone.

A lot of people have given up on prayer. They’ve given up, because they prayed for a loved one’s miraculous healing, but death came anyway. They’ve given up, because they prayed to an end to their struggles, but the struggles just kept on coming. They’ve given up, because they prayed for an end to the sadness within them, but the sadness remains. They’ve given up, because they prayed for their family, and yet they’re forced to watch as sons and daughters continue to make one bad choice after another. They’ve given up, because they don’t see the point of prayer. What’s the use? Too often, it feels like talking to a wall.” [end quote]

I think that we too feel the same way sometimes. Right now, at the Manassas Church of the Brethren, we are in the midst of transition. Our long time pastor, Jeff Carter, received a new call to become the president at Bethany Theological Seminary that began in July. We are in the process right now of discerning who we are as a congregation and assessing the needs of the local community, so we can move forward in calling a new pastor that is the right fit for us.  When this discernment process began in September, we challenged the congregation to participate in a 6-week long small group bible study time. When we would all enter into this shared, common spiritual journey to center ourselves for the task at hand. I chair this discernment team, and I can’t tell you how many well-intentioned members of our congregation asked why we would start this process with a bible study. Not that anyone to my knowledge actually said it, but there was an underlying thought “Isn’t that a waste of time?”  “Why are we dilly-dallying with a bible study?  We need to hire a pastor.  In fact, I can give you a name or two of people that I think would be a good fit.”

What we have found, though,  since starting the bible study is that we are engaging in deep, meaningful conversations with members of our congregation in ways that we have never done before.  We have provided the space and opportunity for the Spirit to be present in our process and for us to open ourselves to God’s leading.

I think our prayer life can be that way sometimes.  Why should I waste time praying?  I really just need to do something to make the situation better.  Does God even hear me anyways?  I can totally relate to this way of thinking.  I am a do-er….I see things that need to get done and I do it….I am not so much a thinker….I don’t want to take time to sit around and contemplate what could or should be done….I just want to do it.

So this parable this morning is particularly meaningful to me in that it reminds me about the importance of prayer.  God does hear our prayers and will quickly grant justice.  But like the persistent widow in our passage this morning or like Jacob from our old testament reading….we can’t give up.

But who am I to preach to you this morning about not giving up when this congregation could probably teach me a thing or two about persistence?

I have a confession to make….I was stalking you all on Facebook this past week….well actually not all of you as individuals, just your congregation….and I saw a congregation full of hope and vitality.

Even this morning, I have been blessed by some very beautiful music.

I saw a congregation that celebrated the International Day of Prayer for Peace with a candlelight vigil.

I saw a congregation that has installed a rain barrel to keep 50,000 gallons of stormwater from carrying pollution into the local river.

I saw a congregation that has welcomed volunteers from near and far to serve with the Nutrition Program which just reopened to feed the hungry in our nation’s capital.

I saw a congregation that opened its minds and hearts to a new ministry model with not just one pastor, but three fully-committed free ministers.

You all are blessed, and you have been called to be a blessing to others.  And I know that this journey for you hasn’t come with some hard work, sweat, and tears.  But you all have persevered….you didn’t lose heart, you didn’t give up.

My guess though is that you aren’t done yet.  I bet there are many of you in the congregation that still have a vision for the ways that it can continue to grow and continue to serve this community.  My word to you this morning…is keep on keeping on.  Pray always and don’t lose heart.

For some of you the idea of praying always sounds like something else to add to your “to-do” list.  When will I find time to pray?  What should I pray for?  What words should I use?

In the Bible Study series that we are using at Manassas, we close each session with a simple prayer, where we thank God for something, ask God for something and then close with the Lord’s Prayer, which you probably don’t even need to see the words written down to pray that one; most of you know it by heart.

Thank God for something and ask God for something….a simple prayer that you can offer wherever you are: before a meal, while drinking your morning coffee, during your commute to or from work or school, as you lay in bed at night.  But day after day, week after week offer your prayers to God. Even if you are consistent and persistent, it’s possible that it still might be a long time before you notice anything. But I bet that if you continue in prayer, day after day, week after week, the day will come when you will realize that something has changed. And when that day comes, you will know, without a doubt, that God has heard your prayer.  Maybe a new visitor comes to worship on a Sunday morning, a new ministry program begins within this congregation, a new need in the community is met with donations from this church, or an old member returns after years of being away….whatever it is for this congregation…know that it is God moving in your midst.

So pray always, don’t give up and keep on keeping on.  Amen.

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