“Pray always. Do not lose heart.” Thus Jesus instructs his followers on what to do in the time between their present beleaguered reality and the yet-to-come fullness of God’s Reign on earth. Here we are in our own in-between time of what is and the not yet, as we pray over and over again, most of us daily. We lay our hearts before God. We struggle with God and just as Jacob did, seek a blessing in order to negotiate the too often hard geography of life. We come together here to be fed in order to go out and make a difference in the world, offering the same mercy and forgiveness to others that we have received.
Today we will again pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” just as we have thousands of times before, yet we know all too well that the Kingdom has not come, at least not in its fullness. It is sometimes hard not to lose heart and continue on with the persistence Jesus honors in the widow who keeps banging at the door. Yet our faith tells us that in the resurrection of Jesus we can trust that God is inaugurating a new age marked by a radical transformation of the world order. I grant you, it is sometimes hard to see. Even Jesus taught that it is often small and easy to miss, like a mustard seed. But we catch glimpses.
That is our hope and we long for a day when no more children die of a gunshot every other day in this our beloved country. No more refugees, an estimated 2.7 million in the world right now, fleeing the violence of their homeland. No more racism. No more haves and have-nots. No more political campaigns dragging all of us through the gutter. No more slave labor and sex trafficking. No more spending more on cosmetics, face lifts and tummy tucks in the United States than is spent on feeding the hungry.
The people of Jesus’ time longed for the end of disaster and disappointment just like we do. They struggled with an oppressive Roman regime and escalation in violence and crumbling social structure. Even their religion was being threatened. What of us today? On what do we rely? Where do we find our assurance, our stability? How do we pray and will God find faith on earth?
As human beings we are always in search of security: things, structures or situations, that will give us a sense of groundedness and permanence. Yet, when I am most honest with myself, I can admit that I am not in control. I may labor mightily to be so, but ultimately I am as much an observer as a manager. Hurricanes teach us that pretty starkly as do times of personal or family illness. On a lighter note, when I FaceTime with my two year old grandson over a thousand miles away, I know I am not the one in control. And if you want to feel really small and not in control, we heard this weekend of new data from the Hubble telescope that the guess by scientists of 100 billion observable galaxies may be off by a factor 10 or even 20, meaning up to 1.6 trillion galaxies.
So what are we doing when we pray? Among other things it is about giving up control and letting God be God. The Bible, at almost every turn, calls us to have faith, that is, to trust the Creator of the cosmos and be willing to seek to cooperate with God’s great dream for us. The persistence Jesus is calling forth is not that we can control God or make God do what God would not already have done anyway out of his love and mercy. That’s why I bristled when I heard some people say on news reports that when the hurricane turned a bit away from us on the coast and thereby we did not get as hard a hit as we might have, it must have been because a lot of faithful people were saying their prayers. Really? What of the people in Haiti? Are they not faithful? Were they not also saying their prayers? Bad theology.
Archbishop William Temple once said, “The world minus God equals zero. God minus the world equals God.” What he meant is what Jesus is teaching us today. God is the only final reliability. Praying leads us to hold things lightly. It is not about controlling God or outcomes, but entering more deeply into the heart of God in order to cooperate with God in the transformation of the world. The struggling communities of faith in his day are being taught that God will not abandon them. In the in-between time of present reality and the still to be fulfilled Kingdom of God, we are to pray and keep faith with steadfast perseverance. If an unjust judge will listen to a persistent widow, than how much more will our loving God be willing to be in relationship with us!
The commitment of your baptism and in the laying on of hands in confirmation today, is to have an awakened and ready heart so that when the Kingdom does break in before us, and it does regularly, you will be able to notice when love shows up, when joy explodes with delight, when justice prevails, when hope calls you forth and when grace happens as pure gift. In those moments resurrection life is calling us to be a new people to see as Jesus sees and then be willing to act as Jesus acts. My mother taught me a long time ago never to pray for that for which I was not willing to be a part of the answer.
Walk the walk. Cynicism is not from God. Embrace all that is good and beautiful, for God’s love is seeking us at all times. Even as Jesus calls us to persistence in our prayer, it is really God’s persistence in seeking us that we celebrate and ultimately trust. What was true in Jesus’ day is still true in our own. What we do now is continue to pray. We keep searching, we keep forgiving ourselves and others, we remain in relationship with one another, and we do everything we know possible to align our life with God’s mission for justice, mercy and love. Paul’s words to Timothy say it well, “Always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”