Ask Boldly, Live Justly

Ask Boldly, Live Justly


x-wouldnt-pray-for-themselvesWhen I was pastoring in Monee, Illinois many very saintly ladies there, who were powerful prayers, would tell me that they did not pray for themselves, because praying for yourself is selfish. They were more than willing to pray for other people, for world peace, for their congregation and their friends, but when they were invited to ask other people to pray for something for them, they wouldn’t do it. And I have found that those wonderful pious ladies in Monee were not alone. The greatest challenge at the Sharing Table is encouraging people to offer up a need they would like other people to pray for them. We don’t like to publicly share our neediness. We are strong independent pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, why would we pray for ourselves or ask other people to pray for us. That just seems like weakness. Paradoxically, however, turning to God for help, and asking others to join with us as prayer partners in seeking blessing in our lives is a sign of strength. That may have something to do with our parable this morning.


x-the-tenacious-widowBut allow me to use some insights from Dr. Amy Jill Levine to recast the Parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. Amy Jill points out that Jesus did not offer this story as a commentary on prayer, it was Luke who provided that context. Dr. Levine also points out that if we think of this story as a meek, mild, weak oppressed widow who passively makes her request again and again, even though it seems to fall on deaf ears, then we have missed the context that Jesus set in telling the story.

Biblical widows who are mentioned in the scriptures were strong people. They were survivors who had often absorbed the worst life could throw at them, and they were still standing. Rather than a weak simpering victims, think of the widow in the story more like Ruth and Naomi. Here were two women who knew what they needed, and went about putting people and events in motion including exploiting the sexual weaknesses of men to make sure their needs were taken care of, and the future of their family line was secured. Or think of another era of advocacy and speaking up — Maggie Kuhn and the Gray Panthers.


x-like-a-pitbul   Amy Jill points out that the widow in Jesus’ story far from passively begging for her voice to be heard, she speaks to the judge in the imperative. “Hey you, judge give me what I want.” And what does this widow want? If we examine the language closely she is not meekly asking for justice, she wants a judgement against her opponent that will exact vengeance. As Amy Jill Levine points out this widow is more in the mold of the Biblical widow Judith who chopped off her opponent’s head. Since we can suspect that Jesus was not in favor of revenge or chopping off your opponents’ heads, what was Jesus doing telling this parable about a widow who behaved like a pit bull?


x-pray-but-do-something-about-it   I suspect Jesus was creating an over the top illustration that says, “Pray, but also do something about it!” Because the truth is once we name our prayer request out loud, we are more likely to go to work on it. And if we name our prayer request out loud in front of others, then we are inviting other people to hold us accountable and offer to help us. When we keep our prayer requests all to ourselves, and never voice them, because we might be selfish, we are missing out on the tremendous power of prayer partnerships. Mutual aid and accountability are powerful aids to prayer.


x-rodent-damage   A couple of weeks ago I had an experience that illustrates the need to be proactive in prayer. I had our older black Toyota in for service, when the Service Consultant called me back into the mechanic’s area that is normally off limits to customers. He wanted to show me, some rodent damage they had discovered in my engine. It seems some rat or squirrel had gotten up under the hood of the car and had eaten a hole in the engine cover, and then proceeded to chew on the wiring harness that leads to really powerful battery array on the Prius. (As Jesus said, beware of possessions where moth and rust consume, and squirrels break in and eat the inside of your engine.) The car was still drivable, but potentially if moisture got in to the chewed wires, it could short out important systems on the car including the main battery pack. The service consultant told me that this is not unusual – who knew? – said they see two or three of these a week, and the damage is usually covered under the comprehensive package on insurance.


x-persistence-determination   So I called Alfa, and they said it was covered, but I would have to get an estimate from the Toyota Dealer and then their adjustor would have to look at it. The car was drivable, so I didn’t want to leave the car there for days and days, waiting for an adjustor to find time to see it, and then days and days more, while the dealer worked on ordering the parts. So I started a telephone dance between the adjustor and the dealership trying to get them to agree on a date, when I could bring the car in and they would get the estimate written, the adjustor sign-off so the parts could be ordered. I had to keep playing telephone tag, and not unlike the persistent widow, I finally arranged for an appointment and made sure the adjustor knew he had to show up the same day, so we could get the show on the road. Pray but be proactive. And once I had everyone’s attention, and they knew I wasn’t just going to roll over and let them do their thing on their own terms, I finally got the car fixed without having to rent a car for days on end.


x-hold-us-accountable  This persistent widow can be a good illustration for us all. Pray, and get moving on whatever it is we need to get done. Now sometimes, when we have done all we can do, we have to have faith and trust God for the rest. But we can be willing to claim our prayer requests publicly and so open ourselves to prayer and help from others, who can also hold us accountable.


x-trust-god-be-proactive       This morning I also want to suggest two applications for this story for the United Church of Huntsville. Trust that God will be with you in the interim process, but be proactive in your search. An interim period offers an opportunity for a congregation to adjust to a different style of leadership from what they have experienced for the past 16 years. That’s a good thing. But interim periods that drag on needlessly, because we are not pursuing the search proactively can stall a congregation’s forward momentum. So, trust God, trust the process and be proactive in your search.



A UMNS photo illustration by Mike DuBose. Accompanies UMNS story #099. 3/20/12.

Second application I want to suggest is about stewardship. We are coming down the homestretch of our Stewardship Drive – “Make a Surprising Investment.” We want to enter this interim period with a healthy budget, paying back the money we have borrowed from the funds and making sure we have a little extra to pay for moving expenses and other expenses surrounding the search and call process. In the past, when we have asked for money, we have been like the meek and mild oppressed widow envisioned by Luke who says, “Please, please, please, give us some money, any spare change you might happen to have.” And we know what kind of results we have gotten from those kinds of weak simpering appeals.

One of my failures as your Pastor is that I have not been good about asking for money. And what we really need is something more like the tenacious widow Amy Jill Levine sees Jesus presenting in this Parable. “Come on y’all we need some real money, if this congregation is going to a move ahead. God is not going to deposit twenty-thousand dollars in the church’s checking account. If we are going to balance the budget and give our search committees some real resources to work with, we have to put the money in the church’s checking account. We have to become proactive stewards. People who work together in the bright light of accountability rather than in secret, to insure the financial viability of this congregation.


x-god-listens-when-we-pray    So let’s pray, and let’s also do something about it. We don’t need to be like Judith chopping off heads, but we do need to be like Ruth and Naomi willing to set in motion people and events that will insure that the future of this congregation is secured. God listens when we pray, and God also acts, when we act. Take a risk. Let our prayer requests be made known and then act and hold ourselves accountable for our prayers.


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