Jeremiah 31:27-34, Luke 18:1-8
Some of you may know we have a small dog named Jojo. And, well, like most dogs he loves treats. But Jojo doesn’t want just any ol’ dog treat. What gets him excited are weird things like carrots, blueberries, and his all-time favorite: popcorn! As soon as Jojo hears the sound of popping coming from the microwave and smells the sweet smell of fake butter… he starts to lose it! He runs around in circles, jumping up and down and barking this extremely high pitched bark until someone gives in. He is laser focused, persistent and the eternal optimist that he will be given popcorn!
We don’t give in every time but he is rewarded for this behavior often enough that he believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he begs and pesters enough, someone will give in.
While this trait is extreemly annoying to me…. Jesus seems to be saying that this is how God wants us to behave. Be persistent until we get what we want. Pray without ceasing, never giving up hope that our dreams will come true and our prayers will be answered.
This sounds good on the surface. Except, we have all too often misused this verse as a form of justifying the prosperity gospel idea that God wants the same things you want. We think if we pray hard enough for what we want, God will eventually tire of our prayers and give in to God’s bratty kids on earth- giving them the new car, the new job, the new spouse, more power, more money, more whatever we want.
But, this leaves out a very important question. What about the ones whose prayers don’t seem to be answered? What about the person in an abusive relationship that doesn’t get any better?
What about the person who prays night and day for a loved one to be healed only to end up planning a funeral? Are they somehow less persistent? Less faithful? Less righteous?
No, of course not. God wants us to ask for what we need, yes. God desires to give us all the good things in life. God wants us to want what God knows is best and sometimes that means learning to take the long view and learning to understand that often it is not God who is not answering prayers, but we who misunderstand.
This scripture in Luke, for instance is taken out of context a lot. We don’t notice who the person is who is asking, nor do we notice what she asks for. The woman in the story is a widow. She is representative of the group of people who are notoriously mistreated. She is mostly without power or influence.
She is overlooked, abused, mistreated and ignored by most everyone. The only thing she has is her persistence. But what she is asking for is justice in an unjust world. In a social system that denies her any power, she doesn’t ask for power or stuff or wealth or family- she asks for justice; to be treated fairly, to be seen, heard, and understood.
Most of us can probably relate to both of these characters. We know what it is like to be the one begging to have our prayers heard, for God to see our plight, to fight for some right we think is being infringed on. In our politically charged world, nearly every political commercial we see is about one side or the other being afraid that what they perceive as a basic right will be infringed upon or lost.
But we also know what it is like to be the one being pestered. Our TVs don’t limit the commercials we see to be only the ones we agree with.
We find ourselves, rolling our eyes, shaking our heads, saying things like; “can’t they just give it a rest?” Protestors at this rally or that rally, marching in the streets to protest what some perceive to be no big deal while others see it as a life or death situation. All they want, all anyone wants is to be seen, understood, listened to as they express their fears and uncertainty about the future.
They want someone to at least try to see it from their perspective. But this is hard work. This is challenging and usually when done right, no one comes out feeling like they got everything they wanted. So we don’t try.
Instead we shut the doors of our ears and our hearts to the pounding of those on the outside. We’d rather solve the smaller problems that have easy answers than to do the hard work of conversation, reconciliation and running the risk that we might actually change our minds about something or experience the emotion of empathy.
This has become a downward spiral. Instead, we surround ourselves with people we think, think like us, news outlets which feed our own opinion instead of offering a neutral or contrary view point. We are tempted in these times to go down swinging to politicize everything, to insult, disregard, and dehumanize the other but this is not the way of Jesus.
This is not the way to hope. There are not many things in this world that I blame on the devil, but this is one of them. Evil wants us to fight. Evil wants us to take sides. Evil wants us to hide under a blanket of despair, pessimism and fear.
God wants us to find hope by trusting in the eternal light and love of Christ. God wants us to be persistent in acting justly, persistent in our efforts to see the best in others, persistent in crying out to God for guidance as we seek true justice in our world.
God wants us to be persistent in loving our enemies, persistent in listening to others, especially those we don’t agree with and persistent in helping those who cannot or do not know how to help themselves. God wants us to be persistent in looking to Jesus for hope- not a political party, not a candidate, not a nation, not even an issue. When we cry out for justice are praying to the wrong god to save us?
I am sure it felt hopeless to the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day- living in exile, living in a foreign land, feeling like God had deserted them or was punishing them but God fulfilled the promise of a new covenant, a new beginning and chance to start over and make life better than it was before.
I am sure it felt hopeless to the disciples as they watched Jesus hang on the cross. I am sure they felt despair as they tried to figure out where God was leading them, as they experienced persecution, as they moved on without the physical presence of Jesus to guide them.
I am sure they felt despair as they were kicked out of the synagogues and as the roman and Jewish government seemed to be falling apart. But because of the death of Christ, they experienced the resurrection of Christ and the birth of a church which would change the world forever and bring new promises to a new generation of God followers.
God promises, even in our day, to bring true justice. God will not be slow in helping, God will be persistent in God’s love for us and God will be persistent in God’s call to us.
The Bible reminds us that even when we are in the midst of despair- God is still present, still at work in this world and still calling us to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. God is inviting us to participate in the new beginning that will come out of the ashes. We may struggle to see it and we may not see the fruit of our efforts but God is still at work. The war has already been won- even if it seems like evil is winning in this moment, hold fast to your hope in the promises of God.
Jesus tells us to stay faithful to God. Stay faithful to this hope by caring for those in our midst who are not heard, who are oppressed, who don’t have a voice. Jesus tells us to be persistent in our hope that God is indeed making all things new. We are living in dark times; we are living in a moment which often feels like our prayers are not being heard. We are living in a time when it is hard to find hope. Maybe we are just looking for hope in all the wrong places.
Earlier this week I was talking with a woman about hope. To her surprise I expressed that I was optimistic about our world and that I thought, despite the despair and obvious flaws of our current situation I could see how God is at work in the world and how our world, in many ways, is better than it was.
I see hope in how minorities and women are treated with more respect today than they were 100 years ago. It still leaves a lot to be desired but in many ways it is better. I see hope in how churches rally around a community when tragedy strikes whether it is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.
I see hope when Heartsong Church outside, Memphis TN, allowed Muslim worshipers to use their church for worship while their worship center was under construction. I see hope when pastors stand up courageously to prevent the escalation of protests. I see hope when foster parents care for children that aren’t theirs.
I see hope when people work together, worship together, pray together and love each other despite difference. There is still hope in this world. And it is seen if we look for Christ at work in our world, in our nation, in our state and even in our own communities and our own lives. And, make no mistake. God is persistently working, persistently loving and persistently faithful. Thanks be to God!