In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge lends itself to being interpreted in many different ways. But one thing that comes through clearly is that God wants persistence in prayer … always.
Jesus was telling the Disciples something that was very important for their lives. Remember throughout the Gospels we see over and over that Jesus goes away to pray. He prayed always. This was an instance where he wanted them to understand what he did. Jesus was very, very persistent in His prayers to God and He wanted them to do likewise.
But one of the things that you get from this parable is that persistence pays off, and if you are persistent in prayer, God will give you what you ask. That idea is more than a little problematic for some people. Because they say, “I pray and I don’t get what I pray for. I’ve prayed hard and God did not give me what I wanted.” Nothing in this parable says that God will always do what we want – only that God will answer our prayers. So when we think about the problem we have with the notion that, “We pray and God acts,” it typically comes down to something like this: I know that God is unchangeable … immutable, and therefore is there a point to my praying? If God is unchangeable and I pray to God, it doesn’t matter, because God won’t change.
I don’t know for sure where we came up with the idea that God is completely unchangeable, but it certainly was not from Scripture. Remember the story in Genesis about Abraham and his conversation with God about the city of Sodom? Abraham was talking with God and God told him that God intended to destroy the city and all of its residents because the people of Sodom were so horrible. They had stopped being hospitable to strangers and had stopped worshipping God. And Abraham says, “God, if you can find 50 people in the city who are righteous, will you save everyone?” And God says, “Yes. If I can find 50 righteous people in the city, I will spare the city.” So Abraham says, “How about 45 righteous people?” God says, “OK. If there are 45, I will spare the city.” And Abraham works God all the way down to 1. He says, “If you can find 1 righteous person in the city, will you spare the rest?” And God agrees to save the whole city for 1 righteous person. Well … as it turns out, there was not one righteous person in Sodom and God wiped it out. But I would suggest to you that that was a time when Abraham’s conversation with God resulted in God changing God’s mind. You can say, “Well, not really. Because God knew all along that there were no righteous people in Sodom. So God did not really change His mind so much as God was just having an exercise in communication with Abraham. I get that. I understand that argument. But what about Noah?
Noah loaded up the ark with pairs of animals and the Noah family and they survived the flood. Then when they got out the ark, Noah had a conversation with God, in which God said, “I will never again destroy the world with a flood, and the rainbow in the sky is the sign of my covenant with you. That will never happen again.” I would suggest to you that that is another example of God changing God’s mind. Because God looked down on the flood and said, in essence, “This was not a good idea. I should not have done this. I will never do this again.” You could say, “Well, not really. Because God knew all along that this would be a one-time event that would not be repeated.” Okay. I get that argument too. But what about Jonah?
God tells Jonah to go to this great city of Nineveh, this city of 120,000 people, and to walk through the streets to preach repentance to the people … because, like Sodom, the people had proven to be evil in the sight of God. Jonah’s mission was to preach to them and turn their hearts – to make them repent and return to the Lord, in order to save their city.
After a 3 day rest in the belly of a fish, Jonah went to Nineveh and walked through the city, doing exactly what God said. And it worked! The people repented – from the most powerful to the lowliest person in town – all of them put on sack cloth and ashes, and prayed to God for forgiveness. And it says in Jonah, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” It says it, right there in Jonah. So we know that people can pray and God will change God’s mind. We don’t know when or why it happens, but we know that it can happen.
Jesus told the Disciples to be persistent in their prayer. So that, even if God is stuck in His position, maybe you can wear God down by your prayers. That is the message that Jesus gave them. Wear God down by continuing to pray!
And this idea of persistence is so important in our lives. We teach our children to be persistent. When they try something and fail we say, “Hang in there. Keep trying. Be persistent and you’ll get better.” We believe that if we are persistent in things, we will eventually reap rewards from our persistence.
So I told you last week that we are kicking off our annual stewardship campaign. And I want you to remember this week to have persistence – not only in asking God for what we need, but also in giving thanks to God for everything we have been given. We need to be persistent in our prayer lives as we say, “Thank you God for granting me another day of life.” “Thank you God. I was able to get to church today.” Or “Thank you God, because I have a church to go to.” “Thank you God for everything you have given me … even when things aren’t going well … thank you for the many gifts that you have given me.” Be persistent in that prayer too.
Persistently giving thanks to God may not only change God … It changes us too. Persistently being thankful changes who WE are. It changes how we see ourselves and how we see the world. When we are persistently thankful we start to imagine a world that is very different from the one we see around us. When we are thankful we start to see to see the good around us and in the people we meet. We are not weighed down by the horrible things that go on around us. We can see the good in all of God’s creation. And then we can start to give back.
Here is another place where the persistence pays off. I have told you that what we are doing with our stewardship campaign this year is trying to get more people involved in what is called proportional giving – giving a percentage of what you make. You cannot just jump into proportional giving. Most people have to work up to it. And it requires persistence. If this type of giving has never been a part of your spiritual discipline before, you will need to work at it.
Becoming a proportional giver is like going to the gym. When you first start, you may hate it. You may resent it. You may say, “I want to keep this money for me.” But like the gym, if you are persistent at it – if you pledge and give persistently: weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually – over time you will begin to see results, benefits from your hard work. Your persistent giving will begin to change who you are and you will start to reap the rewards of your actions. You will start to see the wonderful bounty that comes from God in all things. You will begin to see all things differently and it will change who you are. But that is not the only part of giving.
We also need to be persistent in giving of ourselves in time and the use of our skills and abilities. There are many people around the congregation who work all week and then give of their time and their talents to accomplish the work of the church. We need to give back in every way we can. We need to be persistently generous.
So … As you think about it this week (because I know that you spend all week thinking about my sermons) think about this idea of persistence. Think about what persistence in prayer and thanksgiving would look like. Think about what it would mean for your life, and what it would mean for the life of this worship community. Amen.
 Jonah 3:10 (NRSV)