Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 24)
October 17, 2010
Text: Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is one habit that dies easy. Because all-too-often we pray, and we don’t get what we pray for, at least not in the way we prescribed it, or in the time we wanted it. It is tempting at such a time to ask, “What good is prayer? It doesn’t seem to do anything!” And when that attitude sets in, we stop praying. Which, by the way, is the worst thing we could do. You must know, beloved, the source of these thoughts and temptations. These come from the devil. They are demonic, and our fallen flesh, especially when it is exhausted from grief or suffering or hardship, is all too willing to listen to the tempter. The devil never lets a crisis go to waste. He always seeks to capitalize on your misfortune, to introduce doubt into your mind concerning God’s love and mercy, to speak a different word into your ear and heart than that which you have heard God speak, to lead you away from the Church and God’s gifts, to avert your gaze from Christ and Him crucified, so that you look for help in others or in other things. The devil seeks to silence your prayers.

The disciples didn’t know it yet, but they were about to endure the most difficult time of their life. They were about to endure the time of our Lord’s Passion, His suffering and death. And the devil would seek to capitalize on that crisis. In the case of Judas, he would be successful. Peter he would lead to the brink. Jesus even predicts it in the upper room: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32; ESV). It is a happy ending for Peter, as we know. But not before Peter suffers. Peter denies knowing the Lord. The cock crows and the Lord looks at Peter who has denied him, and Peter goes out and weeps bitterly. And Peter, along with the rest of the disciples, cannot make sense of the events of our Lord’s suffering and death. Though Jesus had told them on numerous occasions that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, to suffer and be killed, and on the third day rise again, their hard hearts could not understand these things. In the midst of tragedy, the devil led them all to the brink of despair. They doubted. They did not trust the Word of God, the Word that the Savior had spoken to them. They took their eyes off of Jesus. They didn’t know where to look. It was the most difficult time of their life. The One they had hoped was the Messiah had given Himself, willingly, into the hands of His enemies. And they put Him to death like a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed. How could He possibly be the Messiah now? Jesus was dead, buried in a tomb.

Of course we know this is not the end of the story, but the disciples did not know this. And Jesus knew they wouldn’t know it. So He prepared them by teaching them. Jesus “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Even when prayer seems ineffectual, like a waste of breath. Even when prayer seems to go unanswered. Even when you don’t feel like praying. Even when all seems to be a loss. In fact, in those times especially, Jesus says to His disciples and He says to us, we should turn to the Lord in prayer. Because prayer is the breath of faith. In prayer, we ask God for the help we need. And God is the only One who can help. Faith is driven to prayer. St. Augustine writes, “Faith pours out prayer, and prayer obtains the strengthening of faith. …So far temptation advances as faith gives way: and so far temptation gives way, as faith advances.”[1] In prayer, we breathe in the Word of God, and breathe out our inmost desires and needs as the children of God. Thus faith gives birth to prayer, and prayer asks for the strengthening of faith, which is given abundantly by the Spirit of God in the Word and Sacraments. Prayer is this two-way conversation where God speaks and we listen, and then we speak back to God what He has said to us. We speak to Him on the basis of His Word and His promise to hear and answer in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. And because this is all based on God’s promise and not on our feelings or our expectations, we can be sure and certain that even when it seems otherwise, God hears and God answers.

Jesus tells us we should be persistent in our prayers, and He illustrates this by means of a parable. There was this unrighteous judge. By unrighteous, Jesus says, we mean one who has no fear of God, no care to follow His commandments, no concern for justice and integrity, and also one who does not respect men, apparently is appointed for life, and so in every case rules according to his own selfish agenda. But there is this widow will give him no rest. She keeps coming to him, demanding justice against her adversary. The Greek here actually says, “Give me justification against my anti-justifier” (v. 3). More on that in a minute. Now, the unrighteous judge is not moved with compassion for the woman. He does not pity the woman because God commands His people to provide for widows. Nor is he concerned about what the people think. Remember, he isn’t up for reelection, so it doesn’t matter how he looks in the eyes of others. But what he is concerned about is getting this widow off his back. She keeps demanding justice, he keeps refusing. She keeps coming back. He’s afraid this widow is going to beat him down, literally blacken his eye (v. 5), so he agrees to give her justice. And of course the point is that if even this unrighteous judge responds to the persistence of the widow, surely God, who is righteousness in Himself, will hear and answer the persistent prayers of His beloved children.

“Well, Pastor, then why hasn’t He answered my prayer?” Why does it seem like God is silent? Where is God when we call upon Him? One of the things we learn about God from Scripture and from daily experience is that He hides Himself. He hides Himself in suffering and the cross. He uses all things, even great evil, to accomplish His will. Not that the evil is His will, or any less evil, but He works through the evil to accomplish His divine and perfect will. Remember the disciples, cowering in fear after Jesus’ suffering and death, locked away in the upper room for fear of the Jews, fear of the future, fear of death? They didn’t see that God’s saving will was hidden behind the events of Good Friday. They didn’t see that in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ the very salvation of the world was accomplished, the salvation of the disciples, your salvation, and mine. They didn’t see that behind Good Friday was hidden Easter and our Lord’s victorious resurrection from the dead! You see, in these evil events, the greatest evil in all the world when the sinless Son of God suffered the punishment for all sinners, in the place of sinners, and at the hands of sinners… in these events, the disciples’ prayers were answered. So were your prayers. So were mine. For in these events we are justified against our adversary, our anti-justifier. We are justified against Satan, who accuses us, directs us away from Christ, seeks to lead us to despair. In the suffering and death of Christ, and in His resurrection, we are pronounced righteous. That’s what justification means. It means we are pronounced righteous on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, on account of His paying for our sins on the cross. The accusations of the devil can no longer harm us. The verdict is in. We are innocent, righteous, perfect with the perfection of Christ. As a result, everything else for which we pray will fall into place. There will be a happy ending. There will be an end to all suffering, to all temptation, to every trial. Knowing the end, we can live now even in the midst of suffering and temptation and trial as if God has already delivered us, because He will and He has in Christ Jesus.

But it is true, sometimes it seems like He takes His own sweet time. Of course, we must recognize that God works in His own way and at His own time. We dare not prescribe to God the manner and the hour in which He should answer our prayers. Jesus promises here, though, that God will give justice to His people speedily, that He will not delay (vv. 7-8). From our perspective as finite humans, still living in the fallen and time-bound flesh, it seems like He does delay. It seems like it takes God forever to deliver on His promises. But really, from the perspective of eternity, from God’s perspective, for whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8), our deliverance really is speedy. It is coming. If nothing else, it will come at your death, when the angels carry you to heaven, or when Jesus comes again, whichever comes first. For that is when all that is wrong will be made right again. Nevertheless, we wait on the Lord. We wait on His deliverance in this earthly life, and in heaven. We wait more than watchmen wait for the morning, and we put our hope in His sure Word (Ps. 130:5-6). We wait with eager anticipation, with a living hope even in the midst of various trials, knowing that through this suffering our faith, more precious than gold that perishes, will be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). We know that through these trials God is working His will for our good (Rom. 8:28). So we wait, and we pray with the Church, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Come quickly. He will. In the meantime, we wait, and we pray, and we do not lose heart. We hold God to His promises. We petition Him for justification and everything that comes with it. And we trust that He hears and answers whenever a child of God prays, “Our Father…” For we are His children in Baptism, and are named with His Name: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), note on Luke 18:1.

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