Bible Study · Church of England · Felixstowe · Prayer · Religious Life · Sermon · The Society of St Francis



(Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 16 October 2022 – Trinity 18)

Text: Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. (Luke 18v1)

God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers

The squeaky wheel gets the most oil.The First Rosary
The crying baby gets fed first
The persistent widow… ends up with an Order from the Local Authority proclaiming her to be a Vexatious Complainant’[1].

Sadly, not all the parables that Jesus teaches work out in real life.  If they did we would all be looking for high value pearls in the Church Coffee Morning bric-a-brac stall and digging up the churchyard in search of forgotten treasure.

Sometimes though, it is the ludicrous nature, the impossibility of them being true, that is the point of the parable.  The point of today’s story is not that, like the persistent widow, we should be in the business of nagging a God who is unwilling to help, but that, as Luke tells us in his introduction;

‘Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always…’

The whole of the teachings of Jesus are shot through with one idea, God is not distant.

God is not far away, shrouded in cloud and protected by lightning on a mountaintop.
God is not kept prisoner in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, waiting to dispense wrath on any passing priest who had unclean hands and an impure heart.
God is present and ready to help.
God is Emmanuel.

What effect then, should this parable have on our prayer life?

My experience of prayer down the years has changed greatly.

Early in my teenhood I was absolutely convinced that God was out to get me and so, if I dared say anything to God, my first words would always be ‘I’m sorry’.  If I was feeling a little cocksure (the default position for many teenagers of my era) I might even stretch the prayer to, ‘I’m sorry but…’

Mark 11v25Later on, when I thought I had ‘got religion’ – I had been confirmed, went to extra services in the school chapel, and became Head Sacristan – prayer became a tool for world conquest. Well more my hoping, with my new best friend Jesus on my side, I could be more in control of life.

Prayer was all about bargaining with the Almighty.  You know the routine, ‘Lord, if I promise to not swear today could you see your way clear to persuading the teacher to let us out of class early?’  This was for me a dangerous route for prayer as it meant I turned God into some kind of celestial Sugar Daddy or eternal slot machine that would eventually grant me a reward.

(Please note: I have yet to completely rid myself of this practice.  Witness all the wild promises I make to God if only my numbers would come up in the EuroMillions!)

Still later, and discovering how personal God is through the gentle loving touch of the Holy Spirit, I began to realise that God was not an angry old man, nor ‘my mate’ Jesus who would see what he could do to help out, nor even (though they are precious) the generous disposer of gifts to enable the church to grow and prosper.

God was simply there, always…

I remember one particular deeply precious occasion during a weekend of prayer in a Black Township in Cape Town when I felt God (was it the Father, the Son, the Spirit or all Three? I don’t know) stand behind me, wrapping me in loving gentle arms, and  whispering into my ear, ‘Andrew, you are mine!’  Life was very different from that moment onwards.

No more living life in the fear of an angry God
– though I still get things wrong.

No more bargaining and trying to balance my good behaviour against God’s benevolence
– though I am still tempted to a foolish self-righteousness that thinks God loves me just a tad more than others.

No more condemning and looking down on others
– the only sin I should be spending time looking at is my own.

No more ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ in Church and faith circles
– but discovering that our task is just to help each other get home. 

So what is the point of today’s parable?

If prayer is not about nagging God,
If prayer is not about twisting God’s arm,
If prayer is not about reminding God that we ‘deserve’ special care,
What is prayer for?You pray for the hungry Pope Francis

Prayer is not about endless repetitions and requests, though God (as does any parent) loves to hear their children’s voices.

The point of prayer is this;

God [will] grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night.

In the letter to the Romans we are reminded that God is for us not against us (Romans 8v31), so why do we not live our lives in the light of this?  What is there to prevent us from believing that God will provide Justice and Peace to those who pray?

Jesus ends the parable of the persistent widow with these cautionary words;

when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

Ultimately the point of the parable of the Persistent Widow is not about whether there is a right or wrong way of praying. The point of the parable is what it said at the very beginning;

‘Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always…’

seven days without prayerWe need to pray always.

As we go on this journey of deepening our relationship with God we will find our prayer life grows and changes.  But go on the journey we must, else our faith will wither and die.

The old saying remains true, ‘Seven days without prayer makes one weak!’

How can we commit ourselves to this journey here in Felixstowe?

  • Look back at the ways we have conversed with God during our life. Perhaps there is an old prayer habit that used to bring strength and joy but it has fallen out of use.  Why not pick it up again?
  • Make the most of the fact that we are blessed that St John’s is open seven days a week. Come to Morning Prayer at 9am on weekdays, join in on our Facebook page, download the Daily Prayer App from the Church of England, or simply pop in during the week and light a candle.
  • Attend one of our home groups or join the book club. Join the Mothers’ Union (a very underestimated prayer powerhouse).  Sign up for one of our regular parish Quiet Days or speak to Jane and Catherine about their Lark Rise retreats
  • And for those who want to go on a deeper journey have a chat to Penny about Cursillo or Philip, Ann or myself about becoming a franciscan.

Whatever form of prayer works for you – words from a book, a time of quiet, using a rosary, singing hymns at home – will work for God.

What won’t work is doing nothing…

‘Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always…’

[1] Click here for an example of how a Local Authority determines what complaints are vexatious.

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