Persistence in Prayer - Justice


Annette James

I trained as a Reader/lay minister when my children were small. Women were not able to be ordained at that time and I wanted to share worship in a way that was inclusive of children, women and men – of all cultures, faiths and ages. I was commissioned by my then church at St Cleopas in the Dingle. I included dancing and singing and lots of practical as well as deep spiritual worship in my ministry. When I finished my training, I was given a card by the congregation – the verse on the card was from 2 Timothy 4.5.

“As for you, always be sober, endure suffering do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

Our first reading today shares the wise words that Paul sent to his progeny.

Be persistent … convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching. This learning is not to pass an exam or to show off deep knowledge. Rather the learning is to equip the church community as we learn together.

At the time I trained the church was moving from the 1662 common prayer book to more modern ways of worship and it was not without pain and lots of negotiation with those whose idea of church was very traditional language, structures and formats. Some people left and went to St Michael in the Hamlet – where they could continue with the more traditional ways of worship.

Preparing for this morning I was inspired once again by the words from Timothy and struggled again with the words from Luke -

The unjust judge – or the woman who would not go away – or a decision not formed through justice…

The theme of the passage that Pam read from Luke is about persistence in prayer and about our relationship with God.

Jesus tells of a widow who is persistent to the point of being a nuisance. There is an interesting juxtaposition between the powerful judge and the powerless woman - widows were in a really precarious position in Jesus time, having neither property nor rights, so who would take her seriously. No human rights lawyers around then. In the passage Jesus praises the widow for her persistence in prayer – which changes the judges mind. But what does this tell us about God?

One way to read this passage is that - God is good, in contrast to the unjust judge – God always listens to the prayers that people pray, daily, hourly, always, and we are called to do this – to be constantly communing with our creator – the omniscient and omnipotent God. This passage could be giving comfort to those who pray but do not see any answer to their prayer – it’s OK, and we are entreated to keep praying, keep communing with God and eventually you will see Justice. Is that what this means? Maybe there will be a change in us to enable us to see our situation, the subject/objective of our prayer in a new way. It is certainly encouraging us to be persistent in prayer, but I think we need to look further into the story and consider God in another way.

God the Just – the story we read this morning is of a man, a judge who neither fears God nor has any respect for people. The seemingly powerless widow who comes to him is not about to let him get away with not doing his job – ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’. The judge refuses and refuses … but he realises that her persistence is having an effect, he is being damaged by her persistence – she will not go away – like a thorn in his flesh, and maybe causing him public embarrassment. Her persistence made him change his behaviour and give her what she wanted. We are not told that the action which the judge took had any impact on him, but I would have encouraged the woman and the community to pray for the Judge. Through self-interest he had done what was right he was prompted by self-interest rather than justice but he did do it and this shows the possibility of change.

Read this way, the parable serves to encourage all those suffering injustice to continue their complaints and calls for justice.

If we read the passage in this way, we are to encourage those seeking for justice in their efforts, noting that sometimes it takes extreme, even socially unacceptable behaviour to effect change. We see this in our world today that individuals and groups, sometimes whole populations, clear in their intention to bring about change for justice have to be persistent. Most recently we have seen news from Hong Kong, whole populations persistently challenging what they see as an unjust system. In our house we have been following the actions of those demonstrating to bring about a change in governmental action and policy on the climate, and I have been involved in actions this week for ‘World End Hunger’ day, as part of this I have meditated on a grace from South America, “O God to those who have hunger give bread and to those who have bread give a hunger for justice.” We can act locally and globally. Anna is going to tell us later about an action that is planned for next week when local residents and councillors will protest about an expanding road project on Riverside Drive. People will raise awareness and challenge the local council on their actions which will encourage greater car use along that corridor into the city centre. Seeking justice is dynamic.

I am part of the Craftivist Collective led by my friend Sarah Corbett who used to be a member here at Christ Church. The aim is to be really clear what the unjust action or system and how you want to bring about change and then find creative ways of catching the attention of those who have power to effect that change. Last week I embroidered a handkerchief – it was in a kit from the Craftivist Collective. The words on the hankie read – ‘Don’t Blow it!’ Sometimes there is a point in time that is pivotal to effect change and if we can work with others to bring awareness of what is possible and support those in positions of power to act on our behalf we can achieve an amazing amount. I was to present this hankie to Louise Ellman MP and ask her to intervene with the home and foreign secretaries to bring about a change in policies which impact on food sustainability. There is enough food in the world but because those in rich nations exploit those in poorer nations there is a deep divide. In the UK we face an obesity crisis, whilst in countries of Africa and in the southern hemisphere people starve.

The bible continually insists that God gives special attention to those who are most vulnerable; therefore, we should persist in our complaints, even to the point of socially unacceptable, embarrassing the powers that be in order to induce change.

I want to refer back to the text from Timothy because the words Paul wrote are as pertinent today as they ever have been. In our persistence we need to be clear what it is we want. We like Timothy need to continue to go deeper into what we have learned from experience and from our reading of the bible and prayer to strengthen our belief. All scripture is inspired by God and we need to view this through the lens of the teachings of Jesus. This will help us to be knowledgeable of God ourselves to build up the community here at Christ Church and be “equipped for every good work”. Later we will hear of some direct action which is happening in our community to highlight the issue of an unnecessary upgrade of Riverside Drive, the road that runs through St Michaels ward. Anna and the Green party are leading an action later in the week. Helping the City Council to achieve less carbon output.

We are to speak the truth, proclaim the message however we can – through music, words, dance - art, to be persistent, convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience… and not be put off by those with itchy ears (I love that phrase) who go off at a tangent.

A bit like the widow who though much more powerless than many of us - sought and achieved justice - every one of us is part of the risen body of Christ in the world, we are Gods hands and feet, we are the image of the living Christ. And we are commended to share Gods love in the world – tough love. Sharing this love builds us up as a community, as a body of people who aim to offer a different way to be. What if we all lived in love, what difference would that make to each of us. We are all called to:

Our faith then becomes so much part of us that we unconsciously share the good news of God’s love through all our actions and reactions and we are at one with Jesus.