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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

53-ORD29-G-C-2004 Luke 18:1-8
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
October 17, 2004

If someone disrespectful can grant mercy, if someone unjust can grant justice… imagine the mercy and the justice God can grant. If someone without hope can keep praying, if someone without answers can keep asking… imagine what people with hope and with answers can do. Be persistent, says Jesus. Be persistent as God is persistent.

The Bible tells us Jesus used this parable to teach the disciples they needed to pray all the time and not to lose heart. If you look at paintings of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you might come away thinking these guys were supermen of faith. The painters make them look so noble. They look like kings, the kind of people you’d expect to find sitting at the right and left hand of Jesus in heaven. But if you look at the Bible’s portrait of these men who would be saints, you might come away thinking, “These guys had just as many problems as I do. They jockeyed for position. They gossiped about lesser folks. They got grumpy when their stomachs rumbled. They forgot about Jesus, or pretended not to know him when push came to shove.

And so the Bible lets us listen in on a pep talk Jesus gave his disciples. Are you having trouble praying? (He asks them.) Are you frustrated because God’s not handing out answers? Are you thinking you could probably do just as well on your own?

Jesus may have seen the disciples looking tired. A disciple too tired for discipline is a contradiction in terms. In our world, if we want to see how well a person is doing, we don’t just look at them – we take a poll. “Matthew and Mark dropped three percentage points last week, while Judas got a post-convention bounce.” And while their world lacked the sophistication of scientific polling techniques, these guys could fairly well watch the signs and tell how things were going. “Caesar is up, Jesus is down.” Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Their prayers went up…. Their prayers went up…. I said, their prayers went up… and nothing changed. Caesar’s still gaining ground, and the crowds are saying Jesus might be just about done with his fifteen minutes of fame. So, the disciples get tired. They start to give up their short-lived disciplines. They begin to wonder what the god one county over might be working on.

How different is that from us? Listen to the kids who say things like, “Oh, that’s just SO third week of September.” Patience is not our strong suit. We get frustrated when we have to hold for unusually long wait times for the next available customer service representative. Waiting on God, waiting on answers to prayers can take an awfully long time. And when your soul is aching, no amount of soothing hold music will keep the peace.

“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
“But, Lord, I’ve been praying for years.”
“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
“But Lord, nothing changes. What’s the use?”
“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
Keep at it like a persistent widow with an unjust judge who’s holding up her inheritance.
Keep at it like a dog pulling on an old sock.
Keep at it like someone who is sick and tired of being sick and tired and won’t even let God off the hook until she gets some satisfaction.
Even if you’ve given up on prayer, even if it seems totally futile, Keep at it.

In the Bible, Jesus is saying this to the disciples. As we read these words, though, he’s talking to us.


The root of all kinds of evil is impatience. We baptized little Eric today, and I could tell he appreciated it. He’s got two older sisters. He’s gonna need it. It won’t be too long before he’ll reach the age when he starts getting impatient with them. It won’t be long before his sisters start getting impatient with him, if they haven’t already. A toy will need sharing, food will need preparing, baby brother will get daring – and someone will start blaring.

So it is with people of all ages. It’s not the “thing” that gets us; it’s waiting for the thing. We don’t mind being on hold (so much) if we really do have faith that there IS someone at the other end of the line who isn’t just eating Doritos and laughing at the pretty blinking lights. But when that faith runs low, impatience starts to mount, and normally peace-loving adults turn into tantrum-tossing two year-olds. I know, I know: the Bible says money is the root of all kinds of evil. But there are lots of kinds of evil; impatience is the root of just as many kinds, if not more. They say, “Patience is a virtue.” But patience with persistence is a discipline. Even people who aren’t very virtuous can have patience if they think there’ll be satisfaction at the end of the line. Faith is hope in something greater; but faith is also patience in the lesser things. Faith is the discipline to “get up and do it again, amen,” even if your head tells you it’s futile. Faith is doing something not because you’re so obsessed with justice, not because you’re so darn nice, but because your heart won’t let you do anything else. Sometimes the only right thing to do is wait (and pray) until the right thing is done. Patience takes practice. Patience sometimes needs a cheerleader – someone like Jesus, saying, “Keep at it!” And so he does.

The earliest lessons we learn in patience aren’t very different from the ones we re-learn in the school of hard knocks. Baptism in our church is a one-time thing. God reaches out to wash us clean, and we lift up ourselves and our children in response. God gets the god-part right the first time. We, however, have to do, and re-do, and re-do, and re-do our part of the equation. From our earliest days to our last, we’re constantly in a battle to persist in the face of our own impatience. From earliest days to our last, we’re in a battle to persevere in the face of our own evils. We MUST lift ourselves up in response to God – over and over again, because we’re sinful. Sin is letting go. Sin is letting down our resolve. If we let go of our patience, we let go of God. God doesn’t necessarily dispense miracles every time we drop in a dime, or a dollar or a check. We’re not God’s boss and we’re not God. But even in the face of our rudest impatience, our backest back-turning, God perseveres, God persists. Even though we try to shake it off, baptism sticks.


Prophet Isaiah writes: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant.... It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt -- a covenant that they broke…. But this is the covenant that I will make… after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

What the Prophet writes, and what Jesus confirms, is that God is devilishly persistent. What the Prophet writes and what Jesus confirms is that there will indeed come a day when we won’t have to worry about unanswered prayer. There will indeed come a day when we don’t have to pump ourselves up. There will indeed come a day when our confidence will be unshakable, our spirit will be indomitable, and there won’t be any question whether we’re going to “keep at it,” because “it” will be written on our hearts and burned into our minds.

We call that day, “heaven.” The word of Jesus Christ to his disciples, and his word to us, is that the kingdom of heaven starts right here. Right now. It flows out of the waters of baptism. And even though we may feel in our lives as if we’re forever swimming upstream, “heaven” is the promise that we can relax – and let the flow of God take us where it may – without having to worry about where we’ll end up. Besides, we already know where we’re going to end up because the kingdom of heaven is already breaking through. The waters of baptism, the bread, the cup, the cross, the book – all of these are signs. All of these are signs that things are in your favor, and the polls are looking pretty good.

Does this mean that you can cruise along on Christ’s mercy and let sin have its way with you? Not on your life. We MUST persist against our own tendencies. We must persevere in prayer. We must focus ourselves on the goal. The difference is, it’s not our own goal. The goal God sets before us is the goal of Jesus Christ, the goal of the cross, the goal of self-denying glory. With hard heads and warm hearts, our Savior calls us to set our eyes on the kingdom of heaven, and to keep at it – day after day after day.

God does not give up on you; don’t give up on yourself. God does not give up on hope; don’t you give up on hope, either. Persist, persist, persist in your prayers and on your dreams. And when you start to sink low, let the waters of baptism help you float.