Saturday, October 16, 2010

Praying with chutzpah

Luke 18:1-8

Life in many places in the Middle East today is like life in Jesus’ time. The clothes are different, jobs are often but not always different, technology is different, but social patterns are not much different.
A journalist tells this story:
There was a young man from Village A held prisoner by a leader in Village B. A few powerful people in the village wanted to keep him there, for their own reasons. The judge was happy to receive their bribes and refused to hear the case to let him go free.
One day, three women from the young man’s village went together and told the judge in no uncertain terms and with unprintable language what they thought of the judge. He let the young man go.
When the journalist asked about the incident, it was explained that if a man, or men, from the village had gone to press for the young man’s release, they would have quickly been killed. But the custom was that women could get away with it, and often were successful.
In the gospel story for today, we can assume something similar is going on. The judge is being bribed, or has some interest in refusing to hear the woman’s case. She repeatedly stands in public places and tells him in no uncertain terms and with unprintable language just what she thinks of him.
The text uses a boxing term: in English it says, she is wearing me out. In Greek it says, she is hitting me below the eye. In other words, she is giving him a black eye, metaphorically speaking. She is ruining his reputation, and it could have serious consequences for his career as a judge. To protect himself, the judge gives her what she wants.
The woman in the parable and the women in the modern village have pled their cases with chutzpah! They have done everything they can to obtain justice.
Jesus frames this parable in the context of prayer – persistent prayer in the pursuit of justice for the oppressed. The widow is being oppressed and justice has been denied, repeatedly. So she summons up her courage and demands justice until the judge agrees to give it to her.
When we pray, we usually ask politely for what we want, perhaps pleading with God to hear us. But we don’t often really believe God will even hear our prayer, much less respond with “yes, I can do that for you.”
When we are figuratively or literally on our knees, we know we are totally dependent on God, and the passion of our prayers reflects this. When we are desperate, we pray with chutzpah, “God, I need you to hear my prayer, and to find me a job so I can feed my family!” “Jesus, I can’t deal with this by myself. Please send someone to help me!” “God, I’m in so much pain! Help me!”
It’s true that if we pray for a new Blackberry, or a new plasma TV, or a new BMW, we are not likely to get it with God’s help. But if we are praying for justice, or for healing, or for someone in need, God is more likely to respond, “yes, I can do that for you.”
Praying with chutzpah may lead us to change our prayer. We may hear God’s response as. “that’s not what is best for you. Here’s what I can for you do instead.” Or we may hear God’s response as, “here’s what I want you to do for me.” Or we may hear God’s response as, “I am with you, and you can get through this. Change your attitude.”
The Bible records many instances of Jesus praying. Sometimes, he was renewing his relationship with God; sometimes he was asking for healing or blessing; sometimes he prayed with intensity. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed with chutzpah that there might be a Plan B, but he accepted Plan A as God’s will for his life – and for our benefit.
Martin Luther prayed repeatedly and at length for forgiveness, and could never find it. At last, his mentor sent him to Scripture, and there he found the concept of grace, freely granted to all, and radically different from what the Church taught at that time. As he led the reform movement, Luther recorded frequent battles with the devil. The story goes that on one occasion, he threw his ink well at the evil one. Luther also enjoyed a good beer, a good dinner, good conversation, and a good laugh. Luther prayed and lived with chutzpah. 
Martin Luther King’s biographers tell us the story of a night when King and his family were in danger. His enemies were threatening to bomb his house and kill him and his family. He spent the night in prayer and Scripture reading. He was tempted to end his campaign for justice for all people, especially African American people. When morning came, however, he knew he had no choice but to continue, and for the rest of his life, he prayed frequently with chutzpah.
Rick, a friend from Michigan, recently shared with me the news of his father’s death. Roger had been in poor health for 20 years, and the family had recently been asking the difficult questions about finding a nursing home for him, or even hospice care.
As he anticipated his father’s death, Rick began to wonder if he had an ulcer, because his stomach hurt so badly. Yet he knew that it was right that his father’s pain would end, and Rick began to pray for his father to be able to die. He prayed, then, with chutzpah for his father.
Roger died peacefully at home, in his own bed, a couple of hours after rubbing his wife Mary’s back. As Rick shared this story with me, he noticed that his stomach felt fine. The fear of grief had been much worse than the reality of releasing his father to God’s care.
As we live and pray, we usually focus on our own needs and wants. There’s nothing wrong with that, because prayer of any kind keeps us connected with God. Yet, the more we pray, the more we may recognize that God wants something different for us than what we think we want.
As we shift from our wants to what God wants for us, the transition and transformation may cause us to pray with chutzpah. We often resist what God wants for us, because it means more work, more commitment, and change, and that causes us to be afraid. Yet, the resulting trust in God is worth it, as we learn to believe that God really does have our best interests in mind.
Looking back at the text for today, it’s important to note this: When we pray with the chutzpah that we believe God will hear and respond, we are among the faithful Jesus hopes to find on earth.
Last week your challenge was to notice those around you, and how you perceived them. How might you pray for those you noticed? Were any of them worthy of prayer with chutzpah?
This week, notice how you pray. What is the focus of your prayer? Who is the focus of your prayer? Are you praying for your own wants, or for what God wants for you? Are there concerns that deserve more intense prayer, and you pray with chutzpah for those concerns?
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, you taught us how to pray, and modeled many forms of prayer for us. Help us to pray, help us to know what is right, and lead us to pray with chutzpah about those things that really concern us and you. Amen 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

POAMN Conference Thoughts

Notes from the speakers: Eileen Lindner and Jon Brown

Our life stories do not begin at our birth, nor do they end when we die. Our stories reflect our ancestors, perhaps for many generations, our culture, and our faith history. Older folks know that the older we are, the more we can see in the rearview mirror of our lives. If we only look backward, we can lose our way because we also need to keep looking forward.

The book of Hebrews, especially chapters 11 and 12, outline for us the faith story we belong to. The letter looks backward at the history of the people, and forward into the future. Using the refrain, “by faith” the author of Hebrews reminds us that we have a long history of people who stepped out in faith and did sometimes irrational acts. Noah built a boat on dry land; Abraham left home with his wife and family; Moses confronted Pharaoh.

At the time of the writing of Hebrews the people to whom the letter was addressed were experiencing torture and death because of their faith. The author encourages the people of this community of faith to remain faithful and remember the long history of the people of faith to which they belong, and to continue to pass on the faith to the next generations.

How do we remember the past and look forward to the future at the same time?