Saturday, April 2, 2011

Persistent Persistent Persistent

Successful prayer?
In the gospel of Luke, after he shares Jesus teaching the Our Father, he shares the story of a persistent and annoying friend.
Luke 11:5-11 Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you has a friend. Suppose you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’ Your friend might answer you from inside his house, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I can guarantee that although he doesn’t want to get up to give you anything, he will get up and give you whatever you need because he is your friend and because you were so bold.
“So I tell you to ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened.
“If your child asks you, his father, for a fish, would you give him a snake instead? Or if your child asks you for an egg, would you give him a scorpion? Even though you’re evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children. So how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

1) Have you had the experience of doing something for a friend that you didn’t want to do? Why did you?

2) In the second paragraph, Jesus explains the parable, which he doesn’t always do. How does he get this out of the bread story?

3) What does the “Even though you’re evil…” part mean? Is Jesus calling us evil?

Later in the gospel of Luke, Jesus again is teaching about prayer.
Luke 18:1-8 Jesus used this illustration with his disciples to show them that they need to pray all the time and never give up. He said, “In a city there was a judge who didn’t fear God or respect people. In that city there was also a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice.’
“For a while the judge refused to do anything. But then he thought, ‘This widow really annoys me. Although I don’t fear God or respect people, I’ll have to give her justice. Otherwise, she’ll keep coming to me until she wears me out.’ ”
The Lord added, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge thought. Won’t God give his chosen people justice when they cry out to him for help day and night? Is he slow to help them? I can guarantee that he will give them justice quickly. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

4) This time Luke gives the reason for the parable up front. How does this story fit “pray all the time and never give up?”

5) Why does Jesus make the judge, who’s in God’s place in the story, a dishonest judge?

6) The last sentence has gotten a LOT of attention. What do you think it means and why is it in this story?

Nadia Bolz-Weber (the Sarcastic Lutheran) has written about the Persistent Widow:
(This is extensive quoting; basically it's an abridged form of her post.)

The best way to suck the life out of a parable is by attempting to neatly allegorize it or worse try to figure out the so-called moral of the story. Parables aren't about morals they are about truth - hidden, unyielding, disruptive truth. The kind of truth that simply can't be contained.
7) Why would telling the point of a parable “ruin” it?

It's tempting to look straight on and see the story of the persistent widow as a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash and prizes we want out of God's divine vending machine if we just kind of bug God to death through ceaseless prayer, when it comes down to it, we know better. … Do we only think God answers by giving us what we ask for?
8) What does it mean for God to answer a prayer?

Yet Luke tells us that this parable is about our need to pray constantly and not lose hope. So maybe an alternate reading of this parable is that it's yes, about persistence and prayer and hope but maybe it's about the persistence of God. … Maybe prayer isn't the way in which we manipulate God but is simply the posture in which we finally become worn down by God's persistence. God's persistence in loving us …God's persistence in forgiving and being known and being faithful and always, always, always bringing life out of death.
9) I connect this with the weird idea that by praying we are changing God’s mind. If praying changes me, it makes more sense. But then why do we pray?

In Luke and throughout scripture we are told to pray constantly, pray without ceasing, so that we do not lose heart. And how do you pray without ceasing? Only by having others pray for you, with you. … So to pray without ceasing is not an individual sport if anything it's a relay race. It’s what we do for each other, and it’s what we do for the world. And these prayers are like these gossamer threads connecting us to God and God’s people. When we pray on another's behalf we become connected to that person through God, and we become connected to God through that person. And in these connections God gets stuff done. Not necessarily the stuff we think God should do, but the work that God is always about, which is redeeming us and all of creation. These gossamer threads of prayer, woven through the space and time of our lives, are like the network through which God sends God's own love for the world.
10) What is she trying to get at here?

It hurts sometimes. But the more you see suffering and injustice around you, the more you pray and the more you pray the more connected you are to that suffering, and the more connected you are to that suffering the more connected you are to the crucified and risen Christ. For these silken threads of prayer which connect us to God and to one another and even to our enemies are how God is stitching our broken humanity back together. So church, pray without ceasing and do not lose heart. For God has some stuff to do.
11) The way humans are we can’t go from no prayer to prayer without ceasing. We have to build up and train for it. So to start, when are some times in your day you could pray?

Photo credits: From Flickr - rikkis refuge, dr.jd

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