Pilgrims rising

Don was a husband and father who one day was commuting home after work in a bad thunder storm, when the car he was driving was struck by lightning. Don was okay, and he managed to get home. Sitting down with his teenaged children, he relayed to them his harrowing experience.

Expecting at least a small degree of sympathy from them, Don was perplexed when his eldest interrupted: “Quick, let’s go buy a lottery ticket because they say the chances of being struck by lightning are like the chances of winning the lottery.”

The disconnect we feel in how Jesus’ disciples often responded to him is not dissimilar. He tells them he must die a horrible death. And they respond by demanding seats of power, authority and glory beside Jesus. His disciples continually seem out of sync with their leader’s meaning.

The Gospel for today[1]must be read in the larger context of Mark’s writing here. In Mark, we see that this is the third time Jesus announces his death, the third time the disciples respond in perplexing ways, and the third time Jesus responds to them by giving them a commentary on true discipleship.[2]

By looking at the what comes immediately before this text, we also discover that the disciples who followed Jesus were afraid.[3]It’s fair to presume, then, their desire and request to secure positions of glory once Jesus took his rightful throne on earth and/or in heaven was born out of fear.

The connection between fear and striving for security is common in all of us, to this day.

We are afraid. We fear the changing realities which make new demands on our time, energy and resources in the church. We fear the outcome of our health concerns. We fear the effects of an uncertain future, in our nation, our world and in our personal lives. In the fear of the unknown, it is a natural knee-jerk to secure anything down. Do something, anything, to give yourself the illusion of control. An insurance policy.

Let’s give the disciples the benefit of the doubt, to suggest perhaps they were aware that Jesus’ path was going to lead to his arrest, torture and death. And they knew that likely they, too, would be caught in the crossfire. They were probably aware that Jesus was causing an uncomfortable stir among the powers that be, religiously and politically, in Jerusalem. They saw the writing-on-the-wall.

And in the midst of this fear, the Sons of Zebedee tried to insure some benefit for all the sacrifices they were already making and would likely continue to make. Perhaps if they didn’t understand something, it was they couldn’t yet grasp the depths of the sacrifices they would make as a community of faith.

What Jesus stands for is a different way altogether from the way of the world. The disciples are caught up in the power plays of the world. They have in mind a hierarchy, a pecking order, of who’s on top. There is this Machiavellian feel to the debate amongst themselves, as if relationships of power must only be a win/lose scenario, a zero-sum game where in order to get ahead some people have to be left behind.

The way of Jesus, in contrast, is the way of the Cross. Jesus exposes the false way of the world by surrendering to it and dying by it. The way of the cross exposes our folly and calls us to a deeper more inclusive way.

Martin Luther first coined the phrase in his Heidelberg Disputation written in 1518. He called it, “A theology of the cross.” It is a way of understanding and imagining God. That is, God was, and is, being revealed to us in all truth most clearly and unequivocally in suffering. In the vulnerability and pain of death on the cross, Jesus revealed—and continues to reveal—the God who suffers alongside us wherever there is pain and suffering in the world.

Luther thus criticized a “theology of glory” which presumes God validates faith, and is only validated by, success, measures of progress and triumphal conquering over any weakness or adversary. This theology dominates not only in our society, but sadly also in the church.

A theology of glory reflects an unbridled, Pollyanna optimism that avoids and resists places of defeat, failure, vulnerability and weakness as having anything to do with divine identity or purpose. A theology of glory undermines real people and a God who is known in the darkest times and places of life. It despises our common humanity and the losses we all endure.

The way of Jesus is for all people, not just for those who make it to the top. The way of Jesus is for all people, because we all have our crosses to bear. We can share in our common suffering. And grow together. It is therefore in community, the Body of Christ, the body ‘broken for all’ we say in the Communion, where Christ is revealed and where our true purpose is born.

#OttawaRising is the hashtag used, announced and displayed on Ottawa Senators Hockey club promotional material. The vision is of the team rising out of the ashes of disappointment from last season. That was the season from hell, when they finished second-to-last place in the league standings, suffered through a broken, conflicted locker room and as a result had to trade away star players.

But it is only standing in the ashes that you can claim the vision of ‘rising’ again. The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals wouldn’t declare resurrection as their identity, this season. It only makes sense to proclaim the resurrection in the midst of the defeat of the cross.

The Gospel abounds with a promise. The disciples may not hear it as such. But Jesus has great compassion on them. He does not rebuke them for being out of sync with him. He affirms that they will indeed drink the cup that he must drink and be baptized with the baptism that he must endure.

Jesus will continue to offer this promise and hope to us, that we will not always need to act and respond out of our fear. That what we do as a community does not need to be knee-jerk platitudes that only keep us stuck in cycles of fear, self-preservation and defensiveness. Jesus will continue to call us into deeper expressions of serving others and of paying attention to the needs of others not just our own.

If there was anything the disciples should have known with any amount of certainty, is that Jesus’ promise is secure and very sure. Because by being in last place, and losing it all, those first disciples would one day rise.

And so will we.

[1]Mark 10:35-45

[2]C. Clifton Black in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common LectionaryYear B Volume 4 (Louisville Kentucky: WJK Press, 2009), p.189.

[3]Mark 10:32

Stick-to-it-ness of love

Terrorist bombs going off in Brussels during Holy Week should get our attention. Not only and primarily because of the sudden horror and tragic, senseless loss of life.

But also because Christians this week, the world over, are reflecting and imagining the path Jesus took to his own senseless, horrific death hanging on a cross.

Death is on the mind and heart of many these days. How can we approach this reality common to us all? How can we accept the truth of our own mortality, which will be realized some day in some unique way?

In a popular book about near-death experiences, people reported on how they saw a review of their life — the cliched ‘life flashing before your eyes’.

The people who had momentarily died detailed every single encounter they had had with another human being throughout their life. They not only re-lived it, they were able to feel what the other person had felt. In that life-review they knew what others felt because of the near-dead person’s words or actions in that particular encounter. (1)

You may be able to imagine how surprised some felt to know how their behaviour and words actually affected other people. To know what impact our lives have on others. We may not think that a simple action like a smile, or a scowling face, a gracious word, or an angry outburst, could affect someone else’s day — let alone their life.

A friend recently suggested that this is what they thought Judgement Day would be for us — to understand and feel fully what influence our lives had on people around us. And how much our lives mean, in relationship.

I attended my brother-in-law’s retirement reception last week. He was retiring from the military after about twenty-five years. In his speech to the gathered friends, family and colleagues he concluded by saying something that stuck with me: “There’s lots that I’ve done over the years that I’m not proud of — as I stand here today. But, I’ve always and will always be proud of who I did it with.”

On Maundy Thursday, the main theme behind the actions of Jesus with his disciples is love. The commandment to love one another infuses the ritual of washing his disciples feet, of eating with them and instituting the Holy Supper, of instructing them and praying for them that ‘they may be one’.

The motif of loving one another is strangely underneath the surface of the high-tension, escalating conflict surrounding Jesus as he nears the cross — the ultimate place of his suffering and death. You wouldn’t think this is a love story, at first glance.

Yet, Jesus does not seek retribution for the injustice he endures. As Simon Peter did by taking a sword and cutting off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants who came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10). Instead, Jesus is about a restorative type of judgement — one that through love seeks to make right what has been divided or tarnished by sin. Judgement is ultimately always about restoring us, not avenging us for all our mis-deeds. To whom are we restored?

Our religion is not one of individual moral performance and accomplishment for our glory alone. The judgement we individually meet at the end is not considered in a vacuum. Our religion is constituted in a community. Our religion, more to the point, is practised and validated in the context of human relationship. Christianity is a social religion. You can’t do Christianity apart from others.

On Maundy Thursday, the focus is on the disciples meeting together for the last time with Jesus. And they do so around a Meal. This is the context, the meal and the companionship, however flawed and fragile. Sharing food, here, is not an individual indulgence as it is a communal sharing.

For many, in our culture today, to simply sit and eat and talk and to remain together until the end of the meal seems a quaint custom, perhaps incomprehensible, even an empty game: There’s always something else to do in my room — download something, fix something, watch something, communicate in some other media. The community of the table seems far less interesting once you have eaten your fill.

Yet eating with others is what prayer is all about. It is the time — like meditating with others or celebrating a ritual as we do this evening at the Sacrament of the Table — when we are fed and nourished by the One who is the food itself. We need to stay and wait and allow ourselves to be waited upon. (2)

And so, we need to practice doing things together. Practice. Not perfectly. Not always the right way. And not just when all is smiles and joy. Sometimes, in practising our faith together we end up hurting others, and being hurt ourselves. This is nevertheless the nature of practice. 

Like in any endeavour, physical exercise, any discipline, anything that is of value to us. It sometimes hurts. We need to challenge ourselves. We need what coach Dave Cameron of the Ottawa Senators said once in an interview explaining what his team needs in order to be successful in the NHL: ‘stick-to-it-ness’. 

‘Stick-to-it-ness’ is the quality of staying with the game plan, playing with the team; not, individual heroics as they and we are want to do. Stick-to-it-ness, even in the face of adversity or failure, or disappointment. Not running out the back door when things get tough or uneasy or uncomfortable. Not giving up on others or on yourself, even when they disappoint you. Staying with the game plan. Being persistent. Even when things are less-than-perfect or ideal in your life, and life with others.

‘Stick-to-it-ness’ is a quality sadly lacking in Christian culture today. We are so individually-minded that we delude ourselves into thinking we can go it alone. That we don’t need others. That we can live our Christian lives without being faithful to the community — the hassle or complication of others who will only disappoint and annoy — 

That we can leave a group of people and join another church. That religion is like a smorgasbord; and “I” am the centre of the universe, determining my destiny, choosing what I want and leaving behind what I don’t want. And being in total control.

In the acclaimed film, “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez, father and son together experience a walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. They begin their journey in conflict, estranged from one another. The son tells the father a truth that he learns by the end of the movie: “You don’t choose a life, you live a life.”

Practising our faith is not something we do by ourselves. Practising our faith is not motivated by trying to earn favour from God by all our good deeds. Practising our faith is not creating for ourselves the life we want. 

Practising our faith is first and foremost something we do together, for the sake of the other, and for love of the other. Even in the face of death.

We follow Jesus, who walked the way of life and death as we know it. We worship Jesus, these holy days, who showed us the motivation and stick-to-it-ness of love, of grace, of leading with a heart of mercy. For the sake of the other.

I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call upon the name of the Lord.

I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord,

in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 116:17-19)
(1) Raymond A. Moody, “Life After Life”, HarperCollins, New York, 2000, p.55-65

(2) Laurence Freeman, “Sensing God”, Novalis Press, Toronto, 2015, p.110

There’s no place on earth

People of faith, since the beginning, have been on the move. Even when they settled down for a while, they created ways of practising the journey — of moving from Point A to Point B.

Rome, central to the story and expansion of early Christianity, is full of famous steps. The most famous of these are the 135 Spanish steps which visitors traverse daily en masse.

Millions of Christians have walked the Camino el Santiago which spans almost 800 kms from the foothills of the Pyrenees in France all the way to Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain.

The trails to the castle at Lindisfarne in the United Kingdom attract Christians worldwide every Holy Week to walk nearly 200 kilometres.

People of faith have valued movement as integral to their spiritual growth. Because we are not the same at the end of a journey than we were when we started. This innate desire to be better, to change, to grow and mature — is part and parcel of the life of faith.

The culture of Journeying, so important to the Lenten season we now begin, has its roots in the original pilgrimages to Holy Lands. For centuries, Christians sought a deeper connection with Jesus who walked and lived and died in and around Jerusalem and the Judean wilderness. 

When the Crusades prevented pilgrims from traveling to the Holy Lands, Christians ‘back home’ developed prayer walks in Labyrinths — the most famous and oldest in the Chartres Cathedral in France — which symbolized the long journey to meet Jesus.

Indeed, settlers to this country moved here, many of them to exercise and practice their faith in freedom. Mobility, migration, pilgrimage — this is our story, as people of faith.

How we journey is the question. The journey is not only physical, it also describes our understanding of the way things work.

Over the last month, the Ottawa Senators (NHL hockey team) were looking to score more goals. They had lost more games than won. Their star players were not producing. 

One of their younger players, Curtis Lazar, decided to give $50 to a homeless person after dining out one evening. The next night, he scored two goals in a routing of the Toronto Maple Leafs — the Senators won that game 6-1. The following game, the Senators won again, 5-1, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In an interview afterwards, Lazar confessed that perhaps there was “karma” working here. Meaning, because he had done a good deed, there was a ‘return’ on his righteous investment and he was rewarded with those goals and wins.

I like Lazar and I appreciate his hockey skills and character. At the same time, he reflects a dominant way of thinking. It is really what some have a called a mechanical type of spirituality, with inputs (from us) and outputs (from God). The sequence goes something like:

1. We sin

2. We are punished

3. We confess our sins

4. We change our lives, and do something good

5. Then, we receive forgiveness and grace

Such is the description of a journey towards goodness that hinges entirely on us, and our doing, our initiative. This spiritual journey then cycles back to the beginning and round and round it goes. Essentially, we force God’s hand. Karma is not a belief alien even to Christians, it seems!

The problem with karma is that because it ultimately relies on our good works, we will never achieve the goal. After winning two lop-sided games, the Senators have now lost three in a row. Where does that leave Lazar? Does he have to give $100 next time to poor people he meets?

In recalling the great acts of God in bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses confesses it is God’s mighty arm that started the ball rolling towards freedom; verses 8-9 of Deuteronomy 26:

8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, Jesus walks with us in a completely opposite direction from karma. His is not the spirituality of addition, but of subtraction. He goes into the desert.

Try to imagine Jesus’ first moments, entering into the wilderness he would occupy for forty days: The sound of any footsteps is absorbed by sand and rock, lost in the wind or in silence. It is in this barren place that Jesus chooses to retreat, far from what he knows.

Christ chose to retrace the path of his ancestors — in the desert: Abraham. Moses. Ruth. Some of them were responding to God’s call. Some were fleeing persecution. Some were simply looking for a place to call home.

There may very well be value, to our growth as Christians, in embarking on spiritual journeys and earth-bound pilgrimages with some expectations at the destination in mind.

At the same time, we can be assured that Jesus not only waits for us at the ‘end of the line’. Jesus is right there with us, each step of the way. His journey into the desert of testing and suffering shows that there is no place of suffering, pain and loss on earth, to which Jesus is unaccustomed. No place of want that Jesus doesn’t know, intimately. This is more the point.

I like one of the sayings, attributed to Albert Camus, on a Valentine’s Day card I saw: It’s a message of love from one to another: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow; don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me, and be my friend.”

The message of Christianity is that God is not out there, or back there. God is ‘in our skin’, with us. And goes where we go in our journeys of faith and life, through the good and the bad. Jesus is not only the God of our eternal salvation, Jesus is our friend for life, and no matter what.

Jesus resides in the deepest places of our heart and activates our truest most authentic selves no matter where we are at.

Long before Jesus came, the Psalmist knew this gracious truth in his heart: There is no place on earth where God’s presence of grace, love and mercy cannot reach. In Psalm 139 —

7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 

Contrary to karma, this journey of faith begins with God’s grace and forgiveness, as it always does. It is in the desert of our lives where we experience this grace because life happens regardless of how hard we try. And because we are already forgiven, already blessed, we can live confident, transformed lives, even in the desert of our lives. As we live out of our freedom in Christ, we can then confess, “Jesus is Lord!”

As God is with us in our deepest darkness and light, we look to those on the move today. Refugees. Migrants. More than the places of the journey, it is the people we must engage. 

While the desert wilderness was a time of solitary retreat for Jesus, migrants and refugees live in communities: their solace is in the comfort of companionship and common history and identity with those whom they live alongside. In the Lenten days to come, in our own solitary places, let us pray for those for whom solitude is a luxury. And welcome them into our hearts and minds. (1)

(1) Lutherans Connect, “Welcoming the Stranger” blogpost Lenten devotions, Day 1 (lc2016lentdevotional.blogspot.ca)

‘Pesky’ is good, or is it?

I think I got my tendency to cheer for the underdog from my mother. Growing up, she would always root for the team or individual competitor that was not expected to win. Whether it was hockey, the Olympics, the World Cup, or the local highschool track meet – her sympathies always leaned towards the smaller, the perceptibly weaker, comparably unsuccessful side.

I also think the surprising success of the Ottawa Senators last season was attributed to their underdog status. No one expected them to win, especially when their top star players were out with injuries and the fact that they were only in their second year of a rebuild.

They were the ‘pesky Sens’, a description that endured right into the playoffs when in the first round they defeated the top team in the Eastern Conference. The come-from-behind pattern to win games was common. The resiliency they showed when down and almost out – to keep at it, to pester their opponents with feisty, gutsy plays – was inspiring. They persisted. They were unrelenting. They literally beat their opponents into submission.

 

Maybe that’s why I really like the woman who unrelentingly pleads with the unjust judge. She is the underdog in this scenario. But she doesn’t give up. She keeps at it. She pesters the judge. And finally he gives in.

 

We like this woman. She is given to us, we say, as a model for persistent prayer. Let’s not forget that this Gospel text (Luke 18:1-8) is about how we ought to pray. In the first verse we read why Jesus told this story: “To pray always and not to lose heart.”

 

Indeed, this is how we have come to understand our relationship with God: We are like the woman; and God is the judge. Right? It is our job to persist, and bother God with our needs and prayer requests. And not just once, but keep at it. We are to be like the ‘pesky Sens’, making our case to God over and over again. We pray to God about the problems in our world and the problems of our own making. We make it our business, as good Christians, to pester God.

 

And, for some of us, we don’t seem to give up. Because we believe that, like in the parable, God will eventually give in and grant us our request. Surely, God will look with favour upon those of us who persist in pestering God.

 

Many of us will say that when we don’t get the answer we want, it means God said ‘no’ to our pestering. But that’s not what the parable says about prayer, and about our relationship with God. It doesn’t answer the critical question: Why doesn’t God grant us our prayer request even and especially when we do persist? The truth is, persistence doesn’t always get us what we want, no matter how hard we try.

 

What is more, the granting of the woman’s plea is not based on the merits of her case but merely on the fact that the judge is fed up. Is this the image of God the Gospel proclaims – a God who really doesn’t care, has no respect for anyone, a God who becomes irritated with us, a God who is – as the passage articulates – ‘unjust’? Is this the God who loved the world so much to send Jesus (John 3:16)?

Don’t you think it’s a bit strange to identify God with the unjust judge: to identify God with someone who has no concern for justice? Isn’t it a bit strange to suggest an understanding of this parable that insists that prayer petitions are answered simply because of our nagging God into action and that God acts without any concern for the content of the petitions themselves?

So there are some problems with the traditional interpretation of this parable, as much as it can motivate us to remain faithful in our life journey with God. Persistence is definitely a quality and value much needed in a church that has in many quarters grown complacent and ho-hum about the practice of our faith.

 

But, you can see why I hesitate to conclude that being ‘pesky’ is not the point of the parable. At least as it relates to us.

Maybe that’s why Scripture lesson from Genesis is linked with this Gospel story in the lectionary. This has always been one of my favourite pieces of Scripture. I can’t help but cheer Jacob on. No matter how much of a rascal Jacob may be, I still want Jacob to win that wrestling match with God. strong>

He starts out as the underdog here, in a couple ways. For one thing, he’s up against God Almighty. For another, Jacob is returning to the scene of his crimes when he is told that Esau is on his way to meet him; on his way with a force of 400 men.

Perhaps Jacob is having second thoughts about his journey to face up to the mess he’d made of things. Perhaps Jacob is having second thoughts about continuing on the path towards reconciliation and taking responsibility for his actions. In Jacob’s dark night of the soul, God has no other choice than to wrestle with Jacob.

But, unbeknownst even to him, Jacob has inner strength, and almost prevails against God. All night long they wrestle and at daybreak it becomes clear that Jacob will not relent. And so God strikes Jacob on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.

Why did God bother Jacob like that? Maybe God pestered Jacob for the very same reason that God pesters us. As the lyrics from the new title track of the contemporary Christian music group, Switchfoot, repeat: “Love alone is worth the fight”.

 

Why does God persistently wrestle us to the ground? Love. God says the love for creation is such that makes divine persistence annoyingly necessary. To push us. To prod us. To get us moving. To get us doing what we need to do. To keep us on the path towards doing the right things. To prompt us, nudge us in the direction we might not want or consider easy – but deep down we know we have to do.

The ‘Pesky Sens’ sometimes didn’t play by the rules. They would do the little things, sometimes illegal, that would get under the skin of the opposing players. They were pesky.

Just like this wrestling match between God and Jacob. God starts the fight. And it is God that tries to finish the match with a blow that is below the belt. God does this even though Jacob may have been a liar and a trickster; even though he may have cheated his brother Esau out of his inheritance and conned his father Isaac into blessing him.

But Jacob is older and wiser now and he’s doing exactly what God has told him to do: He’s heading home, he’s going to face the music and try to make amends with his brother. God pestered Jacob into continuing his journey towards love, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Love alone is worth the fight.

I believe that there is more to this Gospel parable for Luke. You see Jesus has this habit of turning our understanding of God upside down and if we look closely at this parable you might just see Jesus turning things over. Think about it, how many times in the Bible have you read a story in which God identifies with or sticks up for the widows and the orphans? Jesus himself was constantly encouraging his followers to care for widows and orphans.

So, what happens if instead of identifying God as the unjust judge we identify God as the widow? I believe that it is us who fill the role of the unjust judge who neither fears God or respects people, so often. It’s more than likely that we are the ones dominated by our egos and generally looking for what is in it for us. We are really stubborn in our self-seeking.

But God is persistent in love for us. God is the hound of heaven who wears us down, like the widow, by persistently pursuing us. Eventually, we waver and sometimes we let God enter our lives and guide us to do the right thing.

God is persistent in trying to break down our defenses. God is the one who is bothering us. God is the one who takes the initiative. As long as we insist as seeing prayer flowing only from us we are missing the point. Prayer is communication between God and us. Prayer isn’t just about our requests offered up to God so that God can do our bidding. Prayer is about relationship.  And every once in a while, God just can’t resist pestering us.

From time to time, I’m sure that God has no choice left but to try to wrestle us to the ground and pin us down. It’s our task to try to figure out what God is trying to tell us when we wrestle with events in our lives.

We wrestle to find meaning, to find purpose and the struggle is often intense. Sometimes we may not know the reason we are forced into the struggle. Understanding and listening don’t always come easily for us. It’s often hard for us to see the hand of God at work in the struggle. We stumble in the dark, just as Jacob is left alone in the night to wrestle.  

As for the low blows, I’m sure God knows what God is doing.  For often it is the wounds and the scars that we receive in the struggles that remind us of the pain and enable us to be better at tending the pain of others.  After one of those long periods of darkness it is only in the final outcome that we realize that we have been touched by God.

As for those unanswered prayers, remember that well-known story of this devout Christian who lived directly in the path of a storm.  And the civil authorities issued a flood warning and told all the residents to evacuate. Well the devote Christian prayed and prayed and decided that because he was on such good terms with God that God would save him from the flood, if only he would have faith.

So when the sheriff came by on patrol he tried to convince the devout Christian to evacuate…but the fellow said, “no, no, I have faith and God will save me. Well the storm came and the river rose beyond its banks and the flood waters flowed dangerously close to the fellow’s house, and the National Guard came by in a row boat and tried to convince him to evacuate but he told them, “no, no, I have faith and God will save me.”  Well eventually the fellow’s house was flooded and he had to climb up on his roof and a news helicopter saw him trapped up there and they tried to help him evacuate, but the devout Christian just waved the helicopter on and said, “Don’t worry; I am a Christian and I have faith and God will save me.” strong>

Well, finally the house was swept away in the flood and the man couldn’t hold on any longer and he drowned. When the man arrived at the pearly gates St Peter was really surprised and told him that they certainly weren’t expecting to see him there for quite some time. As you can imagine, the devout Christian was very upset and he demanded an audience with the Almighty.

And so St. Peter ushered him into the Holy of Holies and the fellow started ranting and raving at God. God didn’t take too kindly to the man’s complaints and let him know in no uncertain terms that God was sick and tired of this guy’s ingratitude. After all God had heard his prayers and God had sent the sheriff in a squad car, the national guard in a boat and the news media in a helicopter all to save him. And still this fellow couldn’t get up off his duff and do something.

God doesn’t send bad things our way. God is not some kind of cosmic puppeteer up in the sky sending us trials and tribulations to build our character. God doesn’t send bad things our way anymore than God kills innocent children. The bad things that come our way come as a result of humanity’s abuse of God’s precious gift of freedom. God does not wish us harm, God wants only what is good.

But when bad things come our way as a result of the brokenness of creation, our God does promise to be with us in the struggle. Prayer doesn’t consist merely of us reciting our wish list. Prayer is about conversation and conversation involves listening as well as talking. Prayer is about relationship and relationship requires action. It is not enough to pray for God’s reign. It’s not enough to pray for justice and peace.   It’s not enough to pray for an end to hunger. It’s not enough to pester God with our requests. God is calling us to get up off our duffs and do something. And God will provide the necessary things once we actually get off our duffs.

Like the pleading widow, our God cries out to us for justice. Like the widow our God continues to pursue us. Prayer provides God with the means to enter our lives so that God can challenge us to change the world. Like the pleading widow, Our God persistently cries out for justice trusting that eventually we will hear God’s pleas and begin to cry out for justice with both our words and our deeds.

And yes we ought to be persistent in our prayer so that our prayers can become more than just words and we can be about the work of ushering in God’s reign of justice and peace. The struggle will be intense; be prepared to wrestle with God but do so with the assurance that in the end we will receive God’s blessing. For we will see God face to face, and yet our life will be preserved.

So continue to pester God. But also continue to be pestered by God. And together with God we will ensure all our prayers are answered and God’s grace shall prevail.

Many thanks to pastordawn whose blog appears in WordPress. Her many wonderful thoughts and words appear in this post, from hers entitled “Whose Persistence”