Sermon on Proper 24C Luke 18:18

Delivered at St. Stephen’s Pro-cathedral on the Year of Our Lord 2013 October 20


Forgive me if you’ve heard this one, but here’s a joke about persistence:
there was a man who prayed everyday to God to win the lottery.
He’d kneel at the side of his bed, fold his hands, bow his head and pray: “God, please have me win the lottery.”
And every day, the man did not win the lottery. Nevertheless, persistently, regularly, with passion and zeal, he would pray every day “God please have me win the lottery.” Days, weeks, months, years went by, yet every day without fail, the man prayed, “God please have me win the lottery.”
Then one day, miraculously, God responded to the man’s prayer.
After the man knelt down once again, folded his hands, and bowed his head and prayed “God please have me win the lottery,”
a divine light suddenly surrounded him, angelic music from heaven poured into the room, and God’s majestic voice rang down. God said, “My child, every day you have prayed to win the lottery?”
“Yes Lord,” the man replied with awe. “Will you grant my prayer?”
God said, “My son, I can do miracles, but not the impossible. Can you meet me half way and at least go and buy a lottery ticket?”

The parable Jesus tells this morning is also about persistence, but probably for a better reason than winning the lottery. Although actually, is winning the lottery such a bad thing to pray for?
Many people win the lottery metaphorically all the time, like the man who prayed for it, without even buying a ticket.
Some people win a lottery by being born to the better parents, whether those parents are good at raising children or have a whole lot of money to give their children a head start.
You could also say just being born in middle-class America, as opposed to some poverty stricken, disease contaminated, war-torn other part of the world is having won the lottery.
Some people are born with certain talents, skills, abilities that help them succeed—that is a form of winning the lottery.
And then, after birth, some people are granted success without having earned it, even without making the effort to buy a ticket.
Some people have great jobs land in their laps;
some people have perfect health and are never struck down by disease;
some people have great supportive friends and colleagues.
These things could all be interpreted as having won the lottery.
And for people who have lousy jobs, poor health, few friends, through no fault of their own.
That is what life has dealt them.
As part of what some people call “The American Dream,” we believe we can rise above bad circumstances and with hard work and good character succeed, improve our socio-economic circumstances.
How realistic that achieving so-called American Dream is, has been called into question in recent years, as we’ve suffered major shifts in our economic landscape.
One of those shifts has been the rise of lotteries as a way to provide hope for people.
Statistically, the chance of winning a major lottery award is very small.
Statistically, most people lose a lot of money on the lottery and only a few make out well.
And realistically, the lottery is just another way to shift money around, although not as with a progressive tax system—from the rich to the poor—but instead from many poor people to a very, very few poor people.
All of this should provoke us to think about how we need to find better economic justice in America today.
That was surely the problem of the widow nagging the corrupt judge in Jesus’ parable. Surely the parable’s context was about how she was suffering economically and the justice she was asking for was probably an inheritance that other relatives were trying to take for themselves.
Jesus leaves out any annoying details, though—we really just have three main points in this story: a widow believes she needs justice; she takes action to gain it; and a corrupt evil man decides to do something right.
Now she is not just praying for justice and hoping God will grant her wish, she needs to take action. And the odds are against her—even an honest judge might not grant her appeal—the other side of the case surely thought they had justice on their side—that is often the source of tragedy, when both sides have some amount of justice,
how does a judge treat both fairly?
But the point of the parable is not about seeking justice—although we can perhaps learn about that from it. The point of the parable is about prayer and faith. Unlike with some parables, the gospel makes it easy to get the point because by the reason for Jesus’s telling it is given both before and after.
Before the parable the author says it is: about [people’s] need to pray always and not to lose heart.
And after the parable, Jesus says that: God [will] grant justice to his chosen ones. … And yet, [Jesus wonders] will he find [people of] faith [in the future]?
So we are to pray without ceasing, although,
what is not clear here, is that your prayers may not be answered in this life.
Jesus tells us elsewhere that evildoers may find their just punishment in the next world, not in this. Jesus tells us elsewhere that the righteous may find their reward in the next world, not in this.
Faith, though, is about creating a different approach to living in this world.
Prayer is about transforming ourselves to be more in line with God, not this world.
In the services we do here we have prayers—the essential prayers of the people for one.
Those are intended to help us connect with God and our neighbors by making explicit mention of needs and concerns of people in this world.
We do the Lord’s Prayer (although not the version as written by Luke, but another version from the Gospel according to Matthew). We have opening and closing prayers. Outside of these services we have innumerable opportunities to pray. Some are faithful with the ritual of Morning Prayer or other parts of the daily office. Some of us say grace at meals. Some pray at bedtime.
And it all is about giving us the faith to be more Christlike.
And the only guarantee, the only certainty we can say about prayer is that the end result is our unity with Christ.

Sharing in the glory and love of Jesus is truly winning the lottery.
And you are a guaranteed winner, although we do believe that you do have to obtain a ticket.
But the ticket hardly costs anything at all—at least according to the values of this world.
Your ticket is the faith and works you commit yourself to do to love God and love your neighbor. How difficult is that?
Well it can be, sometimes in a world of suffering and sin.
But we have Jesus, we have each other in the church, to share, to pool our resources as a group, to obtain that ticket. And we believe the prize is worth it. Far more precious than gold or jewels or cash is the love of God.

Last Updated: 2013 October 26
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