19 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24
October 20, 2019
The Reverend Meg Lovejoy
In 1990, J. K. Rowling began writing a story about a young male wizard. After a failed marriage, without a job, and the mother of a young daughter, she saw herself as a failure, but described her failure as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing. During this period, she was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide. In order to provide for herself and her daughter, Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” Rowling continued to work on her manuscript, which was all typed on an old manual typewriter, and after five years, she completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A literary agency agreed to represent Rowling in her search for a publisher. In 1997, after twelve publishers rejected the manuscript, a publishing house in London agreed to publish her book with an initial printing of 1000 copies. The chairman of the publishing company advised Rowling to get a day job since she had little chance of being a successful children’s author. In 1998, Scholastic, Inc. purchased the rights to the book and to publish it under the name Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the rest of the story is history. The Harry Potter series of books, movies, and all other copyrighted material made J. K. Rowling the first billionaire author, but she has been generous with her wealth sharing it with many. Rowling’s story is just one of many that provides evidence of the importance of persistence.
Jesus understood what his disciples faced as they went into the world to teach and spread the Good News. He told them the parable we heard today to underscore the importance of constant prayer and persistence. In the parable Jesus again uses examples of people whose situations were common during the time: the judge – who held a position of power and knew just how great he was. Jesus said the judge neither feared God nor had respect for people. Can you think of an example in today’s time? The widow represents the most vulnerable in society. Again, maybe you can think of someone today who could fill this role.
The widow seeks justice, for what, we aren’t told and the judge brushes her off time and time again. This poor, vulnerable widow just won’t give up. She’s that pesky mosquito that buzzes around your head as you’re trying to fall asleep. This widow is a person of determination and courage. Through her determination, the judge finally realizes she is not going to go away and he grants her justice. It is only because of the judge’s self-interest, not because of a change of heart that he relents.
Jesus explains that if this poor widow can receive justice from this self-serving, self-righteous judge, how can God not grant justice to those who cry out to him? This persistence in prayer is an expression of deep faith that allows God to release power in our lives. The question Jesus then asks, “ And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8) turns the point of the parable back on us. We don’t know when the Kingdom of God will come, so we must be prepared – to “pray always and not to lose heart.” (Lk 18:1)
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is right or not, and do this by convincing, correcting, encouraging, and with a great deal of patience.” (2 Ti 4:2) Because we know God is always with us, we are able to persevere in prayer, in sharing our faith, and in all we do.
God does listen to and hear our prayers. In our prayers, we experience a living encounter with a living God. Richard Rohr writes in his book, Just This, that prayer is not a transaction that somehow pleases God, rather it is a transformation of the consciousness of the one doing the praying. Prayer is not about changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but allowing God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us. Prayer is sitting in silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.
So we are to be ready, to be present to God in the here and now in what we say and do. When we are persistent in prayer and we hold on to the certainty that God is with us and God hears our prayer, we become fully present to the soul of all things and the grace that God gives us. We can say, “This is good. This is enough. This is all I need.”
Anne Lamott suggests three simple words of prayer – help, thanks, wow. The three words can be it, or they can be the beginning of a much longer prayer. It doesn’t matter, the important point is that we pray and we pray with persistence.
Just a follow-up of J. K. Rowling’s story: In a recent podcast interview, I heard a conversation about how Rowling worked her faith into the Harry Potter book series. While many put the books down and said they contributed to the worship of wizardry and devils, Rowling integrated her Scottish Episcopal theology into the stories. If you read the complete series, you may find it has much more to offer than just magic and the stories of several young wizards.
May we be as the widow in the parable and pray with unceasing persistence. May we never lose heart. And, like J. K. Rowling, may we proclaim the message of God’s love and salvation in new ways and with patience.