When I was in seminary, I had to do this thing called Clinical Pastoral Education. Basically, a bunch of us spent a few months as on-call chaplains at a hospital. We would do classwork, and we would spend time seeing patients, and we would process our experiences with our classmates and with the real chaplains who were, y’know, qualified.
Because we were the on-call student chaplains, we would get the overnight shifts. On those shits, we would sleep lightly in the on-call room, or we would sit in the office and work on our papers for other classes, and we would wait for the beeper to go off.
And when it did go off, in the wee small hours the morning, we would go wherever the call directed us. And at two or three in the morning that was usually to the emergency room… or the intensive care unit… or labor and delivery.
And we would talk to the patient. And we would talk to their family. And we would pray.
And in the wee small hours of the morning, no one is praying a prayer of thanksgiving. In the wee small hours of the morning, no one is praying, “Not my will, but yours, O God, be done.”
No. In the wee small hours of morning… in the dark of night… long before the sun has even started peeking over the horizon… people are praying for miracles.
And I’ll be honest: I don’t like praying for miracles. It feels selfish to pray for God to suspend the rules of the universe and the laws of nature for just one person. And it feels like the odds of disappointment are high. And it feels like someone is going to end up wondering if they just didn’t have enough faith.
But in the wee small hours of the morning… in the dark of night… long before the sun has even started peeking the horizon… in a hospital room among the beeping machines and the sounds of a ventilator… when you’re the on-call student chaplain… you pray for the miracle.
And then you add, “Not my will, but yours, O God, be done.”
Today, we’re continuing our summer sermon series. Over the course of the summer, we’re talking about being blessings. We’re talking about leading with love, praying often, practicing peace, giving thanks, being joyful, being kind, doing good, having courage, working for justice, being the light, and encouraging others.
And last week, we talked about leading with love. So this week, we’re talking about prayer. And we’re hearing Jesus tell a parable.
Once upon a time, there was a judge who did not care about justice. He did not fear God. He did not respect the people. He did what was right in his own eyes; which meant that he did whatever he wanted.
There was this widow who brought a case before that judge. And he didn’t even want to hear it. He did not fear God and he did not respect the people and he did not care about the cries of some little old lady.
But she kept showing up. When he was out to eat, she would be at the next table. When he was at the theater, she was sitting behind him. When he got home from work, she was sitting on his front porch with a glass of lemonade and an attitude crying out, “Give me justice.”
And one day, after weeks of this, the judge said to himself, “She’s never going to stop. I do not fear God and to not respect the people and I do not care about the cries of some little old lady. But she’s never. going. to stop. So I will give her justice.”
This isn’t quite a parable about prayer.
Luke tells us it’s about prayer. And, at the end, after he’s done telling the story, Jesus tells us that God will grant justice to the ones who cry out to them day and night. So it sounds like it’s about prayer.
It sounds a lot like Jesus is saying something like this:
If this judge, who does not fear God and who does not respect the people, was willing to give justice to this widow because she was persistent and annoying… well then surely God, who is just and who loves their creation, will grant justice to the lowly. So don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Be persistent. Annoy God.
And I’m not saying that’s wrong. There might be something to praying so often that God says, “Fine, okay, here!”
But we do not see the widow pray. We do not see the widow show up before God. We do not hear the widow say, “God, give me strength for the work ahead.” We do not hear the widow say, “Thank you God, for turning the heart of that unjust judge and giving me justice.”
We just see the widow showing up, again and again, day after day, in front of this judge—this man with power who does not fear God and who does not respect the people—and demanding justice.
And that is work that we are all called to do: we are all called to show up, again and again, day after day, in front of the powers-that-be—powers that too often do not fear God and do not respect people—and demand justice.
And the truth is that I don’t know how to do that without prayer.
So often, we think that prayer is about kneeling in front of God, and striking the right tone, and mustering every last drop of faith that we have, and asking for the things that we want. Or, maybe, asking for the things that we think that we should want.
That’s true when I follow the acolyte up to the altar and take a moment to stand silently and pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God, my rock and my redeemer, now and forever. Amen.”
And that’s true when we’re sitting in a hospital room in the wee small hours of the morning, in the dark of night, before the sun has even started peeking over the horizon, praying for a miracle, and feebly adding, “Not my will, but yours, O God, be done.”
And that can be important. That can be valuable. There is something beautiful in falling on our knees, and mustering every last drop of faith that we have, and pouring our desperation out before God.
But prayer is so much more than that.
Sometimes, prayer is the simple act of giving thanks. Sometimes, prayer is the joyous act of celebration. Sometimes, prayer is the brave act of confession. Sometimes, prayer is the vulnerable act of seeking comfort.
And sometimes… sometimes… and probably not nearly often enough… prayer is the daring act of asking God for the wisdom to discern their call, the courage to follow that call, and the strength to see that call through to the end.
Sometimes, prayer is the daring act of asking for the grace to show up… again and again, day after day… in front of-the-powers that be… at the next table, at the theater, on the porch with some lemonade and an attitude… who do not fear God and who do not respect people and who do not regard the lowly… and demand justice.
Sometimes, prayer is the willingness to be the people who God calls us to be. And God calls us to be like that widow: to be persistent—to be relentless—in our demands for justice.
I know that I said that I don’t like praying for miracles. But I need to amend that a little bit. Because I pray for miracles all the time.
I pray that there might be enough and more than enough for today.
I pray that I might be forgiven for the things I have done and left undone, said and left unsaid, thought and left unthought; and that I might have the grace to forgive others.
I pray that I might resist the temptations that surround me, and that God might see me through the valley of the shadow of the death.
I pray that God’s will might be done here on earth. I pray that I might see God’s kingdom flourish all around me. I pray that I might see it, and nourish it, and help it grow.
And sometimes, I pray those things in long prayers with fancy words. And sometimes, I pray those things in short prayers with words that are two thousand years old.
But most often, I pray those things in the same way that I imagine that the widow in that parable prayed those things before she showed up in front of that judge… again: I pray for God to see me through the hard thing that I’m about to do for the sake of their kingdom.
And every time I do that… every time I pray for that miracle… and every time I follow that prayer by doing the hard thing… maybe… the world becomes a little more like the kingdom of God… and I become a little more like the person who God calls me to be.
I get a little more blessed. And I become a little more of a blessing.