6 April, 2014

Oh, Oh, It’s Magic! a sermon

A sermon based on Luke 18:1-14

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic formula for prayer? A specific prayer that you could say, perhaps over and over, and get exactly what you want and exactly what you deserve? Wouldn’t it be great if every person who prayed, believing in healing, got healed? And wouldn’t it be great if every person who prayed, believing in justice, got justice? And even better, if every person who prayed because of financial difficulties, got out of those financial difficulties?

Wouldn’t it be great?

Why yes, it would be great. If prayer were magic and everybody got what they prayed for, we’d have no more death by disease. We’d have no more poverty. We’d have no more injustice.

But every year that we live, more people die. Every year that we live, more people enter poverty. Every year that we live, more injustice is done.

So when we read Jesus’ parable saying, “Learn a lesson in prayer from the unjust judge and the persistent widow,” what are we to make of it? Do we scoff at people who aren’t healed? Do we look down our noses at people who don’t have money? Do we doubt the faith of the people who have not received justice?

The truth is that we do give subtle messages to one another about this. I’ve heard it said that people who have illnesses must have some unrepentant sin in their lives. I’ve heard it said that people who are poor probably deserve to be poor. I’ve heard it said that people who don’t have justice probably deserve no justice.

And we look at ourselves and congratulate ourselves that we’re not sick (I must be a good person!) and we pat ourselves on the back when we receive justice (I must be worthy!) and as we spend our wealth we exclaim (I must be special! God has blessed me!)

And we blame ourselves too. We get angry with God and angry at ourselves when we don’t get healed. We think that we must not be good enough, must not be faithful enough, must not trust enough.

And it’s just not true. 

I want to be clear right now: there’s not one thing you can do to impress God more than you have already impressed God. There’s no magical way to pray. There’s no number of people, or any specific people, whom you should have brought to Jesus. There’s no magic amount of money that you should have brought to the offering today to make God love you more or give you more.

Reality is a crap shoot. Yes, God knows what is happening with you, and perhaps even knows before it happens. But what you get in life is not based on whether you are a good person. What you receive in life is not based on what you give. And the illnesses you get are not because of something you did or you didn’t do.

The bottom line is this, folks: suffering is non-partial. And no one escapes this life alive.

Does this mean we shouldn’t pray? Absolutely not! Does this mean we shouldn’t  do good works? Absolutely not! Does this mean that we should just give up and fall prey to whatever happens?

Absolutely not!

But it does mean that we shouldn’t judge ourselves and one another so harshly. It does mean that we shouldn’t be so quick to pat ourselves on the back like the Pharisee does. It means that we should be honest about our lives with ourselves, with our friends and family and with our God.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that not that when we accept Jesus we’re not going to suffer and everything is going to be perfect. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we’re not in this alone. We have Jesus walking beside us, loving us, holding us, comforting us through our suffering.

And the real reason that church exists is to walk alongside one another. To hold on to one another. To love one another. To support one another in our suffering. Not to look over at another praying next to us saying, “Thank you God that I’m not like that person.”

Thomas Merton echoes our Psalmist this morning when he wrote, “Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

May it ever be.

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