Text: Luke 18:1-8 (the persistent widow) * reflection for a World Day of Prayer service at Rolling Hills Lodge in Rockglen, SK, March 2, 2012
Let justice prevail. I appreciate this theme for this year's World Day of Prayer. In a minute, I will briefly talk about connections between prayer and justice. But first, on behalf of everyone here, let me say thank you to the organizers of this day: to the international network of women who sustain the World Day of Prayer year after year; to the Women's Inter-Church Council of Canada; and above all to Marian Spagrud and other women from St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church who organized today's service here in Rockglen. Our sincere thanks to all . . .
Justice has many different sides – all the ways in which we yearn to be right with one another. We work to be right with God, with ourselves, with our families and friends, and with our community. At the level of society, we pray and work towards a world in which everyone lives with peace, equality, dignity, human rights, and adequate food, water, shelter and companionship.
In today's parable of the persistent widow, Jesus reminds us that it is God who gives justice to those who cry out day and night. To me, this seems like an apt passage to hear during this holy season of Lent. During the 40 days of Lent, we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross. It is a time when we take stock of our lives and the life of our communities. Many of us undertake spiritual practices during Lent: fasting, meditation, penance, and above all, prayer.
Our Lenten journey is an inward one and also one undertaken with our church and with other Christians of all denominations, which is why today is so special. On this journey, no matter how dark the road may appear, God promises us to give us justice.
Lent can also remind us, I believe, that we do not always get exactly the things for which we pray. This coming Sunday, we will hear Jesus confirm to Peter and the other disciples that he is Israel's Messiah, which overjoys them. But Jesus immediately goes on to say that he is a Messiah who will be betrayed, rejected, abused, and killed, and then raised on the third day. Peter is so upset by this statement that he grabs Jesus and rebukes him. Jesus stands firm in the face of Peter's anger. He calls all who would follow him to take up our cross as well.
Like Peter, the suffering and death of the cross is not what many of us might pray for at first. But Jesus' message, although a difficult one, is a realistic one and therefore one that we can trust. Before we rise to new life in Christ through the grace of God, we first suffer and die to an old way of life, which is always painful.
Our old lives may be focused on worldly things like money, power, or pleasure. They may be lives in which we are distracted from the love of God with addictions of many kinds. When we cling to such old lives, Jesus warns us that we will surely die.
New life in Christ is different. It is beyond worldly success or pleasure. It is a life freed from anxiety, distractions and addiction. It is a life beyond ego in which the fruits of the Spirit – such as peace, hope, joy and love – are present.
This new life in Christ to which God raises us might not be the one for which we first pray. However, it is a life in which we are given all that we need.
Prayer serves many functions, as we know. It can remind us of what we most want in life, such as good health for ourselves and our loved ones, or an end to violence and oppression in the world. It can remind us of our deepest values: faith, hope and love. Persistent prayer can, with grace, also help us let go of our own wills and achieve unity with God's will.
When we pray – in church, in community, or in the quiet of our own troubled hearts -- we may not get exactly the answers we want. But answers we do get. Jesus' prayers in the wilderness and our own in Lent do not lead us to worldly success. They lead us to the suffering and death that is an inevitable part of the human condition.
Beyond the death symbolized by the cross lies new life. This new life can appear in any moment. And above all, we have faith that new life is found in the mystery of our return to God's spirit at the end of life's journey.
Prayer can keep our vision and will focused on the type of family, community, and world we want. Prayer can help us remember the love that is our source and destiny. Prayer can remind us of God's grace that gives us the gift of justice in surprising and new ways.
Let justice prevail. For this we pray today. And although we may not always recognize how God's justice is unfolding in our lives or in society, we trust that just as the Lenten journey leads us to Easter, so humanity's journey leads us all home to God's Spirit.
Thanks be to God.