Sunday 16 October 2022
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
by Rev. Dr. David Dean Mimier King
Jesus has a problem. His disciples are losing heart with their prayers. They are getting tired of praying over and over for things that God is just not providing. They are tired of praying for the liberation of the Hebrew people when God continues to leave them suffering under the yoke of the Roman military occupation. They are tired of praying for peace when no peace comes, tired of praying for justice when no justice comes, tired of praying for freedom when no freedom comes. And they are ready to give up on prayer, because it clearly doesn’t seem to be working.
So Jesus tells them a parable. It’s one of the few parables in the Bible where we are told specifically why Jesus tells it. He tells it to encourage his disciples to keep up with their prayers, to continue to pray continually, and not to lose heart or give up just because they don’t sense an answer to their prayers right away.
And it’s kind of a confusing parable, about an unjust judge, a magistrate who is really not interested in helping the people under his jurisdiction, and about a widow who keeps pestering him, day and night, week after week, until finally he can take no more and he gives in to her request.
Sometimes we misunderstand this parable, and we think that it’s telling us that God is really like that unjust judge, that God would prefer not to help us, would really rather not have to bother with us, but if we just keep pestering God for long enough, if we just pray hard enough, then God will eventually get sick of us and answer our prayers just to shut us up.
But that interpretation misses the point of the story. It’s not that God is like that unjust judge, it’s that God is unlike that unjust judge. The judge doesn’t care about anyone. He has no sense of duty, no sense of shame, and no regard for any human being. And yet, he still grants the petition of that persistent widow.
On the other hand, we know that God is loving and merciful, that God cares for each of us, that God knows our names and knows the innermost secrets of our hearts. So if even that horrible, rotten judge will grant justice to someone who is persistent, how much more will God grant justice to those who are persistent. If even that no-good magistrate can be shamed into doing the right thing, how much more will the all-good God do the right thing for those who ask in prayer. So be persistent in your prayers, Jesus tells the disciples. Don’t give up just because you don’t get your answer right away. The all-loving and all-merciful will answer those who are persistent.
Some things haven’t changed much in the two millennia since Jesus walked the roads of Galilee. We still have trouble being persistent in our prayers. We still want to give up when it seems like God isn’t listening to us or when God doesn’t seem to be responding in the way that we would want.
And to be honest, why shouldn’t we give up on prayer? What good does it really do anyway? We pray for peace—but when has there ever been peace in the world? Never. There has always been war somewhere. We pray for an end to hunger—but when have all of the bellies of the world ever been full? Never. There has always been hunger somewhere. We pray for an end to poverty—but when has the world ever been free of poverty? Never. Even Jesus says that we will always have the poor with us. We pray for people to be healed, for them to escape death—but when has the world ever been free of death? Never. We will all die sooner or later. So why should we pray, if God never answers our prayers? Why should we pray if there is always going to be evil and poverty and violence and hunger and disease and death in the world? Why? Why not just give up?
In November, we will celebrate that Karthik has been home with us for fifteen years. At this point, it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t a part of our family. But though it’s all long since said and done, the process of Karthik’s adoption was not easy.
We started the process seventeen years ago, when I was in seminary and we were living in Denver the first time, before I became a pastor, before I was ordained. At first, we were interested in a domestic adoption. We started out with the open adoption process through Lutheran Family Services. But as we thought about it, we realized that we didn’t know how long we would still be in Denver, and if we were to move away from Colorado before the adoption was complete, the whole process would be terminated, all of our work would be for nothing. So we started working on an international adoption process with Holt International, knowing that even if we moved from one state to another, it might be a hassle, but we could still continue. We looked at several countries, but most of them thought that we were too young, or that we were too poor, or that we were too inexperienced. But we persisted.
Eventually we started working through the process with Guatemala. At the time, we were living in a large house not far from the school with three other adults, also students at Iliff, not an uncommon thing for students in the city. There was an extra bedroom ready to be used for a child, and our housemates were fully supportive of our adoption process, willing to be interviewed and have background checks and anything else that was required. But when the Guatemalan authorities found out that we were living with other adults in the same large house, they decided that we wouldn’t be good parents. But we persisted.
So we started working with India. Everything seemed to be going fine. The adoption agency came out and did all the interviews, we got all the paperwork going. But then the US government changed its rules, something to do with Homeland Security, and suddenly they didn’t like that we were living with other adults either. So we had to put the whole process on hold until we moved away from Denver. But we persisted.
We moved to the little town of Coos Bay, on Oregon’s south coast, where I was appointed pastor, and we started things up again. But by then placements of children from India were few and far between. Someone in our adoption agency encouraged us to explore the waiting child program. So we did, and we applied for a child named Anh from Vietnam. But while the right hand of the agency was waiving us forward and encouraging us, the left hand of the agency signaled halt; you cannot go this way. That was perhaps the most demoralizing moment of the whole process. But we persisted.
We applied for Karthik, and were eventually approved. We filed all kinds of paperwork, we drove five hours up to Portland just to get fingerprints taken, we visited countless notaries public and filled up their ledgers with our signatures, we were poked and prodded by doctors, we wrote letters to foreign governments. And there were several more times that there were delays, or roadblocks, or detours. But somehow, some way, by God’s grace we persisted. And eventually we came to the fulfillment of all of our prayers and persistence.
It was not so different with Kaylah and Kiahla. Again, we started while we were living in Denver, about ten years ago. This time we decided to go with an international process. So we got things going with our old agencies: Lutheran Family Services and Holt International. There were far fewer children being adopted from India, but we got started anyway. We did all of the applications and essays and physicals and trainings.
We were moving ahead just fine on the home study, but we were having trouble finding a country program that would work. After nine months of working on it, we finally figured out that there was no country program that would accept us. Our initial application, the very first piece of paperwork we filled out, had everything they needed to know to tell us that we didn’t qualify, but it took nine months for us to figure it out. But we persisted.
So we decided to move from an international program to a domestic program, again through Lutheran Family Services. Our same worker started shifting our application over. She was more familiar with the other program, but she stayed on so we didn’t have to start with someone new. Within a few more months, we had a completed, signed home study. But before long we discovered that we had a completed home study for a program that didn’t exist. It had now been eighteen months and thousands of dollars and we were nowhere. But we persisted.
After much prayer, we decided to move to Oregon and begin again. We moved to Hood River, and we began a process through the State Department of Human Services. All of a sudden, things seemed much easier. There was far less training and far fewer forms. We ticked off all the boxes in just a few months. We had completed everything for our home study; we just had to wait for the worker to write it up. And we waited. And we waited. It was supposed to take a few weeks. It took six months, and there was nothing we could do but wait. But we persisted.
Once it was done, we started applying for children. And we would hear nothing. It was the same worker who was the only person we could contact, and we heard very little from her. But we persisted.
Eventually we were chosen as a top-three family for a sibling group of four. We filled out more forms. We made a video to welcome them to our family. We waited for two more months. And we weren’t chosen. But we persisted.
More applications. More children. We made an inquiry about Kaylah and Kiahla on a whim—they were from a different state after all. But after our inquiry, it was only days before we heard back from their worker. It was only weeks before we met them. It was only a few months before they came home.
There were many, many times in both processes when we felt like giving up. In fact, there were times that one or the other of us did give up, and the other had to keep things moving by ourselves. It didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen, either time.
But I can still remember that moment, when all the paperwork had gone through, when we had the plane tickets to India in our hands. I felt like Moses, after a long journey in the wilderness, finally standing on the mountaintop, finally able to see promised land on the other side. And I remember that moment walking up to Kaylah and Kiahla’s door for the first time, not knowing whether they would be our daughters or not. I felt like Sarah, having nearly given up on being a parent again, and then suddenly, there they were. Like her, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
It could have gone so many different ways. There were so many twists and turns, so many stops and goes. But now here we are, a family of five, along with Beam, our exchange student for the year, and not one part of it was a mistake. I can’t imagine what it would be like without these wonderful children in our lives. But it certainly was a long time coming.
On a much more serious note, in the United States of America, slavery of African Americans lasted for 250 years. Slavery and racism were written in to our Constitution, a Constitution that was supposedly based on freedom and liberty. There were many people, both black and white, who prayed for an end to slavery. And it did not come. And it did not come. And many lost their lives in the struggle, martyrs who gave everything to God in pursuit of the dream, being lynched, or beaten to death, or assassinated. But eventually freedom did come. Our national sin of slavery did come to an end through the faithful persistence of our Christian mothers and fathers. Laws were changed, and rights were granted, and freedoms were tested in the real world of the bus and the lunch counter. And if they had given up before the end, then the freedom we have would not have come. We still have a ways to go. There is still a deep wound to heal. But freedom is coming, so long as we are persistent.
I know that some of you have concerns right now. You have loved ones who are ill, who are fighting disease or addiction. You are worried about the future of our community, the future of our nation, the future of our planet. You have your own personal concerns that no one knows except you and God. And with the weight of all these problems, it’s easy to lose heart and to lose hope. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and to just give up. It’s easy to lose faith. And yet, Jesus calls us to be persistent in our prayers.
Sometimes we forget that God actually needs our prayers. Our prayers are not just about convincing God to do what we want. No, prayers are also about offering God more tools to work with to bring about hope and justice. We may start by asking God for help. But if we are persistent in prayer, then we may just find ourselves becoming a part of God’s plan for change. We may just find ourselves being enlisted into God’s service, and we may even discover God transforming us into an answer to our own prayer, or an answer to the prayer of one of our neighbors.
This congregation is in a period of discernment. We know we are facing obstacles. We know that things have changed. We know they’re not going back to the way they used to be. But we are confident that God is calling us. We’re just not quite sure where. The path the we follow may have twists and turns. But we trust in God’s faithfulness to lead us forward in ministry. We stay persistent in our prayers, asking God to show us the way.
Through prayer, we open ourselves up to God’s action in our lives, and we open the door for the Spirit to come in and use us. God needs our prayers, because one of God’s favorite ways to act in the world is through people. And so we stay persistent in our prayers so that we don’t end up quitting on God just before God is about to bring a new change into the world. Our timing is not always God’s timing, and if we give up too soon, we may miss out on something amazing that God is about to do. We may end up stopping just feet from that mountaintop, never having the privilege of seeing the promised land on the other side.
So let us be persistent in our prayer. Let’s keep praying for peace. Let’s keep praying for justice. Let’s keep praying for freedom. Let’s keep praying for an end to poverty, keep praying for an end to hunger, keep praying for a cure. Let’s keep praying for a way forward. And let’s keep on praying and not give up until God has made those things a reality in us, always trusting in the trustworthiness of God, always having faith in God’s own faithfulness to bring about good in the world. So that when the Son of Man does come, when the promised justice does arrive, we will be ready and waiting, and God will indeed find faith on earth.