Oh this Sunday I have never been more conflicted as to the text/s I should choose for the sermon. And though I wanted to preach on “Do the work of an evangelist”, I decided I needed to preach on the Gospel.
Below the audio (8am service) is the text, largely the basis for the sermon.
The 10am sermon was a little different, with a little more energy and much more participation. But overall… similar message. So good to have baby Siena participate (on time) with the sermon!
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday October 20 2019
The Reverend Alan Neale “So, what do I need Jesus?”
Luke 18:1 – “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
In 2005 a current presidential candidate co-authored with her/his daughter a book called “All your worth. The ultimate lifetime money plan.” It was based on the following 50/30/20 divide… 50% for needs, 30% for wants, 20% for credit payments and savings. It left unclear, though, how do we decide what are needs and what are wants and… interesting as we approach our stewardship season, it also left unclear whether giving back to God was a “need” or a “want”…???
Much earlier in 1943 Abraham Maslow created his pyramid of needs composed of five levels; the first four (starting from the beginning) he named D-Needs (Deficit Needs), the top level he named B-Needs (Being Needs). NEEDS – WANTS!
It would be unfair for me to ask baby Siena how she views her wants and needs; unfair and probably unnecessary because it’s obvious to her parents (Caroline and Frank) that her needs/wants are to be fed, to be kept warm but above all to be held and loved.
Well, the opening verse of today’s Gospel gives me my answer – “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” In some archaic translations the word “need” is translated as “it behooves you”. Isn’t that a great word? Try it! “It behooves me to pray always and not to lose heart.”
So there we have it… Jesus’s analysis of our need. I could stop there but you know I won’t.
Let’s look at the context, the combination/the interlocking and the culmination of what Jesus considers to be our need.
The context. Look back in chapter 17 and you see the context is that Jesus is speaking to his disciples (17:1 & 22). Much, though not all, of Jesus’ teaching is addressed to those who have a relationship with him – they have observed his patience and acceptance, they have witnessed acts of power and authority, they have sat and walked and lived with him as a friend. Now this quality of relationship with Jesus is available to all (“Come to me all who labor and I will give you rest” – Matthew 11:28; “Behold I stand at the door and knock, open it and I will come in” – Revelation 3:20). And here we confront the classic chicken or the egg causality dilemma. In other words… which came first? The chicken or the egg? Is it our prayers and persistence that opens us to a relationship with Jesus; or is it the relationship that energizes the prayers and steels the persistence? Friends this tension will ever remain and so, to use a famous dictum of this week “Get Over It” and “Get on with it.”
The combination. Billy Bray was born in 1794; for years he was a godless man and most content with that condition. In 1823 this roue was roundly converted to Christ and began a powerful ministry preaching the Gospel throughout Cornwall. “I can’t help praising God.” Billy Bray insisted, “As I go along the street I lift up one foot, and it seems to say, glory. And I lift up the other, and it seems to say, amen, and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking.” Well, try this walking exercise… let the one step say pray, and the other step persist.” When Jesus speaks of our need to pray and not to lose heart, He does not offer us a choice of one or the other (this is no Christian buffet bar where we choose what we fancy). In his letter to the Philippians 2:12-13, Paul urges them “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (persist, do not lose heart” but then, I imagine with a smile, Paul writes, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” We will hear this soon as Siena’s parents and sponsors make solemn promises with this response, “I will… with God’s help” – another chant for walking maybe? As I have learned in another fellowship… “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let him.”
The culmination. Consider beginning and ending of today’s Gospel… Jesus puts our need in the perspective of a wonderful culmination, a spectacular finish, a crowning moment of exuberant color and joy when “God, patient as he is, will see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? Be assured he will not delay in seeing justice done” Luke 18:8, J.B.Phillip’s translation). To pray and to persist we need to be reminded of the Sovereign Lord’s presence, purpose and plan – this is why we come into community, this is why we worship. *** The great Baptist preacher once said, “We will not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he has waited upon us.” If we remove ourselves (for whatever reason) from the arena that celebrates the majesty, the sovereignty, the authority of God then our passion for prayer and persistence will abate. Remember we do not believe in prayer… we believe in the God who answers prayer.
I conclude on a personal note. Earlier this year (April 5) I suffered what my surgeon called “an heart explosion”, again in his words, “I died seven times”. For quite a while I had neither the strength nor the inclination to pray or to persist. The period of recovery (maybe something like a church interim period?) was beset with feelings of sadness, grief, hopelessness and despair. But at one point I heard the Lord say to me, “Alan, helplessness is not hopelessness.” Though I could not, or would not pray, others carried me; and when it was most dark to me others urged “do not lose heart.”
I pray that Siena will grow up with a desire to pray always and never lose heart; and I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit you and I, this week, will pray often and not lose heart… as we walk, like Billy Bray, day by day. AMEN
*** 2 Corinthians4:16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.