Brothers and sisters, once again on this Sunday, the 29th of Kingdomtide, we are faced with the old question: Does God manifest his power to save us and protect us against the foe and the sorrowful times?
There are some who think God can actually interject his will to our benefit. They think that if we follow Scripture, we will be showered with riches and advancement. They pin their hopes on this passage: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (TNIV, Jeremiah 29:11) In the United States today there are congregations who use this idea as a way to distinguish between the “good” and the “bad” people of the world…the deserving and the undeserving.
But look at the first reading from Exodus. God directly intervened to help the Israelites against the Amalekites. As long as Moses held up his arm, showing faith in God, then the battle went to the armies of Israel. Believe this, do this, act thusly and you will win and prosper. Isn’t that proof of our power to ask God for help and thus receive it?
But Jesus denied that wealth was a sign of God’s favor or that poverty is God’s punishment of sin. Here is what Luke wrote:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
But then, in today’s Gospel we read that Jesus said,
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
And as long as Moses kept his hand raised, the Israelites won.
And the Psalm says, “The Lord will guard your coming and going, both now and forever.”
And Paul says, “so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Well, what are we to believe then? Here it is, written in both the Old and New Testaments. If we believe strongly enough, if we pray hard enough, if we do all we are taught from Scripture, then we will succeed.
But didn’t Jesus pray for the cup to be taken from him? Didn’t the Israelites pray for the Babylonians to flee away from them? Didn’t the Jews pray that the Nazis would leave them in peace?
I think we should think again of the two lines we say in the Alleluia today:
- Alleluia, alleluia.
The word of God is living and effective,
Discerning reflections and thoughts of the heart.
- Alleluia, alleluia.
And what then is prayer? Prayer is out act of providing a place in the heart for reflections and thoughts of the word of God. Prayer is for and about us. Prayer is our way of asking God to keep us humble, open, compassionate, and loving. And to be aware, because sometimes our prayers are answered in one way while we are looking the other way.
What does God want from us? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”
And yet so difficult.
Let us pray.
Lord, help us to keep our arms raised in supplication. Help us to pray without ceasing. Help us to look for your grace in everything we do, say, or think. And help us to heed your word to love you and love one another.