October 16, 2016 – 22nd after Pentecost

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 4:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Preacher: The Rev’d Patrick McManus

In the political shenanigans (that’s a very nice word for what’s happening south of the border, I have other words that were not appropriate for a Sunday morning!) happening with our neighbours to the south it seems to be a war not of attrition but one fought out in the open on social media.  Now, I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen many pictures of people’s food lately.  You know those pictures, food selfies?  They’ve virtually disappeared on my social media stream replaced by the latest barrage of what an alien species might mistake for a bad television sitcom but is in reality, reality.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, online news outlets, the election is going to be won on social media.  What a strange world.

There is a lot of good in our improved technology: faster communication, better knowledge of global events, more information to the general citizenry.  However, a by-product of this technology of immediacy is that we are creating a culture of impatience.  We are teaching our children to be impatient.

Our ancestors knew how to wait in ways we do not.  They knew what it meant to anticipate patiently, their time was not overwhelmed with the pressure of the now and they could enjoy their time simply as a gift without having to check twitter every waking second.   It’s not that I’m not thankful for the goods of technology, but hook, line and sinker, our culture has bought into this culture of the instant and is not the better for it, as far as I can see.  I mean I read a story a while ago about a young mother who left her three year old in the bathtub because she heard the ping of a new message in another room.  She came back and her toddler was asleep and thankfully slumped to the side of the tub and not underwater.  She told her story because she realized that our communal inability to take time, to enjoy, to anticipate, to wait have real live consequences.

It is within this culture of instant gratification that we hear this morning’s readings. The readings for this week counsel persistence and patience in matters of faith and life.  Persistence and patience it seems are characteristics of those who spend time with God.  I think mainly because God doesn’t work like Facebook of Twitter, though sometimes we have stories in the Scriptures where this instantaneous Divine activity is found.  But those are the exceptions that prove the rule, that God is not invested in instant gratification but in slow transformation.  Here’s a mental image for you: I think it’s better to think that God invests His stock not in something like Facebook but in a time-filled and patient technology, something more along the lines of messenger pigeons.  That’s a more faithful image of God for us, especially as we approach God in prayer…instant gratification is not the name of the game.  God works old-school, and doesn’t allow us to become caught up in the idolization of the millisecond and the instant because I think God wants us to experience time as a gift.

But it can be hard to wait, especially in prayer, especially when it’s justice we’re after like the woman in the gospel story who persistently goes to the judge.  There is no hidden meaning in the text, she just knows that if she puts in the time, she will be listened to.  She is not instantly gratified.  She has to dig her heels in for justice. No quick fix, no easy five steps to follow.

The psalmist this morning tells us that persistence is the name of the game.  The Torah is for meditation “all day long” (verse 97). God’s commandment is “always with me” (verse 98).  This psalmist goes through their day with “great intentionality” (Brueggemann), refusing to give in to an easier ethic of instant gratification.  Like the teaching of Jesus’ parable, this psalmist knows that prayer is investment in the slow and patient work of God.

There’s many a story about the power of patient and persistent prayer changing realities.  One of my favourites involves a weekly prayer meeting that was held throughout the 1980’s in the East German city of Leipzig.  The group would meet at St. Nicholas’ church led by pastor Christian Fuhrer (who only retired in 2009) and would pray for peace.  On many occasions, the group would have less than a dozen people come out but they kept the prayer meeting going every Monday night without fail.  As tensions grew in East Germany, their prayer meetings grew and turned into peaceful demonstrations in the city square.  Now the authorities didn’t pay them any notice because of their lack of numbers but as the meetings grew and the demonstrations grew, so did the attention of the authorities who began to confront them with threats but they continued their work of prayer with persistence.

Things came to a head on October 7, 1989 the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.  Peaceful protesters from the church were beaten and thrown in jail and the authorities threatened to close the church for good.  Undeterred, the group planned a prayer meeting for two days later on October 9, 1989 followed by a peaceful march through the city.

At that prayer meeting the church was visited by doctors from the local hospital to inform them that they were ready to treat any worshippers who might sustain bullet wounds during the march.  There were about 8000 people crowded into St. Nicholas church including the Stasi who were sent to infiltrate the worshippers and occupy the church in force.  Other churches throughout the city gathered together and there was a total of about 70 000 people worshipping and joining together in a march for peace.

They moved out into the city chanting “we are the people” and “no violence”, singing and praying too as they went, holding their candles and reciting their prayers.

Tensions grew, fear grew but at the decisive moment walking past the Stasi headquarters, the helmeted riot police stood aside and let the protesters walk past.

East German officials would later claim that they were ready for anything except for candles and prayer.

This event sparked inspiration around the city and other cities in East Germany.  Later that week 300 000 gathered in Leipzig, and exactly one month after that initial Leipzig prayer meeting and march, the Berlin Wall fell.

Historians now point to the decisive night of October 9th, 1989 with that Leipzig march for peace as the pivotal moment for the fall of the Berlin wall.  Diplomatic editor for the BBC, the late Brian Hanrahan, was on the ground that night in Leipzig, secretly filming the prayer meeting and the protest.  As to the effect of that prayer meeting, he said this, “The government leaders were gone in a week, the Berlin Wall in a month, brought down by the bravery of the Leipzig protesters.”  All because a church met for prayer, with less than twelve people showing up.

Prayer changes things.  People who pray are dangerous people like the widow in the parable, like the men and women of St. Nicholas’ church.  But people who pray also know persistence and patience, they know the virtue of time, not as a commodity to be spent but as a gift to be enjoyed in the company of the One who gives us the time to enjoy Him and each other.

Prayer changes things but prayer is not a cosmic twitter account.  Prayer is not some celestial slot machine with instant gratification.  The persistence of prayer is the resistance of despair.  The persistence of prayer is the resistance of despair.  Prayer is the time of patience, the time of persistence in our desires, the time of play and friendship, the time of grief and sorrow, the time of taking time to get to know the One to whom we pray and to be known ourselves by God.

As we come to Christ’s table, and as we spend time together in prayer this morning, my prayer for you is that you would know this persistence in prayer.  And if you don’t, or feel, for whatever reason that you cannot this morning, know that the church, this church, persists in prayer for you.  Amen.