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Praying the Bible -19th Sunday after Pentecost 

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 / Luke 18:1-8     

Do you have a favorite Bible? That’s not a trick question. I’m just wondering if you’ve ever stopped to think about the Bibles in your life. I also wonder which Bible you might show me if I visited you in your home.

The Bible I use each week to prepare my sermon is one my parents gave to me. Not one I got as a child, but the Bible they gave me at their 50th wedding anniversary, twenty-five years ago. I was privileged to preach that day, just before they renewed their vows. It’s the Bible I’m holding up now. Clearly, it needs a new cover and new binding.

This Bible is my working Bible. It’s the one I go to when, as my wife does not hesitate to remind me, I probably need to read the whole chapter or even the whole book of Genesis or Psalms or 2nd Timothy or the Gospel of Luke, if I want to understand what’s really going on. This Bible is well used, well worn, because it’s my go-to Bible.

It’s also my praying Bible. In preparation, I look at several preaching resources, like other translations, scholarly commentaries, and hymn texts. But when I’m done with all that, I try to remember to pick up this Bible, and to ask: God, what do I need to say that I haven’t even been thinking about? What do you have in mind, God?

In other words, when I preach, I need to ask myself: How have I been praying? Have I been praying? Some Sundays, that may be obvious. We’ll see if this is one of those Sundays. What I can tell you is that, in addition to reflecting on our Gospel lesson today from Luke, I’m going to start with the Epistle, a passage from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. It contains one of the most familiar verses in all the New Testament.

That verse begins: “All scripture is inspired by God….” It’s verse 3 from Chapter 3. Second Timothy 3:16 is not as popular as John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world…” - but it is the verse that’s often used to support a more literal interpretation of the Bible.

Actually, the literal word for “inspired” here is “breathed.” In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we can read how God breathed life into humankind. And in Second Timothy, Paul is describing how God breathes life into God’s Word. I believe that means we have to let God’s Word live and breathe, so it can inspire us.

It probably will not surprise you to hear that, of all the resources I use to prepare a sermon, a hymn text also helps me understand where I think prayer may be leading me to preach. This week, I noticed that, in all my hymnals, there was not a single hymn suggested for this Gospel text. Then, I remembered a newer resource I’ve been using. Carolyn Gillette is a hymn writer whose musical texts we occasionally print on inserts and sing. Here are some words she wrote for today’s Gospel text from Luke:

God, you hear our weary praying, and you know that we lose heart.

All around we see the suffering / of a world that’s torn apart.

We see leaders of the nations / filled with arrogance and greed.

We see friends and family hurting, facing overwhelming need.

Carolyn Gillette wrote those words several years ago, before the pandemic. Her husband Bruce was recovering from a bone marrow transplant he received for his acute leukemia. Listen to verse two of this hymn:

God, we cannot help but wonder: Do our prayers do any good?

Do they change the nation’s leaders? Do they change our neighborhood?

Why do loved ones keep on suffering / when they’re in our constant prayer?

Do you hear the cries we’re offering? Are you listening? Are you there?

It’s not until the third verse that Carolyn Gillette connects those painful, powerful pastoral and personal questions to our Gospel text today. But in giving us those two verses as a lead-up to the story of that wonderful widow woman who prayerfully persisted until she got an unjust judge to give her justice, she has, for me, become one of the people we sang about in the hymn we sang just before our Gospel reading: poets, prophets, scholars, saints / each a word from God repeating (Hymnal 1982 #631, v. 2).

Have you ever wondered just where God is, wondering whether God is listening to your prayer? I’m sure Jesus would understand if you said yes. So would I.

As an Episcopal priest, I promised at my ordination to “persevere in prayer, both in public and in private…” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 532). This Gospel story reminds me that, no matter what happens in my life - whatever suffering or joy may come along, whatever I might gain or lose, whether death or resurrection is happening, however I persist in prayer or fail to pray - how much more than an unjust judge who finally gives in and grants justice, how much more does God care about me - and you?!

Here is pastor, poet, and prophet Carolyn Gillette’s final verse of the hymn she wrote for this Gospel story. Luke says Jesus told this story so we would not lose heart:

How much more is your compassion! God, you’re just and good and fair.

May we lift to you our sorrows / and the burdens that we bear.

May we pray for your reign o’er us! May we ask - for you are kind!

May we trust that you will help us / in your goodness, in your time.

Yesterday, during our second session of what I’m calling “The Way We Were,” we considered in more detail the history of this sixty-six-year-old church. Here’s what I told folks who were there: Considering the state of smaller churches in our diocese and across the country, I believe, in God’s goodness, in God’s time, All Saints’ is not dying…but rising! One reason I believe y’all are rising is prayer. Persistent, persevering prayer. And it’s about music and hymns, which when we sing - even if we just read the words - we pray twice. So, let us pray. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 236).

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, All Saints’, Memphis, 10/16/22


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