Knocking at a Locked Door

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Epiphany Service January 6, 2011

Epiphany, Year A

Matthew 2:1-12

Traveling Back On A Different Road January 2, 2011

Second Sunday after Christmas, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12; Jeremiah 31:7-14

The Dance of the Trinity December 26, 2010

First Sunday after Christmas, Year A

John 1:1-18

And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve, 2010

Luke 2:1-20

Are You the One ? December 12, 2010 Third Sunday in Advent, Year A Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Second Advent December 5, 2010 Advent 2—Year A Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13
On the Move November 28, 2010 First Sunday in Advent, Year A Isaiah 2:1-5. Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Thanksgiving, 2010 November 24, 2010 Year C, RCL Thanksgiving Deuteronomy 26:1-11; John 6:25-35
Christ the King November 21, 2010 Proper 29, Year C Luke 23:33-43, Colossians 1:11-20
Not a head of your hair will perish November 14, 2010 Proper 28-RCL Year C Luke 21:5-19
All Saints Day November 7, 2010 All Saints Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Comfort and Curiousity October 31, 2010 Proper 26, Year C Luke 19:1-10
Passion October 24, 2010 Proper 25, Year C Psalm 84; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Knocking at a Locked Door October 17, 2010 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8
Gratitude October 10, 2010 Proper 23, Year C Luke 17:11-19

 

Knocking at a Locked Door

Sermon Date:October 17, 2010

Scripture: Luke 18:1-8

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 24, Year C


In his commentary on the gospel of Luke, Fred Craddock tells the story of an elderly black minister who reads the parable we have just heard and makes the following comment.

“Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.” 

What locked doors are you hammering on right now? 

Many people in our country are currently either unemployed or under-employed or are having financial woes that they could not have imagined only a few years ago.

And we pray about it, and the days and weeks go by, and we don’t get a job, or a raise, or the month comes when we can’t pay our bills. 

The door to success or even to survival seems to be locked. 

Many others face family situations that are frustrating

—those of us who have cared for parents with Alzheimer’s have experienced this very sort of prayer

—knocking at a locked door as we pray for the person who continues to slip away from us into another world, a world that we can’t fathom, a world into which we cannot go with them. 

They go there alone, and we stand on the outside and peer through the keyhole as they go farther and farther from us, and all we can do is pray and hammer on that locked door.

We take the tensions in a marriage or with children to God in prayer, and find that year after year, we are knocking at a locked door.  Our knuckles get tired and bloody after a while. 

And yet Jesus tells the disciples about their need to pray always and NOT TO LOSE HEART. 

Because God will vindicate those who pray without ceasing—that is, God will  uphold, justify, exonerate and confirm those who long for God’s justice, and Jesus says that God will quickly grant justice to them.

And yet, those of us who have lived for a while know that God’s vindication does not happen overnight, and sometimes seemingly not at all. 

Our temptation is to give up on prayer, to turn away from the locked door, and go seek solace elsewhere—and maybe that solace is alcohol, or anger, or depression, or apathy. 

Why bother to pray when the door we’re beating on in prayer remains locked?

But the fact that the door IS locked is the reason that  Jesus tells us that we need to pray always and to hold on to hope.

The very act of praying itself is an act of hope.  When we go to God in prayer, we acknowledge that ultimately, we are not in control. 

We cannot change the problems and injustices in our lives on our own.

We need help.

But how do we pray when we are filled with despair? 

Jeremy Taylor, one of our great Anglican theologians who lived through the tumultuous despair filled 16th century in England, says that for us Christians, hope makes prayer possible to begin with, even in our darkest times. 

That is, in the midst of despair, to try to focus on hope instead of despair is a really good idea. 

And hopeful prayer is focused on God,

On  God’s strength, wisdom, truth, and love.

God uses these attributes for us.

So when we pray in hope, we are praying that we can open ourselves to God in such a way that God’s strength, wisdom, truth and love will pour through us. 

And for Taylor, patience is a part of hope.

We continue to go through our lives patiently, dutifully and with diligence, even when we suffer through painful events. 

In a nutshell, in despair we do our best to focus on hope,

and we can focus on hope because we believe that God will use God’s strength, wisdom, truth and love on our behalf, 

in God’s time.

And if we focus on God, then we gain patience,

and we can go about our lives with diligence and persistence, instead of giving in to despair. 

For instance, the widow in the story that Jesus tells does not give into despair or bitterness or hatred toward her opponent.

Instead, she goes to the one who can grant her justice, and even though the judge in the story is a flawed character, this woman stays focused on the strength, wisdom, truth and love inherent in this man’s position.

Then she is persistent.

She doesn’t give into despair, but keeps asking until she finally receives justice. 

And what about our lives?

The following story illustrates how important the focus of hope and trust in God is in prayer when we go through desperate situations.

All of you know Charles, who was here with us last week as our celebrant.  And many of you may have known his wife, Maureen.

Charles has given me permission to use this story.

He has given me permission to use this story in my sermon. 

Maureen began suffering severe headaches, but she figured they’d go away, so she didn’t go to the doctor. 

Unfortunately, the headaches were the result of blood leaking from an aneurysm in her brain, and a few days later, the aneurysm burst.

Her family rushed her to the hospital, and Maureen went on life support and was basically given up for dead.

Now God has given us the gift of hope through the testimony of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We live in hope of resurrection.

And so, instead of giving into despair, the members of  St George’s prayed.

Our church posted a schedule, and people signed up for thirty minute blocks, and for weeks, the members of our congregation laid down their own schedules, spent a part of their day praying specifically for Maureen, and this prayer went around the clock.

We were hopeful, in spite of Maureen’s dire prognosis. 

We were hopeful, because we believed that in our prayers to God, God’s strength, wisdom, truth and love would pour through us in a way that would be healing for Maureen and her family. 

And we were patient.  As anyone who has ever suffered through a horror of this sort knows, results do not come overnight.  But all of us did our duty—that is, we prayed with persistence and diligence and did whatever we could that was useful to the family.

Time passed.  And miraculously, this woman who had been as good as dead was reborn into a new life—a different life, and in many ways a diminished life, but life. 

Over the next several years, we witnessed a continuing illustration of what it means to live a life of prayerful hope as our rector modeled for us what it means to knock with bleeding knuckles on that locked door that I talked about at the beginning of this sermon. 

In the face of Maureen’s diminished life, and in spite of, or maybe because of  all the  new cares and concerns that weighed him down, he knocked.

He knocked in hope, expecting God’s strength, wisdom, truth and love to help him do more than one man could humanly manage. 

He focused on God. He had no need to place blame.  None of us ever heard him blame the disease or the doctors, or give into despair,

because he stayed focused on God and he knocked on the locked door with hope. 

Eventually, Charles took early retirement from church and devoted all of his time to caring for Maureen.

He never stopped praying for her improvement, and while he prayed, he carried out his duties with diligence, and waited with patience.

Although she never returned to her old self, in the extra years that she was granted, Maureen made improvements that none of us could have imagined in our wildest dreams.    

God granted justice to Charles.

God upheld him, vindicated him,   and confirmed his life of patient duty in the face of this personal disaster. 

Recently, a woman in a similar situation prayed this prayer, and she gave me permission to share this prayer with you.   

 “God, I don’t understand why we have been given this situation, but I pray that you will continue to be present with us in it, and I thank you for the blessings you have given us.”

This is the prayer of the persistent widow—a hopeful prayer, a prayer without bitterness, a prayer that trusts not in her own, but in God’s strength and wisdom and truth and love, a prayer that is persistent, a prayer that waits thankfully and patiently through the rough times for the fullness of God’s time.

A prayer hammered with bloody knuckles against a locked door.

Amen.

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