Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Thoughts and prayers.”
Is there a phrase in our contemporary language more misused and maligned than this one? Probably, but you all know what happens…there is some all-too-frequent, unspeakable tragedy and the politicians all get busy tweeting out how our thoughts and prayers are with the victims. And just as quickly others are piling on that tweeting out how vacuous that phrase is with no action behind it.
And so it goes… back and forth and we are left feeling…shattered…again.
Some think prayers without action are hypocritical at best and downright evil at worst; and others think that with no grounding in a faith tradition we are left to follow faddish, cultural trends rather than God’s will which is foolish at best and also evil at worst.
Prayer is a much maligned…and deeply misunderstood…topic these days. And the longed-for connection between prayer and action…between faith and justice…is too-often missing…But prayer and justice are deeply intertwined.
As in today’s story.
Luke says this is a story about prayer…but then the story starts and it looks for all the world like a parable about justice. “Grant me justice. Grant me justice. Grant me justice.” Luke loves to talk about prayer…He shows people praying and talks about prayer more than any other gospel writer, but as I said a couple of weeks ago, he also loves to talk about justice. And I think he links the two here intentionally.
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Fine…but then we meet the Judge: Who has “no fear of God and no respect for anyone else.” In other words, he is the poster-judge for injustice. He’s the guy Jeremiah, and Amos, and Isaiah, and all the other prophets are always warning us about…one of the bad shepherds “who eat the fat and clothe themselves with the wool… but does not feed the flock” (Ezekiel 34:2). We know this judge…these people are still very much around;
And the widow. Widows, and children are always icons…metonyms…stand-ins…for society’s most vulnerable. The ones who are the easiest and earliest to be exploited…the ones who are most at risk from those who “have no fear of God and no respect for anyone else.” So, right from the beginning…the set up is a classic showdown between justice (the widow) and injustice (the Judge); and yet, this is a parable about prayer.
Are you familiar with Dorothy Day? She’s one of my heroes. Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement, a ministry serving those on the margins of society, the poor, the homeless…widows. She was a tireless advocate for non-violence, and for social justice. She was a fiery political radical and a very conservative Catholic. She said, “We feed the hungry, yes, . . .We try to shelter the homeless and give them clothes, but there is strong faith at work; we pray. If an outsider who comes to visit us doesn’t pay attention to our praying and what that means, then he’ll miss the whole point.” Jim Forest, one of Dorothy’s many biographers remembered that the first time he saw Dorothy she wasn’t serving meals, or on a picket line…she was praying, because that’s what Dorothy Day did. She prayed…a lot. And she wasn’t a cloistered religious with lots of time on her hands…no, she was a working single mother, a writer, a community organizer (actually she’s one of those people who exhausts me), and because of all that…Dorothy knew the reality of what living a life of prayer means…she wrote
“… because I am a woman involved in practical cases, I must meditate when I can, early in the morning and on the fly during the day. Not in the privacy of a study, but here, there and everywhere—at the kitchen table, on the train, on the ferry, on my way to and from appointments and when I am making supper or putting Teresa (her daughter) to bed.” (Meditations, p.13)
Jim Forest said she prayed as if lives depended on it (Forest, Jim. 2000. Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. p. 154.). What if we all did that? Prayed as if lives depended on it?
Now all of us, who try to be faithful, and try to pray regularly—early and often—know how empty, and fruitless, and sometimes just downright dull it can be…surely there are better ways of spending my time…when that happens remember Dorothy Day, who, for me, is the widow in the parable.
There is a famous photo of her taken in 1973 when she was 75. It’s in the midst of a United Farm Workers strike, and Dorothy is sitting utterly calm and unshakable, a slender sage, between two heavily armed, burly California State Troopers and engaging them in conversation. For me, that photo is this parable. And how, if our lives are shaped by prayer, then our actions will mirror that.
The Book of Common Prayer defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” (BCP p 856). Prayer is nothing more than being in God’s presence, and nothing less than responding to God…by thought and deeds, with or without words. Prayer and justice have everything to do with one another, because in prayer we take the cares and concerns our lives to God, and in prayer we respond to the cares and concerns of the world. In prayer we ask, “So, God, what are you going to do about this mess?” and in prayer we get to hear God respond, “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
Jesus told the disciples about their need to pray always and not lose heart. They’re heading towards Jerusalem…in fact they’re getting very close…and many of the disciples have figured out that something big is going to happen…he’s going away and is coming back…they don’t know how or why, but, they keep bugging him to tell them when…when is this going to happen? When is God going to come and fix everything that is wrong with the world.
And Jesus’ answer is always the same…”I was about to ask you the same thing.” … Actually he says, “God will grant justice…but when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”…which is essentially the same thing. In other words, stop worrying about stuff you have no control over…do what you’re called to do now…”do the work…carry out your ministry fully” (2 Timothy 4:5). Stop hurrying towards a receding future, and start living this cross-shaped…cross-transformed…life I offer now. Pray…always…be with God…listen to God…hear God…respond to God…Be sure you are grounded in God…be sure you are “prayed up” as we used to say in the south…get prayed up…pray as if lives depended on it…then go out and do the work you have been given to do…the work of loving God, and loving and caring for God’s creation…loving your neighbor as yourself, acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Because that’s what it means to pray always and not lose heart.