The gospel appointed for Sunday, October 17, 2010 offers us one of my favorite of Jesus’ parables,
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" — Luke 18:1-8
Prayer can feel like this – like coming continually before a judge who seems distant and unconcerned with our plight. Jesus offers encouragement though to those who follow in his footsteps, “will not God grant justice to God’s chosen ones who cry out day and night?”
This month we say goodbye to our Director of Music & Community Arts, Dr. Kyle Johnson. Kyle, by his faithful and diligent work, has been an answer to many of our community’s prayers. In the three years he was with us Kyle oversaw the development of a variety of programs and new partnerships with Voice of the City, the Chicago Community Chorus, DePaul University, and – in the past year – a rapidly expanding set of small, professional theater companies. He took a vision statement he inherited from the search committee that selected him, “make St. Luke’s a center for music and the arts in Logan Square,” and in three short years led us a long way in making that vision a reality.
From the time that Kyle joined our staff, we knew that he had his sights set on other prospects. As a highly skilled and extensively trained musician, Kyle has maintianed the hope of working in an academic setting where he could be part of the nurture and development of a new generation of American organists. With his new appointment at California Lutheran University, that prayer has finally been answered. We wish him the best of luck in his new position, and pray God’s blessings on his move.
Likewise, after many years of working for the transformation of the Lutheran church to become more fully welcoming of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, this month I will finally be admitted to the clergy roster of the ELCA. Over the course of the last fifteen years, and the biennial pilgrimages to Churchwide Assemblies, I have thought often of the story of the widow who finally wore the unjust judge down with her refusal to relinquish her demands for justice. Prayer takes many forms – including patient, disciplined action in the face of injustice and oppression.
The members of our Café group spent the summer reading Teresa of Avila’s spiritual classic, “The Interior Castle” together. The book is an extended reflection on prayer that, almost unexpectedly, ends with a strong affirmation that the purpose of prayer is to strengthen us for loving service to the world. Teresa writes,
This is what I would like us to strive for, friends. We should engage in prayer – thirst for it, even – not because it feels good, but because it gives us the strength we need to be of service. Offer yourself as a slave to God and try to find ways to serve and soothe your companions. This will be of even more value to you than to them; the stones that support you will be firmly laid and your castle will not fall.
For the years I have served among you at St. Luke’s we have maintained a prayer list in our weekly bulletin (also included in our weekly eNewsletter) that has been rather static. As I have asked members of the congregation if they know the people on the list, why we are praying for them, or how they are faring, I mostly get sheepish shakes of the head. This is unfortunate. Our prayer list should reinforce our sense of interconnectedness and give us the strength we need to be of service to those for whom we pray. It should not make us feel less known or less connected!
Having spoken with the council about this, and having received their approval to make this change, beginning this month we are changing how the prayer list is kept and maintained. Going forward, prayer requests will be listed for three weeks at a time, and then removed. You can renew your prayer requests as often as you’d like – there is no limit to how long we will pray for you or those you care about. This change will require us all to be checking in with one another about the status of those we’ve kept in prayer. We hope it will also build the congregation’s confidence that the names we add to the prayer list are truly being held in prayer, and that their needs are known. My personal hope is that those of you who have been so faithful in adding names to the prayer list will begin to offer prayers for them aloud during the prayers of the people on Sunday morning, so that we can hear your petitions and be strengthened for even deeper service to one another.
As we celebrate transitions in each other’s lives, transformations in church and society, we give thanks for prayers answered – and for the strength that prayer has given us to endure the days of waiting. This fall, let’s recommit ourselves to practices of prayer that strengthen our community and our commitment to loving service here in Logan Square, throughout the city, across the nation and around the world.