Sweet Law?
Luke 18:1-8

A couple of months back I used today’s gospel reading as a kind of proof text to emphasise the call to persistent prayer, to keep knocking on God’s ‘door’ until we receive an answer.  Today it appears in a different context.  It of course retains that same call to persistent prayer, but the panel who put together the Revised Common Lectionary have coupled it with selected verses from Psalm 119 and Jeremiah 31 and 2 Timothy.  These texts give a slightly different nuance purely by their usage in the same service, even though the link seems a little tenuous.  Yes a judge appears in the parable, but how does that really link to the law being sweet like honey, or putting our teeth on edge like those who have eaten sour grapes?

God’s law can be a somewhat bitter to the taste, it can put your teeth on edge, there’s not many things worse than feeling the judgement or wrath of God is there?  It’s kind of like a sour worm, I’m sure most of you have either tried them or had a grand-child or cheeky friend give you one to see if they can catch you out.  When you first put them in your mouth it’s very hard not to screw your face up involuntarily.  Then as you leave it in your mouth for a while the bitterness subsides, and it becomes sweet.

When we come to God’s law, it is initially pretty tough to deal with, then as we learn more about it, live with it and realise that it leads us to repentance and returns us to God’s grace and forgiveness it certainly becomes sweet.  Let’s think about God’s commandments to us, 1) I am the Lord your God.  Do not have any god except me, 2) Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, 3) Remember God’s special day and keep it holy, 4) Respect your father and your mother, 5) Do not murder, 6) Do not be unfaithful in marriage, 7) Do not steal, 8) Do not tell lies about anyone, 9) Do not want anyone else’s house, 10) Do not want anyone else’s husband or wife, servants, animals or possessions. As I read through them its possible that at least a couple of them made you cringe, especially if you did your confirmation classes in the era when we had to learn Luther’s explanations to each of them from memory.  Here’s an example, for the 8th Commandment “Do not tell lies about anyone – What this means for us, We should honour and love God, and so we should not tell lies about other people, give their secrets away, talk behind their back, or damage their reputation in any way.  Instead we should speak up for them, say only good things about them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.”

How does that grab you?  Did it put your teeth on edge, or did you get the sweet taste of knowing that with God’s help you’ve been able to keep that one at bay in the last few days or weeks?  Or at least that there was a switch from bitter to sweet as you heard the words of absolution spoken to you earlier and your sins are forgiven?

What if we were to use God’s law to help us in our persistent prayer.  The widow in the parable kept coming back over and over again until the judge finally gave in out of sheer frustration and gave her the justice she was after and deserved.  We can actually use God’s law to guide our prayer life.  Imagine if we were to constantly pray for help in not breaking the 8th commandment for example, we could ask God to help us not to tell lies about other people, our friends or our enemies, or to give away secrets or gossip about others behind their backs.

What do you think would happen if we did that?  I know that God would answer a persistent and deliberate prayer like that.  Firstly because he has promised to but also because as we find ourselves praying for help in relationships with others our actions change.  We start to think about those people in different ways, we react differently when we see them because we’ve been talking to God about them.  We are more aware of the other person and their needs.  The law that prompted our prayer changes from being sour to the taste, making us feel guilty, to having the sweet taste of knowing, experiencing and showing God’s love and grace.

I am sure that most of you would have experienced that at some point in your life.  When you are praying for an enemy that person begins to lose their sting, you start to feel a little more compassionate, you might even start to see things their way in a conflict.

The judge in the parable appeared to have had a change of heart. He was a man who neither feared God nor had respect for other people, as such he would probably have been someone that we would find hard to pray for.  Eventually after a lot of hassling he gave in, but he probably still didn’t have much time for God or other people.  The people you pray for may never have a change of heart either, but you will, if you are persistent in your prayer.

It is good to pray for others, and it is ok to pray for ourselves too.  The widow was hassling the judge for a victory for herself, she was unrelenting, and she got her way.  God doesn’t mind if we pray for our own needs too.  Remember Jesus also said come to me all of you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  The widow was weary and carrying a burden and this judge gave her rest, she no longer had to come and hassle him, justice had been done.  When we take the time for persistent prayer we are also given rest, freed from our worries by handing them over to God, rested when we have taken the time to stop and pray.

When we do pray we are in the presence of God because we have come to him at his command, and able to rest in his arms, even if we are too weary to find the words to use to pray.  As we heard in the 2 Timothy reading, Christ Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, he is the one we are praying to, when he comes will he find faith?

If we are still a praying people he will find faith.  It’s only those who have faith who are able to pray, able to have a conversation with God.  Without faith in him there would be no point to our prayers.  The widow was confident that the judge would answer her callings, we are confident that God, through Jesus will answer our prayers.

Continue to persist with prayer, ask, seek, knock, pray without ceasing, live the life of faith and hope, follow the commands of the sweet and sour law, let it guide you, uplift you and direct you.

Live in the hope and knowledge that when the Son of man returns he will find you faithful, your sins are forgiven, you have been set free.