I preach using the Lectionary, for the most part. But the most irritating thing about it is that some Sundays, there’s absolutely nothing that moves me in the selections. The words feel dry and brittle as old bones. What do you do when this happens? Do you stay with the lectionary, and hope that it moves you in the process of preparation? Do you venture off? Do you use the lectionary at all?
Then there are other Sundays, when I could preach a thousand sermons on each reading. This is a good Sunday. The words of these passages have moved me in the past, and they continue to inform me. We have teeth set on edge, itching ears, and words as sweet as honey. It’s all so rich with meaning that it was hard to settle on a lesson, but the Post needs the title and the plastic letters have to go on the signboard, so I finally chose my old friend, the widow.
I love this woman, this persistent widow who keeps knocking on the door of the judge day and night. I imagine that she’s old enough to realize what she deserves, needy enough to be persistent, and wise enough to know just how to get what she requires.
I love this woman, because she has settled into me many, many times when I pray. After all, I have a tendency to over-think things, even as I talk to God. At one point in my life, I picked up some rules from here and there, that I tried to adhere to:
Never pray for my own gain, that would be selfish.
Never pray for the outcome of a situation, that would be putting my will before God’s.
Never pray for anything too small. God’s only interested in the big picture, not in the miniscule.
Never pray for the mundane. God’s not interested in my roof. That may be in the big picture for me, but not for a divine being who’s worried about the people of Sudan, the Middle East crisis, the war in Iraq, and environmental degradation. I began to prioritize for God: starving children, yes. Carol’s roof, no.
My prayers had to fit into a theological framework that valued the largeness of God and the great needs of humanity and the earth, but didn’t really have much to do with my own life. God, after all, was not a genie in a bottle. God was not my personal secretary, or my go-for guy.
But when things got really difficult, I couldn’t keep to the rules. I just wasn’t able to sort the value of my prayers out any longer. I just needed help. Even me, the one who lived in war-free, fully-fed affluence, I needed to be rescued. My prayers were coming from my gut, repeatedly. They stepped right by that intricate, logical framework I had constructed. They became so loud and persistent that the harsh judge within myself had give up. The widow was in charge.
That widow–she was that old woman who knew need, and was not afraid to make a pest out of herself. The woman who went to the cruel judge’s house to knock on the door, to question the logical, unjust order that he set up. The woman who would have certainly gotten a restraining order slapped on her, if she were here today. The woman who stepped out from the imagination of Jesus himself, just so that she could teach us a thing or two about how to pray.
I love this woman.
photo’s by sonnoelefante