10/20/13, Keep On Keeping On

Exodus 17, 8-13, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2, Luke 18:1-8

The Gospel passage from Luke 17 for the first Sunday of this month had the disciples making this request of Jesus: “Increase our faith.”  In response to this request, Jesus offered the proverbial statement “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Uproot yourself and plant yourself in the sea’ and it would obey you.” In other words, it only takes the tiniest investment of faith to begin a huge project.  The disciples were to learn that an increase of faith comes about when we take the little faith we have and invest it in the action that the present moment requires of us.

In Luke’s readings from now until the end of this liturgical year Jesus presents a pattern of faith-building elements of action and attitude that we will explore.  The first of those elements, demonstrated in last week’s story of the ten lepers, is gratitude.  The one leper who came back to thank Jesus for his healing was commended for his faith.  Jesus blessed him saying, “Your faith has saved you.”

This week’s readings are often interpreted as teachings about the need to be persistent in prayer.  Many homilies have reflected on the need to prevail upon God in prayer until the situation is changed. Within this classic image of prayer, human beings place ourselves before an external, omnipotent, authoritarian being who holds the outcome to our desires and needs in his hands.  The parable told by Jesus seems to reinforce the image of God as a harsh judge who finally gives in and grants justice simply to get the nagging woman out of his life.  Moses and his partners likewise extend their arms in supplication to a controlling God in heaven until the victory over the Amalekites is won.

Perhaps we could look at these passages from a different angle.  What if the stories are not about the God who has the power to grant what is needed, but about the prayerful people of faith who understand what the need is and invest their faith in action that brings about the answer?  In other words, the lesson to be gleaned in these teachings might be that prayerful PERSEVERANCE in right action is an important element of faith. 

Here’s a passage from Michael Morwood’s book, “Praying a New Story.”  It makes a big difference how we pray if we view God as a person in heaven or, if we view God “everywhere.”  For many of us, prayer has been an effort to contact an “elsewhere God.”  What happens when we shift our attention to an “everywhere God”- a sustaining Presence in all, through all, never distant, not in one place more than any other place, a Presence “in whom we live and move and have our being?” (Acts 17:28)

There is a new story emerging in consciousness.  We are beginning to understand that God is not a person limited to a place and only vaguely present in the universe.  God is here, everywhere, with us and in us always.

When we expand our ideas and images of God, our beliefs and prayer life also deepen.  The salvation story comes to life in a broader context- in a universe immersed in God’s presence, a Presence at work in all places, at all times, and in every human being who ever existed.  In this new story, freed from images and notions of distance and separation, prayer is no longer concerned with addressing an elsewhere God. 

Many Christians whose faith has been enriched by the wonder of the new story ask “How do we pray now? How does God ‘hear’ our prayers? Is prayer for God’s sake or for our sake?”  These Christians are simply seeking how to incorporate the story of God ever present in an unfolding universe into their personal prayer life.

As a Lumen Christi community, we are beginning to live with this new understanding that God is present in everyone of us as parts of the whole Creation.   Since the first century Christians have believed that, “We are the Body of Christ.” This truth comes alive in a powerful way with us as the new story of the universe becomes our reality.  We are human beings who have the conscious capacity to see the great needs for justice and peace and healing and wholeness all around us.  We are also spiritual beings who have God’s capacity for compassionate love.  This means we can choose to invest a faith that participates in being the answers to the prayers of our hearts and minds.

This is active prayer in which we both perceive the need and work out the answer. It requires PERSEVERANCE.   Persistent listening to the needs of the world and persistent action in addressing those needs takes faith and it builds faith.  Many of us have had the experience of recognizing areas of injustice right around us: the hungry who need food, the homeless who need shelter, the immigrants who need welcome.  When we make ongoing efforts to address these injustices with our own investments of time and money and compassionate care, we are being the answers to our prayers.  We are being the Body of Christ, God alive and active in Creation.  And most of us have felt our own faith increase as we persistently and patiently do what small thing is ours to do. 

Perseverance also applies to our work as the Lumen Christi community.  Faithful Catholics who have recognized the need for renewal in the church, God’s Spirit in us calls us to be the persevering agents for that renewal.  

Today’s Gospel passage is bookended by two statements. It begins: “Jesus told the disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart.” And it ends: “But when the Promised One comes, will FAITH be found anywhere on earth?”  Faith will always be found if the little bit we have is exercised in our prayerful hearts and persevering actions. 

by Sandi DeMaster