October 21, 2001
In chemistry there is a concept of the half-life. It is a way of determining how long it takes half a radioactive isotope to decay into another substance. Some half-lives are long and some are short. Always, though, they are moving toward stability -- a state in which they might remain persistent, constant, or stable.
Here are some pictures about half-lives. [show overhead] You will see that particular states of matter change over time. If the half-life is long it will take a long time to change. For instance, Uranium 238 will take 4' billion years to lose half itself. It will take ten of those time periods or 45 billion years to become but a thousandth of itself. That's a long time.
On the other extreme is Polonium which will almost instantaneously decay into a form of Lead.
This leads us into the issue of this morning's Gospel -- persistence, constant, or stable in prayer. You may remember your reaction as you heard about the unjust Judge and the persistence widow. The cartoon in the bulletin gives a flavor of the scene.
I usually get a grin out of this story and not just because it's fun to see the high-and-mighty get theirs. Put in modern terms, here is a judge who doesn't know about restraining orders, what a hoot. Here is a judge who exaggerates the widow's persistence into fear of being beaten up. I can imagine the persistent widow popping out of a garbage can when the judge goes to toss away a banana peel. I can see her honking while the judge sits at a traffic light and her tailgating him for miles. Then, when he is out for a meal he sees her as his waitress and spitting in his soup.
Jesus tells this silly story to illustrate our persistence in prayer.
So let's look at what is persistent in our life. Here are six simple faces [afraid, angry, happy, puzzled, sad, surprised] out of the many faces we each have available to us.
Think about your day so far. How many of these have you worn? Which have you spent the most time wearing? In which have you been most persistent?
As you compare these faces with the half-life chart, which face changes into which face? Each of us have our own unique pattern.
We can move from surprise into puzzled into angry. Or we can move from surprise into puzzled into happy. We can move from happy into surprise into puzzled into angry. How do you move out of angry?
Which face do you see on the unjust judge? I must admit I see him with a happy face covering an angry life. You know how good we are at covering up our real feelings. So you know how this is happy surface and angry inside can happen.
Which face do you see on the persistent widow trying to get justice? Is she happy to be able to be persistent? If so, what do you think would sustain her day after day? Is she covering this inner happiness with an outside appearance of anger because she is dealing with an anger producing circumstance?
Again, if you had to choose between these faces as the one that you would wear day in and day out, which would it be?
If you were to think about our nation having a face, which face were we wearing before September 11? What face have we worn, or what series of faces have we worn since September 11?
Afghan women had gradually gained rights in the first decades of the 20th century. Women helped write their country's Constitution in 1964, served in parliament and the cabinet and were diplomats, academics, professionals, judges and even army generals. Then in 1992 there were forced out of news broadcasting and government ministry jobs and forced to wear veils and in 1996 were required to be totally covered with a burqa, that formless sack we see on TV. What face or series of faces do you think they have worn? Can you see them as the persistent widow? How many will have to die during this cycle of elemental decay?
This same issue is present in our own country around issues of race and sexuality. What face are we teaching important minority groups to wear? And how much longer will this be the case?
I ask this because I believe what you desire to show you will. We make choices all the time about the way in which we will present ourselves. We even have reasons for our choices if someone should push us a bit to justify why we seem so happy in the midst of difficulties or why we seem so angry all the time.
I also believe that we set up things so others will be pushed into certain face stages. We can usually justify this by claiming those in a weaker position than ourselves simply are not ready for something better.
I have spent time with chemistry and faces this morning because I think that if we can see that we have a usual face we might also be able to see that we have a usual daily amount of prayer or conversation with GOD.
Jesus told this story to get us to look at our prayer life. How persistent are you in prayer? Another way to ask this is what is the half-life of your prayer. Do you stay in prayer for just a moment? Do you have a ritual prayer and when that is over, you're done? Do you pray as life is going on or is it just for special times and places?
One of the basics of our faith is that what we pray for affects us. Our spiritual life will become evident in the way in which we deal with finances and relationships.
I believe that if we can improve our prayer life we will improve the other parts of our life and which ever face we wear will move toward the happy face. And, if we are wearing a happy face to cover up another face just waiting to show itself, that we will move toward having the happy face be truer and truer for us.
So what will be the route to happiness. Our Constitution says we are free to pursue happiness. Jesus says we are also able to achieve happiness (even in the midst of being discriminated against or being crucified) through our relationship to GOD. Jesus also tells us that the quality of our relationship with GOD can be equated to the quality of our praying.
Think about it in terms of friendship. Friendships grow when you spend time together. Friendships fade when you lose contact with each other.
If you are persistent in these qualities of living with GOD, the promise is that the rest of your life will have more and more meaning. And so the question -- are you ready to be more persistent in prayer or are you going to put it off for a while longer because you would rather be more persistent in some other part of life?
Neither Jesus nor the Church nor I desire to force you into prayer, but we do want to help you become more persistent in prayer. Let me know if you are willing to join together with others to help one another become more persistent in prayer.
A starting point would be our 5:30 Wednesday Prayer Service. I invite you to come to our chapel on Wednesdays.
Another starting point would be setting a timer and praying on the hour for 2 minutes and gradually increasing that time.
Another starting point would be to have a hymnal at home and use it as a prayer book, turning each hymn into a prayer.
There are lots of starting points. Pick one and be more persistent in prayer. It will make a difference for you and for the world.
Turn with me to number 495 in our Hymnal and let us pray together.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.