Luke 18:1-8 10.20.19
The Osage nation, together with other native American tribes, was shuffled to a desolate area of the Midwest called “Indian Territory”, with some of them settling in what was to become the state of Oklahoma. Over a period of many years, the US government systematically removed tribes from their ancestral lands and forced them to live separated from white settlers treating native Americans like they did not belong here, refusing to allow them to practice their traditional religion or speak their native tongue. It was a painful period in our history that has left its imprint on multiple generations to follow. When oil was discovered beneath their section of “Indian territory”, suddenly the Osage were wealthy, wealthier than any of their neighbors of any ethnic background. Every member of the tribe was allotted a regular share of the proceeds from the oil production. Yet because the Osage were not viewed as fully capable of managing their own money, most were assigned whites to serve as guardians over their share of the oil money, many of whom were dishonest and disrespectful, refusing to allow the Osage to spend their own money as they needed or claiming a portion of the funds for themselves.
This ugly story is chronicled in the book our multicultural book club is reading for our November discussion, titled Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. In it, the sordid, shameful history of the way we have subjected people to oppression is exposed for all to see. The mysterious killing spree that left at least 24 members of the tribe dead from poisoning, execution style murders and dynamite blasts in a very short period of time was finally put to an end when the nascent FBI got involved and zeroed in on one of the primary creators of the complex conspiracy to steal the oil inheritance from the Osage nation.
The Osage are just one example of a vulnerable people repeatedly treated unjustly out of pure greed and white privilege. They were knocking, knocking, knocking at the door, hoping for justice, hoping for answers, hoping for an end to the murders in their community. The experience of the Osage nation echoes the pain of the widow in the parable Jesus told his disciples. She insisted and persisted, looking for the justice due her. She kept knocking on the door, knocking on the door. She knew and the unjust judge knew the requirements in the Jewish law that widows and orphans are to be looked out for because they are at the mercy of unscrupulous characters who could easily take advantage of them. The prophets too remind the people with words like these from Isaiah: “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
We don’t get the details of what injustice had been levied against her, but she is clear that the judge must take action. He acknowledges for himself that he does not care what God thinks or what humans think. He only gives in to her request and does what is right because she won’t take no for an answer. He selfishly wants her to go away, to stop beating him up with her requests.
There is no need to equate the unjust judge with God here. The point is that inasmuch as someone so awful as this guy who has no respect for God or humans can finally do the right thing, then how much more will God do the right thing for those who persistently ask, those who persistently knock? It is a no brainer. Of course, God will respond. God, the just and generous one, will not ignore the cries of God’s children. The message reminds me of the story Jesus told earlier in this same gospel about the friend who didn’t want to get up late at night to offer bread to his neighbor who suddenly had visitors knocking at his door. The friend finally did give in and help because the neighbor was persistent and kept knocking.
Prayer is hard work. Sometimes we think that prayer is just asking for what we want and God responds, kind of a “heavenly vending machine” idea. We think God is supposed to answer our prayers and give us what we want and what we think we need. But prayer is perhaps better described as a wrestling match– putting forth effort, continuing to work, seek, knock. In the parable it is the persistence that is lifted up as the valued practice. Persistence. Knocking. One scholar mused over whether the persistent knocking would eventually shape us into the vessel that is ready to receive the answer we will get from God.
What do we need to knock on God’s door about? What issues of injustice or oppression are crying out to be dealt with, to be changed, to start anew? Whose door can we knock on about the Kurds who are caught in the middle of complex and not always just actions? Whose door can we knock on when a loved one or a respected long-term congressman or a young person you never knew has a life cut short due to illness or due to violence? It is God’s door we must knock on. We must find ways to be persistent in prayer, to never give up. We knock, knock, knock at the door, sometimes it seems like God is silent, like there is no answer coming. Fred Craddock tells the story of an elderly African American preacher who stood up before a group of Christians during the civil rights era of the 1960’s and told them: “Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.” He spoke from the deep pain of his own and of others of being pushed to the edges of society, of being refused seats or loans or drinking water, for crying out loud—all because of the color of their skin!
Are your knuckles bleeding? Have you been persistent in your requests to God? Jesus’ question is this: will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes? Will you be found faithful, knocking, praying, seeking? We find it is too easy to give up with lamentation, to give in to temptation, to give out from exhaustion.
When you purchase a pumpkin at our pumpkin patch or offer your time to help sell pumpkins or bake pumpkin bread, you support fair salaries for Navajo workers in New Mexico who plant, tend and harvest the pumpkins and gourds, perhaps one small way to offer justice to the descendants of those who were pushed off their lands and forced to deny their own culture, to a people who still today are not treated with equity, who are still knocking, knocking, knocking on the door.
When you participate in the Cease Fire weekend rallies and prayers, participate in the activities in Rosemont or the poster contest at Thomas Jefferson, you are acknowledging the need to build bridges, to make connections, to create a playing field that is equal. You are knocking, knocking, knocking.
Mojoko Wotany, one of our own church members, has written a book about her journey with their son Jayson, who lives with autism. It is titled: How the small “a” (autism) taught me to PRAY BIG”. In it she shares how her prayer life has grown and deepened through these recent years of learning to be a mom to Jayson. She knocked and knocked on God’s door, first looking for a change in Jayson, then looking for a remedy, and finally realizing that it was she who was changed in this experience. It was she who drew closer to Christ. It was she who learned new ways of depending on God that she had never experienced before. Mojoko includes an acronym that helped her, and I want to share it with you this morning: take the letters of PRAY. Praise, Repent, Ask and Yield. Yielding is when you wait, listen and seek to hear from God. She quotes from Psalm 27: “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yea, wait patiently for the Lord.” I invite you to talk with Mojoko about her book, about her testimony. She will be sharing during worship later in November, and will bring some of her books for purchase if you are interested. The book serves as a guide and resource for any family with an autistic child, but it is more than that. It offers inspiration and encouragement for developing a consistent and persistent knocking on God’s door for any of us.
Keep on knocking. Keep up the prayers. Who knows how the action of praying will change you? Who knows how the shaping of your heart, your mind, and your actions will enable you to be prepared to receive the answer from God when it comes? Thank you, God. Amen!