Passages: Is. 65:8-25; Phil. 3:1-4:9; Luke 17:20-18:14
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
There was a village full of farmers, whose entire livelihood came from the ground they tilled and the fruits and the vegetables they produced. For months there was no rain in the village, and the wells and rivers began drying up. There was not even enough water to use for the plants to stay nourished. Animals and vegetation, naturally, began dying and poverty went through the land as the villagers began panicking and thinking how will they live, what could they do to survive? One day, the community leaders decided they would go to the village priest to ask for God’s help. They came to Church and pleaded, “father, can we all come to Church on Sunday, the entire village, and together pray a special powerful prayer asking God to send us rain and to help us? We are dying and we need God’s help.” The priest answered, “Absolutely! This Sunday bring your friends and families, let everyone come to Church and after the service we will all together pray to God to send rain.” The following Sunday, the entire village showed up and there was no room to stand, no room to move, everyone young and old came to pray for rain. After the Divine Liturgy, the priest descended from the Holy Altar and turned around to look at the people who had gathered to pray together.
However, the priest stopped and declared, “I am sorry my dears, but today we cannot pray to God for rain to come therefore, go home.” Immediately, the people became upset, “why not Father, why are we not going to pray today?” “We are not going to pray today”, answered the priest, “because none of you believe in what you are praying for; none of you believe that God will answer your prayers or that God could send the rain for which you are gathered here for.” Confused, the people say, “what do you mean we don’t believe? See how many of us are gathered here today, look at how full this Church is.” And the priest simply says, “if you believed in your prayers, if you believed God can bless you with the rain for which you have come to pray for, why doesn’t anyone of you here have an umbrella?”
My dear brothers and sisters, do we believe when we pray? Do we pray with understanding and with an open heart, or do we pray as Christ says, like unbelievers? Do we simply utter words or poems but don’t believe in the power of God to fulfill those prayers? We pray but don’t actually trust God or believe in His ability to fulfill our prayers. And when we pray in such a way, our prayers remain fruitless and dry. Just as the lands died from thirst, so to our faith dries up and our prayers become heartless.
We begin asking, “Father we’ve pray for all these years, for healing, for clarity, for patience, for love, for hope, for sanity; we come to Church every week, we sing, we read, we volunteer, we participate, why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” Only a year ago this week, we remember, how the entire world went into lock down because of the pandemic. We recall how many times we prayed to stay healthy, safe, to be healed, to not lose our sanity or our jobs. However, my dears, God is not a magician or some sort of smart device, which we call on when we need answers. He does not answer prayers in the way we think but as we believe. We must remember that when we pray and come into communion with God, we pray for God to act in our lives according to His Will. When a student prays to pass a test, God may not give him or her the answers to a test. When we pray for health, God may not take away the momentary illness or sickness we physically feel. When we pray for wealth, God may not add a few more zero’s to our back account or give us a raise. But if we believe God can and will answer our prayers, then we must also trust that God will answer always in a way that is far greater then we could ever understand or comprehend.
When I was serving as a chaplain in the hospital, I remember how I had to perform an emergency baptism in the emergency room. I was a Deacon at the time and I wasn’t certain if God would accept my prayers or if what I was doing was correct. All day long after that incident, regardless of the patients I would visit, I kept thinking “did God hear my prayers, did God accept it?” A few weeks prior that this event, I had prayed for a woman in the ICU, who the doctors had declared no longer viable; in other words, the life support was the only thing keeping this woman alive. I watched, after I prayed with the family, how the doctor’s turned off the machines and slowly the woman’s heart rate slowed and her breathing calmed down. It was a difficult moment and so I said my goodbye and I left; what more could I do, if the doctors couldn’t do anything else? Fast forward to the day I did the emergency baptism, I was going room by room checking in on my patients, when a young man down the hall saw me and ran up and started yelling, “it’s you, it’s you.” I was very confused, as to what did I do? Now I’m a large guy, but this kid was pulling me with all his strength and I had no idea why. Until I entered the room at the end of the hall, where a woman was putting on her jacket to go home. The woman who a few weeks earlier I prayed over; the woman who the doctors turned off the life support for. In that moment, God figuratively smacked me on the back of the head and said, “I hear you, just trust me.”
Today the Armenian Church remembers two very well-known parables, the Widow and the Unrighteous Judge but also the Pharisee and the Tax-collector. Both parables teach us about our approach to prayer. On the one hand we must be humble like the tax-collector, but we must also be like the widow, who believed that justice would be given to her from the judge. Likewise, we must be humble, open our hearts and minds to God and we must also believe that God our Heavenly Father, the righteous judge will deliver us and answer our prayers. If only we have faith, if only we truly believe and trust, if only we live our lives truthfully to reflect that we trust in God. The greatest reflection of our faith and trust in God is seen through our prayer life and how we live out our faith. Not in the quantity of how many hours we pray, how many Der Voghormya’s we say, not how many sharagans we know by heart – but in how invested our heart is in all those prayers. The widow pleaded unceasingly but also and more importantly, without losing trust in the judge. As Christ asks, if this judge answered this woman, will not God also answer us?
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. “(I Thessalonians 5:16-18) My dear brothers and sister, rather than merely say in this time of Lent let us pray more, I invite us to say in our hearts “let us pray with belief and with trust.” That God will not allow us to dry up and die but that God will and does answer us according to His loving will. Let our lives reflect His will through our actions, choices, and belief. May our faith reflect in how we pray. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:8-11) Amen!