Tag Archives: justice

Persistence – sermon on Luke 18:1-8

October 16, 2016
Watch this sermon here.

In today’s passage, Luke explains a parable of Jesus before sharing the
parable itself. He only does this two other times. We will look at one of
these next week, when we read about the Pharisee and the tax collector,
and the other is the story of the Ten Talents. But the explanation Luke
gives here helps to focus our attention on the importance of staying
persistently connected to God.  Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and
not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who
neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was
a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against
my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘
Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because
this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen
to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his
chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in
helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And
yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” -Luke 18:1-8

Let’s start at the end of this passage, and work our way backward. The
question Jesus asks at the conclusion of the story helps us understand it in
a way we might not see if we are in a hurry to read on to the next
passage. So let’s look backward first, to reflect on the parable of the
persistent widow and the unjust judge from the framework this question
gives us: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus started this particular teaching back in Chapter 17 (verse 20) when
the Pharisees asked him when the Kingdom of God was coming. He tells
them,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor
will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of
God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

The parable of the unjust judge and the persistent
widow closes this longer lecture about the coming of God’s Kingdom on
earth.  The Pharisees had asked “when?” but Jesus answers that how we wait is
much more important than knowing the exact moment. So he throws this
question back at the Pharisees: When the Son of Man comes, will he find
faith on the earth? In other words, will we be faithful to the end? This is
the crux of the matter – will Christ find faithfulness, trustworthiness
among his people when he comes again, whenever that may be?

Let’s go back a step further. Before Jesus asks if we will be faithful, he
assures us that God can always be trusted. God is faithful. Jesus says, “
And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and
night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant
justice to them.” (Luke 18:7-8a)

Luke reminds us of the tension first century Christians were feeling
between the expected suddenness of Christ’s second coming, and their
perceived delay of that event. Peter had also written, “Do not ignore this
one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise,
as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to
perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, quoting Psalm 90:4)
God will not put off helping his people, but God does not operate on our
timeline – we exist on his. And rest assured that God will give justice. God
will make right the things that are wrong. God will surely heal what is
broken. But God’s patience should not be seen as procrastination. God is
showing mercy, giving us time to turn to him and seek forgiveness, to ask
him to make us whole.
“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Recent headlines might make you wonder if it’s possible. There is plenty
that is wrong and broken in our world, today as much as it was over 2000
years ago. Justice sometimes seems like a dream more than a possible
reality. We see disappointment and pain every day, as people are
murdered, others go without food or adequate shelter, leaders turn out to
be corrupt, governments stop functioning, and self-serving greed has a
higher social value than generosity toward others. Hatred seems to be on
the rise, and mercy is hard to find.

The unjust judge of this parable would fit right into today’s culture: he
doesn’t fear God, and he has no respect for people. He models the exact
opposite of the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. The
judge only gives justice to get rid of the widow’s annoyance, not because
he cares about right and wrong. “Yet because this widow keeps bothering
me, I will grant her justice,” he says, “so that she may not wear me out by
continually coming.’”

Quite literally, this phrase means, “so she won’t slap me in the face,” or “
so she won’t give me a black eye.” I don’t think the judge is too worried
about a poor widow assaulting him. The judge wants to avoid being
embarrassed – or shamed – by the widow’s constant badgering. And it is
that very badgering, the continual showing up on his doorstep to ask for
justice, that finally allows the widow to win over the unethical judge.

Let’s take a look at that widow. Jesus says, “In that city there was a widow
who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my
opponent.’” We don’t know who the opponent is, or what problem the
widow has with the opponent. We only know that she is seeking justice.
And she has her speech down to six words. Persistently, day after day, this
woman kept coming to the judge, saying, “Grant me justice against my
opponent.” What else could she do? This judge is her only hope.

You see, most women were very young, barely teenagers, when they
married, so the possibility of outliving their husbands was a very strong
one. There were many widows, but they weren’t necessarily old women.
The problem was that they often had no means of support when their
husbands died, especially if they had no sons to take responsibility for
them and care for them. They did not inherit their husband’s estate – it
went to another male member of the family. If a widow stayed with her
husband’s family, she became little more than a servant in the household.
If she went back to her own family, the bride price had to be paid back to
the husband’s family. Many times, widows were sold as slaves to pay off
their husband’s debts.

With all this in mind, it’s a wonder this widow even tried to seek justice.
Yet here she is, day after day, relentlessly asking an unjust judge to give
her justice against her opponent. “How much more will God give justice to
those who ask him?” Jesus seems to be saying. If a crooked judge can be
convinced to do what is right, even if it’s for the wrong reasons, how much
more will God show mercy to those he loves?

God’s love is not only persistent, but also just. God’s loving justice, made
evident in Christ’s cross and resurrection, reveals not only God’s persistent
response to individual sin, but also God’s powerful and persistent
resistance against the unjust powers that be. Which makes me wonder if I’
ve been looking at this parable through the wrong lens.
What if God is not represented in this story by the judge, but by the
persistent widow seeking justice? Certainly, comparing God to an unjust
judge can only work from the “how much more?” viewpoint. But what if
Jesus is actually asking us to see God through the eyes of this persistent
widow seeking justice? And what if the unjust judge who will only do the
right thing to avoid further embarrassment is … me?

Methodist pastor and poet Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes:

God is not the judge, but the widow.

Jesus says, “Do not judge,” but still we judge.

We fail to fear God and respect other people.

God comes to us among the powerless,

the orphan, the widow, the Crucified One,

pleading for justice.

So busy with what we want,  

we don’t hear what God wants.

But God keeps coming, keeps pleading for justice.

She does not shout, does not lift up her voice,  

but calmly, confidently, again and again she comes.

She will wear us out with her continual coming,

until we do justice. …”
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light, October 13, 2016)  

That brings us back to the beginning of the story, and the reason Luke
gives us for this parable of Jesus: “Then Jesus told them a parable about
their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Many times, I think, we focus on the ‘need to pray’ part of this
explanation, and we ignore the need ‘not to lose heart.’ Jesus was
teaching his disciples the same persistence he had learned from the
Father. Jesus knew what each disciple would have to face after he was
gone, and he wanted to be sure they were prepared for what was to
come. Luke uses these words of Jesus to remind his readers, decades
later, that they should also not lose heart as they wait for Christ to come
again. And he wrote them down so that other believers, centuries later,
would also be encouraged.

Certainly Luke spends a lot of ink describing the importance of prayer.
Jesus holds up this persistent widow as a model for effective prayer, but
he isn’t talking about mindlessly repeating the same prayers over and over
again. The persistence in prayer Jesus asks of us is a faithful pursuit of
God’s justice in the world.

Praying is simply pouring out our hearts to God, who will always be faithful
to hear us. It means trusting in God, and not in ourselves. It means
constantly hoping for the time when God will make things right, convinced
that God’s justice will prevail over evil.  Just as the widow kept coming to the judge, determined, relentless,
hoping against all odds; so we are to keep praying, determined, relentless,
hoping against all odds. Not because we are “good Christians” or because
our faith is strong, but because God’s Holy Spirit has given us the courage
to pray without ceasing in a broken and scary world, that God’s Kingdom
will come and God’s will shall be done. If we are to be found faithful when
the Son of Man comes, we must keep praying, and not lose heart.

And what is it that we should pray for? The widow gets it right. Our
prayers must be for justice. Not our petty desires or what we think we
need – for God already knows what we need before we ask, and many
times what God knows we need and what we think we need are not at all the same thing. We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will
to be done. We must not lose heart or become weary with waiting for
Christ to come again to deliver us, once and for all, from the pain and
brokenness we see all around us. We must persist in hope, persist in
prayer, and persist in seeking justice until the Lord comes.

Christ’s coming is still in the future, but God’s patience is at work in the
present. The parable assures us that God will save his people. The concern
is not when this will happen, but its certainty, and the necessity for us to
live in readiness and faithfulness.
Will Jesus come again, as he promised? Absolutely. Will God bring justice
to the world? Without a doubt. Will we be faithful until that time, pursuing
justice and working for the Kingdom of God? May it be so!

Let us pray.

“… Persistent God,

help us listen to your cries in the poor,

to your whisperings in our hearts,

to the light in your silence.

We still our minds, cease our judging, and listen.

In our hearts, a river flowing, we listen.

In the unsaid billion prayers, we listen.

We keep praying and do not lose heart. “ (Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

Help us to see injustice around us, and to work for the kind of justice that
only comes from you. We don’t ask for fairness, Lord, because sometimes
fairness isn’t just. We ask for your justice, which always includes mercy.
We ask for your justice, which always means sacrifice. We ask for your
justice, that your Kingdom might come and your will might be done here
on earth, even as it is in heaven. Make us instruments of your peace, and
advocates for those who seek justice in an unjust world. Amen.

Grafted In – Sermon on Romans 11

This week, as events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, I was struck by the difference on social media between the responses of my white friends and my black friends to the death of Michael Brown. Here in New Ulm, where pretty much everyone is white, you may not have paid much attention to the news from Ferguson. It may not have seemed relevant to our mostly German community. But as I read today’s scriptures over and over, they kept pointing me back to the news, and particularly to the pain and frustration my black friends were expressing as the week wore on. Not just the tensions in Ferguson, but the tensions in Gaza and other parts of the world all seem to come back to the fact that we, as human beings, don’t do a very good job of living together peacefully.

In our Old Testament reading today, Joseph’s revelation to his brothers might seem like a happy ending, but we know the rest of the story. Joseph brings his whole family to Egypt, and 400 years later, their descendants will struggle under Egyptian oppression. The Gospel Lesson tells us of a Canaanite woman who convinces Jesus to help her daughter, but she has to overcome Jewish prejudice against Israel’s earliest enemies in order to do it. And in our reading from Romans today, we will hear the Apostle Paul wrap up his own argument in the Gentile/Jew debate. No matter where we turn, it seems, the Bible keeps playing the race card.

When scripture collides with current events like this, we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see it. Maybe you think the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has little or nothing to do with you, and the aftermath of his death may seem like a mess you’re glad is happening there, instead of here. Maybe you think we’re a long way away from that St. Louis suburb. On the other hand, our readings today might just be telling us, to paraphrase one of my Facebook friends, that Ferguson is nearer to New Ulm than we think.
Here’s the word of the Lord, as given to the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

 

If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. … 

…  for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:1-2, 16-21, 29-32)

“Has God rejected his people?” Paul has to ask this question because, apparently, some of the Gentile Christians in Rome thought God had disowned Israel, and Gentile Christians had become God’s chosen people in Israel’s place. But this isn’t true, Paul tells us. Salvation is for all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile.

Paul defends his point by reminding his readers that he, himself, is a Jew. If God had completely rejected his people, Paul wouldn’t have had a chance. Yet, here he is, a Jew and a follower of Jesus. Just because the nation of Israel had rejected God, it didn’t mean that God would break his promise. Jesus had told the woman at the well “salvation is from the Jews,” after all (John 4:22). If not for the Jews, Paul tells us, there would be no gospel story. There would be no good news. God has not rejected his people.

Paul goes on to describe salvation history using an olive tree as an example. It was common practice to prune out branches of an old tree that had borne well for many years, then graft in younger branches from an uncultivated tree to get the old tree to bear again. The strong root of the old tree would support the new branches as they fused with the established tree. “You Gentiles are like those new branches,” Paul says, “but don’t get cocky. You depend on the strong root of Jewish history, not the other way around.”

And this is where scripture collides with the events of this past week, as hateful words flew, and violence escalated in Ferguson, MO. You see, Emperor Claudius had kicked the Jews out of Rome, but Nero had repealed that edict when he came into power a few years later. While the Jews were absent, Gentile Christians in Rome had continued to grow in numbers and influence. To some extent, when the Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome, they came back to a church in which Gentile Christians had taken over, and had begun to see themselves as more privileged than the Jews. There may have even been evidence of a particularly troubling heresy that rejected the Old Testament and Judaism completely. It’s no wonder that Paul’s words are strong here, as he warns against arrogance. When addressing people of privilege, it sometimes takes strong language to expose that assumption of privilege for what it is: oppression.

The thing is, people who live privileged lives don’t usually see that we have freedoms others can only dream about. We take for granted that others will assume we are clean, honest, and dependable. We might even look down our noses a bit at people who don’t appear to be any of these things. When I stroll down the aisles at Walmart, I don’t have to worry about keeping my hands out of my pockets. I don’t have to” watch my step or practice what to say when – not if – the police pull me over.” But I know people who do. And I can tell you that my life of privilege makes their lives harder. Not because they have to work harder or be smarter or do more to get the same recognition I get, but because when I blithely go about my business without a care in the world, I’m creating a world that doesn’t care. And that is not what Jesus calls me to do.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” Paul writes. God has called all his people to himself, no matter what ethnic tribe they claim, no matter what social standing they have, no matter how rich or poor they are. And since we are all called as disciples of Jesus Christ, it follows that I may be rubbing elbows with another disciple who doesn’t look like me or smell like me or think like me or act like me, but we are in this thing called faith together, as brothers and sisters, united in our love for God and for one another.

None of us is any better or worse than any of us. We each have our part in the story. Paul writes, “Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (vv30-32)

If the Jews had not rejected Jesus, there would have been no reason for Paul to reach out to the Gentiles with the good news of God’s saving love. If the Gentiles had not responded to that good news, there would have been no way for the Jews to see that God’s love and mercy is available to everyone. In Greek, “mercy” is the last word in verse 32. What would it look like for mercy to be the last word, the ultimate gift we might offer to one another, regardless of our differences?

As the governor sent in the State Highway Patrol to take charge of security in Ferguson, tensions relaxed a bit, but were raised again when the governor announced a curfew “until further notice.” Video footage released by the police identifies Michael Brown as a suspect in a robbery that took place earlier on the day he was killed. But the police officer who shot Michael Brown was not aware of the robbery. The details are muddy, and a grand jury will start sorting them out in the next few days. No matter who did what, or where the blame lies for protests that turned into riots, complete with military-style response from police, the last word needs to be mercy. Mercy is all we can ask, and all we can offer.

It’s unfortunate that the final verses of chapter 11 are not included in today’s lectionary reading, because Paul offers us a song of praise to conclude this section of his letter. He’s said everything that needs to be said about Jews and Gentiles having the same access to God’s grace and forgiveness. The only thing left to do is give God thanks for his goodness, to praise him for being God. Next week, we will move on to Paul’s instructions for recognizing and using our spiritual gifts. If you’ve ever wondered what spiritual gifts you possess, you’ll want to be here! But in the meantime, let us join with the Apostle Paul in giving glory to God. Hear the last four verses of chapter 11:

 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 

Keep Asking – sermon on Luke 18:1-8

The scattered groups of believers were becoming discouraged. They had expected Jesus to return quickly, but – so far – he hadn’t shown up. The original twelve disciples were dying off, and even the second generation of followers were getting old. Persecution had taken its toll, too. It seemed that everything Jesus had predicted had happened, and the second coming of Christ should have followed soon after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. But here they were, still waiting and watching for Jesus to come again in glory. The stories that had been told with such urgency a generation ago, were now losing their shine. Some of the details were getting fuzzy. And still, Jesus did not come.

Had they missed it somehow? Had they misunderstood? Surely they had heard him announce that there would be persecution, and they had suffered through that terrible experience. As the church had spread from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from there along the Mediterranean coast, the people who now called themselves Christians had struggled to maintain an identity that contrasted strongly with the culture around them. Sometimes it got pretty confusing. As the number of disciples who had seen Jesus and heard him teach continued to dwindle, many were discouraged that Jesus would ever return as he had promised.

In the middle of this confusion and discouragement, Luke set out to tell the whole story of the Good News, to refresh everyone’s memory, and put events into their proper perspective. He addressed a primarily Gentile audience, drawing on the stories that had been told over and over again, arranging them in an order that was designed to encourage believers to keep on believing. Luke wrote down the facts he knew, and used his best editing skills to help Christians understand those facts in the light of God’s timeline. The Kingdom of God that had been introduced to the world in the person of Jesus Christ was already at work, but not yet fulfilled. Luke wanted his readers to know that Jesus had not broken his promise to return, but that waiting for the second coming required more than sitting around in an upper room. It meant actively participating in the work of the Kingdom.In today’s passage, Luke explains a parable of Jesus before sharing the parable itself. He only does this two other times. We will look at one of these next week, when we read about the Pharisee and the tax collector, and the other is the story of the Ten Talents. But the explanation Luke gives helps to focus our attention on the importance of staying persistently connected to God. Hear the Word of the Lord, as given to us in the Gospel according to Luke, in the 18th chapter, verses 1-8.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let’s start at the end of this passage, and work our way backward. The question Jesus asks at the conclusion of the story gives us a perspective for understanding it that we might not see if we are in a hurry to read on to the next passage. So let’s look backward first, to reflect on the story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge from the framework this question gives us.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus started this particular teaching back in Chapter 17, verse 20, when the Pharisees asked him when the Kingdom of God was coming. He tells them, “ “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is amongyou.”[1] Jesus often closed his teaching speeches with parables, so the story about the unjust judge and the persistent widow serves as the final close to this longer lecture about the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. That final question makes sense, in light of this bigger picture, doesn’t it?

The Pharisees had asked “when?” but Jesus answers that how we wait is much more important than knowing the exact moment. So he throws this question back at the Pharisees: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In other words, will we be faithful to the end? This is the crux of the matter – will Christ find faithfulness, trustworthiness among his people when he comes again, whenever that may be?

Let’s go back a step further. Before Jesus asks if we will be faithful, he assures us that God can always be trusted. God is faithful. Jesus says, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”[2]

Do you notice how Luke reminds us, through the words of Jesus, of this tension the first century Christians were feeling, the tension between the expected suddenness of Christ’s second coming, and the perceived delay of that event? God will not put off helping his people. But God does not operate on our timeline – we exist on his. As Peter would write to another group of early Christians, “do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”[3]

We, today, should also be encouraged, that God will give justice. God will make right the things that are wrong. God will surely heal what is broken. But God’s patience should not be seen as procrastination. God is showing mercy, giving us time to turn to him and seek forgiveness, to ask him to make us whole.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 Recent headlines might make you wonder if it’s possible. There is plenty that is wrong and broken in our world, today as much as it was over 2000 years ago. Justice sometimes seems like a dream more than a possible reality. We see disappointment and pain every day, as people are murdered, others go without food or adequate shelter, leaders turn out to be corrupt, governments stop functioning, and self-serving greed has a higher social value than generosity toward others.

The unjust judge of this parable would fit right into today’s culture: he doesn’t fear God, and he has no respect for people. He models the exact opposite of the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. I can think of a few people in the news who sound just like this judge, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for you to make a list, either.

The judge only gives justice to get rid of the widow’s annoyance, not because he cares about right and wrong. “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice,” he says, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” What the New Revised Standard Version gives us as “wear me out” other translations offer as “shame me.” Quite literally, however, we could translate this phrase to read “so she won’t slap me in the face,” or “so she won’t give me a black eye.” I don’t think the judge is too worried about a poor widow assaulting him. No, the judge wants to avoid being embarrassed – or shamed – by the widow’s constant badgering. And it is that very badgering, the continual showing up on his doorstep to ask for justice, that finally allows the widow to win over the unethical judge.

Let’s take a look at that widow. Jesus says, “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” We don’t know who the opponent is, or what problem the widow has with the opponent. We only know that she is seeking justice. And she has her speech down to six words. Persistently, day after day, this woman kept coming to the judge, saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” What else could she do? This judge is her only hope.

You see, most women were very young, barely teenagers, when they married, so the possibility of outliving their husbands was a very strong one. There were many widows, but they weren’t necessarily old women. The problem was that they often had no means of support when their husbands died, especially if they had no sons to take responsibility for them and care for them. They did not inherit their husband’s estate – it went to another male member of the family. If a widow stayed with her husband’s family, she became little more than a servant in the household. If she went back to her own family, the bride price had to be paid back to the husband’s family. Many times, widows were sold as slaves to pay off their husband’s debts.

With all this in mind, it’s a wonder this widow even tried to seek justice. Yet here she is, day after day, relentlessly asking an unjust judge to give her justice against her opponent. “How much more will God give justice to those who ask him?” Jesus seems to be saying. If a crooked judge can be convinced to do what is right, even if it’s for the wrong reasons, how much more will God show mercy to those he loves?

And now we are back at the beginning, with the reason Luke gives us for this parable of Jesus: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Many times, I think, we focus on the first part of that explanation, and ignore the last part. Jesus was not only teaching the disciples the importance of prayer, he was encouraging them to not lose heart. Jesus knew what they would each have to face after he was gone, and he wanted to be sure they were prepared for what was to come. Luke uses these words of Jesus to remind his readers, decades later, that they should also not lose heart as they wait for Christ to come again. And he wrote them down so that other believers, centuries later, would also be encouraged.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Certainly Luke spends a lot of ink describing the importance of prayer. Jesus holds up this persistent widow as a model for effective prayer, but he isn’t talking about mindlessly repeating the same prayers over and over again. We’ll talk more about that next week. The persistence in prayer Jesus asks of us is a faithful pursuit of God’s justice in the world. This widow’s six-word prayer was new and fresh each time she said it. She might have used the same words over and over, but she meant each one of them every single time, with the same intensity and focus she used from the beginning of her campaign. Can we pray like that? Of course.

Praying is nothing more or less than pouring out our hearts to God, who will always be faithful to hear us. It means trusting in God, and not in ourselves. It means constantly hoping for the time when God will make things right, convinced that God’s justice will prevail over evil. Just as the widow kept coming to the judge, determined, relentless, hoping against all odds; so we are to keep praying, determined, relentless, hoping against all odds. Not because we are “good Christians” or because our faith is strong, but because God’s Holy Spirit has given us the courage to pray without ceasing in a broken and scary world, that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will shall be done. If we are to be found faithful when the Son of Man comes, we must keep praying, and not lose heart.

And what is it that we should pray for? The widow gets it right. Our prayers must be for justice. Not our petty desires or what we think we need – for God already knows what we need before we ask, and many times what God knows we need and what we think we need are not at all the same thing. We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. We must not lose heart or become weary with waiting for Christ to come again to deliver us, once and for all, from the pain and brokenness we see all around us. We must persist in hope, persist in prayer, and persist in seeking justice until the Lord comes.

Christ’s coming may yet be in the future, but God’s patience is at work in the present. The parable assures us that God will save his people. The concern is not when this will happen, but its certainty, and the necessity for us to live in readiness and faithfulness.

Will Jesus come again, as he promised? Absolutely. Will God bring justice to the world? Without a doubt. Will we be faithful until that time, pursuing justice and working for the Kingdom of God? If we pray constantly, relentlessly, persistently for God to do his mighty work among us, may it be so!

So here’s the challenge. I’ve offered it to you before, and a few of you accepted the invitation to pray with me on Compassion Sunday. In the letter from James, we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”[4] And Jesus said, “ For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”[5] Many of you have experienced the power of prayer in your lives. I have heard stories of people in this church coming together regularly to pray, and the way God answered those prayers. Can you think of a time in our history when we needed prayer more than we do now? The needs I see in this town are so great, and there is so little help available to meet those needs. People struggle to make ends meet, to battle addiction, to find purpose and meaning in their lives. The greatest need I see is for Jesus to be Lord, for God’s love to be made known to people who have never experienced it. Isn’t that something worth praying for? Isn’t that something worth praying together for? I know that many of you are already overcommitted to many meetings, and frankly, I don’t know where we would put a weekly prayer gathering on the calendar, but if God is nudging you right now to be part of a vital, ongoing prayer ministry in this church, would you please look at your calendar with God, and find a time you could agree to meet him here, along with others from this church, to join in prayer? There is so much to pray for.

  • Healing
  • Jobs
  • Broken relationships
  • Freedom from worry
  • Our children
  • Our leaders
  • The ministry of this church
  • Our stewardship campaign, Planting Seeds of Faith
  • People in our community who don’t know Jesus
  • People in our community who have given up hope
  • People in our community
  • Justice
  • God’s kingdom to come
  • God’s will to be done

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 


[1] Luke 17:20-21

[2] Luke 18:7-8a

[3] 2 Peter 3:8-9, quoting Psalm 90:4

[4] James 5:16

[5] Matthew 18:20

Mercy and Justice

This is not a blog post about Martin Luther King Day, even though we celebrate 50 years of “I Have A Dream” today. This is not a blog post about the presidential inauguration. Four years ago was history in the making. Today is just confirmation that it wasn’t a fluke. Frankly, I don’t have a thing to say on either of these topics that someone else hasn’t already said better and more eloquently. (And I am not talking about Mark Driscoll, who seems to have forgotten that bit about “judge not, unless you wanna be judged.”)

What burns my oatmeal right now is the awareness that, as much as we say mercy and justice matter to us as Christ-followers, most of the Christians I know are not too comfortable making mercy and justice a reality for others. We are grateful when it comes our way, but showing mercy – real caring for another that costs us – is something we simply don’t know how to do very well. We can pray for another’s need. We can talk about a problem we see. But when it comes to forgiving someone who has wronged us or putting another’s welfare and safety ahead of our own, we look more like Mark Driscoll than Jesus.

And do we even know what justice really is? The mission statement for my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, focuses on the desire to see more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world, but what exactly does that mean? Whose justice are we talking about here? And who gets to decide what that justice looks, smells, and feels like?

Jesus came into the world to shine light into our darkness, to make wrong things right again, to heal brokenness and offer hope where there is no hope. He calls each of us to participate in that same work. So I have to ask myself: What am I doing to show that kind of mercy and build that kind of justice? What are you doing to make this a more caring and just world?