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Persistent - Sermon on Luke 18:1-8

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We don't always get what we want from persistent prayer and there are times that we don't understand God at all. But God listens, and God acts. 

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

October 16 - 22st Sunday after Pentecost 

"Persistent".  Text is from Luke 18:1-8

Click here for sermon audio 

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

What does it take before we finally get justice? How many times do those who are oppressed have to cry out before the people in power finally listen to what they have to say and deliver a verdict that is fair and just? 

Jesus is telling those who are following him a parable that descries what it means to be persistent in prayer. It involves a widow and an unjust judge, someone who basically doesn't care. It's very clear in the text what this judge's issue is, he just doesn't like people. He's a misanthrope, and one gets the feeling he is just going to the bench to do his bare minimum that he needs to do and nothing more. 

Of course this widow that continues to pester him will not be daunted. She knows she has been wronged. We don't know what the matter is, whether it has to do with her property, some injury to her person, but it is definitively a matter that needs to be dealt with fairly and for certain. 

And so, what we have here is a judge who has effectively been weathered down by the widow's constant nagging. The judge makes it clear, he's not a good man. He doesn't care about God or doing the right thing by other people. He simply wants her to leave him alone. 

Widow and Judge

Jesus follows it up with a comparison to this judge and God, the judge of all, effectively saying that will not God, who loves everyone and all people, deliver justice and mercy with more certainty than this judge, when they come before him with prayer? That one must be persistent and not lose heart, much like the widow, knowing that they are right and just. 

And we finish it off with a rhetoric question, will there be faith when the Son of Man returns? Will the people of God be continuing with their persistent prayer?

Now we don't find this parable in any of the other three gospels. Luke alone is the gospel which features these amazing characters of the persistent widow and the misanthropic judge. But despite what Luke says at the beginning of this text, the parable does not at all seem to be about faith or prayer, but about justice and persistence and the triumph over justice and oppression? 

We find it hard to equate God to this unjust judge. Because after all, isn't what we think that God does in fact hear us when we cry out to him? And yet we also know that we can pray for things and not all our prayers are answered in a timely manner. In fact, it can sometimes seem like God is never going to answer some of our most fervent prayers. 

Most of you are familiar with the fact that I am involved in a twelve step program of recovery. My recovery is based on the fact that I've worked these steps in my life and continue working them. In fact, I've now come once again to the seventh step which states that "We humbly ask God to remove our defects of character." So, not having become a perfect individual since my last round of steps, I have nevertheless identified a number of defects of character that continue to plague me. And having asked God to remove them, some of them actually seem, to be lessened. I'm not stressed out by obsessive thinking like I have been in the past. I don't react inconsiderately to other people like I once did. 

But on the other hand, no matter how frustrated I am by it, I still can't seem to shake the disorganization I suffer, mainly a result of my ADHD. It persists, and it makes me frustrated. But one of the things that I have learned about this particular step is that God does not relieve us immediately of our character defects. We don't wake up one morning after having a lifetime of nearly fifty years of certain coping mechanisms and them disappearing into the ether as if I were suddenly perfect. For one thing, that kind of behavior change would be jarring to anyone who knows me, and might actually disrupt patterns in my life. And we also know that prayer isn't a magic wand. While we may hear of instances of someone's tumor vanishing overnight upon prayer, I don't think many of us have ever actually experienced that sort of other-worldly miracle. God, for the most part, works in ways that the laws of the universe can uncover. 

But although those are prayers for personal wellness, I entered into these steps thinking that these shortcomings were in fact a raw deal, and that the removal of them would somehow be justice. That God was righting the wrong I felt I was laid out at my birth. And then I remember that none of us are perfect, and even once I am remade once again from God's continual molding and making me, that I will nevertheless be a work in progress with lots of room for improvement. Just that I need keep them at the forefront of my mind, and keep the faith. 

And this parable and Luke's framing it speaks to even more. Because this parable follows Jesus speaking of the coming kingdom. Jesus is not only telling them to be persistent in prayer, but also to be faithful that the kingdom will in fact come. Two thousand years later, we've become used to the idea of a delay in the approach of the kingdom, but for Jesus followers, this took on special meaning. 

One other bit we need to understand is that the fact that she is a widow also has significance. Because under the Jewish laws, widows were one of the classes of people who needed to be cared for. They did not inherit their husbands home and were only lucky if they had children who cared enough about the well being of their mother to see she was cared for. If it were a childless widow or one without such children, she could be destitute. And so it was important that anyone with dealings with this woman consider that. 

We sometimes say that scripture has a preferential treatment for the poor, simply because it people in these categories, the widows, the orphans, the poor and the strangers who are always being uplifted in the Hebrew texts as the ones who are in need of special attention, because these are the people who are most vulnerable because of the way society is laid out. Things have thankfully changed in the intervening millennia. Women not only inherit property but they can manage to have their own that they have earned themselves. But there is still a gap between the way society treats men and women. And women are still frequently more vulnerable to abuses and imbalance of justices than men are.

But the widow is persistent. She knows that society is against her and so she slowly breaks down the judge's will to get the justice she deserves.  And like Jacob, who wrestled with God, she wrestles with life, knowing that in her persistence, she will be vindicated.  

And that is the good news, my sisters and brothers, that there is hope for the hopeless. When life is unjust, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who uplifts us in our time of wrestling and sees that justice will prevail. That our persistence in prayer is evidence of our faith and we will prevail and be vindicated, our salvation from the iniquities of the world is promised and we will be set free in joy, for Christ lives and reigns over the kingdom and God sees our struggles and hears our voices in sorrow, in joy and in praise. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on October 23, 2016 7:25 AM.

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