October 20, 2013: Widow 1, Judge 0


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Does Jesus have doubts? Of course he’s not talking about us. We have faith, right? We come to church. That’s a sign we belong to God, not to the world. So what is the faith Jesus looks for in us – and wonders if he’ll find?

Context means a lot. Let’s back up. The Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom will arrive. He tells them: “Don’t waste your brain cells. You’re not in the loop.” Jesus dispatches the religious ones, and turns to address the disciples. First, he says, he’ll suffer and be rejected.  We know that’s already happened. And there will be a lot of drinking, partying, and messing around, and we know about that one, too. That’s still going on – evidently since Noah’s time. Here’s where it gets spooky. The Son of Man is coming when you see people suddenly disappear. “To where?” you ask. Jesus says, “Where the corpse is and the vultures gather.” So in light of this impending good news, Jesus tells them to pray and not to lose heart. We are reasonable people. Does that sound like a reasonable plan to you?

Here we are two thousand years later, still praying and trying not to lose heart. People grow weary of praying and getting no apparent results. Sometimes you get what you ask. Often you don’t. Is God listening? Does God care? Some give up entirely. Prayer seems like a crap shoot at best. It’s easy to lose heart.

Once, when someone asked me to pray for them, I said, “I may not be the one you want to ask.” “Why not?” “Well, I think God’s hit the mute button on my incoming calls – three years of praying – nothing’s happened. But I keep praying. The other day, I swear I heard a voice say, ‘Now, son, tell me your name again?’” You ever think God forgets your name? “Pray anyway and don’t lose heart,” says Jesus.

Jesus tells a story of a judge who cares nothing for God, and who finds people annoying. A grumpy widow who’s been cheated shows up in his courtroom alone. Evidently that “One Call, That’s All” guy wasn’t answering his phone that day. The judge won’t give her the time of day. She keeps coming back anyway, day after day. She is the epitome of annoyance and stubbornness, a pain in his neck and other places. If someone tells her, “Just give up,” she’s likely to tell them, “Blow it out your ear, buddy.” She relentlessly follows the judge, calls him out, demands her justice. Finally he caves, but not because he thinks she’s right. It’s the only way he can get rid of this gal. Jesus says, “If an unjust judge grants justice to this widow, how much more will a loving God help helpless victims?” Pray always and do not lose heart. Be a crazy person about prayer, too gullible to doubt it. Just trust prayer is doing things you don’t immediately realize – like reminding you of who is in charge – and who isn’t. Trust enough not to give up. Be someone in whom Jesus finds faith.

If you feel like you annoy God and are nagging God – pray anyway. You see, it’s about faith, about trusting all to God. Do we have faith to keep praying, when we don’t feel like it? When we think prayer does no good? When we don’t know exactly what to ask or when we decide God doesn’t care? Still keep praying. Trust God. And pray some more. This world is corrupt, broken, sinful and violent, and it looks like we are governed by Kindercare dropouts. Pray anyway, not because nagging God gets results, but because we are Christians. We follow Jesus, who says, “Pray always and do not lose heart.”

Do you ever say to a distressed person – “Hang on. It’s going to be all right,” and wonder, “Why did I say that? How that could possibly be?” We know whatever “it” is may never be “all right.” Jesus says, “Do not lose heart.” Why? Jesus says a kingdom has come and is coming, greater than this one. We entrust our lives to God, because God is faithful to love and save us. Keep praying, coming to worship. Stay connected to God, and don’t lose heart. Prayer and faithful worship are our lifelines to God. And through us, that Kingdom to come begins to dawn little by little. So pray, not just at church, but every day, without ceasing. Prayer has the mysterious power to change our lives.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader, worked to desegregate restaurants in his city. Each day he went into the same diner near his office to order a hamburger, and was refused service. No one said he couldn’t sit. After he made his useless order, he’d pull out his sandwich and quietly eat. The day after the mayor ordered desegregation, he went to the same diner, ordered and got served. The waitress told Lowery her boss had threatened to fire her had she served him. All this hurt her deeply as a Christian. So she bought his first desegregated meal. Lowery and others prayed persistently and did not lose heart. Maybe his waitress prayed, too. Maybe she could rejoice for the days God’s justice still wins.

So if an unjust judge can be brought to his knees by an annoying old widow, think about the God we know in Jesus – a God who longs for us, loves us, waits for us with mercy and grace. You see, God is really the one persistent for us, after us – knocks on our heart’s door until we finally open our lives. Pray always – not because you think it works, but because you have faith. Pray always, because you are a Christian and follow Jesus.

Now I am giving you a challenge. Start this afternoon. You probably won’t. I figure if I say that, you might, just to prove me wrong. Examine your calendar. See how you spend your time – how much in prayer, in listening, in worship. If God is at the center of our lives, God will be important in our time, and we are more likely to live the peculiar life Jesus calls us to live. After a week, see what you find. Think about this: is the Son of Man finding faith in me?


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