Sermon, October 20, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
“Persist, Pray, and Come Round Right”
By the time Luke was writing his Gospel a generation or so after Jesus died, people were starting to feel discouraged. They were tired of waiting for Jesus to return and finally bring all things to fulfillment, the deepest hope of their hearts. They were tired of being persecuted as a tiny little minority in a great big, powerful empire. They were anxious and suffering.
Our passage this week from Luke is about that waiting and about not being discouraged, about not losing heart. However, we’ve somehow read it more as an instruction to “nag” God with our repeated requests, so that God, like a weary and worn-down parent, will eventually give in and give us what we want.
Of course, this parable is really a lesson about God, about how and who God is, not just a “nice” little story about prayer. Jesus–the greatest Teacher of all time–uses the creative teaching method of using the opposite of something–or, in this case, the opposite of Someone–in order to make a point about God.
For goodness’ sake, he says, if an unjust, disrespectful judge who’s afraid of nobody and nothing, hears the case of a poor widow just to avoid getting nagged or embarrassed by her constant pleading, well, then, how much more will God–the God of justice and compassion, the God of the ancient prophets, the God on the palm of whose hand our names are carved–how much more will that God hear the prayers of God’s own children who cry out day and night from their suffering and their need?
Certainly, Jesus is teaching us something important here about the nature of the God to whom we pray.
Once again, Jesus uses a figure from the very edges of society to teach his followers who has no voice; who are silenced. The “word for ‘widow’ in Hebrew means ‘silent one’ or ‘one unable to speak.’ In the patriarchal Mediterranean world males alone play a public role. Women do not speak on their own behalf”
So, this “silent one” is acting outside the social norm when she finds her voice and speaks up for herself. Maybe it’s because she knows that there’s a special place for her in the heart of God, as the Bible often says. Widows and orphans are all very close to the heart of God and the focus of God’s concern.
We might ask ourselves, then, who “the widows” are in our time: the ones without a voice who speak up anyway in protest of injustice. The news is full of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, a good illustration of how the highest and mightiest feel threatened by the persistent and righteous protests of this “little ones” they would like to dismiss.
Greta Thunberg is only one example of many however: young people outraged by school shootings in the USA and have marched and organized and spoken up to the powers that be about the risk they take by simply going to school; people who live with disabilities have valiantly protested in the very halls of Parliament over injustice and exclusion; people of color face everyday disrespect and violence, along with economic injustice.
Do we hear the voices of these “widows” in our own time? Are we willing to listen?
The great preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, gets inside this story and explores the heart of this woman. Society may have told the widow that she was a nobody without a voice, but she knew otherwise, and her persistence helped her hold on to that confidence: “She was willing to say what she wanted–out loud, day and night, over and over–whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart…”
The shape of her heart: it makes us wonder about the shape of our own hearts and the health of our prayer life, doesn’t it?
Why does Luke introduce this story as being about the necessity–our need–to “pray always and not to lose heart”? And why doesn’t Jesus end his little story about the widow finally being heard, even by an “unjust” judge, not with a neat little closing statement about “hanging in there” and continuing to pray when we don’t get what we want right away, but with a question about the lack of faith among those who are waiting for the fulfillment of the promises of God? In 2019, more than 2 thousand years later, many Christians have all but forgotten or in fact, don’t need Jesus to come again in a physical form for he is with us always in a spiritual form. Jesus is always in our hearts.
Why do we pray? Our prayer life shapes us, too, and helps us to remember who, and whose, we are. It helps to align us with the intentions of God.
How would you describe faith? In this little story about human nature and about the nature of God, I hear Jesus teaching us–as always–about justice, about prayer, and about faith, which he talks about a lot. How often have we heard him say, “Your faith has saved you. Your faith has healed you. O, you of little faith!” It makes you wonder just what faith is exactly.
For most of my life I’ve thought faith had to do with believing the right things about God. The faith of our fathers and mothers was handed down in catechisms and religion textbooks and taught to us in classrooms. Keeping the faith was something we did by guarding a treasure of beliefs and handing them down, intact and unchanged, in a kind of lockbox, to the next generation of believers.
Faith was something that you have in your head, when you believe certain, hopefully correct, statements about God.
A little story of an adult who could not swim and the example a child, who has no fear of the water teaching the adult to swim and trying to get her to relax in the water: “It’s okay, just relax. You’ll float, it’s okay.” The child encourages Faith in “trusting in the buoyancy of God. Faith is trusting in the sea of being in which we live and move and have our being”
Do you reminder the person who taught you to float, to trust the buoyancy of the water to hold you up. And I wonder if it isn’t true that we adults, who keep going to our heads to figure things out, need to listen to our children to find our way back to the way of the heart. Trust the buoyancy of God to hold us in our faith. Amen.