A sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost: Luke 18:1-8
A young boy went to his mother one day and asked for a new bike. His mother replied “Well, if you are a good boy, maybe you’ll get one for your birthday.”
Well he tried his hardest to be good. He did his chores. He obeyed his parents. His birthday finally came but no bike.
He said to his mother, “I’ve been very good, why didn’t I get a bike?”
“Maybe you weren’t good enough. You better ask Father Burke,” she said. “Maybe God will give you a bike.”
So the boy went to see Father Burke. “Father, I really want a new bike. My mother said I should ask you what I could do so that God will give me a bike.”
“Be very good,” Father Burke said, “do your homework, obey your parents, pray everyday, and maybe you’ll get a new bike for Christmas.”
“Well I tried that before, but ok,” the boy said.
He prayed everyday, did his chores, obeyed his parents. He was a model young man. But Christmas morning came, no bike. He was very disappointed. On the way into church later that day he saw Father Burke.
“Father,” he said, “I did just as you said, I was very good but I still didn’t get a bike.”
“My son,” Father Burke said, “Do you know how many people ask God for things everyday? You need to do something special, something that will get God’s attention.”
As his family was leaving church, he ran to the front, grabbed the little figurine of the Virgin Mary out of the crèche, put it in his pocket and took it home with him. The minute he got in his room, he took out the statue, placed it in a shoebox, tied it up tight with shoelaces and put it in his closet.
Then he knelt down beside his bed and began to pray, “Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
The introduction to the parable in today’s gospel reading is very straightforward: “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
So, what’s your consensus after hearing this parable? Is this another of the difficult sayings of Jesus? I think not. In comparison to the earlier parables, this one seems rather tame, almost enjoyable.
Jesus begins the parable by carefully defining the cast of characters. “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” A judge. To those gathered to hear Jesus, the judge represented power and authority. Each and every one of them probably had had occasion to come before a judge. What can be worse than a judge who is neither god-fearing nor interested in human welfare?
Jesus then adds a second character, simply, “A widow.” What would this have meant to the crowd. A widow represented the complete lack of authority. Powerlessness. The term widow even implies that she was poor.
This doesn’t look good – a person with perhaps the lowest standing in their society seeking justice from a judge who is indifferent to human suffering.
In the Jewish court system of Jesus’ day, there were no public defenders or district attorneys. If you had a grievance against someone, you had to come before a judge and plead your case yourself, trusting that justice would be done and the law would be upheld.
But what if the judge doesn’t care. What if he just can’t be bothered to hear the case of a widow, a disenfranchised person if there ever was one? Who cares what happens to her? Indeed many in their society would sooner look the other way than to grant her justice.
Jesus goes very quickly to the interpretation and application of this brief parable. If an unjust judge will grant justice to a poor widow who bugs him, how much more will God, who is the just judge, grant justice to all of us, his children, who cry out to him?
Haven’t we all cried out to God at one time or another? We cry out if at no other time then in the prayers we offer each Sunday – we pray for the welfare and peace of the world. We pray that justice be done on the earth. We pray for the sick and the dying. We ask much of God.
And yet, are our prayers always answered? Are they always answered to our liking?
Sometimes it seems God is not listening. Sometimes God may even seem unjust or indifferent. Yet how does Jesus seem to respond to this problem – have faith. “God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
We pray. We ask God. We seek justice. Then what do we do? Do we sit on our hands? Do we go about our normal lives as if we had never prayed?
What did the widow do? She was persistent. She came before the judge continually until she received justice. So what does that mean for us? Should we just pray until something happens, until it seems that God has heard us?
What is this faith Jesus is looking for at the end of the reading? I believe that both here and for us faith is not just belief that God has heard our prayers but faith is also the willingness to act as if God has answered our prayers.
If someone we love is sick, we don’t simply pray, and then sit back and wait for the miracle. No, we take care of the sick one. We treat them as if they will indeed get better. Our actions are those of people with faith, not helpless, passive victims.
What of justice? Do we see the injustice in the world, dash off a quick prayer and wonder why God isn’t doing anything about it? Perhaps faith here means that we ourselves should do something about it.
Unlike the widow in the parable, I dare say no one in this room is as disenfranchised as she. None of us is truly powerless. This is one of the blessings of our democracy. Certainly, there persist barriers to groups that traditionally have been disenfranchised, whether due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and so forth. And yet, in the history of our country how many times have we seen these groups, the marginalized, organize themselves and demand justice. Who among us cannot take action to help bring about justice in our land?
Commitment to justice takes great faith, perhaps the very faith of which Jesus is speaking. Be persistent in our asking, but act like God is answering our prayers.
We as a faith community ask things from God. We pray that our parish ministries will show great fruit. We pray for the sick in our midst. We pray for the students of Virginia Tech. We pray for the parishes and clergy of the diocese and the world. But we do not follow up our prayers by apathy and indifference – at least I hope we don’t.
We visit the sick. We do outreach with students. We strengthen our ties with other parishes. We continue to do God’s work of justice in the New River Valley and beyond.
In order to keep this up, we need persistence. We need to support each other, through prayer and giving of our finances, our time and our skills. When one of us is down, this community needs to gather around that person or family and encourage them. We need each other.
Just as the widow in the parable kept her faith, and asked believe that she would receive justice, so we must keep our faith alive – our faith in the people of this parish and our faith in the mission of this parish.
I think our very successful capital campaign is proof that the people of Christ Church do have faith, and our annual giving stewardship drive is another way that we show our faith in this community. We have faith enough to vote, as it were, for another year of our mission and our life together. It shows your support, but it also shows your faith, your belief in the future.
We keep coming back. We keep giving of our time, talent and treasure. This is how we can be like the persistent widow. And we know the character of the God we worship and serve. God is not deaf. God does not need to be blackmailed like the boy in the story though. God is ready to do good works. It is part of God’s character. Therefore we do good works in response to God’s character and in anticipation for what is to come.
We see injustice. We work to correct it. We know there is pain and evil in the world, but we must not lose hope. We must keep praying, keep serving, keep giving. We know that God is good and that truly God, the just judge, does hear our prayers.