Filed under: Sermons
This morning we read the parable of the persistent widow from the Gospel of Luke. The widow’s tenacious, annoying persistence finally wears down the judge who doesn’t want to hear her case. I can easily imagine the annoyance she caused.
Pastor Jeff and I have a year and a half old black lab. Over the past year, he’s mellowed out quite a bit. No more tugging my pants down, or attacking my sweatshirt sleeves. Sure, if you see us on a walk, you might see him attacking his leash, but I think that’s an improvement. Recently, he’s been trying out the persistence thing on us.
It happens right about 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Our house is quiet, lunch is finished, and Pastor Jeff and I are exhausted after the morning and ready for a nap. Iggy’s been quietly sleeping at our feet, but just as he notices we’re ready to relax, he gets up, sits in front of us, stares, and barks. Loud. And repeatedly. His persistence means he wants a walk. Since his persistence prevents us from getting the nap we want, he usually wins and gets his walk.
The persistence Jesus is talking about is unrelenting: constant and consistent. The widow’s persistence annoys the judge and may also be causing him to be shamed. Even though the judge is described as one who doesn’t care about God or the opinion of his fellows, it seems that this widow is bruising his reputation too much to be ignored. She is trying to call him to do his job. An Israelite judge has a God-mandated job to act with justice and to be especially mindful of the needs of the widow, orphan, and alien, those classes which were most vulnerable in their society. This judge hasn’t cared much about his job. The only reason he ends up caring about this widow is her persistence. Because she keep bothering the judge, he eventually hears her case and grants her justice.
Jesus tells this parable to his disciples, hoping they will learn its lesson, and preparing them to face the difficult times he knows will be coming. Jesus is looking forward to his death. He knows that at that time, his disciples will gather in fear, will be uncertain what to do, and will be persecuted and in danger. In the midst of dangerous and fearful times, Jesus wants them to persist, to continue to look to God for help. Jesus wants the disciples to never give up in their faith, no matter how hopeless their situation seems.
Do you ever feel like you’re in the midst of a hopeless situation? What difficult times are we living in now?
As a congregation, we’ve faced the deaths of many of our loved ones. We fear for the continuation of our congregation and our community, as attendance and population continue to decline. We worry about the kind of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in. We are uncertain about our relationship with our own church, the ELCA.
Jesus tells us to not lose heart.
In the face of hardship, fear, and injustice, Jesus invites us to continue praying. When it looks like God isn’t doing anything or that our situation is too much for God to handle, Jesus invites us to continue praying. It’s not an exercise in futility, but an exercise in persistence. We do not persist in pestering God without hope, but we continue to pray because God will answer.
We learn about how God acts from this parable. God is good, loving, and merciful. God cares about us much more than the unjust judge cares about the widow. So then, if the unjust judge will eventually listen to the widow’s complaint, God will listen to and act on our prayers that much more!
This doesn’t mean that difficult times and injustice will not be present in our world. This parable is about our persisting in faith despite the difficult reality, persisting even though it doesn’t look like God has the power to bring life or justice to the situation we are in. We continue to look to God to act in our world, even as we continually pray about the brokenness of the world around us. This parable was to prepare the disciples for the difficult times ahead. It reassures us that God is just and loving, and will act to heal us and the world.
This parable also uncovers some of God’s priorities. Throughout the Bible, and in Jesus’ ministry, God is deeply concerned for the well-fare of those without power: widows, orphans, immigrants, and outsiders. We tend to think of God’s care for us as individuals, but much of Scripture is about God’s care for a whole community, a whole people. God’s care and God’s justice is for those we may not always think about, or care about, ourselves.
As we enter into prayer, we should spend some time reflecting on if our prayers for change in the world, for God’s action, are in line with God’s preference for the poor and powerless. Are we remembering those for whom God wants to act? Or do we only remember ourselves? Are we opening our ears to hear the ways God may be answering our prayers by calling us to act with justice, to care for the poor, the homeless, and the immigrant?
Pastor Jeff and I have heard you’re sick of hearing the call to mission. We keep sharing this call because we feel the need to be like the persistent widow, continually reminding you of your God-given job to bring justice to a broken world. Maybe it’s hard to hear because you feel helpless to do anything that makes a difference in the world. But joining God in God’s life-giving mission is not beyond your ability to do. It’s doing the things you’re already a part of: feeding the poor, caring for the elderly, visiting the sick and grieving. It’s living your daily lives with a recognition that God has given you all you have, and seeking to share your life and resources with those in need.
When Jesus tells his disciples this parable, he is about to give his very life away. He will be betrayed, suffer, and die on a cross. As he faces his death, he reminds the disciples to pray and not to lose heart. Jesus is steadfastly turned onto his path, and wants the disciples to remain steadfast in their trust in God, no matter the dangers of the path following Jesus. Jesus’ death is not a reason to lose heart and lose faith. In sacrificing himself, Jesus will give unending, irrevocable, restoring life to the world. In his death, he conquers death and gives life abundantly.
We who fear the death of our church and our community would do well to look to Jesus. He enters death with a goal of giving himself away for the life of the world. Rather than being destroyed, or swallowed up by death forever, Jesus is raised from the dead. He receives life, and also gives that life to the world. If we look towards the possibility of our own death and do not lose heart, but persist in our trust in God, we may find God’s gift of new life. If we look for ways to be like Jesus here and now, giving our lives away for the sake of a world in need, we will experience resurrection.
Jesus calls us to persist in faith in the midst of difficult times. The disciples will face difficult times when Jesus dies. We hear that their fear causes them to lock themselves up in a room. But Jesus comes to them, to release them from their fear. Jesus sends them out to share the good news of God’s love for all people. Even then, they face difficult times. Many are scorned, many are persecuted, many are martyred. But they persist in faith. Today, we are in the midst of difficult times. Will we persist in faith, trusting that God will hear and answer us?
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