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    Oct 16, 2016

    Strength of Purpose

    Strength of Purpose

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Faith

    Keywords: faith, hope, justice, persistence, calling

    When we are paralyzed by the overwhelming struggles of the world, remember the widow. Remember her as God – persistently calling us to the work for which we are created. Take hope in the voice that continues, that doesn’t quit. Be a drumbeat for God’s just ways; a drumbeat of reconciliation and service. Be a drumbeat of presence – presence to the widows, the orphans, the outcasts, the lonely, the prisoners, the victims, the sick, the dying. And be God’s persistent voice of the kingdom come in all the courtrooms of your life.

    My grandson Aidan looked up from where he was quietly playing. He saw me hang up the dish towel to dry and he knew my kitchen work was done. He reminded me of the good news I had said earlier. “Remember Grandma, you said we would go to the park when you were through with the dishes?”

    Remember grandma, you said…; remember daddy, you said…; remember teacher, you said. Children never forget the news told to them, especially good news.

    “Remember Jesus, you said…” Such words must have been on the hearts of the disciples as they travelled this last piece of their journey to Jerusalem. Tensions were rising as Jesus’ teachings about God’s kingdom were more and more pronounced. They could read the tea leaves; something big was about to happen. In their hearts they knew it was time; surely now God was to intervene. From their tradition, from their scripture, from their prayers, they knew what that will be. Jesus was the Messiah – the kingdom of David was the kingdom come. But Jesus’ teachings were challenging their tradition, their scripture and their prayers. And now, with all that they see, they needed to know this was good news.

    Like us, the people of Israel lived their lives based on a hope of the time of God. Theirs was a deep longing for a time when they weren’t oppressed, when justice would roll like waters, when there was another David who would bring a lasting peace to their land. They longed for that change. So much was wrong in their time. They were ruled by others who brought a certain peace, an oppressive Roman peace. And their religious tradition taught a binding law so they would be righteous enough. Jesus was unbinding the law so surely he would break open the Roman rule. But what did this good news look like?

    Maybe Jesus sensed their uneasiness. So he offers another parable for mind play as they continue the journey. But like the smooth water on a calm lake, there’s a lot more going on than what the eye can see. “…there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people”– those first words would have made them sit up a little straighter. Israel’s judges were to judge on God’s behalf. With this parable we are out of the fields and the farms and the places of daily living and are into the place of God’s justice. Jesus is setting the stage for some serious teaching. And with the widow in the picture, we are certain God’s justice is front and center. God’s justice commanded care for widows and orphans. A judge who didn’t fear God or God’s people sets up a confrontation with God’s justice. A widow standing before someone who doesn’t see an unjust system, is the smallest cog among thousands of small cogs, she can break and the wheel can still turn. Now this isn’t a parable about the squeaky wheel getting the grease. And this isn’t a fable that lifts persistence in prayer as a virtue. This is a parable about living with a deep longing.

    Prayer can be a very loaded word. Too often we think of prayer as an asking. “Please pray for me, I’m having a tough time.” “Dear God, I got some bad news today.” “Thank you God for all the blessings you have given me.” “Dear God, please don’t let that candidate win…” But intercessory prayer isn’t Jesus’ focus; his focus is on the heart of God and the hope in our hearts.

    The disciples were walking a path of hope on their God – the one with whom they would often wrestle. If Jesus is God – would they need to worry about Jerusalem? So it’s on to Jerusalem and somehow, some way, God’s kingdom will be realized. Jesus knows where this road is leading. No wonder he worries if he will find faith on earth. So he says, guys, think about this a minute. Isn’t God much more than this unjust judge?

    The world is scary at times. Our lives are vulnerable. So our human hearts seek a superhero God who makes the road smooth for us. We want a God who will respond to us. At times we want a God to just make things better. The disciples were approaching just that time. And so were the people Luke knew. When Luke was crafting his orderly account, Jerusalem was in ruins, the temple destroyed. Jesus said he was with them to the end of the word. Jesus said he would soon come again. Jesus said, they remembered. It was time for God to put away the dish towel and turn to the ones waiting on the promise.

    I look around and wonder the same things sometimes. We try to be a faithful people and yet at times we wonder what good it does us. We believe in God with the expectation that this will make a difference. But sometimes we all wonder. We can see the hurricanes approaching, we can see what they leave behind. We can see wars, famine, terrorists. And the next day we see them again. Or more. My faith gets discouraged by the injustice of the world and I wonder, God, if you don’t come back soon, will any of us have faith? Will my faith remain when I can’t see things changing around me? The same people come for lunch or for dinner. Jobs don’t match the skills of the laborers. Some find it easier to just give up. Catastrophic diseases strike at our heart. We wrestle with God and we get what – leaders like Jacob? One who schemes, who is deceitful and who himself gets deceived? Where is more of the story of Esau?

    So I think about this persistent voice of the widow. She shouldn’t even be in that courtroom. Widows have no say in public. They have lost everything with the death of their spouse. If there is a son, she is his responsibility. If there is no son, her husband’s family takes her in. If there is neither of these, she begs on the streets. But not in court. Maybe that’s her claim – where are the “boys” in her time of need? In any case, there she is, day after day, like summer gnats that just keep swirling. Her continued presence in the courtroom might bring unwanted attention.

    And others might also look for God’s justice here. Persistence and God’s justice; Persistence and God’s kingdom come. I wonder. After all, Jesus has been calling the disciples, calling all his followers, and all he encounters, to the life of the kingdom. Remember Jesus said to pray for God’s kingdom come. Remember Jesus said “Love God, love neighbor” was the way of the kingdom.

    When we are paralyzed by the overwhelming struggles of the world, remember the widow. Remember her as God – persistently calling us to the work for which we are created. Take hope in the voice that continues, that doesn’t quit. Be a drumbeat for God’s just ways; a drumbeat of reconciliation and service. Be a drumbeat of presence – presence to the widows, the orphans, the outcasts, the lonely, the prisoners, the victims, the sick, the dying. And be God’s persistent voice of the kingdom come in all the courtrooms of your life.

    Like the people of Epiphany past – like those who heard God’s call to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Like Bill Trakas and Nancy Overcash and others who started a food pantry and a support group. They heard voices express a need for a service for those who had died from this dreaded disease. They needed such because some were calling their deaths as part of God’s justice. And then others at Epiphany reminded us about other catastrophic illnesses and asked to put their loved ones deaths also in the context of worship; where we witness that death is not the end but bound up in God’s life and God’s grace.

    God’s persistent voice will someday be the whole story. For this generation of God’s people – take heart. Jesus is in the courtrooms of our lives, persistently pleading God’s case. Listen for the hope that is pleading for you. And be aware – God’s grace will cause you to act – even if you are just a widow. You know Mrs. Wilson, Betty’s mother-in-law, was only a widow. And she couldn’t do much. But she could make spaghetti sauce. And so her sauce filled the food pantry. Her voice carried God’s love to another. Let’s be not the church of the Epiphany – let’s be an Epiphany. Let’s manifest God’s love to the world together and through each’s own unique call.

    Let us pray.

    Holy Spirit of God, we plead our case. Help orient all our actions toward your kingdom. May every prayer be both word and action that begins in you and through you helps us envision God’s kingdom for the world to see. Amen.