October 20, 2019 – The 19th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24C
© 2019 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here. Video of the entire service can be seen here.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples a parable, but, even before he gets a word out, Luke interprets it for us, letting us know that Jesus is trying to encourage his disciples “to pray always and not to lose heart.” Maybe Luke felt that tip was necessary because the story Jesus uses to get his point across relies on an all-too-familiar image that isn’t very encouraging at all.
“In a certain city,” Jesus said, “there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” How many times throughout the centuries have the children of God faced judges or rulers who have ignored their cries for justice? How often has a vulnerable person like that widow been powerless to get the relief she deserved because the person who could grant it didn’t care about her or about doing what was right? Yet, Jesus tells us, because of her persistence, because the judge was afraid of being worn out by her constant requests, not because he was persuaded by her but because he wanted to be rid of her annoyance, the judge granted her request.
And what is Jesus trying to teach us about God and prayer? That our God is nothing like that unjust judge. That even though God’s people know all too well the challenge of getting justice in this world, they should have hope because our God is a loving God, because our God is a faithful God. Even though the powers of this world may be stacked against them, God’s children who cry out day and night will be granted justice without delay because our God is a righteous God. We pray, therefore, not to convince God to help us or to annoy God until God grants our prayers but because we know that our God has promised to hear us and to deliver us. Jesus tells us this parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart, so why, O God, are your people still waiting?
If God is nothing like the unjust judge, then why haven’t the cries of God’s people been heard? If God yearns to grant relief to those who suffer, then why has God so often failed to act? Why are children starving? Why are people persecuted for their race, their gender, their sexuality, or their religion? Why are war and genocide flaring up yet again? Why do people suffer in every generation?
Maybe it’s because our understanding of God’s timing is limited—because we don’t know what “quickly” means in God’s mind. Or maybe it’s because the early Christian community didn’t know how long it would be before the Son of Man would come to bring all of God’s promises to fulfillment—because they thought it would only be a generation or two before all things would be brought to an end. But I think it’s mostly because Christians like us—disciples of Jesus who come from relatively privileged backgrounds—have the luxury of waiting on Jesus to come back and fix all of the injustices that plague God’s people instead of insisting that those who carry on in Jesus’ name do something about it themselves.
“When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus asks. Well, will he? What will our response to this parable be? What does a faithful response look like? We do have hope that Jesus will come back one day and bring God’s justice fully to the earth, but the hope and good news that we have to share with others is more than a far-off dream. If we believe in Jesus, if we will take him at his word, then we must be sure that God’s justice comes to those who cry out day and night more quickly than the Parousia. We must bear witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the assurance God has given us that we can afford to risk everything in order that the voiceless might be heard, that the oppressed might be set free, and that the suffering might be liberated. We can afford to risk all that we have because we know that nothing can defeat the resurrection power of God. We who have been born into privilege, who have access to the courts of justice, who are heard and respected by people in positions of power, who have the resources necessary to ensure our own security, must be stewards of that privilege by lending our voice to those who are silenced, our power to those who have been shut out by the powerful, and our resources to those who must endure without them.
Isn’t that the work of our church? Isn’t that what it means to be a part of what God is doing in and through St. Paul’s? We have been given a message of hope, and we have accepted Jesus’ call to carry that message out into the world in both word and deed. We know that God’s reign will come, and we have a hope that lies beyond this life, but we also know that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s reign of justice is coming through us here and now. Our Justice for All program is advocating for the fair and humane treatment of those who are in jail, and our sanctuary ministry is giving voice to the silent strangers among us, reminding the world that they, too, are loved by God. Community Meals not only provides food to those who do not have enough, but it looks with dignity upon those who have been marginalized by our society. Out of this congregation, 7Hills Homeless Center and Magdalene Serenity House were born because we believe that God’s loving promise of hope and justice belong to all people not only in the eschaton but also here and now.
And still God’s people are crying out day and night because the work of justice is not finished—because there is still more for God and God’s people to do. And what is Jesus’ message to us? Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Don’t stop praying. Jesus has given us a glimpse of what God’s reign looks like when it comes to the earth, and, in Jesus’ resurrection, God has given us the power to manifest that reign here and now. If you are a part of this church, you are a part of that work. Give yourself to it again and again until our savior comes. And, when he comes, he will find faith here on earth.