Sermon – October 20, 2019 – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christ the Same

So, we have a couple of the usual suspects in our lesson today from Luke.  When judges come up in the New Testament context it’s usually in a negative fashion, so this guy is no exception. He is self-described as one who does not fear God and doesn’t care about people, so our expectations for him are low. Coming before him persistently and ceaselessly, is a widow. She is petitioning for something, it could be justice, but the Greek word could alsbo be vengeance. Because the judge doesn’t care about people, he doesn’t care about this widow either, but nevertheless she wears him down and he grants her her request. Kind of a funky parable, because we’re not sure what it means exactly. The most common interpretation is that if Mr. Jughead of a judge can be persuaded to hear the voice of the widow, how much more will God be inclined to acknowledge us and answer our prayers.

So, the parable is introduced as an admonition to pray always and not give up hope.

We spent a good deal of time in our Wednesday night Bible study trying to parse this parable out wondering about the motives of the widow.  We were clear about the incompetence of the judge but a little uncertain as to the direction the parable would take us. For the full discussion of Wednesday night, I’ll sell you the video for 19.95, but after all of our conversation I think I’m going to go with the conventional interpretation of this text.

It has been one of the key invitations, in fact one of the key directions and I would add one of the key gifts of the salvation story that we are called to encounter God in prayer. It is the narrative of our praise and thanksgiving, it is the petitions that result from our fear or shame or pain, it is the expression of our wonder. Prayer. Conversation with God. I don’t care much for the idea that we have to beat on God’s door all day long for God to hear us, I think God hears us the first time. I will leave that out there is one of those things we wonder about. What we take away, I hope, is the reminder that this conversation is always open to us, and that God will not be like the worst of humanity which does not fear God nor respect people. But instead is a God who has claimed us as God’s people and is eager for this conversation.

Here’s another question. Why should we care whether or not this widow gets hurt? What difference does it make in the course of the universe that one unlucky lady gets taken for a ride and nobody intervenes on her behalf? How could this possibly affect the business that we are about today?  Why does this matter?

Well, I think it matters because we know better. We know that it is wrong to take advantage of the unfortunate. We know that it is wrong to turn our backs on the poor and needy and the vulnerable. We know that we are accountable to one another, and that our actions on behalf of each other is what sustains our communities. And how do we know this? We know this because someone taught us. We know this that because this story is interwoven into our own story. We know this but because it is important across the arc of our community’s history that we share such things, teach them and learn them, integrate them into our lives and then share them in our turn. That’s how it works, whether you’re raising your children or maintaining a Christian community like St. Matthew. We have a story for which we are accountable, we have a community into which we have been baptized and with whom we share this day and the days to come, and we have a past legacy to honor and to continue to carry forward.

My mom died last week and what we have done during her process of dying and in the days since is tell the stories of her life, recall the gifts and the moments and without whipping out the Bible and swearing on it we are accepting are responsibity for her legacy. Bruce Carroll died this week as well, beloved saint of this church, and we will tell the stories in the coming days where we have been touched and led and how he helped to sustain this community.  Look down at your feet now, and remind yourself that you are standing on the shoulders of such people who are part of the Communion of Saints whose faith and perseverance and love help to bring us to this day, sitting around wondering about this story.

We may carry out of the sanctuary today the encouragement to pray always, or we might walk out wondering what the heck that widow was up to really, or might even walk out wondering who is the unjust judge in our context today. And I hope we do so with the understanding that this is part of our narrative, part of our story, part of our family history… That we would hear, and wonder, and talk, and integrate these words of Jesus into our present-day reality.  and I hope that we do so with the understanding that the spirit of Jesus is in the midst of our wondering in our conversations and the steps we take from here.

This is how our communities are formed and sustained and stewarded from generation to generation. Writer of Hebrews anticipated that communities would experience change and wonder where Christ is in the midst of them, and his answer is that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This is the theme of our stewardship campaign this year, a call to remember our past, be accountable for our present, and prepare the way for our future. And, I think, to do so with the joy and the sense of privilege that is ours as a community for the responsibility and the challenge to do so.

So for today let’s remember who shoulders we stand on, who told us the stories, who passed it on, who helps us struggle with sometimes difficult stories from Jesus teaching, and then let’s covenant to honor that past by our commitment to the present into the future.

I have been privileged to be a part of this congregation’s recent past and current present and I’ll have more to say about that next week, but we are partners in this ministry as is the person to your left into your right, as are the saints who have achieved the church triumphant, and as are the two children whom we will baptize this weekend. Partners, disciples, church.

Our church. Our time. Our great gift.

Thanks be to God

Amen