Proper 24c, Oct 20, 2013

October 21, 2013

Highest Level Negotiations
Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don’t know, but I’m guessing that more people watched, read, or listened to the news over the past two weeks than is normally the case. We’ve had some intense political drama in Washington, and checking in on the news has been a little bit like tuning in to a mini-series with elements of the Jerry Springer Show. Each side of the political aisle has done it’s best to characterize the other side as unreasonable and unconcerned with the welfare of the nation, and many of the American people have come away from this bad show convinced that there isn’t enough concern for the welfare of the nation by either side. I’m trying to be fair and balanced here, but I wasn’t an impartial watcher of this painful drama.

My problem with our new healthcare system is that it doesn’t go far enough to provide adequate and affordable healthcare for all Americans. The fact that we have anything in place to provide for the most marginalized people in the nation is a testimony to the power of a poor badgering widow. I think there are some parallels between the dishonest judge in our text this morning and some powerful interest groups who have done everything they can to keep resources flowing to the top. It took a lot of badgering to get what we’ve got, and apparently it’s going to take a lot more badgering on behalf of poor people to keep it in place.

This world is a messy place, and this morning’s parable is a good illustration of how this world functions – on a good day. The power-brokers of this world don’t generally wake up and try to figure out how to make life more bearable for people who don’t have access to adequate resources and basic necessities. And it’s a rare day when the dishonest judges of this world give in to the demands of poor people for justice.

For some reason Jesus was speaking up for the dishonest judges of the world. The judge in this parable doesn’t exactly come across as the hero of this story, but he reacted to this badgering widow in an uncommonly good way. It would have been easier for me to imagine this dishonest judge telling one of his minions to do whatever they needed to do to get rid of her.

In fact that is what I consider to be the surprise in this parable. This dishonest judge didn’t do what would be expected of a judge who had no regard for God or for other humans. I would have expected such a judge to silence her in a more permanent fashion.

But Jesus told this parable to illustrate the power of communication. The truth this woman spoke was so strong it moved this dishonest judge to go against his nature and to grant her justice. And Jesus goes on to make the point that if a dishonest judge can be so moved by persistent appeal for justice then how much more responsive God is to our earnest appeals. And that’s a fine thing to hear. I guess I’m comforted to hear Jesus say that God is more responsive to our pleas for justice than is a dishonest judge.

But honestly I don’t find that to be very comforting. Being more responsive than a dishonest judge is not a very high bar. Most people are more responsive to the plea of a poor widow than is a dishonest judge. And when I think of people who have been pleading for years with God and everyone else to grant them justice it makes me wonder what Jesus was really wanting us to know when he told this parable.

Because this parable doesn’t really answer the question that gives me trouble. If God is so much more responsive than a dishonest judge to those who earnestly badger for justice, why is there so much injustice remaining in the world?

I wish Jesus was providing us with a dependable formula for generating justice on earth, but I don’t think that’s what he was doing for us in this parable. I think he is providing some good advice in regard to the way we deal with dishonest judges in this world – I think it’s good policy to hound the leaders of this world to grant justice. And it’s equally important to go to God with all of our troubles and concerns, but if you only do it to get the results you think you deserve you are going to be disappointed.

In this parable Jesus is clearly addressing the importance of prayer, and he indicates there is power in prayer, but this passage ends with a piercing question – And yet, when the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?

And with that question I think he is identifying the location where prayer has the most power and influence. Prayer changes the outcome of the struggles that occur within our own hearts. Prayer is the exercise of faith. It’s what we do when we are worn out from badgering self-serving politicians and inhuman corporations.
It’s what people of faith can’t help but do when justice is denied, and hopes are dashed.

I’ve mentioned in previous sermons about my involvement in the Tuesday Morning Men’s Study Group, that meets at 1st UMC here in Little Rock. I’ve also made reference to the book we are currently reading, The Case For God, by Karen Armstrong. We’ve been reading this book for a long time because it is a very dense book. I never would have read this book if I didn’t feel the need to actually read the material before I share my opinions about it. But I’m glad I’ve had this discipline imposed upon me because it has been an education for me. This book has given me better insight in to the various ways God has been understood and portrayed throughout the centuries.

One of the large themes within the book is the way in which scientific discovery has interacted with theological concepts. And of course that hasn’t always gone so well. Sometimes people try to use science to try to prove things about God – other groups try to define God in ways that defy scientific logic and discovery. And of course a lot of people have been punished, tortured, and killed along the historical theological path.

This book is somewhat chronological, and we just finished reading the next to the last chapter which brough us in to the 20th Century, and of course you can’t talk about the case for God without looking at what happened to the Jews in Germany in the early half of the 20th century. While Hitler did a good job of coopting the national church in Germany for his purposes, the truth is his movement wasn’t really built around an image of God. He pretty much used the idol of German nationalism to galvanize the masses to give him the power he needed to carry out his godless agenda. Armstrong pointed out that one historic understanding of hell is as a place where God is absent, and in some ways the German death camps were the very embodiment of what life is like when regard for God is eliminated.

But many of the people who were imprisoned in those hellish camps were very Godly people. And of course it was nearly impossible for them to reconcile what they believed about God with what they were experiencing in life. How could God allow this to happen? Armstrong shared an anecdote about some Jews who gathered to put God on trial for the great tragedy that was occurring in Germany. They concluded that if God was omnipotent God could have prevented the holocaust. If God was unable to stop the evil agenda of the Nazi’s God must be impotent. And if God could have stopped the Nazi’s and chose not to God is a monster.

The rabbi who was presiding over the mock trial found God guilty and sentenced God to death. Immediately after announcing the verdict he dismissed the trial and then calmly said it was time for evening prayers.

Prayer isn’t logical. It’s not the language of the mind – it’s the language of the heart. It’s the exercise of faith, and it’s what we do when we can’t do anything else. It’s also what can guide our actions if we will be diligent in our practice of this spiritual exercise. Prayer enables us to become sensitive to the promptings of God’s holy spirit. And it’s this Holy Spirit that sustains us when we are in impossibly difficult places and propels us when opportunity arises.

God is more responsive than a dishonest judge, but God doesn’t operate with the same tools that are available to people. Through prayer, God is able to work on our hearts, and stir our souls. I give thanks to God that our wellbeing isn’t dependent upon the negotiations that take place between officials in Washington. Our hope rests with God and the peace that God can place in our hearts regardless of what may develop on Earth.

We don’t need to stop badgering the dishonest judges of our day to grant justice and to do it now, but thank God we have a more sensitive ear in which to speak. It is to God that we can go with all of our concerns, failures, fears, and desires, and it is from God that we can receive the most profound sense of relief, reassurance, courage, and hope.

And thanks be to God for that.

Let us pray.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: