“Persistence” by Keith. Proper 24C. Preached 10/17/10

Texts for preaching:  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and Luke 18:1-8

            One of the things I’ve learned about having our now 3 year old is that he can be very persistent.  I think every grocery store in town, plus a few other stores, have gumball machines hidden off in the corner.  Lucas seems to have a sixth sense in finding the gumball machines and an uncanny memory in remembering which stores have them.  He even seems to remember what color the last one was he got from a particular machine.  And when we have to go to a store that he knows has a gumball machine, he will remind mom and dad that they need to bring along a quarter.  One day at the grocery store, we made our way to the gumball machine, and I helped Lucas put the quarter in and turn the knob, and turn the knob, and turn the knob.  Something was broke in the mechanism, not broke enough to give us our quarter back, but broke enough that the quarter dropped and the handle just kept on turning and turning, never stopping, but most importantly, not giving us our gumball.  After about the 10th turn, a quick shake and a hit, I told Lucas we wouldn’t be getting a gumball that day.  There wasn’t another machine, and I didn’t have another quarter.  But he kept turning the handle and he just couldn’t be pulled away.  He knew that it was when the turning stopped, that’s when the gumball dropped.  He just knew he had to keep turning it.  And if he stopped and left, he just wouldn’t get what he was waiting for, his gumball.

            In today’s passage, we get introduced to the concept of persistence in prayer.  The main characters are a dishonest judge and a widow.  Like the parable of the unjust steward, Jesus uses a person we are not to use for an example of godly living.  This judge hated dealing with people and he hated God.  He was the kind of person who would have reached right in and taken that gumball from a three year old when it came falling out of the dispenser without hesitation.  He gave the title of judge a bad name.

            And showing up in his courtroom was a widow who needed justice and had nothing.  She has no husband, no children, no money, no power, and no standing in the community.  Well, ok, she did have one thing.  She had the power to pest, to annoy.  In his courtroom, she would stand in the corner chanting, “Give me justice!”  Outside his chamber doors, “Give me justice!  Give me justice!”  On his way to the country club, “Give me justice!  Give me justice!  Give me justice!”  And even standing outside of his house at night she hounded him with her chant, “Give me justice!” 

            And her cries for justice finally wear him out.  He says to himself, “I don’t care about justice and I don’t care about this old women and her problem.  But I am tired of her nagging.  I have to get rid of her.”  The Greek literally means he has to grant her justice before she comes and slaps him in the face.

            Now, this passage starts off with the rational for Jesus to tell this parable.  In a world where Jesus knew they would experience persecution almost daily, the disciples were to pray always and not to lose heart.  They are to be persistent pray-ers.  And the reason, we find out, is we have a persistent God.  Jesus uses a literary technique knows as “from the lesser to the greater.”  We might paraphrase his question to something like this: “If an unjust judge can grant justice in response to badgering, how much more will God grant justice to those who cry out day and night?”  The good news that we find in the biblical witness is about God’s persistent, unshakeable everlasting love for us and for all of creation.  Because of our brokenness and sinful nature, we deserve God’s condemnation and justice.  But it is also because of God’s persistent love that God took on that condemnation in Christ so that we might find peace with God.  We can trust that this God who loves us will also bring about justice.  God hears our prayers, we can be sure of that, even as we cry out day and night, and even though we do not see any results yet.   We can and do grow impatient and sometimes loosing heart.  Fred Craddock put it this way:  “All we know in the life of prayer is asking, seeking, knocking and waiting, trust sometimes fainting, sometimes growing angry.”[1]

            And it is here where the persistence of the faithful, our persistence, enters the picture.  Because we know of and experience God’s persistent love in Christ, we try anew everyday, no matter how hard it is, to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”  Praying is hard work, especially while we look around and see the brokenness of the world, while we live here between Christ’s first and second coming.  Our Peacemaker, Brenda Trinidad, shared the horrific news of the thousands of women who have been murdered or are missing in northern Mexico.  We read the papers and watch the news and see stories of abuse and neglect of the young and the old.  We cry out “Justice!” even why we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”  Our crying out for justice means hopefully trusting in God, and not in ourselves. 

            The widow kept coming to the judge for justice, hoping against all odds, persistent, determined, and relentless.  We keep praying for justice, hoping against all odds, persistent, determined and relentless.  We do this not because we are good Christians or that we possess such a strong and great faith, but the Holy Spirit has given us the courage to do so, to pray without ceasing in a broken and fearful world.  The widow in the parable also represents the Spirit’s incessant work of encouraging us to pray for justice, the Spirit’s nagging persistence and unrelenting perseverance.  We cannot bring justice to this broken world, but through the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and in our prayers, God uses us to be instruments of justice, working for justice and peace until that time when Christ comes again to judge the world with his love.

Seminary professor Tom Long shares the story of when Mother Teresa went to visit Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington criminal lawyer.[2] He was a powerful lawyer. He at one time owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles and he was the lawyer for Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, among others. Evan Thomas’s biography of Williams tells the story about when Mother Teresa visited Williams because she was raising money for an AIDS hospice. Williams was in charge of a small charitable foundation that she hoped would help. Before she arrived for the appointment, Williams said to his partner, Paul Dietrich, “You know, Paul, AIDS is not my favorite disease. I don’t really want to make a contribution, but I’ve got this Catholic saint coming to see me, and I don’t know what to do.” Well, they agreed that they would be polite, hear her out, but then say no.

Well, Mother Teresa arrived. She was a little sparrow sitting on the other side of the big mahogany lawyer’s desk. She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We’re touched by your appeal, but no.” Mother Teresa said simply, “Let us pray.” Williams looked at Dietrich; they bowed their heads and after the prayer, Mother Teresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice. Again Williams politely said no. Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.” Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling, “All right, all right, get me my checkbook!”

            The moral of the parable is to pray always and don’t lose heart.  Maybe Jesus wants us to be a little feisty in our prayer life, persistently ringing the doorbell of heaven’s doors.  But deeper than that it is a parable about God and God’s love and justice.  It’s a parable about God’s love for us.  If a poor widow with no standing can finally win her justice from a dishonorable judge, how much more will we–God’s own children, the loved and known by the one who knew us from the very beginning—find a God who will hear and answer our prayers for justice in a broken world.

[1] Craddock, Luke (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 210.


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