22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:1-8

First a confession: I found this a hard parable because it starts out being about prayer and not losing heart, then goes on to a story about justice, and ends with a question about faith. Truthfully I was having a little trouble connecting the dots, so I did what any lost preacher does, and looked up some children’s sermons on the internet. Preaching a message to children is a wonderful way to distill all the details down to the essentials—usually. Unfortunately, the examples I found all had the same basic message: if you really really want something you should keep asking , just like you do with your parents, because God wants to give us good things just like our parents do and (I quote) God “likes to hear us ask again and again.”

I’m sorry but that just doesn’t work for me because it seems to set up the precedent for “holy whining,” and seems to validate the theology that if I don’t give up, God will do what I want.

So, let’s start with the obvious. Jesus wants his disciples to know about their need to pray always and that it’s important not to lose heart, to not give up. Then he tells a parable. Now remember that a parable is not a metaphor or an allegory. It is a story meant to reveal something to us about how the Kingdom of God operates.

That being said, there is a widow who has somehow been wronged and needs justice, she goes to a judge, but that judge is a man who neither fears God nor respects people. Thus her chances are not good. But she believes, dare we say, has the faith to know, that she deserves justice. Fueled by that faith she refuses to accept the judge’s dismissal and keeps coming back to him. Now the widow does not convince the judge that her case is righteous—he still doesn’t care. She does however wear him down with her persistence, and for that reason alone, he grants her justice.

This reminds me a little of when Jesus asked earlier, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?  Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus asks his disciples the same kind of question here: “…will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

In both cases, Jesus acknowledges this truth:
If we can obtain good things from people and places that are not deemed good; then,
Imagine how much better/more perfect/holier will be the good gifts given by God.

That’s the difference I would want both our children and us to get, that God does desire to give us good gifts for our well being, and that God has indeed already done so.  We know how to give good gifts to our children and God has given us the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. We yearn for and crave justice and God in Jesus has not only deemed us worthy but has flooded our lives with grace by giving us so much more than we could ever hope to deserve. And at our core, we all want to be loved; to know that we matter and have a place we can call home and God has given us the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit, justice, and the Kingdom are three of God’s greatest gifts and we do not have to nag God about giving them, nor do they need to be asked for over and over again (although we do pray “thy kingdom come, they will be done” on a pretty regular basis).

So when the widow was persistent in crying out for justice she was really standing in faith about what she knew to be true—that she deserved to be treated justly. That right had been given to her by God and she stood fast without giving up or being discouraged. That kind of conviction and commitment is something that does not happen apart from faith of some kind.

Perhaps that’s the point of the parable, that one of the characteristics of the Kingdom is that its members respond to God’s generosity and faithfulness with actions of faith, like praying. They know the One to whom they belong. In prayer they stay connected to God. In staying connected to God they are strengthened to stand for what’s right. In standing for what’s right they witness to God’s love and mercy even against the odds.

Today we kickoff our season of stewardship, and I’ll be honest, at first I wondered what praying and not giving up, what seeking justice and having faith had to do with pledging. Let me reassure you that I did not see this parable as justification for holy nagging! Rather, I pondered what relevance it had in the Kingdom of God.

Praying is a response to God’s calling us the Beloved and that is truly something that we must never lose heart about, no matter what’s going on in our lives or in our world. This parable asserts that whatever good we can have in this world is really a shadow of what we have in Christ and will inherit as God’s children. All good things have been given us. In fact all that we have has been given to us. So just as the widow had the faith to believe that she had the God given right to justice and would not let anyone say differently, we are each called to have faith that God has always taken care of us and will continue to do so.

  • Pledging is the opportunity to acknowledge that everything is God’s
  • That God’s gifts to us far exceed anything we can obtain for ourselves or through others
  • That we believe that as far as God is concerned, the Son rises and sets on us as his beloved children
  • And that we expect God’s love and generosity to continue to flood our lives.

We ask you to pledge as a sign of your trust and faith in these truths. We ask you to pledge as a sign of your faith in God’s abundance, in God’s ability and desire to give you good gifts. We ask you to pledge as a way to grow spiritually because it is one of those Kingdom values that is completely counter-cultural—the world operates from a place of scarcity and the Kingdom always from a place of abundance. And finally we ask you to pledge because it is the glorious opportunity to give God your time, talent, and treasure and to see what God will then do with that to impact our world for good.

You might be feeling like the disciples from a few weeks ago, when they were told that they had to forgive those who had sinned against them as much as 7 times in one day if the offender repented. “Lord increase our faith!” But remember, they didn’t need more faith. They just needed to act on the faith they already had—even faith the size of a mustard seed.

We all have the faith we need. I pray that we will all be inspired, yes even excited, to see the glorious things God will do with that faith as we pray, as we stand in what we know and proclaim to be true, and as we choose to step out in response to such magnificent grace! Amen.