Sisters and Brothers, Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
In July my 7 year old cell phone died. Now, I do not like to change technical devices. I am merely a user and do not wish to relearn all the idiosyncrasies associated with a new device. So, accordingly, my (geeky) husband took the assignment to find me a new phone. One that looked, sounded and felt like my old phone. I don't need any extra features I assured him. Just the ability to talk and hear conversations clearly. Of course, he wasn't able to find a cell phone that just acts as a phone; so I ended up with a very fancy phone that I can use for email, internet access, camera, video and even music!
BUT - the important test – does this device allow me to communicate clearly? Can I hear my conversation partner? Can my partner hear me clearly? Will my message be communicated clearly? Or will there be static or dead cell zones that drop my call? Will there be times that we both have to say "Can you hear me now?"
Perhaps the widow in today's Gospel would have benefited from a clear connection with the judge. It certainly seems that her message to him was not clearly received the first time. Perhaps it was the delivery? Or perhaps the messenger? Or maybe even the message?
Our parable begins by stating that Jesus wanted his disciples to pray always and not to lose heart. The story tells of an unethical judge who didn't relate to others, God or people, at all. A judge at that time was the most powerful of all positions in a community. Then we learn of a widow who persisted in asking the judge to grant her justice. The widow is at the lowest end of the society – no power, no money, no status whatsoever in the community. We don't know why she is deserving of justice, but the fact that she is self-assured, even brazen, about her request tells us that she has confidence in her position. After refusing to grant her justice, finally the judge decides to change his mind. In the original Greek New Testament, he compares her persistence to giving him a black eye, either literally or figuratively. So that he wouldn't have to put up with her, he decided to grant her justice. Truly a David and Goliath story - a lowly widow, somebody regarded by society to be worthless, is able to persist and persuade and get her way in the courtroom of a powerful and mighty judge.
Our first inclination might be to think of the judge as God….but we know our God to be the initiator of all justice and compassion, not hard hearted and uncaring. This judge, however, is unscrupulous, unethical, without conscience, beholden to the power and money found manipulating the system. He does not respect others and does not have the fear of God in him. In a word, he is a sinner.
We are this judge! We all fit this description at times – sometimes more than others. How many times do we insist that we have it all figured out – we have all the answers? How often do we allow the call to come through clearly, so that we do God's work? How often do we ask, listen or heed God's voice? Do our lives leave time for God? Room for God? And what of God's "other" children, those who differ from us? Those who are powerless, even bothersome. People who are poor are bothersome. They remind of us of how imperfect this world is. They make us feel shame…fear…guilt - they even frighten us. Have our hearts become so hardened to the cries of those who find themselves needy in some way? The diminished…the poor…the hungry…the homeless…the mentally ill…the unemployed. Viewing the poor as bothersome may keep us from meaningful relationships with the poor.
What about this persistent widow? We hear that she is a poor, powerless woman at the lowest level of society. Described only as a nameless widow, she was without a significant male in her life to uphold her social position. What else do we know of her? Somehow, she had been wronged. She seems to be a virtuous woman, even at the bottom of society. And, she seems to be quite determined and passionately convinced of her right to justice. She presents a prayerful, constant voice – even a little nagging -in the judge's ear. Our ear?
At times, we may fit this description – sometimes more than others. The widow was persistent. She was sure that she was due justice. She had nothing to lose. She was even brazen about her cause. Some might even say that she had "hutzpah", like my Jewish mother-in-law. When we decide to finally "give in" to someone like her, we open ourselves up to God. Persistent, nagging, brazenly confident, with nothing to lose – these are the kind of messages that God sends to reach us.
Thankfully, our God is faithful and keeps us on constant redial. God doesn't give up on us when there's a dead cell zone. God is always there to listen to us – there are no limiting customer service hours. When we are listening to God's clear call, we will find that we have the power to let go of our arrogance and self-sufficiency and allow ourselves to trust in the power of being children of God…created in God's very own image. It is when we are able to let go of our hard hearts and independence from God that we will find the peace that God offers. True peace will come from our inner peace - the ability to let go and rely on God's faithfulness. And then, we will be able to work for peace on this earth doing justice. Through persistent prayer, God calls us to be disciples… disciples for justice. Listen; God is asking "Can you hear me now?"
It's not easy. We like to be in control. We like to be certain about the questions in life that our children ask us. Perhaps we find it easier to leave God out of our family meetings. We think "God is so busy, surely God has other important things to do". Sometimes we wonder if God hears us. The persistence of prayer gives us access to God just as the widow gained justice from the unethical judge.
BUT we can't do it alone. God wants us to be in relationship with each other. God wants us to break out of our little limited world and engage with the larger world. To be present for each other just as God is always present for us. Our global human family is united through the loving embrace of God. God continues to speak to us, to wear us down, sometimes even giving us a black eye. God asks us to step out into the world and proclaim our faith – to take our words of faith and act on them…to live faithful lives. As
Through faithful prayer we open up and can do justice in the greater world…. for others. The widow's voice fervently prays that we look for justice…that we act justly…that we live faithful just lives…that we walk lightly on this earth…that we proclaim our faith through living just lives. That we be disciples for justice. God helps us to pay attention to those who try to correct us. Many times, others are speaking out on behalf of injustice or poverty or discrimination and we don't listen because it's bothersome or inconvenient. Others may find themselves asking us "Can you hear me now?"
Some people admit that they don't know how to pray. I find great joy in children's prayers. A favorite way to help a child pray is to use the Five Finger Prayer. A dear friend prays "Red Light Prayers" – every time she approaches a red traffic light or stop sign, she has a short prayer with God. Living in the suburbs gives her lots of prayer time!
It is said "Be prepared to be the solution to your prayers". God has given us his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we know God's love through prayer with him. Prayer is also God's gift to us, for us and all about us. Prayer is our dialogue, our attempt to reach outside of ourselves. God doesn't need us to pray, but God has given us the gift of prayer. Unselfishly, with hopes for increasing our faith, to improve our understanding. Prayer opens us up to new possibilities – that are outside our normal realm of living. Prayer expresses our desire to access God… to call God up and dialogue….to be available and listen to God. ..to be heard and also to hear. Martin Luther put it well – "The fewer words, the better prayer."
Listen; God is asking "Can you hear me now?"
This becomes an illustration of the power of prayer as the judge finally breaks down and does what is right and just. There is hope that he may do what is right and just again in the future. We, too, work at justice, alongside people who are poor. We help the disenfranchised to claim their rights, working against today's versions of the unjust judge. We help the urban and rural poor name their assets, gather them together with assets of others and focus those synergies on righteous change.
Oft times, we hear people say hopefully, somewhat hesitantly, "The only thing that we can do is to pray" –– as if prayer is a weak substitute for meaningful remedies. This parable teaches us that prayer is itself a meaningful remedy –– that it engages God's power and makes everything possible.
The Good News is that our Gracious and Loving God intends for us to have a fullness of life through Jesus Christ. With the power of prayer, through Christ, anything is possible. We find freedom in God's faithfulness; we confess our own complicity in injustice; we seek forgiveness and we work with our global family to bring God's justice to this world. We are given hope through God's Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us about the widow and the judge to encourage us to put prayer into action, to live faithfully and not lose heart. And yet, when He comes again, will he find faith on earth?
When we take the time to pray, to open ourselves up to God and listen, we find that the Spirit works through us. When you answer the call, will you hear God clearly? Will you speak the difficult truth to power? Will you challenge the injustices in the world? Or will the connection go dead…you on one end with dead cell zone and God on the other end repeating "Can You Hear Me Now? Can You Hear Me Now? "
Sermon Preached at Holy Trinity –