Sermon - 19 Pentecost
In the Name...
A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, "Dear God, please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night's sleep." Suddenly, he shouted, "And don't forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!" "There's no need to shout like that," said his astonished mother, "God isn't deaf." "No," said the little boy softly, "But Grandma is."
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and a poor widow and we usually cast ourselves in the role of the widow, pleading with God night and day, day and night, until, finally, our prayers are answered. The idea of this reading of the parable is that if even an unjust judge will give in when he tires of the widow's pleas, then surely a just and loving God will be swift to answer ours.
That's how this parable is commonly presented. But really, is this a good way to present God? Doesn't it make Him look hard-hearted and uncaring, like an abusive parent playing emotional games? That surely couldn't be what Jesus had in mind. Unfortunately, that is how some people look at God and at the practice of prayer. They see prayer as some kind of endurance contest and, as a result, many people have trouble with it, or even give it up altogether, because they think it's a waste of time - just telling God things He already knows, or trying to persuade Him to do something He doesn't want to do.
So, today, let's look at this parable from a different angle. Let's suppose that this widow represents God, and that we, we are the unjust judge who neither fears God nor respects Man. Imagine that it is God who is constantly asking us for something and who just won't let us alone until our resistance breaks down.
When you look at the Bible and the history of the Church, isn't that the situation in which God often finds Himself? Remember Moses, coming up with lots of good reasons not to go to Pharaoh. Jonah, thinking he could sail away to a place where God wouldn't find him. Paul, convinced he was doing the right and righteous thing by killing Christians. These, and countless others down the ages to the present, were initially deaf to God's call in their lives until they finally gave in and echoed St. Augustine who, after abandoning his own worldly lifestyle, wrote "Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and new. Late have I loved thee."
Are we in this position? Have we strayed from the path, as it were, and we now hear God's voice calling us to come home? Or perhaps it's not so much that we've strayed, but that we've become complacent in our Christian lives and we hear Him calling us to a deeper commitment which we'd rather reschedule to another day.
We may not always want to hear God. Maybe we've put our trust, our priorities, in the things of this world or, maybe we're happy to make some room for God, but only so much room. Ah. Pity that God doesn't stop nagging. God really is like that widow.
Hey, let's not forget she was a Jewish widow. She had what is known in Yiddish as chutzpah. God has a lot of chutzpah, and He has to, because we can be very hard to deal with. But when we do break down and do what He wants, miracles happen and the miracle of this parable is that once the judge gave in, he did the right thing.
That's why it's important to remember what the widow wanted. It wasn't a new bicycle. It was justice. Justice.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent many years in the prison camps of Siberia where life appeared to be nothing more than hard labour and slow starvation. The intense suffering reduced him to such despair that one day he saw no reason to continue, no reason to keep living, so he dropped his shovel and sat down knowing that when he refused to stand up, a guard would probably kill him. He'd seen it happen to others.
Then, as he waited for death, head down, a skinny old prisoner squatted down beside him. The man said nothing, but he used a stick to trace in the dirt the three-barred sign of the Orthodox Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work. As Solzhenitsyn stared at the Cross his entire perspective changed. He saw there was something greater than the evil he saw in the camp. Through the power of the Cross of Christ, anything could be possible. He picked up his shovel and went back to work. Outwardly, nothing had changed. Inwardly, he had received hope. Hope that justice would one day be done.
The Bible tells us that God cares a great deal about justice. In the words of the prophet Micah: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." In our liturgy, whenever we renew our Baptismal vows, as we will on All Saints' Day, we promise to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being."
So, in what ways does God want us to strive for justice this week, this month, this year? In what ways does God annoy us by making us think about life, not as it is, but as it should be? In what ways does God expect us to do something about it?
Throughout our lives, God calls us and as long as we live He will continue. That's the thing about the Christian life isn't it, that it is life. We're never at the point where we can sit back and say, "There now, I've done it all. I've met all the requirements, passed all the tests. There's nothing more for God to ask." Alas, God's call may be different at different times in our lives, and, like the TV ads, it's always a case of, "But wait, there's more."
A fellow named John Donne knew something about this persistence of God. Donne is famous today for his poems and we may have heard these lines of his, "No man is an island entire of himself" and "ask not for whom the bell tolls." Did you know, though, that those quotes aren't from any of his poems? They're from his sermons. You see, as a young man, Donne started studying religion, but changed his mind and, instead, made a successful career for himself as a government attorney. One day, however, King James I, of Bible fame, decided that Donne was really dodging a vocation to the priesthood and told him, at the age of 43, to get ordained.
Well, Donne did, and became known as the greatest preacher of his time.
Reflecting on the difficulty God had had over the years in getting his attention, Donne wrote a poem which forcefully began, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you As yet, but knocke" and in the poem, Donne begs God to basically kick down the door of his life and force his way in because, left to himself, he says, he'd never get up and answer it.
Is that a prayer we need to make? Batter our hearts, three-person’d God. Don't be subtle. Be like the widow. Wear us down. Wear us out. Don't give up on us. Convert us from being unjust judges. Make us see what is broken in the world and give us the will to fix it.
Now, that's a prayer I'm sure God would be happy to answer anytime. We just need to make it.
In the Name...