Persistent Faith

 Luke 18:1-8

 

In our parable today, Jesus tells the story of the woman who wants justice from a judge and nags him until he gives in. The judge admits that he doesn’t care whether he will give justice or not. He isn’t afraid of God, nor does he respect people. But she persistently demands justice from him.

Now we can presume she couldn’t write. So she wasn’t sending him letters. She had no phone or Internet. So the only way she could be doing this, is by banging on his door or more likely following him around demanding justice embarrassing him in front of all of his neighbors.  The Greek for the phrase “that she may not wear me down” can also be translated as “not assault me”. It’s possible that the judge was worried she was going to strike him.

In either case he gives in and gives her justice … for what we do not know.

Now we often interpret this parable as advice to us to persist in our demands on God … basically to nag God into helping us. This implies that the unjust judge is a metaphor for God. But this is a conflict. Jesus taught that God was just. Why then would Jesus use an unjust judge as an image of God?

Well, that isn’t the case. Jesus is contrasting the unjust judge with God. The unjust judge is simply the unjust judge. We suspect Jesus found the material for his parables from his own experience. Maybe, Jesus knew a woman who did just what he said … nagged an unjust judge into giving her justice.

So what is Jesus teaching us?

He tells us in the last verses of our reading. Jesus says to us if the unjust judge finally realizes the sense of granting justice, would not God, who is just and loving, grant us justice? If an official who is out for political or monetary gain at times do what is right and just, can we not trust God who’s only motivation is our well-being? And will not God’s justice be quicker and truer?

 

Yet how often have we felt abandoned by God? We see the world in conflict and injustice everywhere? Indeed, injustice is the norm. Justice is unusual as the world goes. So where is God? Is there a God?

 

    Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ... How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, ... What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.

 

So wrote Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian Catholic nun during her long ministry to the poor in India. We know her as Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950. For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity's expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. Following her death she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

And yet Mother Teresa expressed deep doubts about God's existence. She had long periods in her ministry feeling God’s absence.

But even though at times she gave up on God, she continued to do God’s work. Though she felt she had lost her faith, the very act of trucking on through her dark night of the soul was in and of itself an act of faith.

Somewhere in the depth of her soul and in the complexities of the poverty and ignorance around her, God had not abandoned her. God was working side by side with her … in her own efforts and in the efforts of the nuns she had tutored.

So often we give up on God because we do not feel God or see a sign of God. Often God is signing to us all over the place and we just don’t see it:

 

The jogger ran by the old homestead;

On its large, overgrown yard

Were kids running in the sprinkler.

She waved and thought someday

  -- someday she'd stop by

      and bring her kids

The golfer drove by the homestead;

On its wrapped-around porch and in its swing

Were families breaking bread.

He waved and thought someday

  -- someday he'd stop for awhile

      and bring the juice to drink.

The tired mom dreamed of the rambling homestead;

Inside its high arched windows

Could be seen folks standing and chatting.

She watched it from across a street

  -- and then awoke confused:

      where was she?

Then

  the jogger, the golfer,, and the tired mom

  came by the old homestead

  and its overgrown lawn,

    its porch and swing,

    its double door,

  and its arched windows,

  but the lawn was empty,

    and the swing was still,

    the doors were closed,

    and the windows shuttered.

One by one, they walked away ...

Often God is talking to us right up next to us. But we do hear or see God standing by us. We are caught up in our busy lives and routines. And forget to stop, take a deep breath, and open our spiritual eyes and ears to the world around us. God’s spirit flows through the world: through famous people and ordinary people, through nature itself and even through the human-made institutions and constructions… and through ordinary living.

We cannot see or hear God in a physical way. We need to have our spiritual eyes and ears tuned to the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere around us. Then we will see the world in deeper, richer colors.

 

And having faith is an act of hope. Faith undergirds hope.  Faith is the belief in the unprovable. And hope is unprovable. So why hope in this age of cynicism and selfishness? Faith does not require a political or economic proof that good times are coming. It simple knows that good times can return.

Even when we do not feel hopeful, faith calls us to act as if there is hope. No matter how down we are, no matter how many dark and dire events we read about, faith says hope anyways. No matter how foolish, how impossible, faith calls us to hope … because God will lead us into the Light of grace and compassion. Think of the Chilean miners how they must have had faith and hope as they waited for rescue.

 

I read a story a long time ago, about a woman working in a homeless shelter. Each evening she would help serve dinner. One night as the homeless women were lining up to get their dinner, one of them knelt down and prayed to God that she would find a job and home. A homeless woman beside her, sneered why do you pray? God doesn’t answer prayers! And the woman serving heard this and she thought … but why don’t we answer her prayer?

And thereby God would answer her pray, for God works through us. In faith, we act for God and by God. In faith we transcend the despair of the world and participate in the Kingdom of God. In faith, we believe that Kingdom is all around us now if only we live in. So we do things and act on things as if better times were here. We do not fold up and give up. We carry on through the darkness, believing … even if we are not intellectually convinced … that the Light is nearly at hand.

 

Two weeks from Tuesday we will have the opportunity to vote. A lot of people have forgotten … or never learned … what it means to vote. Never in the history of humankind have a people had so much power. The vote is the most powerful act any human can ever have. With the vote we can change the world.

Who would have thought an African-American could be president of the United States? Yet we voted Obama into the presidency.

Voting is a very political act. It is couched in campaigns and media sound bites about this or that candidate. It is wrapped in social issues and economic issues. And when we vote, we participate in this political drama.

But voting is much more than a political act. It is an act of faith and hope for the future. I’ve heard neighbors and strangers say why vote? It’s all rigged anyways. And so it is … until we vote. If we despair of the vote, then indeed our hope and faith in the future is compromised. We leave to others to determine our future. We have given up.

When you vote, you are saying … I believe in the future. I believe it can be better for me and mine … and my neighbors.

God has given us free choice. It is the primary gift of God … and God expects us to be good stewards of that gift. We as a people have ascertained … and I think correctly … that a free republic is a very good way to be stewards of the freedom that God gave us.

So vote. But say a prayer before you go into the voting booth. Just say I believe in the future, O God, guide me to the candidate that will serve you… and then just trust in God.

 

The last verse of our reading this morning says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ Have faith no matter what the world is saying around you. Have faith no matter if you despair. Have faith and hope that the Kingdom has come. Have faith so you can say to Jesus when he comes that there is faith on earth.

 

Think about it.

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.