Faithful Persistence

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.

When you hear this particular parable, what American proverb comes to your mind?  …  And when you hear “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” what does it mean?  The one who makes the most noise gets the attention or gets what they want?  Do you think that’s what Jesus means with his parable?

So, as we delve into the substance of this parable, let me be very clear – this is NOT a parable that gives us permission to nag God for whatever we want.  The widow is seeking justice, not something unnecessary or frivolous or even something that would only benefit her.  The judge in the story is well known for being unjust, self-described as having no fear of God or respect for any one else. The only reason this particular judge gives this woman what she asks is to make his life easier; his motivation has nothing to do with justice.  

And, so, if this self-centered, disrespectful, unjust Judge manages to do the right thing if even for all the wrong reasons, how much more can we trust in God, who is other-focused, loves unconditionally, always just, and full of compassion.

Let’s look at what bookends this parable: We are told very plainly that Jesus is telling this story to emphasize the importance of praying always and to not lose heart.  And, Jesus ends the story with the question, “will God find faith on earth?”

Do you remember the definition of faith I gave a couple of weeks ago?  Having faith is putting our whole trust in God’s grace and love. It is proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Do you recognize that definition from our baptismal vows, how we promise to live as followers of Jesus?  

What about praying always?  What’s that all about?  When Jesus explains the need to pray always, so you think he’s telling us to hide ourselves away in church, heads bowed, eyes closed, saying all the right words at God?  I don’t think so.  The story Jesus uses to illustrate the importance of praying always doesn’t detail any of these actions.  The story tells of a widow, one of little to no social standing or influence, being persistent in her quest for justice, even in light of a judge who has no desire for justice.  

But just what is justice and why bring it into a lesson about prayer and faith?  All people, every human that ever was or is or will be is created in the image of God and, therefore, are to be treated with dignity and fairness.  But, for all of human history, we’ve proven our tendency to use our own definitions of good and evil, looking our for our own advantage and rather than walk in this world following God’s way and God’s definition of good and evil, using other people to get what we want, pushing other people down to raise ourselves up, seeking power and vengeance rather than justice. 

Justice is more than just a set of laws that define wrongdoing and punishments.  Justice, in God’s Kingdom, is about doing the work God has given us to do to restore God’s way in this world – seeking out those who are vulnerable and building relationships grounded in God’s image, working together to meet everyone’s needs.  Justice isn’t one sided but considers the greater good of all.  We hear this definition of justice throughout the Old Testament: 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

“Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

Justice, and it’s partner ‘Righteousness’ are about being in right relationship – with God, with each other, and with ourself.  Jesus comes and shows us in flesh and blood what living life justly and righteously looks like, even in the face of adversity, even when we don’t feel like it, even when we would rather put our own comfort first.  The widow is persistent.  She doesn’t give up.  She lives in a continual attitude of prayer, the awareness of God’s presence with her so she doesn’t lose heart.  This is what it is to live faithfully with God, seeking God’s vision for this world, not our own.  

So, how do we, the good people of St. Francis, follow Jesus in this type of persistence, this faithful living in an attitude of prayer, seeing the world through God’s eyes?  We’ve been trying to discern the answer to this since I first met many of you over a year and half ago as we had a day long conversation about listening to the prompting of Holy Spirit as we move forward in our ministry and service to the community around us.  

First of all, we come together regularly for worship, knowing that our method of worship is formative, letting the Holy Spirit sculpt our hearts and minds so that the image of God is revealed in our lives outside these doors.  And, as importantly, we gather for the study of scripture and have conversations about what it looks like in our day and time to be the people of God.  We learn together how to rediscover our true selves as God’s beloved. We meet to conduct the business of this parish within the Economy of God’s Kingdom.  We fellowship in relationship with each other, doing life together, sharing the good and the difficult and tragic, celebrating the joys and bearing each other’s burdens as if they are our own.  And we talk about how we can share all of this with our greater community.  Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

Back late in the summer, we asked everyone to offer suggestions on how we can use our beautiful property for the benefit of the whole Canyon Lake community and we’ve brought the ideas together in a intentionally crafted, well prioritized plan.  It’s going to take all of us, with God’s help, to bring it to fruition, to create a welcoming, hospitable, safe place for all.  

Just like the parable isn’t about what the woman wants for herself but for the greater good, we give of ourselves – our time, our talents, our treasure, to equip us all for every good work we discern we are to do for the benefit of our community.  Together, collectively, with all that we are and all that we have, we listen to the prompting of Holy Spirit, following Jesus in the Way of God. We are being who we are created to be – God’s beloved revealing God’s love and justice to the world.  Whether it is the ECW hosting a charity wreath auction to assist groups around our community to raise funds for their work, or Chris Mitchell teaching others how to process deer meat or all of us picking up extra items at the grocery story to help stock the CRRC food pantry, the DOK preparing food bags for the children in our community who are food insecure, helping prepare goodies to encourage and thank our teachers, offering our space as a county voting site, or giving financially to support the ministries and daily, weekly, and annual business of St. Francis, we are, together with God’s help, living answers to the prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”  

The thing about squeaky wheels is the squeaking means something isn’t right, they’ve been neglected.  With proper maintenance, they don’t squeak. Living in an attitude of prayer and in faith takes intentionality and regular, ongoing work through the whole of our lives, proper maintenance so that we well equipped and prepared to proclaim the Good News of God with faithful persistence.  Don’t lose heart.  Amen.

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