"The Parable of the Persistent Widow" (Sermon from 27 June 2010)

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Luke 18:1-8 (New International Version)

 1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "

 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

I love a good story although I’m a lousy reader of fiction. But I can get into a spoken story…you know ones with wizards and princesses or superheroes or war heroes…stories of long ago and far away or not so long ago and not so far away…stories that teach, stories that make us laugh, stories that make us cry…stories for kids…stories for adults…stories with a punch line…and stories that make us wanting more. Part of this love for stories, I think, is a recognition that stories are part of the human experience. We are, one could say, a mix of stories…not all of them of equal value but all of them, in a way, shaping us into being who we are.

We are talking of parables and talking of stories at Girdwood Chapel for much of the summer, although we’ll take a break next week to have our “Tie-Dye Worship” during Forest Fair—e-mail me your favorite 60s songs if you’d like to hear them.

One of the interesting things about worship in this place is how prayers are shared. I’m sure in many a small church around the world it’s somewhat similar. Instead of getting a “list” of prayers in advance for me to read, I merely ask if there are any prayers that you’d like to lift up. We open up the floor for prayers…for joys…for concerns.

I want to share a couple of the prayers of Gunnar N____. Gunnar, presently, but particularly when he was younger was quite a talker. Many persons remember his mom, Bethanie, with the patience of a saint, as he shouted out, “MOM! MOM! MOM!” I’m sure there are some remember that well. But, I want to share two very childlike prayers Gunnar shared that I remember very well…and so do those who heard them.

First, one Sunday when I asked if there were any joys or concerns Gunnar raised his hand and, as I try to take all prayers seriously, I listened as Gunnar told about going to the zoo. And what he said went something like this, “I went to the zoo yedaday…and we daw a potupine and a podah beah and a lion and an eagle and a taraboo and a moose and a potupine….” The list went on. And when he was done I said, “So you want thank God for all of the wonderful animals he’s made.” “Yes,” said Gunnar.

Second, one Sunday when I asked if there were joys or concerns Gunnar raised his hand and said, “I want to pray for my dad. He’s on a boat. And he has diarrhea.” There was a little bit of laughter and I’m sure I giggled myself. I remember his mom looking mortified when this was shared. But, you know, most of us know what it’s like to be sick like that. And to be sick like that when you’re on a boat for months at a time is quite a prayer concern. So we prayed for his dad and his diarrhea.

Interestingly, when I called Bethanie to ask permission to use Gunnar’s prayers in the sermon this week she asked, “The diarrhea prayer?”

A few years before Gunnar was saying his prayers, just a couple of years after being in Girdwood, I had a young man who used to attend church here but has since moved away ask me about the prayer time in worship.  He had real trouble with everyone, particularly kids, sharing their joys and concerns, because, he said, “some of them just seem to minor or not very serious. Is there any way to curb that?” And, in a moment of pastoral brilliance (which I did not recognize at the time, but do now that I look back on it) I said, “If it’s big enough to be a burden to someone, it’s big enough to lift up before the body of believers. And if it’s big enough to be a joy for someone, it’s big enough to share that joy with others. Even if it’s a kid.”

Now, if stories are important to us, they are important to Jesus. For this reason, about a third of what he shared with us in the Gospels is in story-form. They are PARABLES. They are stories with an intent. They are to teach and to inspire and reprimand.

Today we turn to what I’ve always known as “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” And the reason we’re doing this parable today is that my parents have arrived and my father is here. When I was chatting with the work team from Monroe, Indiana early in the week, I said that my father was coming and, as soon as he got here we were “siccing him on Chugach Electric” to find out why we still didn’t have electric to our building $60,000 and 9 months after beginning with them. Among those who have worked with the building process and, particularly the Zionsville, Indiana teams that have been here…those who have worked with them know my father has a reputation of being persistent. If you give him a project, he will wear down the persons who are obstacles to getting the project completed…not, perhaps, unlike the “Persistent Widow” who wears down the judge.

As I’ve thought about this parable, I’ve mostly focused on the widow. In the story Jesus tells, I’ve kinda’ taken it to say:

There was a horrible judge in a city who wronged just about everyone who came before him. But, in that same city there was a widow who kept coming to him crying out, “Grant me justice, Judge!” And he kept denying her…at least for a while. You see, that widow, she kept showing up like a bad penny. She was a thorn in his side. Every time that judge turned around, she was right there demanding her justice. Jesus may have talked about The Widow’s Mite when talking about money. But this widow had might, too. She was persistent. So, all of you who are listening, be persistent like that widow, when you pray…and don’t lose heart.

So, it’s a parable about the necessity of prayer…

Thomas Long, a great preacher and teacher of preachers has a wonderful illustration that hits at this point of the parable. He writes in his sermon, "Praying without Losing Heart":

I heard a delightful story the other day about the day that Mother Teresa went to visit Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington criminal lawyer. He was a powerful lawyer. He at one time owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles and he was the lawyer for Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, among others. Evan Thomas's biography of Williams tells the story about when Mother Teresa visited Edward Bennett Williams because she was raising money for an AIDS hospice. Williams was in charge of a small charitable foundation that she hoped would help. Before she arrived for the appointment, Williams said to his partner, Paul Dietrich, “You know, Paul, AIDS is not my favorite disease. I don't really want to make a contribution, but I've got this Catholic saint coming to see me, and I don't know what to do.” Well, they agreed that they would be polite, hear her out, but then say no.

Well, Mother Teresa arrived. She was a little sparrow sitting on the other side of the big mahogany lawyer's desk. She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We're touched by your appeal, but no.” Mother Teresa said simply, “Let us pray.” Williams looked at Dietrich; they bowed their heads and after the prayer, Mother Teresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice. Again Williams politely said no. Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.” Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling, “All right, all right, get me my checkbook!”

Maybe that's what Jesus wants: pray like that, pray like Mother Teresa, pray like the widow, cry out, bang on the doors of heaven with insistence.

It is “The Parable of the Persistent Widow,” is it not?

However, recently, I’ve seen this parable referred to as “The Parable of the Unjust Judge.” Well, what happens when the judge is the center of the story? It might be explained this way:

There was a horrible judge in a city. He wronged people. He didn’t fear God. A nasty guy. And there was a widow who continued to come to him demanding justice… over…and over…and over again. Eventually, even that UNJUST JUDGE came around and granted justice although no one could have seen it coming. Yes, EVEN HE could be just. So, if someone that horrible can grant you what you need, what do you think will happen when you ask a judge who wants nothing more than to grant you justice and mercy and love. So, keep on praying and don’t lose heart. Your God is just.

So, it’s a parable about the assurance we have of God hearing prayer and answering.

That’s a big difference in the stories—be persistent in prayer and God will answer your call for justice in this life. And maybe both are just as valid.

This parable is interesting because, with many of the parables it seems like we’re supposed to see certain people in as the characters. Perhaps the “Prodigal” in that "other" parable represents those unwelcome in the faith with the “Elder Brother” representing those who would keep him out. Perhaps Lazarus, in “The Rich Man and Lazaraus” exemplifies all the poor of the world while the Rich Man is the listeners. And, often we are left to figure out where is God in the story.

But this parable is different. It is said that this parable uses a “negative comparison” and a “how much more” argument.

We use negative comparison frequently. Yesterday I told the Electric Inspector that, as an electrician I made a good preacher. How about, “I’m no rocket scientist” or “He’s no brain surgeon” or, as my son is want to say, “I’m no ROCKET SURGEON.” In other words, you know how smart those people are, that’s what I’m definitely talking about here.

So, Jesus, in a negative comparison, says, you see that UNJUST JUDGE…well, your Heavenly Father’s the opposite of that. He’s the antithesis to that. That’s what God is.

And it also has “the how much more argument.” The unjust judge gave the widow what she sought…HOW MUCH MORE will God do for you. Parents could use this argument. “I was appreciative that you helped me. How much more appreciative would I be if you did it willingly?”

Another point to be made with this parable is its connection with Jesus coming again.

See sets the stage for us in verse 1:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

And he closes it for us in verses 7-8:

And 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. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

This parable points us to a final vindication. There is no timeline here. But it assures us that God will vindicate us…those of us who believe…those of us who try to live by faith.

Well, what can we take from this parable. After all, it’s a parable to pray and not lose heart. Even Jesus says this.

But, I think, when it comes down to us this isn’t about an unjust judge. This isn’t about some widow somewhere…back then or now. It truly is about us and God.

It is a call for us to keep lifting up our prayers, whether out of the mouths of our elders or our children. We lift them up again and again, not in the hope that God would take care of them but with the certain knowledge that, in his time, he will answer.

It is a call for us to recognize the unjust judges of this world…the poverty, the drugs, the war, the pain. And to this world proclaim our God who is merciful and patient and eager to assist, even THEM…even YOU.

It is a call for us to look for, to pray for, to hope for the time that God will make all…things…right.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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