Sermon: Proper 24 RCL C – Persevere for Justice

The podcast is available here.

The Methodist like to claim him, but John Wesley is one of ours. It was some rabble-rousers that came along later who formed the Methodist Church. Wesley was gifted in many areas, including preaching and teaching, but the one gift that allowed him to have such great influence was his perseverance. A few entries from his diary prove the point:
Sunday, A.M., May 5 / Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 – Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said “Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12 – Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 – Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 – Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 – Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 – Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

I want to thank you all for not turning any bulls loose on me. I really can’t run all that fast. Had Wesley quit at the end of May, he never would have known the great success God had in store for him in two days.

Today’s Gospel reading lends itself for one of those sermons on perseverance with examples like that of Wesley and so many others who just didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit,’ and it would also be easy to preach a sermon on prayer, how we need to persist in prayer in order to receive those good things, but as we’ve shown in the past, prayer – even persistent prayer – does not always end with God responding as we would like; otherwise, I would have long since won the lottery and be swimming in the Caribbean with you know who. Our Gospel reading would allow for such thoughts, but in telling the parable, Jesus was clear about what the woman was praying for.

First off, we have to remember that this is a parable. It was a few weeks back that we had the parable of the shrewd manager: his master was going to fire him, so in order to make friends, he went out and cut the amounts of what everyone owed his master. His master commended the shrew manager for his actions. It would seem that Jesus was commending the manager for cheating, but then we understood that the story was not a moral teaching, but a parable. It had a very specific point in mind. The same idea applies to our parable from today: we would think that the judge should be representing God, but the judge says of himself, “I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone.” That certainly doesn’t sound like God, but like with the shrewd manager, this is a parable, not some commentary on the nature of God, and the point of this parable is justice. “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” So the question is: who is the opponent? We hear about them throughout Holy Scripture: from the book of Proverbs:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

These and those like them are the opponents of God that the woman is crying out for justice against. She is saying, Lord, can’t you see: there is evil in the world. It is running rampant! It flies in the face of everything you have taught us. Do something about it. Do something about it. Do something about it. And Jesus’ response: if the unjust judge will grant her justice, simply because he does not want to listen to her complaints week after week, then “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?” ‘Lord, do something about all the injustice in the world.’ ‘I will do something and I will do it quickly. Just have faith.’ To that, we could respond, ‘Lord, we’re trying to have faith here, but it’s been 2,000 years… I don’t call that ‘quickly.’ So, why won’t you do something against these evildoers? Where are you?’

Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle in Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in 2001. The man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had fallen apart and he lost custody of his children. In addition, during the conflict in Croatia, twenty-four members of his family, including his 84 year old grandfather and four month old niece, had been killed.

He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this bloody mess.”

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Our own experiences may not be as tragic and harsh, but we know they exist. We would have to be deaf and blind not to see the injustices of the world, anyone of which could lead us to say, ‘God’s gone fishing and left us to live in the mess.’

We see what is around us – as the author of Proverbs said, we see the haughty, the lying tongues, the deceivers, the shedders of innocent blood, the sowers of discord, and so much more – we see all these things and we can lose our faith because we do not believe God will respond, that God will act, and so we do not persevere. We do not persevere, because we see all this and in the midst of all this noise and violence we fail to see what is within us and what is in our midst. And what is that?

Just prior to the words of our Gospel reading, Jesus had said to this same group of people, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold… for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” We see all the noise and violence, and can come to believe that we are futilely crying out for justice to a God who does not hear and does not care, while failing to recognize that what we are asking for is unfolding before our very eyes. Where is God? The kingdom of God is in the midst of you, is within you. God has not gone fishing, it’s just that we are living in the time of the ‘not yet’ and the ‘now.’ The kingdom of God is not yet fully realized, so we must continue to pray for justice, but the kingdom of God is also now, so we must persevere in living into that kingdom and make our God known. Revealing him to others so that they too might be strengthened and have faith.

As a bonus, would you like to know the secret to perseverance? My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us: the secret of perseverance is “Love. Fall in Love, and you will not leave him.” …. St. Jude tells us, “Beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Our perseverance is not about an act of willpower on our part. Our perseverance is about our relationship with the One who saves. If you truly fall in love with God, then all of heaven and earth can come against you and you will stand firm in your faith, persevering until the end.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, we believe in You as our God and our Saviour. Make us more faithful to Your Gospel and commandments. By sharing in the Eucharist, may we come to live more fully in the life You have given us. Keep Your Love alive within our hearts and souls so that we may become worthy of You. Teach us to value and be thankful for all of Your Gifts. Help us to strive for eternal life. Amen.

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