Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
October 20, 2013
First Christian Church
I’ve learned a lot about growing old from my parents…and my 15-year old cat, Felix. Maybe the most important thing I have learned is that growing old isn’t for weaklings.
Now growing old is not all negative, but there are things that happen with age- like dealing with arthritis. Felix doesn’t leap up to the bed like he used. For my parents, it’s not easy going up and downstairs. Old cats and old humans both have issues that can rob them of a little dignity.
As I was reading this story about the persistent widow and the unjust judge, I was reminded the vagaries of age. We don’t know how old this woman, but I’ve always pictured her as older. As a woman and as a widow, she was on the lowest rung. She had no recourse in legal matters. Widows especially had basically no power.
And yet, she comes day after day after day to plead with the judge to rule in her favor, to give her justice. The judge gets tired of her pestering and grants the widow her wish.
Jesus then says to the crowd that if a judge who didn’t love God or humanity could grant this woman her wish, how much more will God give us justice. God will stick up for them and not drag God’s feet.
Ah, there’s the rub. How often have we prayed for something and it seems like the prayer is never answered? How often have we been the persistent widow that keeps believing and keeps asking and we never see our prayers answered? It’s hard to believe when it seems that God is seemingly slow in helping us.
But then Jesus ends his talk with these words: “But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”
This is the main point of this passage, not the part about God answering our prayers. The point here is to have a faith that hangs in there in the good times and the bad.
The widow really was in a hopeless spot. As a widow she was one of the most vulnerable in society. The corrupt judge didn’t have to answer her petition because she was a nobody.
But the woman had something, something that gave her the strength to keep asking: she had faith. The point in the story is not to pester God, but the point is to have faith even in the hard and challenging times.
Life as Christians is not without its challenges. We pray for healing, for a new job, for protection and the like. Sometimes those prayers are answered. However, sometimes those prayers are left unanswered for reasons not known. The thing is, we have faith that God will answer us, maybe not right away and maybe not in our lifetime, but God is faithful, God is trustworthy. That’s the faith that allows us to do ministry together. And it’s so important to do this as a church, because we are surrounded by others who can help us believe when we have trouble doing so.
We didn’t read the Old Testament text for this week, but it’s the well known story of Jacob wrestling with an angel (or God). They wrestle all night and at some point God cheats and places Jacob’s hip out of socket. Let’s leave aside the strange fact that it seems odd to talk to a stranger, let alone wrestle them, that story is also a story of faith, because it shows what the life of faith is like: like a long wrestling match, or like an old woman who knows how be a pest.
Faith is a lot like growing old; things are not in your control. You start losing things around you and there are really good days and really bad days. But the thing is, we perservere. We go forward in life, believing that God is with us a keeping God’s promises even when it seems otherwise.
As I was preparing this sermon, I heard the song “Hurt.” The song is by the electronic band Nine Inch Nails and was a big hit in the mid90s. The song was recorded again nearly a decade later by Johnny Cash. It was one of the last songs he did before his death. Cash had gone though a bit of a revivial in the late90s and early oughts. He made several albums where he reinterpeted songs by current artists and made them his own. What’s interesting about “Hurt” is the lyrics, no it’s the video that is fascinating. The video was made in February 2003 and it had the elderly Cash singing, with a clips of a younger Cash doing various things. It was the juxtaposition was so jarring. We saw on the one hand an aging man not in the best of health and clips of him as younger and vibrant man.
While this was a mournful and sad video, it wasn’t hopeless. What we saw was a man faithful to his craft, even in his last days as he faced illness and then the sudden death of his wife, June Carter Cash.
The life of faith is not easy. We will face ups and downs. What matters even when things are dark, is that God is present with us and remembers the promises made. And so we continue to live as if God has answered our prayers, we believe and have hope in the one who loves us more than a careless judge. To paraphrase a old spiritual, “He May Not Come When You Want to, But he’s Right on Time.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.