“Firmness of Purpose”
Luke 18:1-8, October 20th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel account according to Luke, chapter eighteen, verses one thru eight.”
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
“Having hear these ancient words, let us firmly come to an understanding about their purpose and meaning in our lives today.”
“Firmness of Purpose”
Is there something you really need? Is there something you really feel passionately about? Is there someone that has a need and you don’t feel that you can supply it or help them with it? Do you find yourself feeling lost and hopeless as you face impossible challenges? Do you find yourself watching the evening news or checking the headlines on the news app on your smart phone, only to shut it off angered that people can do such things or speak of others in such awful ways? Have you asked yourself: “how can I make a difference and be part of the solution?” Then you muss: “There is a way out of this deplorable mess, right?” Perhaps you have so much going on in your own personal life, within your family or your circle of friends you are doing your best to ignore the news. God knows we all have things that need attention at one level or another. Leaving us with the proverbial question: “What shall we do? How can we make a difference?”
Our scripture lesson from the gospel of Luke is a parable believed to have come from the teachings of Jesus when he walked the dusty walkways and roadways of early Palestine. We must assume that Jesus often told stories to his listeners for several reasons. First, because story telling is easier to deliver to a group of people. If I were to read you, the accounting of the prodigal son from the scriptures you may or may not get it; the intended meaning that is. But if I were to engage you all in the story itself, in some fun and spirited way, you not only would hear but you would begin to understand its meaning more clearly. If a speaker was wanting to tell you about something impossible that happened, but you would surely believe it to be unrealistic and thus stop listening. In that case then the speaker needs to have a way to break down your barriers that stop you from believing. How might one do that? Jesus told parables, stories to frame his message.
Let‘s say we wanted to do something about the devastation in a part of the world were a storm had virtually destroyed a major part of it. A place like the Bahamas shattered by Hurricane Dorian this season. Or Haiti after Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016. Yes, we raised a few thousand dollars that has gone to aid our efforts through our national church. One of our pastors from here in Florida, Rev Sumner Hutcheson, he has been on site in the Bahamas for over a month now, helping the Red Cross clarify what is needed and how to best help. It is a complex effort to truly make a difference. Sometimes it is essential to help directly, once someone like Pastor Sumner has identified the how and the where. It is a process and it takes time, money and personal sweat and hard work to rebuild after such devastation. We are talking about tackling the impossible task!
Jesus shares a story about an impossible situation. Remember, a parable is a story and yes, it follows the outline of real-life situations. A widow was apparently dealing with someone who was treating her unjustly. She went to the judge to get some justice. Seems Jesus was having the character of the judge, in the story, carry the persona of all that was wrong with the social system of that time. A widow basically had no rights. Without her Husband to speak for her she had no say and voice in the community. The judge was not known for his fairness, but he was known to be harsh and did not have a relationship with God. Yet, the widow went to him and pleaded her case. Needless to say – he rejected her request. Much like the cries for justice by segments of our own society, which go unanswered. In our parable, the woman, the widow does not accept no for an answer. She persistently keeps going back to the unjust judge demanding justice. He keeps denying her request and sending her away. She is persistent, she keeps going back and asking. This goes on for a bit, finally the judge throws up his hands and just to get rid of her – grants her desire for justice.
Ultimately, like every teacher, Jesus now must bring his illustration back to the point, the lesson he is trying to make. “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” /Luke 18:1/ When we fervently pray, because we passionately believe in something, we must not, we can not stop praying and working to see that others join in the pursuit of that same goal! Early theologians have long seen with clarity this point. In the Early Geneva Notes it is written: “God will have us to continue in prayer, not to weary us, but to exercise us; therefore, we must fight against impatience so that a long delay does not cause us to quit our praying.” /Geneva Notes/ Back in the Sixteenth Century, theologians such as John Calvin, John Knox, and Miles Coverdale came to these conclusions. We, therefore, must continue our prayers, even when it seems hopeless. Prayers for justice is a noble cause. When we do so after being told no more than once, it takes faith to continue.
How many of us here enjoy going out to a restaurant and insist on good food and good service? If the soup is cold you send it back – right. If they bring your steak undercooked or overcooked, you insist they make it right! A well-known Methodist pastor, named Alyce M. McKenzie, ties this thought into how we need to take heed of the message contained in the parable Jesus offered. “What if we applied the same principles, (which) we (do) apply to getting customer satisfaction – to seeking justice for ourselves and others?” When we are hungry, sitting in a restaurant asking to have our cold soup heated up we are firm that they need to do that “right now! Not later!” You had a purpose coming into that ‘particular’ restaurant and you will not take poorly prepared food or bad serve go uncorrected! The waitress, he or she, knows that if they do not argue your case with the cook, you will most certainly call the manager or worse yet leave without giving the server a tip!
William Loader, a New Testament professor, tells us that there is more to this passage then simply praying for something. “…it is missing the mark (he tells us) if we treat the passage as a general teaching about intercessory prayer. It is primarily about the yearning for change.” In that restaurant we want the soup changed from cold to hot and the steak needs to be transformed from raw to medium well done! Nothing in between will do. Fix it, change it you exclaim! The widow in the parable wanted justice. She pushed back her fear and went speaking out for justice from a powerful judge that could have thrown her in jail to get rid of her. She persisted in her purpose until change occurred!
I read an interesting commentary on today’s scripture lesson. Brian Stoffregen talks about when people pray. “The message about persistent prayers for justice comes out of this text, but I find that most believers – especially when they are in difficult situations – need little encouragement to continue to pray day and night… What I think is more common is the lack of faith among those for whom life is going well.” When things are going good how many of us remember to take a moment and say a simple prayer of gratitude to God for the gifts of the day? But if you fall and break a leg, guaranteed you will be praying to God fervently, at least until the pain medication kicks in! You read an article in the paper: A juror oversleeps and is late getting to court. He is sent to jail for ten days and gets one year’s probation. He happens to be black. It’s not your issue, you do nothing, and you say nothing. If it happened to your friend down the street, (who happens to be white) you scream out for all to hear: “what kind of foolishness is this. It was just jury duty, oversleeping and being late does not justify a stay in jail and a year’s probation!” No, many of us forget to pray when things are good, or we neglect to speak for the rights of another when it does not affect ourselves!
We took a collection for the people in the Bahamas. Did we each respond with a realization of how desperately it is needed? Did we? If your sister’s house or your father’s house or a close friends house was heavily damaged in a storm would you help? Maybe with a hundred dollars or two hundred; five hundred or even a thousand if you could. I suspect most of us would offer them a place to stay for at least a day or maybe a week till something could be arranged. A meal – or three – or ten might be in order as well. If asked and if you could, wouldn’t you help them rebuild or find a new place to live. Sometimes giving money isn’t enough. Perhaps the folks in the Bahamas, or Haiti, they need help building a few houses; especially in a crisis when there are not enough builders to go around. And not everyone has insurance to cover the cost for a replacement home.
We, as a church, historically, we have always reached out to others with a mission to help when help is needed. That’s what good folks, good neighbors and most certainly what good followers of the teachings of Christ do! Feeding the hungry, currently about 250 at the Daily Bread food kitchen in Melbourne, are fed on Monday’s and the rest of the days of the week. We try to be there to do that every forth Monday of the month. We plan to continue doing this. I pray we will continue to volunteer to assist this effort when asked. We also plan to join with other churches here in Palm Bay to supply the needs of the hungry locally. Let us continue to pray fervently and with a firmness of purpose to help others whenever and wherever we can. Let us be grateful for all we have, offering thanks to God and showing it in how we do respond to the needs of others.