October 17, 2010
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
In a certain city there was a judge who was a real tool. He was a schmegegee. A jerk. He had no respect for other people. He apparently cared for no one but himself. His reputation for nastiness preceded him and affirmations of his miserable disposition followed him. He neither feared God, nor worshipped God, nor had much time for God. Which, in this case also meant he most likely had no commitments to justice or fairness. The things of righteousness were of no concern to the judge. The judge was a disgrace, and everybody knew it.
There was a widow in the city. The title alone pushes her to the margins. A vulnerable woman with no means to care for herself, shunned by a culture that would question her character, portray her as a threat, and consider her mere presence a drain. A widow partnered in the demographics of history and lumped together in the biblical literature with abandoned and at risk children; as in widows and orphans. There was a widow in the city who went to visit the judge time and time and time again. She kept asking for justice against her opponent. She was asking for a ruling in her favor. Asking, repeatedly, asking, demanding, probably shouting and yelling. Details about the case, about the matter, about the opponent are unclear. Specifics are unknown. What is known is that she kept coming to the judge. Month by month, week by week, day by day. In the courtroom, in chambers, at the gate, in the public square, along the road. She kept at it. The widow was a nuisance, and everybody knew it.
After awhile, who knows how long really, but after awhile, the judge said, “Even though I am a real piece of work, and everybody knows it, even though I could care less about anyone, much less about this woman, about her, even though I don’t really give a hoot, because she keeps bothering me, because she will not stop, because she is so annoying, because she is such a nuisance, I will hear her plea. I will rule in her favor. I will make a decision. I will do something. I will grant her justice just to keep her from wearing me out. Nothing more than that, no better reason than that. She is just wearing me out.”
Jesus said, “Did you hear what that that judge said? You know that God is so different from that. God is so much more. Can you imagine how much better God is when it comes to hearing those who cry out to God day and night? How much more God will hear, how much more God will do, how much more God will grant justice? Do you think God will wait long when it comes to helping them? Do you think God will delay? Days? Weeks? Years? I tell you God will quickly grant justice. God will quickly rule and act and do. God will. God will.”
Jesus told this parable to the disciples, to any who would listen, he told them this parable because of their need to pray always and not lose heart. Praying always and not losing heart. As Jesus finished the parable, just as he stopped talking about the disgraceful judge and the annoying widow, Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.” Faith on earth. Praying always. Not losing heart. Not losing heart.
70 days. That’s how long the Chilean miners had to wait. 70 days of praying; miners. their families, loved ones, rescue workers, a nation, the world. Lots of prayers. One miner said there were 34 trapped down there because God never left them. Another miner announced he and his wife would have to renew their vows in a religious ceremony because they had only had a civil ceremony the first time around. Watching the rescue on live television was riveting. People around the world watching the mammoth effort, the flawless execution, the moving family reunions, each time that capsule came up out of the ground over the day and a half or so. Those who watched, even a part of it are not likely to forget it. As you found yourself checking back hour after hour; at the television, on line, on the radio in car, headlines on the handheld; checking back to make sure they all made it. Checking back to see if you could catch one more rescue seen. Stopping to see if you could see the next one, the last one, every one of those miners. An engineering feat; a tireless effort, a determined and proud nation, a victory of the human spirit, answered prayer, a miracle. Faith on earth. Praying constantly. Not losing heart. Riveting. Absolutely riveting.
Of course it’s not always that way. Mining rescues. Tireless efforts. Clarity of answered prayers. You and I know its not always that way. As captivating as the video stream of that mine rescue was, as you kept coming back to see the next one, the last one, as riveting as it was, there is an opposite experience you may attest to as well. It is the “I can’t watch anymore” response. I can’t listen to it any longer. Coverage of a disaster. Images of war. Bombarding news stories of violence. CNN back in Haiti. Stories of relief workers murdered. Yet another mine disaster, this one in China. The opposite of the Chilean mine rescue viewing experience is turning to ESPN or Jepordy or a Friends rerun not because you are captivated by any of it, but because you are attempting to avoid the annoying world news of the day. The nuisance of the need. The persistence of the suffering. The news of the day. Facts, statistics, information that won’t go away. Knowing about the risks, the suffering, the plight. It can just wear you down.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America almost 2,700 children are born into poverty. Each day more than 2,000 babies are born without health insurance. Each day 5 children or youth commit suicide, 9 children or youth are killed by a gun, 4,400 children are arrested in America each day. There are more than 2 million children in New Jersey. 236,000 are classified as poor, more than 100,000 live in extreme poverty, and 275,000 have no health insurance. It is the kind of information that is annoyingly persistent. That children not far from us, that so many children in this country are trapped so far beneath what every child deserves for their future, that so many children rise each day with only the headlight of their own strength to trying to navigate a darkness so not of their own doing, that so many children with no voice, no political base, no power tap and tap and tap with their very presence hoping that one day, that one day enough of us will hear and an engineering feat, a nation’s proud persistence, the world’s determined commitment, a victory of the human spirit, answered prayer, and a miracle from God, will save our children one at a time, bringing every last one up from the depth of despair. It ought to be so riveting.
You can’t stand here at the fount celebrating with a baby in arms celebrating the first touch of God’s grace, without thinking about, affirming, pointing to God’s love for every single one of God’s children in the world. Every child is a child of God. The Chilean mine rescue is a testimony, a reminder of what, in fact, can be accomplished in the face of a seemingly impenetrable pending disaster. Marian Wright Edelman is a model of an enduring persistent annoying nuisance of a voice for children at risk. And you know there are those called to drill down on the issues, working on public policy and community health and economic development as a calling from God. There are teachers, doctors, and therapists and social workers who dig in every day, moving one rock at time to help a child here and help a child there. And I have no doubt there are those saints in every community who pray every day, not just for their children or grandchildren, but for the child who lives next door, or the children in the school down the street, of the children in the neighborhood, or the children of the city, or the children down at the hospital, or the children of the Sudan. You know those kind of folks, when they tell you they’re praying for you, you know its true. When it comes to children at risk, there’s a rescue effort going on and you have to wonder why all the world isn’t watching.
Faith on earth. Pray always. Not losing heart. The first thought of losing heart is to think of someone who is discouraged about unanswered prayer, or maybe someone whose despair comes from long, a dark night of the soul, their own suffering in body or spirit, or somebody who is in the midst of having a good, long argument with God, that losing heart is somehow compared with losing faith. But what if losing heart is really just coming to the point where you don’t care anymore, where you actually find yourself immune, where you are able to completely tune out, turn off, ignore the persistent, long-suffering, annoying, calls for justice, longings for righteousness. Because it can all just wear you down, and some days it’s a whole lot easier to just forget it all, to sort of go numb to, to shut down, to turn off your desire to care, to lose heart.
I don’t mind if you get annoyed the next the time preacher tosses out overwhelming statistics when you come to church for a bit of lift, or if you find yourself worn down by conversations around the church about earth stewardship, or immigration reform, or children’s sabbath, or hunger and homelessness or earthquakes or floods or Presbyterian Disaster Relief, of if you think that Nassau is becoming a nuisance and we talk too much about refugee resettlement or ending war, or equality for gays and lesbians inside and outside the church, and I can see where you might be frustrated if you don’t hear enough of what’s important to you around here and in the world, and I get that at the end of a long week, ESPN, or a Friends rerun, or Jepordy, or a round of golf, or brunch up the river, or a morning in the garden may be just what strikes you come Sunday morning….
But just don’t lose heart, don’t lose your heart, don’t lose your ability to care when it comes to thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, don’t lose heart.
Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
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