“Be persistent,” the author of our second reading today says. “Proclaim the message, and be persistent, whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience.”
“This is what you do,” the writer of this letter seems to be saying: to Timothy and the people of his community then; and to us, now. “This is the way to stay on course, this is how to live as people who are trying to live faithfully.”
It’s easy to get distracted right now, easy to forget our need for persistence…easy to get discouraged.
And today’s gospel offers distractions of its own, as well, with its unjust judge who neither fears God nor shows respect for the people, with its widow who continues going before the unjust judge (who, the text tells us again, does not fear God, does not respect the people), this widow who persists – who asks again and again and again for justice.
My own mind wants to make sense of this parable, to make it logical and neat. My mind wants to draw parallels, to seek real-life examples of the unjust judge (not so difficult a task right now, it turns out), people in positions of power and responsibility, people who neither fear God nor respect the people. My mind wants to look for the persistent widows in action right now, people on the margins who speak and act with conviction regardless of the cost, who continue to push and to bother, who persist…until at last they wear that unjust judge down with their continual cry, until they bother him enough that justice is finally, finally done.
And that’s it, really, my mind wants to see the Right Thing done: to see some good sense made of it all. My mind wants a dose (perhaps a large dose) of humility dished out for that unjust judge, and (proportionately great) triumph for the widow.
There’s so much here theologically to be pulled apart, so many questions that we can understandably ask: Why is this judge so uncaring, so disrespectful? Who is the widow, and what justice does she seek, and what has her opponent done to upset her so much? Can we, really, like that widow, wear down unjust structures…can we bother the powerful and rude to the point that, if we’re just persistent enough, we, too, will get what we seek? And if God really does hear our cry, more than this awful-seeming judge, why has God not alreadygranted justice, and quickly?
What was it that Meghan said about parables, when she preached a few weeks ago? That they make mincemeat of our expectations?
As rich as this parable is, as curious as we might be, as much as we might decry the disrespect of the judge and champion the widow in her cry for justice, I want to draw our attention somewhere else today.
Remember, this parable is told as an illustration. It didn’t actually happen. Or, maybe it happens all the time. Either way, it probably wasn’t one particular event. The purpose of the story Jesus tells is to teach his disciples a lesson he finds important for them.
Look at the beginning of the gospel: Jesus tells the disciples a parable about their need to pray always, and not to lose heart.
Look at the end of the gospel: Jesus asks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
And hear again, from the Second Letter to Timothy: “Proclaim the message: be persistent, no matter what; convince, rebuke, and encourage; show the utmost patience.”
“This is what you do,” the texts seem to work together to say to us today, at a time when distractions and discouragements abound. “Do not be distracted, do not be discouraged. This is how to stay on course, to live as a people seeking to live faithfully.”
Last Sunday at the reception celebrating the beginning of our annual giving campaign, I talked with someone who is understandably lamenting the deep unkindness and disrespect unfolding across the news. She was understandably wishing something better for the world that her grandchildren are growing up in right now.
We paused for a moment, and looked around. Folks were talking together and sharing good food as they watched children play. New members to the community were being introduced and welcomed by people who have been members of St. Augustine’s for decades. People were checking in with each other about what was going on in their lives – both the challenges and the occasions of joy – and sharing those with one another.
“This is the good news,” I said, as we looked. “This is the very thing we need more of in this world.”
Today is the day when it’s my job to preach about Everybody, by Faith: the theme of this year’s annual giving campaign at St. Augustine’s. We chose those words from our invitation to communion – welcoming everybody, everybody, everybody to feast from God’s table.
Because it takes everybody, for us to be most fully who we’re called to be as the Church – the Body of Christ – in this time and place. We don’t have time, honestly, for the disrespect of the unjust judge. Because we know enough to know that we need each other, in all our differences. We need the persistent offering of the gifts we have, for the sake of justice, for the sake of faith, in the hope that we will not lose heart.
Remember, friends, this is who we are:
We are a church that extends hospitality from this table to the table in our parish hall, where, in a couple of weeks, we’ll serve breakfast and dinner every day to people who take shelter here as they work toward a day when they will have a home of their own once again.
We are a church committing ourselves to challenging conversations about race, to bothering and wearing down and finally breaking those unjust structures that would divide the children of God from one another.
We are a church that takes care of each other, with visits and phone calls and meals and notes of encouragement and rides to the doctor, when those are the things that people need.
We are a church that cherishes and nurtures relationships between generations. We choose to spend time together, and we throw a good party, and we’ll have the chance to plan for more of those in coming months in our time together after worship today. And we’ll have the chance to continue in fellowship, rain or shine, at a barbecue and picnic later this afternoon.
We are a church filled with people who offer ourselves, as we are, before God in worship. We affirm and lament and bless and pray and intercede and give thanks and confess…and we sing.
So do not lose heart, friends. Because this is good news. You are good news.
Instead, join me in trying to follow the directions that today’s scripture sets before us, for people seeking to live faithfully: be persistent, whether the time is good or bad, proclaim and convince and rebuke and encourage, always with deep patience.
Offer the gifts you have to give, as generously as you are able, to support this good news we have to share, to build the kingdom of God’s promise.
Do not be distracted. Do not be discouraged.
Instead, pray as often as you can, and do not lose heart; that when the Son of Man comes, he surely will find faith on the earth.