Sermon for Proper 24, Year C
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Jeremiah 31:27-34 Psalm 119:97-104 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Luke 18:1-8
I love this reading from Jeremiah which offers the people of Israel a new understanding of God, moving them from the belief that we will be punished for the sins of our fathers to a belief that we are only responsible for our own actions. Not only does this passage demonstrate to us that how the people of Israel know God changes over time, it also offers us the promise of a much deeper relationship with God.
Jeremiah writes, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The promise of God to write “my way” upon our hearts simply means we will be transformed by the love of God and what we will then want will be what God wants. That, some might say, is when we will live in God’s kingdom.
To be Christian is to be transformed by Christ’s love. This transformation is not, however, instantaneous. We are being transformed. Yet, we struggle from time to time with wanting to be in control and usurp God. This is why in the second letter to Timothy, he is cautioned to remain faithful in his study of the scriptures, to proclaim the message, and to be persistent. He is warned that the people will, as they have throughout history, stray from their relationship with God. “For the time is coming,” he writes, “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
To be Christian, this is saying, requires us to be focused. We need to focus on the gospel and doing what God calls us to do. We are a long way from the promise in Jeremiah, from having God’s way be our way, God’s will be our will. For God’s will to be our own, we must make a conscious decision to follow the way of Christ, and we must decide to do this over and over again. As its says in the letter, we must be persistence in our faith “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” – in good times as well as bad times.
Today’s parable is also about persistence and faith. Jesus tells his disciples about a widow who seeks justice for a dispute which she has with someone. The judge is not interested in getting involved, but the widow does not give up. She goes to the judge again and again and again until, we are told, he “grants her justice.” Jesus says, “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” But then Jesus asks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This question puts a different spin on the parable. Is this a parable about justice or faith?
The word translated in the parable as justice, might be more aptly translated as vindication. The widow seeks to be vindicated for whatever claim she is making against the one who opposes her. Vindication for our side of an argument is a form of justice, but vindication implies simply a ruling in her favor – saying she is right in her claim. This suggests to me this parable is not about justice. I believe it is about the same persistence and faith Timothy is told to maintain.
This parable is also about our prayers. A persistent faith needs our persistent prayers. Through prayer we not only ask God for what we want or think we need, we open ourselves to hear what God wants of us. CS Lewis says of prayer, “I pray not to change God’s mind, but to change my own.” Through prayer we can be transformed and see the world differently.
There are certainly times when we, ourselves, are guilty of what Timothy is warned against. We do not want sound doctrine, we want to accumulate for ourselves. We find people to help us justify what we want. We seek people to support, rather than challenge us. We don’t really want to hear the truth – just that which supports our beliefs and desires. Persistent prayer can stop us from this wandering and bring the world back into focus so that we can see God’s creation for what it is. God’s creation is filled with people who were created in God’s image.
Throughout the history of the church people have sought to understand when God’s Kingdom will come. Many scholars will argue that Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God. Thus, God’s Kingdom is here, now – just not yet fully realized. Today’s lessons, remind us that what is past is past, we are now being judged for our own actions, for what is in our hearts. If we, then, are persistent in our faith and in our prayers, we will be transformed by the love of Christ and his way will become our way. And that is when we see God’s kingdom that surrounds us.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the transforming power of your love. Help us, we pray, to be persistent in our faith and prayers that we might see the world through your eyes. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.