Sermon for Proper 24 (Year C) 18th Sunday after Trinity: 20 October 2019 (1)

Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18: 1-8

The parable we hear today speaks encouragingly to me about continuing to pray and keeping the faith in bad times. Jesus tells it as he and his disciples travel towards Jerusalem and danger. Perhaps Jesus, knowing what’s likely to happen, is giving them encouragement and hope to hang on to when darkness comes.

When the early Christians started to write down things that Jesus said and did perhaps they too needed reminding of that encouragement and hope. They were living in the darkness of persecution, being captured, imprisoned, tortured and killed. They made sure this story got written down for others to read and hear.

So, through them, we hear the story today and are also given these words of encouragement and hope for our journey at a time when there is a lot of darkness in our world and perhaps in our own lives as well.

It feels good when someone offers us encouragement – when someone says or does something that gives us courage and a new energy just when we’re feeling disheartened, discouraged and robbed of motivation.

Encouragement is a wonderful gift that we can offer each other. And today this parable comes as a gift just as it was to the first disciples and the first Christians.

Jesus begins by telling us about a Judge, a powerful figure in the community. This Judge, though, is a nightmare. He has no sense of justice and no interest in protecting the vulnerable and down-trodden, people who are powerless, not even a widow caught up in some legal battle. He has no respect or compassion for anyone and serves only himself. He only acts to give the widow what she wants because she’s giving him real grief and he’s getting a headache. He gives into her to get rid of her – he cares nothing for the rights and wrongs of her case and certainly cares nothing about her personally.

Jesus paints a word picture of this unjust Judge to create a dramatic contrast with how God really is.

Does he do this because in really dark moments, maybe without even realising we’re doing it, we can start to think of God as a God who, like this Judge, doesn’t care, isn’t listening, maybe isn’t even there?

But if he is there, he’s not acting even though, like the widow in the story, we’ve been constantly asking, begging, pleading for a person in great need or danger or for the resolution of a terrible situation.

(topical references that can be updated)

  • Despite prayers of people of all faiths throughout the world, Ken Bigley and other hostages are murdered;
  • babies are in pain and suffering while their carers agonise over what to do;
  • teenage girls are shot and killed in our streets and war goes on all the time.

Like the disciples on that first Good Friday.
Like the early Christians, persecuted and killed,

We face situations in our world, among our friends and families and in our own lives where it seems that God has forgotten us, has turned his back on us and is choosing not to act.

It’s exactly in these dark times that we need encouragement from God. We don’t need encouragement when things are going well and our faith isn’t being pushed to the limit. Encouragement is for those frightening times when we need courage and hope. Encouragement is for those times of weakness when we feel faith slipping through our fingers. Encouragement is the light shining in the darkness; the voice and touch which say “you’re not alone”  The words that speak of hope, bringing us comfort and strength in our weakness.

And Jesus encourages us today by assuring us that God is nothing like that unjust Judge. The God Jesus speaks of is the same God Jeremiah speaks of:

The God who makes a new covenant with his people.

  • The God who identifies himself so closely with us that he writes his name on our hearts.
  • The God who makes himself known to all of us no matter who we are.
  • The God who forgives, who wipes out everything we’ve done to mess up our lives and the lives of other people.
  • The God who will see justice done in the end but whose mercy will heal broken and desperate people.

This is the God who hears our prayers be they for peace in Iraq or for someone we love whose life is drawing to its close. Jesus encourages us to hang on to that belief even when God seems far away.

As we keep the faith, pray constantly and seek to encourage each other, could it be that somehow, in some mysterious way, we in turn are encouraging God?

Perhaps our prayers add our energy to his; perhaps our longing feeds into his longing and we become part of the working out of God’s purpose.

He works with us, fallible human beings who get things wrong; who don’t listen to him; who mis-understand or wilfully ignore the right way to do things. We get it wrong, we’ll go on getting it wrong but God remains faithful to us: He remains our God and we his people. And Jesus encourages us to be faithful to this God who he reveals to us.

This morning’s readings for me are about encouragement, hope and faithfulness in dark and difficult times and above all about a growing conviction that somehow, some time:

“All shall be well and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well” Amen