Sermon for Proper 24 (Year C) 18th Sunday after Trinity: 20 October 2019 (2)

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

Jesus tells us a very vivid and comic story about a grumpy old judge and a single minded and determined widow who pesters the judge night and day for justice. In the end the judge gives in because, as he says to himself, “if I don’t give her what she wants she’s going to end up giving me a black eye!”

It’s a comic story but told by Jesus to give encouragement for the darkest moments of our life.

Our translation says the parable is about the disciples’ need to pray always and not to lose heart. But “to lose heart” is too weak a phrase. It’s actually more like not to despair. And the sort of despair Jesus is talking about is the sort that comes with profound grief, emotional exhaustion, clinical depression. It’s the black despair that tempts us to give in, to stop struggling and fighting and perhaps even to seek oblivion to escape from its pain.

Luke is writing about the despair that the disciples might feel when their longing for Jesus to return gets too much for them.

Today Jesus might tell this story to any of us who suffer that dreadful blackness that threatens to overcome us.

So what encouragement and strength does Jesus offer us this morning?

Usually when Jesus tells a parable, God is represented by a figure of power and authority: a landowner with tenants, the owner of a vineyard or a rich man with servants.  In this story, though, the judge, who wields considerable power and authority, is as unlike God as its possible to be. Jesus uses him as a contrast to God who, Jesus says, is like a loving father, caring for his children, longing for them to treat each other fairly and to look after the weakest and most vulnerable people – especially widows and orphans who have no-one to speak up for them.

Jesus is making the point that if an unjust and heartless judge can give in to constant, nagging demands for justice, how much more will God, the loving father, do everything he can to help his children and to respond to their prayers.

Remembering that this story is for those in darkness or despair of whatever kind it poses challenges to us and our relationship with God.

It challenges us to reflect on how we see God.  We may believe in our heads that God is loving and forgiving but in our heart it may be that we hold an image of God that is more like the unjust judge than we care to admit. We might feel when we pray that we are talking to a rather forbidding, stern figure of whom we are afraid or resentful. Or we might feel that he loves everyone else but he can’t possibly love us – we’re beyond his reach.

We may all have an image of God that’s a distortion of the loving Father Jesus knows. And if we do have that sort of distorted image it will affect the way we relate to that image, the way we pray. If in our heart we don’t believe that we are loved by God it’s going to be very hard to trust him or to feel secure with him. We might bring our prayers to God but we can’t offer them up and let go of the burden.

My father used to ask: “are you praying or are you really worrying on your knees?”

Imagine a child with a toy that’s broken. He’s upset it’s broken and he wants his mum to mend it. Mum wants to mend it but the child can’t bear to let go of the toy so that mum can put it right.

I know that’s exactly what I do many times and I come away from a time of prayer still burdened by what I couldn’t hand over to God.

Sometimes we have to let go of the broken before it can be healed.

While this story challenges us on a personal level it is also a challenge for us about the way we relate to the vulnerable people in our world.

It’s a very uncomfortable thought but I wonder how many men, women and children today feel like the widow of the parable. They are constantly crying out for us to help them but their cries go unanswered or even unheard or perhaps they don’t have a voice to speak with.

We don’t respond because we’re not paying attention, because their suffering doesn’t seem real to us, because we feel powerless to change anything, because it’s not our responsibility.

It’s a very uncomfortable challenge but I think it might be one we have to face because it may be that God is looking to us to respond to the prayers of those vulnerable people who look to us for justice.

So this morning Jesus is reaching out to people who are discouraged, disappointed or despairing and saying that God does love and care for us; God does work constantly for our good even when we don’t sense it; it is worth soldiering on with prayer and hoping. against all the odds for the dawn of a new day for us and for those who look to us to respond to their need.