October 16, 2016
Twenty-Second after Pentecost
The Rev. Rod Sprange
Justice, Constancy, Ministry
Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4; Luke 18:1-8
The themes that spoke most to me today from our readings, were Justice, Constancy and Ministry.
The 2nd letter to Timothy was probably written by a follower of Paul, some time after Paul’s execution in Rome. The author urges those receiving the letter to be true to their calling, not to to be misled by false teaching, but to stay true to the teaching handed down from the original evangelists, especially Paul. In this letter the author urges the congregation to recognize and faithfully fulfill the Christian ministry to which it has been called.
So this morning I want to share my understanding of the parable of the Unjust Judge; talk about our calling to be constant in seeking justice; and also to think about our ministry to one another in this place.
In the parable we learn that there is an unjust judge and are told twice, once by the narrator and once by the thoughts of the Judge himself, that he doesn’t care about justice, or other people or even God! It’s a total condemnation of the character of this man who has been appointed to bring justice in this part of Israel. A widow has been making a charge against someone for a long time and is seeking justice. Remember, a widow in those times was one of the most vulnerable persons in society. The Law of Moses demanded that society take care of widows and ensure they were treated justly. So this judge is going against one of the most important concepts in the Law.
Our widow is relentless in seeking justice. In this case justice for herself. But I think we are supposed to recognize that for us, the message is to be relentless in our seeking to overturn all the injustice we see. Never to be silent in the face of injustice - no matter the cost. Constancy in seeking justice must be part of the cross we all bear in Jesus’s name.
The Judge gets so fed up with this constant badgering from the widow he decides to grant her what she wants, even though he doesn’t give two figs for her problems or the injustice she has suffered and doesn’t even care what God thinks.
Eventually he does listen to the widow and does what is right, but for self-serving reasons - he wants a bit of peace and quiet.
Some have suggested that the Judge represents the God figure and the widow perhaps Israel or the disciples. But I think Jesus is setting up this judge to exhibit the exact opposite character to God. Jesus says, look, if a terrible self-serving person like this Judge will give justice to this widow because he is tired of her badgering, how much more quickly will God respond to the prayers of his beloved people for justice.
The Judge cares for none but himself and doesn’t even care about God.
But what has scripture and Jesus told us about the character of God? In comparing the character of this judge to God’s - what characteristics of God come to mind?...Kind, loving, compassionate, creator, forgiving, generous, merciful, constant, God keeps God’s promises, willing to be humbled and come and live among us, willing to die for us. Just.
Jesus says God will respond in the exact opposite way to the Judge in this story. God listens to his people. God cares about his people. God wants what is good and best for us. God wants us to love him as he loves us. God wants us to lead lives worthy of God, not because we are scared of the consequences, but because we want to please God.
God wants a loving relationship with us. The last thing the Judge wanted was a relationship with this widow. He wanted to see the back of her! But, God wants to be in relationship with us and all of creation and will never give up on us.
It is likely that this parable was initially intended for those who were following Jesus and were being persecuted by others who did not believe he was the Messiah. This parable was intended to give them hope and faith that their belief would be justified by God. It urges them not to give up hope, but to continue to pray to God for the day when God’s kingdom will be established and Jesus and all those who believe in him will be totally vindicated - justified by their faith.
But like all the parables, Jesus either embeds a final unanswered question or as in this case adds a question for the listeners to go away and think about and answer by their actions. The parables are meant to get us to think, gain understanding and act!
After the parable Jesus asks “And don’t you think God will see Justice done for his chosen ones, who shout out to him day and night? Do you think he is deliberately delaying? Let me tell you he will vindicate them very quickly. But when the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?
In other words he is asking them, do you believe? Do you trust God? Will you remain constant?
And what of each of us - do you believe? Do you trust God? Will you remain constant?
That constancy of faith links us with the epistle. The congregations receiving the letter are urged to remember their particular calling and ministry and to fulfill it by remaining faithful to the true teaching of the Gospel as they had received it from Paul.
Earlier this year, on the Day of Pentecost we celebrated all the various ministries you carry out day after day in the world. And we invited all who desired to come forward to have their ministry blessed and to be commissioned as Christ’s disciple in this work. These ministries were not about church - they were the ministries we are called to carry out in our homes, places of work, schools, in fact everywhere we go. Some came forward as parents, some as teachers, some as friends or coworkers or spouses. It was a very moving sight and a very moving experience for many of us to have our daily ministry recognized and commissioned by our church.
Later in today’s worship we will be recognizing and blessing the many ministries carried out by all of you within the church. You will be invited to stand when a ministry you participate in is recognized. And you will be asked to be constant in these ministries doing them in the name of Christ and to the best of your abilities. Everything we do can and should be an offering to God. A response to God’s great generosity to us. Moving us from a sense of gratitude to acts of generosity and sacrifice.
These are the official ministries, things like worship leadership, coffee making, greeting, administration, pastoral visiting, outreach and mission etc. All important ministries. However, there are other important but unofficial ways in which we are called to minister to one another in Christian community. In his book ‘Life Together’, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explored seven of these, which he considered mandatory for a healthy community. I’ll explore a couple today - but Bonhoeffer's full list included :The ministry of holding one’s tongue; The ministry of meekness,The ministry of listening, the ministry of helpfulness, the ministry of bearing (we are called to bear one another’s burdens), The ministry of proclaiming (the Word of God), the ministry of authority (This is not about seeking power, but the authority of Christ).
The first two: the ministry of Holding Tongues and the ministry of Meekness are more about the personal disciplines we must nurture in order to carry out the other five. Holding Tongues is about not gossiping, not letting out the destructive words that pop so easily into our heads. The Ministry of Meekness is about being truly humble and putting the needs of all other brothers and sisters ahead of our own; recognizing the depth of our sinfulness. John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, was the repentant captain of a slave ship. He decided to give up being in charge of a ship and spent his life as the cleaner in a church - he humbled himself completely in the service of God and his fellow humans.
So with these disciplines in place we are called, according to Bonhoeffer, to live out the other five. In a healthy Christian community we listen to one another. Bonhoeffer writes “...Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.” People need to tell their stories, to share their joys and their sorrows. To share their opinions - to know they have been heard. Being listened to and heard gives us a sense of worth and acceptance, we know we belong. A good listener is a wonderful gift in a congregation. We can all learn to be better listeners.
The ministry of helpfulness is frequently an easy one to carry out. But so often we see it as an inconvenience because it interrupts our plans or our agenda. Bonhoeffer writes “We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God”. “God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. He goes on to say “It is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God”.
These obviously take a lot of commitment, work and practice. We may even need a coach to help us turn them into habits.
Here’s a little test to think about in terms of our life together. Imagine you visit the wash room. You notice there is no toilet paper. What will you do? Will you grumble and think “why didn’t they put a new roll in here”? Will you go and ask someone “Who is in charge of replacing the toilet paper?” then go and tell that person? Or will you ask someone, “where will I find the toilet paper rolls, I need to put a new one in?”.
This is our parish - it doesn’t belong to any one person or group of people. It belongs to each of us equally. You belong here. The church belongs to you.
There are many who take on ministries like maintenance, but we should all be ready to share in the work of this place. We have been blessed with a lovely church and a wonderful family of worshippers. All this has been entrusted to us. If we love God and love our community of faith we should be responding to God’s generosity with gratitude. And the best way of demonstrating our gratitude is by acting generously - with our time, with our abilities and with our financial resources. Not because the parish expects it, or needs it, but out of faith, love and gratitude.
Let us pray constantly to God to fill us with the Holy Spirit so we may become true christian ministers, and that all who come to us here will find a loving family of faithful people. Amen