Sermons That Work

This Parable of Jesus…, Proper 24 (C) – 1998

October 18, 1998

This parable of Jesus is commonly called the story of the unjust judge and the widow. It is a troubling parable. It ends with the promise that “justice will come quickly.” If you are satisfied that justice has come then you are excused from listening. Please pray, while not listening, for those of us who have some doubt that justice will come quickly. The parable also gives the impression that we can “wear God down” by praying.

There is no easy resolution of the difficulty in today’s Gospel lesson. So what is the good news in it?

Here are two stories, both true. They do not resolve the questions but they point to the truth in the Gospel.

The first is a prayer story. A congregation had an old, tiny, historic church house that was falling into serious disrepair. As much as they loved it, and they did love it, they prayerfully decided that God wanted them to move to a new place and build a new church house that would enable them to minister and grow. They had few members and little money. There wasn’t any way in this world that the dream could be realized. They prayed. The Pastor prayed every morning about this for 5 years. One day, the wealthy member of congregation summoned the Pastor. The question asked the Pastor was, “How much money can I give to this project?” A year later the congregation moved into and consecrated a beautiful, spacious new church facility on 9 acres of well located land. And, it was all paid for the day they walked in it.

Somehow the prayer and God and the generosity of the wealthy person are connected. But this can’t be turned into a formula. Five years of daily prayer equals a miracle. If miracles could be predicted they wouldn’t be miracles, they would be science.

Now, a justice story.

Two very different people, one the Captain of a Slave Ship and the other the son of a rich and powerful English family that was heavily involved in politics were brought together by God to bring justice to those who were slaves. Now, that justice is not fully here. But there is more of it now than 200 years ago and it is coming.

The Slaver was John Newton. Off the coast of Africa, in a slave ship, he experienced conversion. God seems to have a sense of timing and placement that is beyond logic. Newton became an Anglican Priest and, among other things, the author of the much loved “Amazing Grace.” He was serving as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London when Wilberforce, the rich young man, came to him. Wilberforce experienced conversion while reading and discussing the New Testament on a stage coach, going across France to the Riviera for a holiday. After that experience, he came to Newton seeking guidance. Newton told him to go into politics. He did. His cause was the end of slavery. A brief time after his death the British Parliament passed legislation that outlawed the Salve trade for British Citizens and gave the mission of enforcing that to the British Navy. That fed the Abolitionist Movement in this country, which led to a great war to end slavery in the United States. Legal slavery ended in the 19th century when Brazil become the final nation to act.

Only God could achieve this by entering lives that were unconnected and joining them for holy purposes. But what if people had not prayed for years for a new church? Or what if Newton had rejected Jesus in favor of the money to be made in the slave trade? Or what if Wiberforce had rejected Jesus and decided to live as an idle, rich gentleman? Or, what if he had accepted the Lord and then entered the ministry rather than politics? Or what if he had yielded to the temptations of political power? How many of these holy plots to bring justice has God launched? How many were derailed because someone responded rationally, rather than faithfully?

We can’t know.

There is good news in this text. It is displayed by the good news in the two stories. The good news is that we can pray a lot and respond faithfully to God’s call to us to join him in bringing justice quickly. We don’t have to. That is the kind of freedom God gives us. God has such abhorrence of slavery that we will never be forced to do Gods will. God has such respect for our freedom that it will not be transgressed, even for the holiest of reasons.

That is troubling news. We don’t always choose the right and live in prayer. The best news is that we can respond to God, pray a lot and live faithfully. God helping us.

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Christopher Sikkema


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