Monday, October 17, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 22: "Divine Persistence"

22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 16th, 2016
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Genesis 32:22-30; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

In the Name of Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And he told the disciples a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 

Not lose heart.

Seems easier said than does these days.

We watch this current election year unfold and we lose heart in politicians and earthly governments.

We hear the news reporting the unthinkable number of children murdered by abortion, the constant change of human sexuality and marriage, in ways we never imagined…and we lose heart in our culture and humanity.

We see the Christian Church on earth plagued with errors, deception, and apathy – not to mention just plain goofiness…and we lose heart.

And if all that wasn’t enough, friends and loved ones die, disease ravages our bodies and our minds, our own sinful flesh and the devil look for every chink in our armor, waiting to launch fiery arrows of doubt and despair our way. And we lose heart in ourselves – in our standing before God. If this parable teaches us to be persistent in prayer, I’m a failure. The only thing I’ve really been persistent at is being a sinner.

Yes, it’s easy to be discouraged and lose heart in this life.

That’s why Jesus tells us this parable. And unlike other parables, Luke tells us right from the beginning what the parable is about. It’s about prayer and God’s promises. It’s about persistence. Certainly the persistence of the widow, which Jesus wants to teach us as the way to pray to him. But not as a method of earning his favor or appeasing him, rather because he is even more persistent in divine mercy to you. If the widow is persistent in prayer, our Lord is even more persistent in his love for us.

This parable – like all the others - is all about Jesus. He’s at the center of it – not really our persistence and prayer – though that is part of his purpose in this parable. But Jesus gives us this parable so that we may not lose heart.

 In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.

Admittedly it’s a bit of an odd parable at first reading. This judge neither feared God – meaning, he was not a believer in Yahweh; he was a gentile. And apparently one who didn’t care too much for his fellow gentiles either.

In a great stroke of story-telling genius, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. Jesus uses the unjust judge to reveal the great mystery of God’s justice in Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus uses this parable of the unrighteous judge to teach us about his great righteousness in his death and resurrection for you.

But the unjust judge isn’t the only character in this parable.

There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’

Now we might think the widow an odd choice for a main character. Compared to the judge, the widow had little power or prestige in ancient Israel. She was vulnerable, helpless, and would have been considered by many to be a loser or better off dead.

But she had this going for her. She was persistent. Over and over she kept coming to this judge, who had no regard for her or for justice, but she persisted because he was the only way that she could be vindicated over her adversary. Even when the judge kept postponing her case, she just kept coming to court. 

She wrestles with this judge like Jacob wrestled with God. She won’t not be given to. Reminds me of something Martin Luther once said about taking God’s promises and rubbing them in his ears when we suffer.

But as persistent as this widow is, or Jacob was…Jesus is even more persistent. It is good to be persistent in prayer, but that is a fruit of faith, not a foundation for your faith. Your faith does not rest in your prayer but in Jesus who prays for you, and more than that…died and rose for you so that all your prayers might be heard, so that you are God’s dear children and call upon him as dear children call upon their own father.

And how did this unjust judge respond to the widow’s persistence?

For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

The Greek in this last part is far more exciting. I will give her justice – or vindicate her - so that she will not keep coming until the end and give me a black eye.

This is why he’s called the unjust judge. When he finally does decide to take this widow’ case, he doesn’t do it because it’s right or just or because of duty and calling. No. He’s tired of the widow bringing her case to his courtroom day after day. He’s worried she might haul off and give him a black eye. He takes the case just for his own convenience just so the widow will leave him alone.

Again, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. Jesus uses the unjust judge to reveal the great mystery of God’s justice in Christ’s death and resurrection. And it’s an argument from the lesser to the greater.

God is not a corrupt or crooked judge. He is righteous and holy and infinitely wise. But if the unjust judge, who only worries about his own convenience and couldn’t care less about this widow does give her justice in the end - how much more will God who is just and righteous forgive our sins and justify the ungodly? If the unjust judge vindicates the widow, how much more then will Jesus who judges in righteousness vindicate us by his dying and rising? He will. He does. Speedily. For you.

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. 

What kind of Judge is Jesus? Just. Righteous. Infinitely merciful to you. He is Gracious and slow to anger; abounding in steadfast love for you. He is not bothered by our persistence but welcomes it. He is not worn down by our prayers and petitions, but promises to hear them.
More than that, he has already fulfilled them all. That doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed an answer to every prayer – at least not the answer we want. Our prayers are not like a baseball batting average, scoring God’s performance based on how well we think he answers. Rather, we pray, “Thy will be done”. We pray knowing we have a righteous judge in Jesus.

For if God did not spare his own Son how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?! He will. He has. All for you in Jesus’ death for you. That’s the kind of judge you have – the kind who was judged in your place. Jesus bore the punishment of sin and death for you. Jesus is not pestered by our prayers and petitions, but calls us to wrestle him like Jacob, rub his promises back in his ears, and refuse to let go until he blesses us.

And he does. Jesus brings rescue to you speedily. Even as he told this parable he was dead set on going to Jerusalem to die for you. To pray for you on the cross: father, forgive them for they know not what they do. To vindicate you in his death and resurrection. To rise from the dead for you. To ascend for you and plead and pray for you before the Father day and night. You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, who was judged for you. Case closed. The verdict is in. You are not guilty. You are forgiven. You are released from sin and death. You are free.

And today the righteous judge Jesus brings rescue to you speedily. He declares you righteous and holy in his Word of absolution. He covers you in the robes of his righteousness. He bursts the bars of death’s prison from inside the grave for you. And he feeds you with his righteous, justifying body and blood here.

And so, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Yes. He will. Jesu gives you faith and persistence to pray to him at all times. And the Son of Man, your righteous advocate and justifying judge comes today to feed you, heal you, forgive you, and vindicate you.

Yes, it is good to be persistent in prayer. But do not lose heart. For Jesus is all the more persistent in saving you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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