October 16, 2016

22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you.  Amen.

I’m not exactly proud of the story I’m about to tell you. Most of you know that I like to bake pies. In fact, I like to take a homemade pie over to new neighbors on my street. I welcome them to the neighborhood, offer them a pie, and give them a card with my name and contact information if they have any questions about the area. People are generally very gracious about it, and I often receive a lovely thank you card with the pie pan returned to me a week or two later.

A couple years ago, new neighbors moved in next door, and I was pleased to be able to keep to my practice. I don’t exactly remember what the circumstances were on the day I baked, but there was some reason why I had to deliver the pie that evening. It seems to me that we were about to leave town for a few days and I felt the need to make the delivery before taking off.

It was early evening, and I knew my new neighbors were at home. Their garage door was open, the lights were on in the house, and I could hear voices and see their dog through the front door window. So I put on my friendliest face, stood at the door with my pie and a fresh quart of ice cream, and rang the bell. I could hear the doorbell from inside, and the dog began barking to acknowledge my presence. But no one came to the door.

I waited for a minute, and another. The dog kept barking, and then stopped… and still no one came to the door. I could hear them talking in there! Not with agitated voices or anything out of the ordinary, just normal dinner time voices.

What could I do?  The pie was not going to keep for the few days we were going to be gone, and I couldn’t really leave the ice cream on the front stoop. So I rang the doorbell again and knocked this time. The dog started barking again, and after what seemed to be a really long time, my neighbor came to the door, said a quick hello, took the pie and was gone.

We’ve gotten to know their family since then, and they’re very friendly people, but I’ve never had the nerve to ask them why they didn’t come to the door that day. And I never did get a thank you card for that pie.

The story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge teaches us to pray always and not to lose heart. Even though it was an unjust judge, or a very reluctant neighbor, that widow kept on demanding justice until it was granted her. Though the dogs of heaven bark against you, though the door stays shut no matter how long you knock, though the voices inside fail to respond to your pleading, just keep on ringing that bell until the occupant grows weary of you and responds.

It’s a great description of persistence, and I love the reminder to keep praying, but there’s always something kind of awkward about this story. It gives us an impression of God that seems inconsistent with the rest of scripture. Does God only answer our prayers to get us to stop begging? And do unanswered prayers imply that we didn’t implore long or loud enough? Is God an unjust judge?

I don’t believe Jesus is teaching that if we only pray fervently enough, God will have to give in to our requests. Rather, I believe Jesus wants us to realize that if even the most unjust, grumpiest, most preoccupied judge will come to the door after we knock long enough, then certainly God, who is just and loving and responsive to us, will answer our need. God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and never stops responding to our prayers.

But there’s something about that persistent widow that tells us even more. Blessing comes to her, not because God finally gives in; after all God is always good. The widow is blessed in her conviction that justice is her birthright. She is not going to stop demanding the world for it.

Jacob kept demanding his birthright, too. We only hear a small portion of his struggle today, but his whole story is worth reading. Genesis tells us that he and his twin brother struggled in their mother’s womb, and Jacob is born holding on to Esau’s heel. He’s been wrestling for that birthright from the day he was born. After he’s grown, he tricks his father into giving him the blessing that should have gone to his brother. Instead of the firstborn Esau gaining the legacy of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob inherits the promise God made to his forebears, that he would be the ancestor of greatness.

In today’s reading we hear him wrestling for that promise again, battling all night with the messenger, to receive the blessing he knows is his. His direct prayer to learn his challenger’s name isn’t answered, but a greater blessing is received. He is known by God, and claims to have seen God face to face.

Blessing comes through the struggle to believe God is always present and that God’s goodness is our rightful inheritance.

It’s a season of wrestling and demanding justice. The political campaign is rife with seemingly unprecedented insults and attacks. It’s hard to hear any goodness in any of the wrangling and name calling. Unjust ears ignore the cries of the wounded in all corners of the world. Syrian refugees cry for assistance. Hurricane Matthew casualties are ignored because of bigger news stories. Victims of sexual assault are laughed off for being too unattractive to have been harmed. And though one out of six children in our country are hungry, we rarely hear their hunger pains.

What if rather than standing by and shaking our heads at the madness, God is encouraging us to listen to the cries of injustice, and like that unjust judge, finally get up and respond?

What if God isn’t an unjust judge, but rather a pesky, demanding widow, who insists that the world get its birthright of peace, justice, and hope? What if God is calling us to open our hearts and our hands, and respond to a world in need?

Jesus gives us this parable to teach us to pray and to not lose heart. Maybe that’s our message today — to not lose heart. To never stop proclaiming the message that God is good. To be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable. To convince, rebuke, and encourage, and do whatever it takes for widows to receive justice, and for God’s will to be done in all circumstances.

Isn’t this what God calls us to do? Not just to pray, but to strive to do the work for which we’re praying? To pray and to persist in filling backpacks with groceries for the children at Highland Elementary who would otherwise face food insecurity? To pray and to engage in political discourse that works not to undermine the opponent, but to strive for the common good, to further the pursuit of liberty and justice for all people? To pray and to knit, quilt, crochet and stitch so that every broken heart can be wrapped in God’s loving-kindness? To pray and to not lose heart, wrestling against the voices of despair proclaiming that every person is a beloved child of God, that there are enough resources to provide for basic needs, and that the celebration of God’s reign is our birthright?

Maybe God is that widow, persistently looking for faith on earth, and finding it in those who with generous and powerful conviction bear witness to the love of God for all.

And just maybe, if God is pounding on our hearts, we should open them to receive the blessing, because it might just be better than a home-baked pie.

Thanks be to God.  Amen

Texts:  Genesis 32:22-31; 2nd Timothy 3:14 – 4:5; Luke 18:1-8