OK, let’s just be honest here … everyone knows this person we’re talking about in today’s parable. No … I’m not talking about the judge. You all are perfect citizens … you don’t ever have to stand before a judge …. For a speeding ticket … or for double parking … or for tailgating … No, I’m talking about the widow, here. Think for a moment about those people in your life who just can’t ever “let it go.” I won’t ask you to name anyone … we don’t want you in trouble … with your spouse … or your kid … or your parents. But raise your hand if you know at least one person who won’t take no for an answer.
Interestingly, in spite of her “determined spirit”, this widow seems to fair pretty well in Jesus’ parable today. So, let’s try and be like Jesus and see her through his eyes. What are some positive words you can use to describe the widow in our story? (Persistent – Determined – Focused – Passionate)? Absolutely! The widow stands up to the judge and demands that he do the right thing. It is not always comfortable to be “that person” who gets in your face until you see the truth, is it? But it is necessary, sometimes. Everyone here has observed or been involved in a situation where you were grateful for the persistent person who stood her ground or his ground … or grateful that God gave you the strength to stand your own ground.
If we look to our first lesson, we see a similar theme in this amazing story that is probably a favorite of many in this room. Jacob wrestling with God at the Ford of Jabbok. Now admittedly, we often refer to Jacob’s wrestling partner as an angel, because the physical description of the overnight battle the two had seems … unbecoming of the God of the universe. And the potency of the encounter results is a spoken word of blessing, which is kind of the modus operandi of angels, right … that’s what angels do … bring messages of God’s word to God’s people. We talked about that two weeks ago when we celebrated St. Michael festival, remember. You were told that every time you speak the word of God, you’re officially an angel … God’s messenger. Ahhhh … but we’re getting distracted … this story from Genesis may be less about angels and more about persistence. For Jacob is blessed because he won’t let go of the angel. He hangs on and hangs on … even after the angel dislocates his hip … which always feels like a little heavenly foul play, doesn’t it? But Jacob prevails … he is persistent … he is focused … he doesn’t give up ….
Remind you of anyone? These descriptions are exactly the words we used to describe our favorite widow of the day from our Gospel Lesson. Clearly! … one of the connecting threads between our First Lesson and our Gospel Lesson is this theme of persistence. Sometimes, God needs us to stick with him … and not give up so easily. It worked for the widow … and it worked for Jacob … and it works for the author of 2 Timothy from whom our second lesson comes to us. Look at some of the action words from our second lesson … continue (3:14) … be persistent (4:2) … patience (again 4:2) … endure (4:5). Remember that God’s time is not the same as our time. I guess when you’re God and you have no beginning, nor any ending, most everything seems to happen quickly. But for you and me, not so much. So, God reminds us that some things need time to develop … time to unfold … time to flourish. God reminds us that we are in this journey of faith for the long haul. And, God reminds us why we choose to be persistent, determined, focused and passionate. We do it so that others may have the same experience of grace and joy that we have been blessed to share.
In the second lesson which we just recalled, our persistence is for the purpose of proclaiming the message of the Gospel. As St. Paul memorably phrased it … “We proclaim Christ crucified.” That is not always an easy message to initially understand and embrace. And so, God rightly reminds us of the need to be persistent in sharing it, focused in trying to understand it, and passionate in helping others to do the same. But even in that, we are never alone in our persistence and passion. Do you remember the image with which our Gospel started? Do you remember the first line of that lesson? “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Prayer connects us to God – so that we are never alone – and never far from the works of God which we need to hear. We talk about prayer a lot, and do a lot of praying … but sometimes this image of praying without ceasing can be a little overwhelming … a little daunting. I experience that sense of being overwhelmed with prayer more often than I care to admit. But when I do, I always think of one person … a person that I last saw more than 35 years ago … but a person whose spirit and wisdom is still with me. His name was Bengt Hoffman … he was a professor at the former Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary … and he was my faculty advisor for my first two years on campus. Bengt was a nationally known author on the topic of Christian mysticism and prayer … in a time when academics and right pastoral practice drove seminary education … and things like spirituality and mysticism and prayer were considered “shallow” and “pietistic” and a bit silly. What I most remember about Bengt was a short conversation I had with him near the end of my second year of seminary study … it was the semester I was taking his prayer and mysticism class. I remember talking with him about a fellow student who had been ill for much of our semester, and for whom we had been praying daily in our Chapel services as a community, and who I had been praying for daily in my end of day prayers. Since my prayer life was a work in progress at the time, I shared with Bengt that a number of us had been praying for Paul for a little more than a month now, and nothing had really changed for him. To which Bengt replied, “You’ve been praying for thirty days? Son, I’ve been praying to God for people I love every day for thirty years. He then proceeded to share with me what a blessing it had been for him over those years, to be actively in the presence of God, whether his prayers were being answered as he hoped or in some other way he may, or may not have been able to see. To simply be “in the presence of God” was enough for Bengt Hoffman. And he hoped it would be enough for me too.
I will pray that very same prayer for you this week …. That the persistence of our widow … and the determination of Jacob … and the passionate resolve invited by the author of our Second Lesson … will place you in the presence of God … and will allow you to experience every good gift that God has in store for your life. Amen.