Posts Tagged ‘Who is God’

Just Give It Up 10-20-13

Today’s sermon came from Luke 18:1-8; the parable of the Judge and the Widow. In the sermon I explore who we are in the parable and more importantly who God is in the parable.

Listen to the sermon here.

You can read the text of the sermon here. As usual, there are some little differences when I went off script, and excuse the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember them some how.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There’s a really fine line between persistence and annoyance. Persistence is defined as a firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition…Annoyance, on the other hand is defined as a feeling or state of irritation. (pause)
Persistence is attributed to the individual that just keeps on trying…the person that just won’t give up no matter what happens…no matter the response…they just keep on pushing. (pause)
Annoyance…well that tends to be on the other side of the coin…annoyance often happens for the person on the receiving end of persistence doesn’t it? (pause)
Some examples perhaps? Persistence is the person who asks the waitress, over and over again if they can substitute a salad for French fries when the menu clearly states…no substitutions. (pause)  Annoyance is the waitress, fed up with trying to reason with the customer…and spits in his food. (pause)
Persistence is a young child, asking for snack food in the grocery store…over and over again…being told no over and over again until he has a complete and utter meltdown in the aisle. (pause) Annoyance is the parent, who can’t stand it anymore and hauls the child out of the store, leaving a half-full grocery cart in the aisle. (pause)
Persistence is a 1st year seminary student, studying for a Greek vocabulary test…spending hour after hour practicing terms and looking at the answers until he can finally make it through the entire list of 300 Greek words like logos and dianoigo and he feels confident that he’ll pass the test the next morning. (pause) And annoyance is his wife, sitting in the next room, aggravated that since her husband started school she’s starting to forget what he looks like. (pause) Yah, that last one was me…guilty (pause)
If we take a look at the parable in today’s story…we find one more example don’t we?  2 characters…the judge and the widow. (pause) The judge, admittedly and unrighteous guy…he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t give two hoots about other people.  And the widow…bearing an unknown grievance but with a stubborn streak that would rival any toddler that has recently learned the words “mine” or “no.”
When we listen to Jesus tell this story we can certainly plug the notions of persistence and annoyance right in can’t we? The widow is the epitome of persistence…coming before the judge day after day…time after time…each time with the same request…and the judge, who finally gives in, not out of compassion or a sense of justice…but out of sheer annoyance…Either I give this woman what she wants or she’s just going to keep coming…I’m sick of it…fine…here you go. (pause)
That’s the parable in a nutshell…and as is the case with parables…we ask ourselves the question…so what is Jesus trying to say here?  At a quick glance, we may come to the conclusion that we need to persevere in prayer…bringing our petitions before God on a regular basis…and that we shouldn’t give up even if we don’t see immediate action…fair enough…the lesson opens by pretty much telling us exactly that doesn’t it? (pause)
Well, by now you’ve likely figured out that the easy answer doesn’t really sit well with me…and I hope that it doesn’t sit well with you either. (pause)
So the next question that we ask ourselves when we’re dealing with a parable…when we’re trying to make sense of what God is telling us…or what God is up to in this particular story…is that we take a look at the characters…who do we relate with?  Who are we in the story?  Who is God in the story? And that’s where I found myself focusing this week.
I’ve heard this parable a lot of times before, perhaps you have as well…but each time I’ve heard it, it has always settled in my mind that God is supposed to be the judge, and we are the widow…and the parable is telling us that we just need to keep praying…keep asking…and eventually God will give in…and then when I look at the last part of the story I see that Jesus gives us reassurance that God will grant us our requests quickly…that he won’t make us wait a long time for it. (pause) But you know what…that’s never really sat well with me…Because sometimes when we pray, the answer comes back as no. Or sometimes when we pray the answer doesn’t seem to come back at all…even though I’ve prayed really hard for it…even though I’ve been really persistent…I haven’t gotten the result that I hoped for…and so each and every time I’ve happened upon this parable, I’ve accepted the “face value” interpretation with a grain of salt…every time until this time. (pause)
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase that the word of God is living an active…well its true…and that’s an amazing thing to me…it continues to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture and have it say something different to me at one time than it did the time before…or countless times before…and this is one of those times.
Because this time around…when I read this parable…I didn’t see God in the judge…and I didn’t see God being compared to the judge either. (pause) I sat and I thought about the judge and how he’s described…a man who neither feared God, nor had respect for people. (pause) And as I thought about that, I remembered Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the most important commandment…To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and then to love your neighbor as yourself. (pause) Love God, and love others…but this guy doesn’t do either one of them…and neither do we.
Because of our sinful nature…because of the mess that the human race finds itself in, we constantly fail to live up to that command to love God and our neighbor…just like the judge…and when I realized that…for the first time I saw myself in the judge. (pause)
And then I thought about the fact that God didn’t give up on me.  I was confirmed in 8th grade and walked away…and then low and behold my junior year of high school I started dating a girl that convinced me to come back to church…which I did…for a while…and then the next summer…I almost ended up working at Bible camp…but I didn’t…and then a year later…I did end up working at Bible camp…and then a few years later someone made a joke that I should go to seminary…and then other people started saying the same thing…and then my wife said it too…and so on…and so forth.  Throughout all the times that I said no…all the times that I ignored God, or turned my back on Him…or thought that I didn’t need him…there he was, coming around…day after day…and not only did God show infinite patience with me for the countless times I told him no…he also displayed infinite persistence by continuing to tap me on the shoulder. (pause) God kept coming back…day after day…moment after moment…now who does that sound like in the parable? (pause)
Not the judge…no sir…not at all…God is the widow…continuing to appeal to the judge…continuing to come before us in one form or another time after time, even when we continue to brush him off…when we refuse to listen…God show’s each and every one of us infinite persistence…even in the times when we give him no reason what so ever…even in those times when we would simply throw up our hands and give up…when we would focus on something else…God keeps on trying. (pause)
Now perhaps this notion is a little shocking…or a little surprising…I get it…it was for me too…the idea that God would be the weak one…that God would be the powerless one…what’s up with that? Doesn’t that go against every single notion that we have of God?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God is all powerful?  Doesn’t that go against the notion that God can do anything, or be anything, or make anything?  How can God be the helpless one? (pause)
Have you ever stopped and thought about how powerless the human body is?  Sure we can do some amazing thing and accomplish some amazing things, but when it gets right down to it how much power do we really have?  Not much right?  And when we think about it, just how fragile are we?  Our bodies, amazing as they are…can be utterly destroyed at the drop of a hat…disease attacks us…accidents destroy us…time makes us whither…and in the end, we are powerless to do anything about it…and on the other end of the spectrum, think about how fragile we are when we are born…utterly dependent…unable to do anything for ourselves…not even the most basic tasks of feeding ourselves or keeping ourselves clean and warm.  (pause)
We come into this world powerless…and we leave it the exact same way…and as much as we might like to think that we’re in control during that period of time between the two…I think when we’re honest with ourselves we realize just how much a myth self-empowerment really is…and I bring all of this up to stress the fact that God…willingly…chose to enter into this powerless existence…God was born, as a helpless infant…God lived a life in the flesh just like we do…and in the end God died, stretched out across a splintered plank of wood…devoid of power. (pause)
And why did God do that? (pause)  God did that to show each and every one of us that there is NOTHING he would not do to get your attention…that there is NOTHING he would not do to bridge the gap that lies smack dab in the relationship between humanity and himself…we can’t get up there…so he came down here. (pause)
God is not the judge in this story…he’s not the one sitting there…waiting to make a ruling one way or another…he’s not the one that choses to ignore everything around him…God’s the widow, who patiently and persistently comes before us in one form or another…simply trying to get our attention.
And God is certainly not the judge, sitting there on some heavenly stool waiting to divide us into the good people and the bad people…to divide us between the have’s and the have not’s…to divide us between the saved and the damned…that’s why God became weak…that’s why God became powerless…that’s why God became human in Jesus Christ…so that he could say…once and for all I’M DONE WITH THIS JUDGEMENT CRAP!!! (pause) Because God experienced life…and then God experienced death…and then God overcame death, he was able to overcome the cause of death…our own sinfulness…whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all stuck in it…mired down in it…and yes…judged because of it…but through Christ…through his atoning sacrifice the judgment falls away…and we are not prone to it any longer…and all of this happens because God loves you…I cannot stress that enough…even in the times when it seems like it isn’t true…and yes those times happen…it doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more…and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less…it’s final…it’s done…It Is Finished. (pause)
And it is my hope that you hear this today…and you don’t ignore it like the judge in the parable…or that you don’t get annoyed by it…but unfortunately, for some…that’s the reaction…that’s the reality…but I praise God, that he’s persistent…and that he doesn’t just give it up…and if it doesn’t stick today…he’ll be back tomorrow. Amen.