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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God and the Human Heart - 10/20/2019

When Jesus told these parables, he didn’t tell them so that the facts of the situation could be studied and memorized by his students. It wasn’t so that they would be able to pass a quiz at the end of the week. “How many times did the widow go to the unjust judge? A. Once, she knew it was a waste of time. B. Twice, she didn’t want to make him angry. C. Continually, every time he was on the judge seat at the gate of the city she went. Or, D. All of the above.”

Jesus told the parable of the unjust judge, the persistent widow and God to get it in the air. (Luke 18:1-8) You know how that is, right? You hear a story, or read something and then it ends up sinking into your heart and brain deeply.

Sometimes it happens to me with vivid dreams – I wake up and the dream hangs with me all day.

So... for a time, everything else you hear or see is framed by this other story or experience. It’s in the air, you see the rest of the world through it and it changes things.

I think of a time when I workedon the team launching the U.P. Nonprofit Conference about 15 years ago. It was truly a team effort getting that conference off the ground each year, but I was the project manager. For the most part, my boss let me call the shots. I felt a lot of pressure working on that project because I really wanted it to be relevant and fruitful for those who attended, and those who led it too.

One year, I was over-the-top nervous the morning of the conference. I’d let my anxiety get the best of me and was starting to feel physically ill as I drove up Front Street on that early October morning. I was practically crying out loud. I remember it was still dark and raining a little, and this news story came on the radio about the war in Iraq. It was an interview with a mother in some far off place in the Middle East who was losing children and everything else to war.

I was humbled at the sound of her story through tears and wails. I needed the interpreter to know exactly the words she used, but the mother in me recognized the horror of the reality she was living immediately.

The experience made me feel a little embarrassed by my overdone anxiety about the conference. No matter what guffaws and glitches came about that day, I knew it was nothing like the terror this Middle-Eastern mother was facing.

So I prayed for her on the way to the conference and throughout that day. I still think of her in my prayers from time to time.

That day, I also learned to trust my own hard work a little more – and about the faithfulness of good preparation. And it was all because that story of the Middle Eastern mother was in the air for a time … and it changed things.

So this week we have our good teacher Jesus putting this story in the air with his parable about an unjust judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” He is a lot like a prop in the story, really – standing in for anything with a heart of stone and coldness of vein, whether it is a person or some other wall between God’s people and life or justice or just plain visibility.

And then we meet the widow who continually came to the judge seeking “justice against (her) opponent.” That’s all we know about the widow’s case. We are left to imagine the rest.

What we do know is that the woman “kept coming” to the judge. She didn’t give up when he didn’t hear or see her… if she couldn’t find resolution for herself, by God, the unjust judge was going to hear about it, continually. And it worked.

The judge says – predictably to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (Luke 18:4-5)

Wow. What a jerk.

I mean, I think it’s safe to say generally, we want the story to resolve in justice for the widow. But this judge. What a jerk!

I think maybe we sometimes expect our God-inspired scriptures to go more in the direction of softening and warming the stone hearts of those who oppress and look away from injustices. We want the Hollywood ending so to speak where the unjust judge too would see the light – where all would be good and stable … puppy dogs and rainbows. But that’s not so realistic, is it?

Or maybe we expect it to go more like it did with old Pharaoh, who Moses was also being persistent with in his effort to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. (See the story of the escape from Egypt in Exodus.) It took many repetitions of “Let my people go,” plus a more than a few nasty plagues, but God did soften old Pharaoh’s heart and he did let the people go.

After the 10th plague in which all the first born males, including the Pharaoh’s, were killed, he said to Moses and Aaron and Marion, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!” (Ex. 12:31)

 But remember, Pharaoh’s heart hardened back up again and sent him off in a rage to recapture his slaves. His rage made him blind and he sent his armies into treacherous waters where they all died. That’s a hard heart.

The softening of the human heart is a complicated thing, apparently. I imagine, in terms of the work God does to heal the world and make it whole, some things, some people … I! … need continual and persistent attention. And so we can also assume that it happens in God time, which we human creatures are not always so patient with.

I think of 2 Peter: “… do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” (2 Peter3:8)

So, perhaps what this jerk-inclusive parable ending does is remind us that God knows hardened hearts and cold stonewalls take time. They are not going to just vanish from this world of ours. In some shape or form, we will always be faced with difficult people, people like the unjust judged. At some time or another, we all feel the coldness of loss, the stonewalls of disease, the hardened heartss of broken relationships.

There’s more though. This parable, this thing Jesus is putting in the air for us, also reminds us that God choses to work through those hearts and walls anyway. The unjust judge can protest to himself all day long that he “fears no God” and “respects no one,” but mere mortal stuff like that won’t stop God from working through him to seek justice for the widow.

And that changes things.

It might change the way we perceive the news everyday right now, no matter what side of the issues we sit on; no matter who any of us might believe is the guilty one or the pot-stirring one, or the lying one. This parable reminds us that the one with true and right judgment is God and God will work justice through all of us, through all of them, no matter political parties or affiliations or guilt or motives.

I think Jesus also hopes it changes the way we hear things like a friend who asks for prayers because she is worried for the life of her son, or another whose daughter struggles with overwhelming anxiety. Jesus is teaching us about what it means to be a praying Jesus-follower quite clearly here: Pray continuously. Do not believe the voices that say God is not concerned for you or your prayer. Do not think that your prayer warrior self is like some nuisance to God, like so many mosquitos or pigeons at the bird feeder. Do not give up in prayer because God will grant justice to those who cry and pray, day and night.

And let this parable also illuminate another situation that has been changed in the reality of this attentive God of ours who hears all our prayers with the patience of a loving parent; who works for justice regardless of whether we can see it or are prepared for it. That change is present at our table today and every day we gather here for Holy Communion.

Here I would point to that last line of our parable today. It’s different from the rest of the parable and sits there kind of like an island in our reading. “I tell you,” Jesus says, “God will quickly grant justice to (those crying out day and night). And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question is “no.”

The Son of Man/Humanity has come to earth and found that our faith is too often tucked away neatly, in a nice box in the closet or something, until we feel like we need it … and we pull it off the shelf and blow off the dust again.

Or our faith is placed not so much in God as in our own intelligence or judgment or intuition. Or in other powerful things, leaving little room for God, for God’s wisdom and judgment … God’s power.

And yet, here we are, at this open and abundant table of the grace, forgiveness and freedom God has already worked for us. It is justice for us, in the cross, for us. Life for us, in the resurrection. For us.

It’s already in the air and it has changed everything. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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