Sermons

Sun, Oct 20, 2019

Stand up

Series:Sermons

I don’t know about you… 

but sometimes I get really frustrated when I look at what happens in our world.

I get frustrated by the violence and bloodshed that’s perpetrated in the name of race or religion…

and the obscene amount spent on weapons––

money that ought to be spent on health, education, and eliminating poverty.

I get frustrated with large, affluent countries––

such as ours––

who exploit poor, struggling countries–– 

such as Timor-Leste––

using “national interest” as an excuse for behaving like a school-yard bully…

and compounding their poverty and powerlessness.

I get frustrated with governments who think that it’s okay to imprison, torture, and abuse––

or to make people disappear…

simply for having the courage to stand up to corruption and injustice.

I get frustrated with the lack of compassion shown by successive governments in this country…

consistently shirking their humanitarian responsibilities…

and locking up refugees and asylum seekers…

causing long-term emotional and psychological damage…

when these people have done nothing wrong.

I get frustrated when men treat women as property…

when domestic violence or honour-killings are condoned;

when the bodies of young women are mutilated in the name of culture or religion.

I get frustrated with the church…

when LGBTI people are treated like lepers once were––

excluded, devalued, and demonised––

and when the church uses its influence to squash compassionate change… 

like marriage equality or voluntary euthanasia.

I get frustrated in the face of injustice.

 

And, despite the way that it’s framed––

as an encouragement to persist in prayer––

our parable from Luke’s Gospel this morning is addressing just that.

This parable is really about coping with injustice.

 

In the first century, widows were the poorest…

the most vulnerable…

and the most powerless in society.

Indeed… 

‘widow’ was almost a stereotype for the exploited and oppressed;

because, in the world of the first century, there were no widow’s pensions––

indeed, no social security system at all––

and wives didn’t inherit anything from their husband’s estate.

They were totally dependent upon their families to look after them.

And the widow in our parable seems to be in a particularly bad state…

because she goes to the judge herself––

implying that she has no male relatives to represent or defend her.

She’s utterly alone…

utterly defenceless…

and utterly destitute.

 

On the other hand, we have the judge––

a man who would have been extremely wealthy and powerful;

so wealthy and powerful that he doesn’t give a toss what others think of him.

Indeed, we’re told that he “neither feared God nor had respect for people”.

Now, that’s not suggesting that he’s impartial or a good judge––

in fact, in the first-century world, it’s suggesting quite the opposite.

To say that he didn’t fear God, meant that he didn’t care about God or what God expected––

he paid no heed to the God who cares for widows, orphans, and the oppressed.

And having no respect for people meant that he didn’t care about public opinion;

that he didn’t care about the impact of his rulings…

or how they were perceived by the community.

So, we have a poor, powerless widow––

destitute and without support;

and we have a heartless judge––

who pays no regard to public opinion or to human suffering.

The parable paints a scenario that’s intended to be utterly hopeless and frustrating.

But, we are told, the judge eventually does give in…

because the poor widow persisted.

Despite appearing powerless to change anything…

she kept going… 

and, ultimately, justice prevailed.

 

In the end, however, the focus of the parable is actually on the judge…

not on the widow.

And the point that the parable is trying to make is that if a judge–– 

who is arrogant, heartless, and corrupt––

will, ultimately, do what is right… 

then how much more will God?

In addressing this story to his community––

who were suffering injustice and being victimised because of their faith––

the author was trying to offer a word of hope.

He was trying to reassure them that God is faithful…

and that God will act––

even if it seems to take a long time.

He was trying to reassure them that God will set things right…

that God will vindicate them…

that God will bring justice to the oppressed. 

And yet, the author’s message here is predicated upon a particular understanding of God.

It presupposes a God who is actively involved in our world and our lives.

It presupposes an interventionist God.

Now, that’s an image of God––

that’s a theology––

that made perfect sense in the author’s day, given the worldview of the time;

given that they lacked any sense of impersonal causality.

In their conception of the world, nothing just happened;

rather someone––

and more often than not, God––

was responsible for everything that happened.

But such an image of God–– 

and such a theology–– 

doesn’t fit comfortably with our modern worldview.

It’s difficult to believe in an interventionist God…

when God so frequently and so spectacularly fails to intervene when it really matters.

And while we can take comfort in the belief that God is a benign and peaceful presence––

a cosmic companion on life’s journey––

it makes it hard to glean much of use from the theistic piety that’s presented in this parable.

 

So, is there anything here that speaks to us, as modern people?

Is there any word of God for us?

Is there any “good news”?

 

Rather than saying anything meaningful to us about God…

directly

maybe it’s saying something to us about ourselves.

Rather than encouraging us to trust in God––

in God’s provision and protection, let alone God’s direct intervention––

maybe it’s encouraging us to trust in ourselves…

and in the difference that we can make when we take a risk…

and take a stand.

Maybe it’s reminding us that we are never as powerless as… 

perhaps…

we sometimes presume that we are.

Take, for example, the remarkable story of Malala––

the young woman from Pakistan who stood up for her right to be educated…

at a time when the local Taliban were closing girls’ schools…

and decreeing that girls should not be educated.

She continued to draw attention to what was happening…

and continued to claim her right to an education.

Her campaign angered the Taliban, who tried to silence her…

but she survived being shot in the head.

She refused to be silenced…

and her voice became louder and stronger.

In her address to the United Nations, she exclaimed:

“Let us pick up our books and our pens…They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”.

Maybe…

like the story of Malala…

this parable from Luke’s Gospel is simply reminding us…

that, by refusing to accept things as they are…

and choosing to act with brazen courage and dogged persistence––

rather than waiting for something, somehow, to change magically…

or for God to intervene miraculously;

that, when even one seemingly powerless person takes a stand…

God is at work;

and the world cannot remain the same.

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