The Face of Faith: Luke 18:1-8

                                                                                                       Sermon preached 16 October, 2016                                                                                                Salt River & Kennsington Methodist

Jesus asks a question at the end of the story.  He asks those gathered around him this:

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

They have been taught about how faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.  They know about what is said in Hebrews about Faith being the conviction of what is hoped for and the assurance of what is not seen.  Jesus still asks the question of whether he will witness faithfulness among him?  His question was posed with such conviction that it makes a learned person doubt, they even know…what faith is.

Anne Lammott says that “When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility.”

Faith is believing in the ways of God even when there seems to be no way.  Faith is trusting that with God  “All things really are possible.”

Faith has a face only it doesn’t look like what we think.

Faith is the face of the woman who understands that God’s will covers her and steps out in that will trusting she’ll be seen and heard.  Faith has a face of a woman ostracised by her community who meets Jesus over a cup of water and runs away singing you have to “come and see.”  This man knows it all—every little secret there is for me to tell about myself and He loves me still.    This kind of faith we can’t list it on a resume or CV and there we have it, it is the kind of Faith that is grown.  It is grown through a constant turning from “what is right in our own eyes” to the one who helps us to have new eyes.

Jesus, this morning calls for us to have eyes that can see and ears that can hear, for among us this morning is one we would call a “nag.”

There is a saying, “No one likes a nag.” 

This is not what we hear from Jesus this morning.  He seems to be saying, have your fill… “nag away.”  The widow is in trouble and she is in need of assistance from the judge in the story, only she has drawn the short stick with this man for we are told he actually doesn’t care about God or much at all for people.

So much for the notion of a higher standard in the role of “public servant.”

The widow would have little hope with someone like this.  We can’t believe she had a very powerful voice in her community.  If she were to stay true to her role, she would be among those who would be voiceless, only it is as if someone forgot to tell her this, for she speaks out and speaks out and speaks out until the judge is tired of hearing her nagging voice and finally relents extending to her what is due.

This widow, she was fully loaded with chutzpah—the Yiddish word that means something like “cheekiness.”  It didn’t matter how many times the judge turned her down, she had it in her mind that she would keep coming to present her case until she received the justice she deserved.   Jesus uses this story to teach us about how we should engage in life with God.  It is as if he is saying, “demonstrate with God, Chutzpah.  Get your nag on.”

“Chutzpah in prayer” sounds like great fun, but there are some glaring questions right away.  One is, “Are we being encouraged to nag God?  Is God a God that needs our nagging?  And is prayer really about us getting what we want in the end?”

So, does God need our nagging? 

Soren Kieerkegard names that “the nature of prayer is not to influence God, but to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Are we to “nag” like the widow or are we to understand that we become like the widow when we nag God or are persistent with God in prayer?  We become like the widow in that we understand our need of God’s justice in the world around us.  We become like the widow in that our eyes are opened and our ears are opened when we stay with God in prayer.  There is no falling asleep in our lives, when we like the widow stay awake with God in prayer putting out there the unjust narratives.  Our eyes become wide open to all the needs, around us and they can flood our hearts, causing us to lose heart.  Prayer helps us to hold on in the midst of, to care in the midst of a world of hurt flooding in.

The problem for me in this story, is I for one am not like the widow.  Right away her Chutzpah would alert me were she standing in front of me today.  It would be as if she were standing in front of a crowd naked, a widow—pleading her own case.  That is just wrong.  She was one of the sacred one’s who was to be held under the wing of protection in her community.  We are told we are to care in particular for: the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and always the poor.  So, what was she doing having to plead her own case.  It would be similar to when our friends from the Eastern Cape came to fight for their pension.  “Elderly sleeping on the streets…no man!”  This is not okay!  But there were eyes turned from the scene, people who had fallen away to the life of sleep.

Jesus puts before the people a parable of improbability.   All of this is improbable that an unjust judge who doesn’t care about God or people would care about a voiceless one in the community—no, he would tuck her away.  With one shake of the right hands he would demonstrate for us what is known as the “gentleman’s agreement” and she would be sorted and out of this scene.  It happens every day, open the papers and read.  People are sorted every day.  In the church even, people are sorted every day.  A whispered word here, a quiet meeting there, a smile and a nod and a “nagging problem” is easily tucked away.

So, what is it that Jesus is trying to teach the people?  This widow faces a losing battle and she is given the gift of justice.  How much more will the God of justice rain it down for the people who have formed themselves through persistent prayer to have eyes to see and ears to hear where they are in need of justice in the world around them.  It will rain down, God has promised this.  Jesus is saying, get out there and make a scene trusting when you are in the center of God’s will prayer will help you stay awake in that will, to not fall away.

For those who recognize they are on the side of power, the side where the leverage of the right handshake can open any door you want, the parable for us is really several chapters back in Chapter 11.  Jesus speaks there about the same need for persistence in prayer. There a neighbor knocks on the door seeking a loaf of bread and his friend looks at him as if he is mad.  The knocking continues and the bread is acquired and the famous words are spoken about prayer, “Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”

This has been interpreted by many to mean that we can ask for anything we want and we will get what we want, but when we pray…we get what we need.  If you keep reading in Chapter 11, you’ll read these words, “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”

For the widow, I am not sure it was only the justice due her in her argument with her opponent she was advocating for.  I wonder actually whether the widow didn’t need the scene, the crowd, witnessing her Chutzpah, in order that the eyes and ears of the people might be unclogged and that the need for justice might not be just her case, but everyone’s case.  “It was as if she were speaking the words…I have had enough.  I am done with this madness.  You will open your eyes, you will open your ears, you will see me and you will begin to live in what it is you say you believe.”

Our God is the God of justice; God does not need us to ask for what we are promised to receive.  God needs us to be aware—to have eyes and ears that hear and see the discrepancies in community.  In order that we might be on the side of God’s justice.  God needs us to be aware of our need of the Holy Spirit in order that we might have strength, courage, commitment, heart to be where we are needed to be.

Wendell Berry shares a warning about finding yourself in the midst of this sort of prayer…

This, I thought, is what is meant by ‘thy will be done’ in the Lord’s Prayer, which I had prayed time and again without thinking about it.  It means your will and God’s will may not be the same.  It means there’s a good possibility that you won’t get what you pray for.  It means in spite of your prayers you are going to suffer.

We don’t like to hear that we will suffer, but it is the life of the faithful actually.  I don’t know a way to follow Jesus and not find yourself in moments of suffering.

There is no more faithful description of prayer in the bible then the description of Jesus in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He invited the disciples to join Him in the garden and they could not stay with him in prayer.  Instead, we read they fell away in sleep.  Jesus was so faithful in prayer that he was bleeding in prayer—He was bleeding prayer.  And what were his words?  “If it be but possible for you to take this cup from me, but not my will, but yours Father.”  Jesus asked for what he wanted, but acknowledged that the will of God would be more faithful than anything He might ask for himself.  Jesus prayed blood and suffered greatly, but he was the living will of God and in the will of God he embraced suffering in order that widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor might know they were held in the center of it all.  The  voiceless are at the center of it all.  Lift up your voice and rise up the people of God to be at the center of it all.

Our prayers help us to endure in the midst of…, prayer keeps us turned in all of who we are towards the will of God, and in God’s will we might suffer, but it will always be a suffering that is for the greater good.

If the woman in our story today is being encouraged to “nag” it is not simply that she might get what she wants in her nagging, it is that her nagging might find her formed and shaped into the will of God and the will of God is that widows be cared for justly.  Her prayer was within God’s will because she was one of those named at the center of God’s will–at the center of it all with God.

The face of faith will not look like we want it to, for the face of faith will be a “nag.”  Sometimes we call “nags” prophets.  They are given their voice in the midst of shaping in the heart of the Holy Spirit of God.  Their voice pierces the darkness of our day waking us up all around to the need to turn towards the will of God…

To be on the side of the widow.

To be on the side of the orphan.

To be on the side of the foreigner.

To be on the side of the poor.

Prophets “nag” us with their persistence for their eyes are glued permanently to the will of God and they see so clearly the way things should be, and the speak for us with a sense of urgency in great times of need.  Jesus rises up within the disciple a new voice and that is the voice of the weak working to bring them to their knees.  We misperceive when we believe widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor are weak though.  It is they who know better than any the strength that comes from kneeling in heart mind and spirit.  They know what it means to have strength to endure and in the moments when the voices of the powerless rise “nagging” for justice, Jesus wants us to have our eyes on the scene, to not turn away, to not lose heart, to be strong and steady and ready to stand with all together in solidarity.

The cries for justice will always reach the ears of God, the question is will they reach ours?

The widow was nagging in the midst of the leaders in the community.  Jesus says be like her, get out there with your “Chutzpah” and put what is right and true in the eye of the people and witness what happens.  When we get out there and make a scene the will of God pierces into the lies and mistruths.

“It is in the fire of living that our strength is born.”

It is through the daily shaping of ourselves in the center of God’s will that we become the instruments God needs us to be and that is simply people who have eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak out, hands and feet to work for change so that all God’s people might witness the ordering of the way things are meant to be by the people living in the center of what they say they believe.

Have Chutzpah, nag away, and allow your prayers for justice that live inside of you to be what wills you in your mind, in your heart, in your spirit, and in your every breath.

In the end, Jesus is naming that in our praying we become the face of faith, we become the widow in the midst of a community crying out the need of…the need for… the way to be… the will of God that for those who are sleeping, goes unseen.

Do not lose heart, pray continuously, and live your faith.

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