Sunday, December 23, 2007

Matthew 1:18-25 - Born in what way? Advent 4

Is it irreverent to envision the conversation? Surely, a conversation was had. This is a big deal.

It’s a big deal in our day, and it was probably an even bigger deal back in Jesus’ day. In those days marriage was like a civil contract. And once you were engaged you acknowledged legal consequences. Parents usually arranged the marriages; and they would marry their kids off young, so young there was a minimum age-- thirteen for the boys, and twelve for the girls.1 Mary was just a child herself...

Joseph was engaged to Mary, they’d already had the engagement party, which means they had already signed the marriage license. Even thought they were yet living together—Mary lived in her father’s house until marriage—still, everyone knew they were Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter.2 Joseph would visit her as often as he could.3 And I suppose it was during one of these visits that it finally came out. Mary had been acting kind of strange recently: she was happy about the coming wedding, but also a little reserved and conflicted; not a good sign for a groom.

Sitting down now, Joseph turns to Mary, “Honey, umm, is everything okay?”

Yeah, why?”

I don’t know, you’ve just been a little distant for the past few months. I’ve been concerned about you. Umm, don’t take this the wrong way, but, you seem to be a little more plump.

Are you still going to that Jazzercise class?”

Joseph, how dare you!”

I mean I love you no matter what…but you know, we’re getting married pretty soon; probably want to be in good shape for that wedding night!”He gets up and does a few jumping jacks.

She puts down the remote control. “Joseph, sweetie, I think you should sit down.”

what is it?”

Um, this is going to sound really crazy, about two months ago, I had this really weird experience….and, well, I’m pregnant.”

You’re what, why, how could this be? Who was he??? I’ll see that he’s stoned for sure!!”

That’s just it Joseph, it was no man?”

Huh? What do you mean?”

It was the Holy Spirit?”

What are you talking about? The Holy Spirit?”

You get the idea? I mean that must have been one of the most bizarre encounters in the history of unexpected pregnancies. Like I said, I don’t want to sound irreverent, but I think sometimes we forget that Joseph and Mary were human beings and this had to have been the talk of the town: “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit?”

Have any of you ever heard of el Trauco? Trasie and I heard about el Trauco while living in Chile: He is a small ugly man, who can hypnotize girls, leading them into the forest ...from which they return pregnant.4 When a single woman is pregnant, and no-one steps forward as the father, people assume el trauco is responsible.5 Well, I don’t know if the Holy Spirit was a first century Palestinian version of el Trauco, but either way Joseph wasn’t buying it.

Matthew is the only gospel that deals with the question of Joseph at all; Luke’s gospel barely mentions him. He appears in chapter one, disappears by chapter two, and never utters a direct sentence;” yes, I made the conversation up. “Mathew spends 17 verses detailing Joseph’s family tree; beginning with Abraham and working his way toward that next genealogical star, David, and doesn’t stop until he gets to Joseph and [this] rather awkward connection to Jesus, the Messiah.” 6 Evidently, Joseph took his engagement contract very seriously. Matthew calls him Just or righteous: a law abiding citizen, yet concerned about the moral and mental well being of his fiancé. A problem had arisen and with every passing week, it was getting a little bigger. Joseph felt obligated by the law to divorce Mary for her premature pregnancy, which according meant that she and the guy who done it would be stoned, or in the very least she could be disowned by her family.7 While we don’t know if he really was in love with Mary, as we understand love today, it seemed that Joseph wanted the least harm done as possible.

Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary “quietly” implies that he didn’t want her to be harmed.8

But before the divorce final, he sleeps on it.

Dangerous thing to do if you are a dreaming Joseph: An angel appears, a winged talking angel with a story to match Mary’s: “What are you afraid of Jose, that child in Mary, was conceived from the Holy Spirit; name him Jesus!” There he has it, problem solved, more or less. There’s still a lot of explaining to do. But, what a lucky guy!

Maybe you’ve had your dilemmas resolved, because an angel appeared and told you what to do.

This angel even told Joseph what to name the kid. He doesn’t even have to think anymore.

The birth of the Messiah took place in this way.”

So where are we as 21st century people with this birth story? Does the birth story inspire our hearts and imaginations? Or is it just some mumbo-jumbo made up legend, probably harder for us to believe that it was for Joseph to believe Mary’s story?

Ironically, while the events of this tall-tale doesn’t compute with our modern minds, most of us love to celebrate Christmas—at least that is what our consumerist culture would have you believe. We decorate trees and houses with colorful bright lights, we run ourselves ragged and broke buying presents; Jingling bells are ringing everywhere. And we anticipate the coming of Santa Claus, I mean Jesus. Who’s coming are we celebrating on the 25th? But of course, I know better than to question these traditions, I don’t want Trasie or anyone else calling me a bah-hum-bug, or a grintch or whatever. We even love the “Christian” aspect of Christmas: church pews seem to be more crowded, kids act out pageants, real-life nativity scenes. And know Christmas Carols by heart, or in the very least are very good at humming. Something deep in our soul is touched by this season.

But are we touched by how the birth of the Messiah took place? “conceived by the Holy Ghost”?

Are we inspired by the possibility that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary?

As easy as it can be for us to just skip over the tale Mary spins rather than reconcile it with our modern minds, we force ourselves to come back to it year after year: “Round, yon Virgin, Mother and Child.”

But why should it surprise us that the birth of Jesus took place in this way? His life was surrounded by scandal and mystery. This hard to believe tale of birth is just the beginning of the story. It is the beginning of trying to make sense of the life that changed the world forever.

As a kid he was in the synagogue trying to show the older adult rabbis a thing or two. Before he began his formal ministry he was hanging out with that rabble-rouser, honey covered locust eating, John the Baptist. And according to which story you read, he makes his first public appearance after his baptism turning water into wine, casting out demons, getting thrown out of his local synagogue for claiming to be anointed by the holy spirit—did they remember Joseph and Mary’s story—anointed to set captives free, give sight to the blind, preaching good news to the poor. His teachings were revolutionary: love your enemies, forgive those who do you harm, blessed are the peace makers, blessed are the poor.

And isn’t this what’s important about this legendary account of the birth of a baby Jesus. Maybe instead of getting tripped up by some of the harder to grapple with details of the story:

conception by the Holy Spirit, Angels appearing in dreams—we will never understand these things; maybe instead we can consider what this birth story means?

Why did the gospel writers of Matthew and Luke feel it was necessary to tell this part of Jesus’ life? Whatever else they may mean, the birth stories of Jesus emphasize that “God is with us.” Emmanuel. God-with-us through the birth of Jesus into the real world of flesh-and-blood human beings. In other words, it happened! It happened at a particular time, in a particular place, in connection with a particular mother: “In the days of Herod the king”, in Bethlehem, of Mary.

The Christmas story—[the birth of the Messiah]—is anything but a sentimental, harmless, once-a-year occasion for a “Christmas spirit” that lasts only a few days before we return to the “facts” of the “real world.” Christmas is the story of a radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long—a world where there is political unrest and injustice,

poverty and hatred, jealousy and pain, fear, and the longing that things could be different.

Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” might suggest that the Spirit is the father of Jesus. Kind of weird. But maybe it is better to understand conceived by the Holy Spirit to mean that Jesus had no father at all. That instead of a biological explanation of Jesus being human and God, maybe there is no explanation; that the Word became flesh purely by the will and word of God. God spoke, and Mary heard and responded: “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). So we’re not talking about the physical process of procreation, but of God’s original creation of all things “out of nothing.” God simply spoke—breathed life—and it was done.9

If we are honest, as much as we may love or loath this time of year for whatever reason: these stories of the birth of the Messiah and the way that this birth took place, are difficult to get our heads around. But, at the heart of their intention is the suggestion, the emphatic proposition, that birth Happened! That God some how came to be with us in a human being.10 Came to us as a baby.

If I started the sermon off irreverently, chances are I will end it that way when I mention the Will Farrell movie, Talladega nights. At a scene around the dinner table, Will Farrell’s character is to say a blessing with his family before a meal. The prayer begins: Dear baby Jesus; He continues to addresses baby Jesus in the prayer…

Until, someone interrupts him, “Why do you keep praying to baby Jesus?” setting off a great big argument.

Farrel’s character simply suggests that he likes baby Jesus, so that is why he prays to baby Jesus.

The birth of the Messiah took place in this way.”

How comfortable are we with baby Jesus? More importantly, what does it all mean?

To be honest, I don’t think about Jesus as a baby very often, maybe just during this time of year, it is too mysterious, it is too dangerous, it is too far fetched.

Baby Jesus, scandal surrounds his birth.

Baby Jesus, his name means God Saves.

Baby Jesus, born, breast-fed, brought up by parents, Mary and Joseph.

Baby Jesus, Emmanuel-God with us, now and always.

Baby Jesus, we celebrate the birth so very soon.

1 Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
2 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.
Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
6 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.
Martin B. Copenhaver, “Jesus’ Other Parent,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2007, pp. 34-36.
Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
9 Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, WJKP: 1994, 235-237
10 Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, WJKP: 1994, 235-237

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Let Down? What’d you expect? Matthew 11:2-10; Isaiah 35:1-10. Advent 3

For her office’s Christmas party last year, Trasie’s boss took us to see a play called The Wiz—the Wiz a 1975 Broadway musical, an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, exclusively featuring African American actors. The 1978 movie one featured Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the scarecrow. The musical we saw featured children, including a little 10 year-old Dorothy who sang her little heart out. She and the brainless Scarecrow, the rusty tin man and the cowardly lion made their way along the yellow brick road surviving obstacles and adversaries until finally arriving to the emerald city—the house of the Wiz; they want to meet the wiz, they have to meet the wiz, the wiz will solve all their problems: give brains to Scarecrow, lubricant to Tin man, and courage to the Lion; and of course get Dorothy and Toto home.

The Wiz appears to them in lights and as this giant metallic head—the lion panics—the Wiz demands they get rid of the Wicked Witch of the Westside. Exasperated but desperate, they somehow rid Oz of this witch, and return to the Wiz’ palace even more excited, with more hope than before; they’re finally going to get what they want. As we all know, thanks to Toto, they experience total let down—The wiz is a fake. Some old dude who can’t do anything “magical” for them. Hopes and dreams are dashed, tears run, agony and despair are felt. Why? They hoped for something big, big change in their lives, they hoped for new life after wandering around lost and desperate…and instead they find this fake old dude.

Why they decided to run this musical during the days leading up to Christmas, I can’t tell you. Why Trasie’s office wanted to go see the musical for their Christmas party, I haven’t the slightest clue. Yet, strangely enough, I found the story of the Wiz, or the Wizard of Oz for that matter, appropriate for this Sunday’s passages. Matthew’s story about John is a tale of hope-filled expectations dashed by three walls and vertical bars. John not long ago was on top of the world hanging out in the desert, eating honey covered locusts and wearing his camel coat—surely a fashion statement—shouting like a wild man that the One is coming with an ax ready to chop unworthy trees down.

Chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. Do you want a revolution…let the kids say Whoop Whoop!

As John is yelling about the Coming One, Jesus shows up on stage, apparently ready to accept all the accolades John will give him. He goes under the waters of the Jordan and emerges baptized, ready. John preached a straightforward sermon: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ The words of Jesus’ first public proclamation: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ I guess there was no copyright on the sermon.

But, I wonder, as the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, were he and John looking at each other eye-to-eye: John thinking, “Yes, this is the One,”

and Jesus thinking “Yes, I am the one,” only that each man defined “the One” differently. Did John have hopes the Messiah would be one way, while Jesus had another idea about his mission? Did the coming of the kingdom mean God would lead Israel to triumph over her enemies at last, or did it mean the end of all hostility forever? Did it mean God would send Israel a new king for a new age, or did it mean God was coming to relieve all human rulers of their thrones, for God would be the just Judge ruling atop the mountain? Was the kingdom a present reality, in which the righteous already lived with God, or was it a future one for which all creation groaned?”1 These apparently differing ideas about the Messiah are found in the Old Testament; the prophets just don’t seem to agree on what the kingdom would look like!

In other words, John has certain expectations for Jesus the Messiah, which are perfectly legit according to the ancient prophets: the Messiah would bring the Kingdom John dreamed to see—a Messiah kicking tail and taking names; carrying out final judgment, cutting down trees that are not bearing fruit.

Reestablishing of Israel as a power…this is what the prophets said. John’s ready for Jesus rise up and turn the world upside down, but instead John ends up on death row at the hands of the existing powers.

In the mean time, Jesus is about his business being the Messiah according to his understanding: He eats with tax collectors and sinners; he lets prostitutes wash his feet, and forgives [foreigners]; weren’t these are the very people who were supposed to be chopped and burned?2 Jesus is telling people to love their enemies; isn’t he supposed to be mopping the floor with them instead? So now John’s rotting behind bars, worn out and depressed. “What is this guy doing?” he wonders. So John sends word to Jesus: Hey, you see me here in jail? You remember all the stuff I said about you…all that hype I gave you. I made you famous. I had big hopes for you. Was this just a big joke?

I’m sure we all can relate to John’s disappointment. Everyone knows what it’s like to be let down by someone we had high hopes for. Let’s make a long list of all the people who have let us down: From the most mundane like our favorite sports team, to the most intimate: A parent? A spouse? A child? We could be writing all day. It was a total let down when my high school prom date, Nicky Davis, who I considered to be the bomb—smart, good looking, athletic—decided she didn’t want to date because I was too nice. What!!?? What was she looking for? What a let down, and apparently I let her down too—guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Let me ask you, would you put yourself on that list of people who let you down?

Sometimes I leave the church here during the week really bummed out, not because anyone has let me down, but because I put certain expectations on myself that I just can’t meet.

And if we’re honest with ourselves I’m sure we’ll admit that we’re probably on many other people’s “let down list”; more than we would ever care to know.

Let’s face it: we’ve let others down, we’ve let ourselves down, and others have let us down; we’ve probably even been let down by pets…although pets are probably among the least likely to really disappoint us…and they feel so guilty when they do, especially dogs.

Why all the let downs? Because we put our own expectations on others and ourselves, and others put their expectations on us. Why all the dashed hopes and expectations? Because we want people to be someone other than who they are. Someone we want them to be. And often, we want ourselves to be someone other than who we really are, too.

When I first came here nearly a year ago now [don’t forget about the celebremos fiesta Jan, 6] I preached my first sermon about expectations, about the loads of expectations this congregation had for me (and Trasie), and the countless expectations I had for this congregation—to feed me, to be nice to me, to buy me a new car, I didn’t get the car, but Margaret did give me this Mickey Mouse watch. Slowly we are coming to know each other, and rather than just turn one another into a heaping pile of unreasonable expectations, we are all coming to accept one another as we are, to grow with each other in our relationship with God, to help one another discover who God has created each of us to be.

One of my favorite paraphrases of Calvin goes: in order to know God you have to come to know yourself and in order to come to know yourself you have to come to now God. So, spiritually, our relationship with God depends upon self-discovery.

Every day that God gives us life, we are given a new day for self discovery, discovery of who God has created us to be. I must constantly remind myself that I am not necessarily who others define me to be; and I do not have to live to meet others expectations. I am to live as God calls me to live, and realize that God loves me the way that I am.

In the encounter between John and Jesus, I think John was coming to realize that Jesus wasn’t who he thought he would be. And we probably have the same tendency John did. We turn Jesus into someone we hope he is, but is that really who Jesus is? If and when Jesus came into our lives, maybe we were pumped,

ready for the world to be turned completely upside down. Things were pretty cool at first, but then stuff started going wrong and things weren’t working out like we’d been told; and Jesus was the reason… Come on Jesus, are you the one who is going to heal me, are you the one who is going to fix my problems,

are you the one who is going to make me rich? What kind of Messiah are you anyway?

John’s disciples ask a simple straightforward question:

—‘Are you the Coming One, or are we to wait for another?’—Yes or no.

But the question assumes everyone agrees what being the Coming One means.

Jesus cannot answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without accepting the terms of the question, so he does not answer either way. Instead he tells John’s people to go tell him what they hear and see; 5’the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,’ Exactly what the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would do.3

But, then, depending on your expectations, that may or may not be enough.

There were still plenty of blind people in Israel, after all, plenty of the lame people parked at busy intersections rattling tin cups at passers by. All the lepers weren’t cleansed, any more than all of the dead were raised. The poor may have had good news brought to them, but they were still poor—still sharecropping for the rich, still paying taxes to the Romans, still wondering how to make ends meet without getting in worse debt than they already were. Herod was still minting coins with his picture on them and spending them on his grandiose building projects; and soldiers broke the kneecaps of anyone who protested.” 4

Couldn’t the Coming One have gotten a better handle of all that? Wouldn’t it have been more striking if Jesus had said, ‘Go tell John what you hear and see: the terror is over, evil is defeated, the occupation is ended, and the oppressors are sent home’? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if Jesus had said, ‘the homeless are housed, the poor receive a living wage, the scales of justice are balanced,” [everyone has a fair share]? 5

Even after his death and resurrection, all kinds of ancient hopes lay unfulfilled, like the one we read from Isaiah, the very passage Jesus quotes. Waters did not break forth in a blooming desert. No lions lay down with any lambs. There appears to be no super Holy Highway. For early Christians, it would seem “God’s kingdom did not come, but Titus’s troops did. In the fall of 70 AD, after a long and merciless siege, the Romans burned the Temple in Jerusalem to the ground and most of the city with it. Are you the Coming One, or are we to wait for another?” 6

Jesus would not answer that question, at least not directly. John’s disciples were to make up their own mind, based on what they heard and saw, and so are we; Jesus points out small things he’s done, not big things, things that are happening among little people, not powerful people, with local effect, not cosmic effect.7

During Advent, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, and anticipate the second.

What kind of a Messiah do we hope will come? “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” Jesus said, knowing better than anyone the disappointing, redemptive ways in which God works—sending a human child into the world instead of a mighty king, sending servants instead of troops—sending people like you and me with all of our hang ups and quirks instead of real disciples to do the work of the Coming One until he comes, for in just this way the kingdom of heaven draws very, very near. 8

Maybe we can prepare during this season of Advent for the Coming One, by learning to accept ourselves as we are and others as they are. Trying to love ourselves and love others, as God does. Then we will be ready to accept Jesus for who he is every time he enters our lives in mysterious ways, both now and in some long awaited future Coming!

1 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

2 Porter Taylor, "The Place He Stops is Now,"

3 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

4 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

5 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

6 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

7 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

8 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent 1-Year A, 07 – “Jesus Is Coming: Look Busy”

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

So as we all know, I’m new in this role and this is my first advent as a minister…and my weeks, my days of playing that card—the new guy on the block—are numbered. I’ve been here for almost a year. My shiny newness is wearing off. I’m beginning to lose that new minister smell…(Sniff under-arms)

The first Sunday I preached here was Jan 7, 2007, I remember it like it was almost a year ago… So what do you say let’s have a party: Let’s celebrate!

A year gone by end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. We can continue Christmas by celebrating Epiphany, traditionally, a Christian feast intended to celebrate the "shining forth" or revelation of God to humankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. The feast is also called Twelfth Day, as it is the twelfth day after Christmas, or Three Kings Day. We can exchange silly gifts; give out silly awards.

Maybe some speeches; a pot-luck; the pictorial directories will be done by then (hopefully)! If you haven’t had your picture taken yet…talk to Bob Horning or Trasie. I can’t wait.

But, it ain’t time yet. We’re still weeks away. It’s not even Christmas time yet.

I’ve got so much shopping to do, it ain’t even funny. Deep down I hope my family, for one, decides to not exchange gifts this year…or if anyone receives gifts it will be my 14 month old nephew. And we’ve got to get practicing for the Christmas Padgeant and christmas caroling. Boy I can’t wait to see the kid’s acting it out.

All this waiting for things to come…I wonder what Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent is all about? Let’s see, we have a perspective members class; today those who are planning to support the life and mission of this church next year financially will turn in their pledge cards; practice for the coro de chicas y chicos, and prep for the Christmas pageant. What else, on today the first Sunday of Advent?

Ah, yes, waiting, watching and getting ready for the Second Coming of Christ.

Wait. Hmmm. Wait for the second coming of Christ? hmmm

Wait Who wants to wait anyway? Do we know anyone who is good at waiting?

Maybe one of the awards we can give out at our end of the year beginning of the year party could be for the best waiter. That would not be me. I’ve never been very patient, although things got better after living in Mexico.

My braces drove me crazy, and I couldn’t wait for my teeth to get adequately straight. Waiting for someone to come pick me up from school when I was 15, drove me crazy. After Trasie and I got engaged, I could not wait to get married. I was living in Chile she was living in Mexico…let me tell you, I was a twenty seven year old male who couldn’t wait!

So what is it now that the Bible, of all things, is telling us to wait for? Christmas?…well, yes, we celebrate the first coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus—only 23 more days. But, these passages that we read today aren’t talking about an angel announcing the birth of Emmanuel, they don’t suggest that we anticipate a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Nope, these bible passages are painting an impression in our minds of some dramatic things that to happen in the future. In Isaiah, we see God establishing a house on a holy mountain, Zion, to which “all nations shall stream.” There God acts as judge, mediator, between nations, all nations accept the Law of God, and God is a just judge. With God as judge everyone knows that fairness and truth would reign:

What a difference if in troubled areas of the world, there were a just judge recognized in disputes! In the ancient world, as in the [world we live in today] the warrant for war is that there is no such authority for adjudication, and so nations take matters into their own hands. Now, in the envisioned world of the poem [in Isaiah] where God’s judgment is in place, war is not needed.”1

Swords are turned in to plowshares, tanks are turned into tractors, guns into garden rakes, bombs and bullets into bongos and bowling balls.

I can’t wait for a world such as this!

But even more than waiting…as bad as waiting is, both the passages from the New Testament tell us that while we’re waiting we need to be ready; to watch; to expect. No one knows when the Second Coming of the Son of Man will be (Daniel 7:13-14). Not even Jesus. But, his return would mean completion of God’s purposes; so be ready, we are told. No one knows when the glorious return will be, not even the angels, but we are to be watch, Jesus says.

It will happen like in the time of Noah—people were living their lives, eating and drinking and marrying—and then came the flood. We live our lives, too, eating out, keeping up with busy schedules, returning text messages, planning baby showers, maybe even a vacation is in the works—and then the unexpected happens. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man comes, Jesus says.

A thief doesn’t announce a break into your house; God will not announce the time when God is going to break into your life and into the world. So we better be ready all the time…be watchful. Keep awake..Merry Christmas!2

So what does readiness entail? Well, I don’t think it means fear mongering, threatening our own lives or those of others with what may happen to them at this return. Nor do I think preparing means necessarily storing up a bunch of food…or trying to look for signs of the times. What the texts meant for first century Palestinian Jews is very difficult for us 21 century gentiles to know.

But, in Matthew, we are given a picture of a faithful and wise servant “at work,” but not doing anything special; doing the work his master told him to do.

And reading on just a bit further in Matthew, we find the climax of Jesus sermon;

Jesus speaks of those who were surprised at the coming of the Son of Man and the final judgment.

There was surprise among those who were simply doing their duty…Lord, when did we see you hungry, give you something to drink, welcome you in our home, cloth you, visit you when you were sick and in prison? And surprise among those who weren’t doing these things. “Lord, When?”3

So let me ask everyone a question at the beginning of Advent…have we waited long enough? Are we ready for the second coming and all that comes with it?

Bring it on, Right!?

There are a lot of creative images out there about what it would look like, that is for sure. But, I wonder, do we really even think much about the coming of Christ anymore? Do we think about God establishing a mountain from which justice will be decreed?

It’s really interesting, but I would say that probably for most of us…we have lost sight of the second coming. We don’t understand what it means…it’s got excessive scary and threatening baggage with it, thanks to many would be contemporary interpreters. Do we pray come Lord Jesus with sincerity? Do we even care?

It hasn’t always been this way. An article,4 entitled “Imagine there’s no heaven” suggests that in the 19th century, preaching eschatology, end times, was the main topic in Presbyterian, Methodist, Epicopialan churches; congregations thrived off of this kind of End of the World Preaching. In other words, even 100 years ago, whoever was preaching here was preaching on a regular bases about the Second Coming! But what about now? Are many preachers shouting: the end is coming, the end is coming? When’s the last time any one of us was out on a street corner holding a sign that said: Repent: The end is near? In the very least we could make signs like the one my friend has: Jesus is coming; Look busy.

Would we rather stay away from passages like the ones we read this morning: about End times and staying awake? Why do we shy away from Jesus Coming again? It’s certainly biblical, but maybe we don’t believe it. It seems like it should be any day now, but maybe we’re tired of waiting. It really should be a marvelous time, but maybe it scares us.

Even, leading evangelical Christians don’t seem to put much weight on the second coming like the good ole days. Joel Osteen, pastor of a huge church in Houston talks about Your Best Life now, he’s firmly focused on the present tense—not the future coming. It is argued that much of the reason for the loss of eschatological focus, much of the loss of hope that God is coming to establish a throne of justice, to fulfill purpose for all of creation, is because science, technology and new understandings of the world have led us to believe that if we just put a little more into it, we can bring about the kingdom. If we just apply the best tools of capitalism, we can make life better for everyone…

The solution to global warming may be solved by the next generation of college graduates. Maybe baby Jaleesa holds the key to a cure for cancer.

But really, I wonder if many of us born in the 20th century have been duped by the notion of progress…”every day in every way, things are getting better”—and have given up on the need for something radically different to happen in our lives…for God to break in and take over any agenda that might be running us ragged.

But what’s really happening instead?

Is progress failing us?

Some people may have more things to distract them,

but are lonely and depressed; Prozac is a drug of choice.

We may have flown to the moon,

but airplanes crash and space shuttles explode.

We may have more technology, but wars continue to rage using more and more powerful weapons,

epidemics spread,

life is being threatened on so many levels,

our world is full of suffering and oppression.

Progress may have lulled people into thinking that the Second coming was no longer relevant, hope could be found elsewhere, eventually we’ll figure out how it should ends…but, I wonder if we find ourselves at a point where we’re ready to reconsider?

Should I start praying: thy kingdom to come…with diligence and fervor?

Should I wake up, rub my eyes, smell the coffee, and dress myself to always do acts of love and mercy, rather than falling into distractions that would be harmful to me and to others? Can I be so full of hope, because I am ready, I am watching, knowing that God will come soon?

Our Bible tells us about some future, a mysterious event that will change the course of history forever. Can we wait? Or better yet, are we ready? Will we be watching? Won’t it be wonderful! I wonder what difference it would make in our lives, and in this church, if we started to consider again: Jesus is Coming back, and it could be any day. God establishing soon a throne of justice.

I guess that is something we’ll have to consider over the next few least until we celebrate an event that has already taken place, a coming of God that changed the course of history, forever, the birth of baby in Bethlehem.

1 Brueggeman, et al. Texts for Preaching: Year A, p.3.

2 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.

3 Charles Cousar, “Disruptive Hope: New Testament Texts for Advent,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2001, p. 25-27.

4 Thomas G. Long, “Imagine There’s No Heaven: The Loss of Escathology in American Preaching,” Journal For Preachers, Advent 2006, pp. 21-28.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Worship

Yesterday, Sunday, Nov. 18 was the first time the church where I serve has been filled to near capacity on a Sunday morning since I joined the congregation in January of this year. It wasn't because an overwhelming number of the members of my congregation were in attendance, actually I'd say our numbers were considerably underwhelming. It was because we had a joint service with the Korean congregation that rents the building from us (it's a bit more complicated than that) and because I invited members of another church, La Iglesia de Jesucristo, a Spanish speaking immigrant church, that also wants to rent space from us (we are in the process of finalizing a contract).
The Korean pastor and I both preached on Isaiah 65:17-25. A glimpse was had of people dwelling with one another without the threat of something bad happening.
We also enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal, complete with Kimchi.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hechos 10

¿Para Donde Nos Llevan las Visiones?
Predicado en iglesia presbiteriana (nombre), Tuxpan, Michoacán.

¿Para dónde nos llevan las visiones?

Sueños, visiones, ¿de dónde vienen? ¿Por qué existen?

Nos llevan hacer cosas buenas y malas. Nos llevan a lograr cosas que nunca esperabamos; o llegar a etapas difíciles. Visiones: Lo que los políticos esperan que suene bien al pueblo. Sueños: lo que empuja a tantas personas viajar a mundos lejanos. Tal vez es visión de otros que nos cambia la vida o que nos motiva movernos (véase el ejemplo de Mario en la tapa de la revista Time: Feb 2006. Él es miembro de esa iglesia en Tuxpan.)

También fue visión de otros que me motivaba mudarme al DF donde pasé dos años de mi vida para trabajar con jóvenes en una comunidad cristiana con un equipo. Se me hizo la decisión fácil cuando Trasie, en aquel tiempo mi novia y ahora mi esposa, había decidido ser parte del equipo también.

Sueños de pastores para sus iglesias. visión de CH Diebol, el hombre que vino hace años atrás para formar una amistad con varias iglesias de Michoacán. Es, por una gran parte, la razón que nosotros de nuestra iglesia en los EEUU estamos aquí hoy.

En el cuento de esta mañana, vemos a dos personas que tenían visiones, sueños que cambiaron sus vidas para siempre.

El primero fue Cornelio (lee v. 3b)

Cornelio un hombre rico, un hombre de poder en la sociedad. Un hombre no cristiano ni judío, sino un gentile que sin embargo temía a dios y ayudaba a los necesitados. La visión que tuvo no dice para que Cornelio debe hacer venir Pedro a su casa. No dice que van a hacer un trabajo juntos como pintar el edificio de la iglesia. Ni que viene a convertirle a un seguidor de Jesús. Ni siquiera presentarle con la doctrina de Calvino. Entonces ¿para qué le invite a pedro a su casa?

De todos modos tuvo una visión Cornelio y se lo hizo en seguida.

En cambio, Pedro, uno de los discípulos más importantes, tal vez el más importante, el que vio al resucitado, el que hizo milagros en el nombre de Jesús. Este hombre Pedro también suele tener una visión, pero al tenerla, ¿Cómo se reacciona? Se preocupa, duda, y no entiende la visión.

A ver el cuento del sueño: Pues si Pedro llega a una casa muriéndose de hambre: --La comida estará listo en seguida—le dice el mayordomo (tocayo). --Bueno pues, me subo a la azotea para orar; compromiso--.

Ahí en la azotea ve cosas bien raras; algo como sabana que baja del cielo y pinturas de animales que los judíos no puede comer por su religión.

--Pedro, mata y come—dice una voz. Una gran tentación. Tenía tanta hambre Pedro, pero es judío y no se permite. –Mata y come PEDRO--. ¡No puedo comer algo impuro! Responde. –Mata y come… ¡No!

Después de la tercera vez la voz dice: --Lo que Dios a purificado no lo llames tú profano--. Pedro se queda con al duda…confusión. Pero ya los hombres de Cornelio están en la puerta y no le queda mas tiempo pensar. –Vete con ellos—le dice el Espíritu Santo…¡Apúrate hombre!

Pues sí, era una visión rara, pero además, es mucho riesgo que Pedro se encuentra con Cornelio. Cornelio tiene poder y fama. Le puede arrestar, le podría detener; le podría matar aun. Además, Pedro, por su religión no debe tratarse con un extranjero. Podría ser rechazado por su propio pueblo.

Pero también arriesga mucho Cornelio al invitarle a Pedro a su casa. Como hombre de poder y fama al tratarse con un extranjero que también es seguidor de Jesús ¿perderá su honor? ¿Qué le van a decir su gente tratarse con un judío pobre? Y que pasa si Pedro lo rechaza y no viene…una desgracia. O si Pedro lo regaña por su religión..o trata de convertirlo en un judío y le dice que ya no puede comer carne roja o aún peor que Cornelio tiene que…pues le obliga …¿saben? Circuncidarse! Ouch! Pues sí, ¡corre riesgo Cornelio también!

Pues sí es mucho riesgo para cualquiera persona encontrarse…tratarse con un desconocido; que sea extranjero, de otra religión, de otro pueblo; de otra perspectiva política. Es mucho riesgo aún teniendo una visión que te impulsa irte con otro; tratarse con alguien diferente. Ahora que nosotros como un grupo extranjero nos encuentra con ustedes, ¿cómo nos informa esta historia de Hechos? ¿Cuales son unos de los riesgos que corremos nosotros al estar juntos? ¿Ser rechazados? Manipulado? Controlado por otro? Podemos experimentar la venganza de Monctezuma!

Todo cristiano tiene comisión:

  • compartir las buenas nuevas

  • encontrarse con otros que tal vez no creen exactamente lo mismo como tú;

  • y sobre todo participar en la misión de Dios.

Y ahí encontramos el chiste; la parte clave; la bisagra del episodio de Cornelio y Pedro. Antes de irse Pedro donde Cornelio estaba ¿ya estuvo Dios? De hecho Dios había llegado a Cornelio en una visión antes de que Pedro recibiera su visión. Entonces ¿de quién era la misión? ¿De Cornelio? ¿De Pedro? O ¿era la misión de Dios mismo?

Lo que me fascina de este cuento es el hecho de que Pedro al encontrarse con el extranjero Cornelio sin decir nada; mas bien al escuchar el testimonio de uno que tenía otra cultura y costumbres aún otra religión y descubrió que tan grande es Dios: —Ahora comprendo que en realidad para Dios no hay favoritismos, sino que en toda nación él ve con agrado a los que le temen y actúan con justicia. (Hechos 10:34-35 NVI).

¿Para dónde nos llevan los sueños—las visiones que tenemos?

¿Con quien nos encontramos ahí? Y ¿Qué tan abiertos somos a descubrir algo de Dios—más bien de al misión de Dios en el encuentro?

En 1874, Rev. Antonio Greybill junto con su nueva esposa, partió de su casa en Virginia hacia México montado en caballo. Siguió una visión y se encontraban en la casa de una viuda, Doña Josefina y sus hijos Virginia y Leandro Garza Mora en Matamoros. Antes de llegar, esa familia había recibido una Biblia durante la guerra de 1848. También recibieron esos misioneros.

El hijo Leandro, que trabajaba en un bar, ofreció enseñarles español. Greybill y Garza Mora se hicieron amigos y mas, la historia de Garza Mora es una de “primeras.” Fue el primer presbiteriano Mexicano, el primer estudiante de la misión, el primer ministro ordenado de México, el primer moderado del presbiterio de Tamaulipas, el primer evangelista general del presbiterio y el primer representante del Sínodo General de México enviado a Escoses en 1904 para la junta de la Alianza Mundial de Iglesias Reformadas.1

¿Preparó Dios los corazones de ambas familias Greybill y Garza Mora entes del encuentro? Y miren..¿Cómo salió la misión?

Y ahora estamos en otra etapa de la historia. Una etapa en que se encuentra la globalización y la tecnología súper avanzada; inmigración de todas las países y familias separadas; muchas visiones y sueños de mejores vidas y muchas preguntas de cómo iglesias de distintos países deben relacionarse mientras tantos se van a los EEUU y el EEUU propone construir un muro por toda la frontera.

¿Qué quiere Dios que nos descubremos? ¿Quién de nosotros es mas como Pedro? ¿Quién es mas como Cornelio? ¿Qué descubrimos de Dios mismo en el encuentro? Pues para nosotros de nuevo México tal vez descubrimos la hospitalidad que nos dan, el compromiso a la iglesia, sobre todo a través de su participación con el coro; y la pasión de jóvenes para el evangelio. Tal vez descubrimos algo de la cultura mexicana para mejor poder abrir las puertas de nuestras casas y de nuestra iglesia al extranjero mexicano que vive circa de nosotros en un país ajeno. Y al abrir nuestras casa e iglesias al extranjero—al desconocido—con corazones abiertos y con humildad como Cornelio seguimos aprendiendo más y más de que tan grande es Dios y que maravilloso es su obra de misión.

Y sabemos aquí en este encuentro que es la visión mas importante—la que nos lleva por muchas partes como Pedro; nos puede guiar en cualquier momento es lo que afirma Pedro al final del encuentro en versículos 38 – 40a:

Me refiero a Jesús de Nazaret: cómo lo ungió Dios con el Espíritu Santo y con poder, y cómo anduvo haciendo el bien y sanando a todos los que estaban oprimidos por el diablo, porque Dios estaba con él.39 Nosotros somos testigos de todo lo que hizo en la tierra de los judíos y en Jerusalén. Lo mataron, colgándolo de un madero,40 pero Dios lo resucitó al tercer día….”

¡Qué poder tiene esa visión—ese sueño! ¿Para dónde y hacia quien nos lleva ese sueño de la historia de Jesús de Nazaret? Entregarse la vida para otras personas. Nos lleva a la mesa a compartir pan y la copa juntos—a convivir alrededor de la mesa juntos. A descubrir algo de Dios y de su misión al compartir lo que Dios ha hecho en nuestras vidas.

1 Mission To Mexico, PCUS.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad, Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

My dad can beat up your dad.” That’s just the beginning. Next it’s, “I can out do you.” “I’m smarter than you;” “I’m better than you at soccer, at tennis, at bridge.”

U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi you ugly.” This is how things begin. Kid’s stuff right. Show everyone just how good we are; at least how good we are compared to some people.

Last night we had a great time at the club de chicas y chicos Halloween fiesta—kids carving pumpkins, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, games including bobbing for apples. The kids gathered around the wheelbarrow full of water and apples. At first they went one at a time, and everyone kind of delicately dipped their heads into the pool, gently trying to gather an apple between their teeth.

I was getting bored so I said, “Alright, now see who can get the apple the fastest.

Antonio versus Scarlette…” The two dive in, I won’t say who won, but the effort certainly was increased. Then Trasie said “Gigi vs. her friend Lauren”, and both whom had been standing back just watching as if they couldn’t care less, dove in after those apples, their faces underwater. In seconds Gigi emerged triumphant, arms in the air, and water pouring all across her front!

We love to compete; to compare with others.

Jesus tells a story to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. The story is about two guys, “a good guy” –The Pharisee, and a “bad” guy—a tax collector—who just so happen to be going up to the church to pray together. Well, not exactly pray together, they just happen to be there at the same time. The really good guy goes first, lays it all out there before God, kind of…. “Oh God look at me. Now, consider the worst people around; you know all those terrible people out there, I mean, just look at that loser over there, a tax collector of all people. God, I am great; I am about as perfect as you can get.” In reality what does he lay out there before God?

He just talks about what he is not like; then he talks about all these “Good” things he does—praying, fasting, tithing...

But who is he? We know what he is not like. We know what he does. But who is he? Does he know?

And then it comes right back to us? Who are you? Who am I? Do we know?

Or does it take looking at others; particularly others who we think are doing things worse than we are, and defining ourselves over and against them.

This “good” guy “has found no certainty in himself and is evidently suffering from lack of personality;” so in his anxiety he makes others out to be terrible people, so that he can think himself all that.1

So the good guy is an upstanding citizen who fasts twice a week and tithes…

This guy is actually a model church-goer! If only we could live up to his example of moral conduct. Not to mention his fasting praying and tithing. This world is hurting for prayer; and of course stewardship season begins next month!

But, apparently, according to Jesus: He’s done something wrong. Even though he thought he was doing everything right—Right in the eyes of all the people, right in the eyes of the law. But, when he left the temple and went home, he was not justified.

The person who did leave the church justified was the tax-collector—the “bad” guy. He was up there praying too: but he stood off to the side, would not look up to heaven [which I suppose is where we get the tradition of bowing our heads in prayer]; but beat his breast [so why don’t we beat our chests?] and cries, “Lord, BE MERCIFUL, I am a sinner!” In that phrase, he has spoken from his heart; “he has uttered the complete truth about himself. He is a ‘sinner’—before God, before the law, before the standards of his own people, and before himself.”2

He has spoken directly about himself. He has not tried to make excuses for his own shortcomings; he is not looking toward the shortcomings of others to make himself feel better. He is simply claiming a reality about himself. “I, sinner.” I have messed up. I have done others wrong, I have done myself wrong. I need mercy from the one who is merciful. “This one went home justified.” Jesus said.

What is the difference in these two? Why is one justified and not the other?

I think the Pharisee didn’t go home justified because he didn’t go home free.

He left still so worried about what others thought of him, and worried about all the things he had to do to prove himself; he didn’t really seem too concerned about what God thought of him. He had not received mercy, nor did he understand what it meant to receive mercy.

Do you remember when we talked about mercy a few weeks ago; my buddy who would say “mercy” when an attractive young lady walked by?

Let’s think about mercy again for a second: Was there a time in our lives before we knew the good news? Do we remember the time before we knew we were loved and forgiven? The time before we were called to be disciples? This was the time of “pre-mercy.” In the time of “pre-mercy,” we have to reinvent ourselves every day, we face daily pressure to achieve, accomplish and impress. Good enough to impress our parents or our boss; smart enough to impress our teachers and peers; and romantic enough to impress our significant other. “But of course it is never enough; Because then, then, the next day it has to be done all over again, until we’re simply exhausted and left in despair.” Do you remember: Once you had not received mercy.3

This was the world of this Pharisee.

The other one, the tax-collector cried out: “God be merciful, I am a sinner.”
“This one went home justified.” Jesus said. He left there free, not worrying about what other’s thought or said, but having stood naked before the one who is merciful and pleads for mercy. This one went home justified.

Did he change his evil ways and stop ripping people off? We don’t know? But even by asking that kind of question of the tax-collector, we might be slipping off into the realm of Pharisee, judging what this bad guy should be doing.

Who are we to compare ourselves to other people, to compete against others to make ourselves look better? We can only stand before God—have God see us just as we are. We can cry for mercy, and trust that our loving God is merciful. God is merciful, God loves us. Do we believe this? That we are recipients of mercy, even when we may forget to ask for mercy? Or do we have to go around looking for other ways to feel good about ourselves.

I love to think I am such a good husband because I don’t do a lot of things that some of Trasie’s friend’s husbands do. I like to think I’m such a good citizen because I stay informed, I participate in public life, I’m a Presbyterian minister.

I like to think I’m such a good environmental steward because I recycle and I catch shower water in a bucket and use that water to flush the toilet. How many of you do these things? Ya’ll didn’t know what you were getting when you called me to this church!!!

These are silly ways that I compare myself to others. But about they ways the we compare ourselves to others that is damaging and hurtful to the other. We look at the homeless, and say. “Why don’t you just get a job? I’ve worked hard for what I have”. Or at the women experiencing domestic violence, “Why doesn’t she just leave? She deserves it.” Or to the immigrant, we dehumanize by making them “illegals” and criminals. In our efforts to make ourselves better, we judge and we exclude others based on race, class and gender. We hurt others, we become paralyzed and imprisoned by our judgment and the walls that divide us grow taller.

We too have come to the “temple” this morning—come to church to pray, to come before God, and to come before one another. We are seeking assurance about ourselves and about other people before God. But who gives us this assurance? We too are hungering for acceptance (recognition), for without acceptance (recognition) no one can live. What kind of acceptance do we seek?

We, too are seeking mercy in the things about ourselves that neither we nor anyone else can describe as good.” And who shows us this mercy?

Are we past these silly games of trying to make ourselves look better by saying things like: My Daddy Can beat up Your daddy? Are we ready to accept ourselves tal como somos? Just as we are each of us uniquely and wonderfully made, and then be free to love others just as they are. Not judging and comparing and holding in contempt of whatever.

We could go around comparing ourselves all day long with other people.

But it just doesn’t justify. What justifies is God’s mercy in our lives!

1 Jurgen Moltmann, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” in Chorus of Witnesses, ed. Thomas Long, p. 25.

2 Jurgen Moltmann, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” in Chorus of Witnesses, ed. Thomas Long, p. 27.

3 Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Persistent Women Appreciation: Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1-8:
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

When was that time in life when you reached the bottom? That time when you felt like you had nothing left to give? Nothing left inside you? You could do nothing else on your own. You were desperate. Was this the time to reach down just a little bit further? To count your losses, to forget about everything else and give it your all?

Sports seem to have really captured this idea of finding something somewhere that gives you the strength and power to go a little further: the 15th round; the 9th inning, down by a run and two out;

the fourth quarter, your team has the ball with 2 minutes left and is down by a touchdown.

But, when do we reach these times of trial in real life? When our lively hood is threatened? Our identity assaulted? When a family member or a friend had really disappointed or hurt us? When we are taken advantage of? When we’ve had to face your greatest fear?

When Jesus tells this story we heard this morning, he is making his way toward Jerusalem, where he will be beaten and killed. Maybe Jesus tells this story to disciples who are beginning to wonder if it is even worth it to go forward; to continue the good fight and preach the good news. Maybe Luke tells this story to the early Christians a few generations removed from Jesus, who are really beginning to wonder what this new movement called the way, this new movement seeking an alternative life according to the way Jesus lived. Life is lived not to gain the world or seek after one’s own interest, but to seek after the interests of others. Self giving, self sacrificing life modeled by a man who gave his life on a cross, and by others whose lives also came to tragic endings. These early Christians were probably wondering what it was all about. Why them? Why the persecutions? Why the struggle? For what?

For this woman in our parable, there was nothing else to live for. Someone wanted to do her in and she “needed justice. But, she had nothing…absolutely nothing. No money, No husband, No standing in society, no power, no resources, Nothing. Well, maybe nothing is not quite accurate. She did have something. She had the capacity to be a pest, to annoy. And, when you only have one weapon, you use it.”1 She didn’t care what others would think of her. She didn’t care about any potential negative consequences her actions may have. She didn’t care about the judge’s terrible reputation. So she goes to the judge who is not a typical “Your Honor.” This judge didn’t respect anyone. He didn’t fear God, so what would motivate him to hear out this pitiful woman’s desperate plea. No Karma/Darma factor, no golden rule, no empathy. He heard cases and said, “that’s your problem, not mine!” He simply didn’t care. But this widow in Jesus’ story doesn’t care either. She doesn’t care that the judge has a careless attitude. She pesters this judge constantly. Day and night she would bang on this judges office door,

she would cry out from the chambers of the courtroom, send him annoying emails and text messages. “I want justice! I need Justice. Give me justice!”

We’ve all met people who annoy like this woman. The youngest of three and only boy, I was kind of an annoying kid to my parents, especially to my mom. I loved to play the why game, usually in the car when there was nowhere for my mother to escape to. Any time she said anything I would ask “Why.” How was your day at school? “Why” And when I was hungry—I was terrible—I would stand in the kitchen, “I’m hungry, When are we going to eat?” I would sing terribly annoying songs: “I’m hungry I’m hungry. I’m hungry, Give me food.” And just like that food appeared. I gave my mom grey hair; this judge was probably bald after this woman drove him crazy: “I want justice! I need Justice. Give me justice!”

So, he gives in. And just like that there was justice.

This is the story Jesus told so that we might pray always and not lose heart.

So what do you make of it? What do two characters: A judge and a widow, teach us disciples as we listen intently? A judge who couldn’t care about anything, who finally gives in. “Maybe what Jesus is teaching us is that, even though the headlines in the newspaper often show a world of corruption and evil,” even though we face any number of difficulties and disappointments in our lives;

this is, after all, our Father’s world; a world ruled by a loving and just God;”

Can we trust that at the end of the day, there will be justice? “Is that what Jesus wants us to see?”2

To be sure that is part of it. I find it always helpful to be reminded of how much God loves and cares for me; to hear of the sovereignty of God—that’s so Presbyterian. But if this were all to this parable its moral would have been:

God will take care of all your worries.” “Let go and let God.”

But, Jesus told this parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow, “In order that we might pray always and not lose heart.”

Ah yes, of course, there’s the old annoying widow who is also part of this story.

The model of faith, and the model of what it means to pray. I came across many examples of this kind of pesky persistence; and interestingly, most all of them were persistent women.

Trasie and I watched the film Out of Africa last week. There was a scene of Karen Blixen, a dutchess from Denmark, getting down on her knees before the new governor at his welcoming party, begging him not to remove the Kikuyu from their land. This was a very improper thing to do, but Karen didn’t care about anyone’s indignant stare. She demanded justice for the Kikuyu people.

At age 90, Mrs. Doris Haddock—the kids refer to her as “Granny D"— walked for 14-months, 3200-miles across the United States to protest the corrupting effect of big money in our electoral process.

Cindy Sheehan—the woman who upon the death of her son in Iraq, camped out at President George Bush’s Ranch demanding to speak with President Bush face to face.

And what about that persistent woman, Mother Teresa. I pity any “judge” that had her knocking at the door. Seeking to raise money for an AIDS hospice, Mother Teresa called out to Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington lawyer who was loaded, who at one time owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles, who was the lawyer for Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, among others. Surely he would give to her plea for justice. But, Williams and his law partner, Paul Dietrich, had decided not to make a contribution. Still they wanted to meet this Catholic saint, so they would be polite, hear her out, but then say no.

The day came for the meeting. Mother Teresa “was a little sparrow sitting on the other side of the lawyer's big mahogany desk. She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We're touched by your appeal, but no.” “Well,” Mother Teresa said as she looked at the men, “Let us pray.” Williams looked at his partner; they bowed their heads. After the prayer Mother Teresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice. Again Williams politely said no.

I see,” Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.” Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling, “All right, all right, get me my checkbook!”3

Is this what Jesus trying to tell us to do: annoy like Granny D, pester like Cindy Sheehan, use prayer like Mother Teresa, cry out like the widow: “bang on the doors of heaven with insistence.”

To be sure, Jesus wants disciples to act likewise—to be persistent in prayer. Maybe even get a little feisty with God. “We want justice.” But maybe that's not all. “If that were the whole meaning of Jesus' story, then the moral of the story would be “Be feisty. Pray always.” But the moral of this story is, “Pray always and don't lose heart.”4

This moral of the story leads to two problems for me:

  1. Pray always. This is a problem for me; and I don’t think prayer is a problem just for me, but probably for most of us. What am I supposed to say? Am I really talking to God or am I only speaking to myself? I’ve already confessed to you that I’m uncertain about prayer. And really, when we pray, we are putting out faith on the line. Is there a God or not? Is there a God who cares for us, who hears and responds? These are frightening questions.

Maybe that’s why so many don’t even bother to pray. “If God really cares for us and knows what we need, why do we need to pray?” some may say. “It’s kind of old-fashioned,” Others quip. “It’s a little self-righteous,” suggest others.

But really prayer is a great risk of faith!5

2nd problem: don’t lose heart.

The problem beneath all of our problems with prayer is exactly what Jesus addresses here: We simply lose heart.

If we really believed in the power of prayer; if we really believed that prayer can effect world peace; if we were truly convinced that prayer changes things;

heals broken lives and restores severed relationships,”6

then I guarantee, that this sanctuary would be pact on Thursday mornings at 7:30 am, and probably every other morning. We would wear knee pads; pray constantly. Nothing—No work schedule or busy life—could keep us from praying.

But, instead, we don’t do it. We find we are too busy to pray. And we find we are constantly confronted by the appalling injustices around us:

Why do children continue to starve?

Why is there increasing economic disparity?

Why are families divided due to deportations?

Families torn apart by domestic violence?

Why do wars continue to wreak havoc across the globe?

Why? Why? Why?

I simply lose heart.

Jesus told them this parable so that they would pray without stopping, and never give up hope!. From this story Jesus told, we learn something about God;

that God is so much more willing to hear our cries for justice than a crooked mean old judge. But sometimes our cry for justice seems to go unheard.

We learn something from this widow—how we need to act—pray day and night when we are faced with trials beyond anything we can bare. When an opponent would do us in. But it is hard to pray, risky to pray, and sometimes it seems irrelevant to pray.

Well, maybe “Jesus' story is not finally about the bad judge and it's not finally about the insistent widow. Maybe it's finally a story about God and about you and me.” A story about relationship between a God who is in fact loving; a God we can trust; a God who we can turn to in confidence to hear our cries and desires justice; and us, God’s beloved children.

The reality is that we have to endure many hardships in this life. Do we remember? Christ ended up dying on the cross. And he told this parable to disciple so that they would pray always, and not lose heart.

What is it that keeps us going from day-to-day? What do we do when we are faced with insurmountable odds? What do we do when we reach the bottom? When we feet like there was nothing left to do? Nothing left inside you but despair? Can we reach down just a little bit further? Can we pray? Maybe not necessarily so that things will turn out exactly as we hope for, but instead so that we can grow in relationship with the one to whom we pray.

And we remember: The cross was not the last word. Resurrection came and it was the relationship that carried it through. In the face of seemingly nsurmountable odds, can we arise in the morning and pray for justice?

Can we approach mid-day banging down the doors of heaven demanding justice?

And as the sun goes down, can we lie in bed and rest assured that resurrection—life, hope, loving relationship—is the final word?

Jesus concluded the parable by saying: When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? Maybe because of the relationship with God, prayer gives us faith.

And Jesus challenges us to pray always, and never give up.

In a large gathering of persons concerned about certain unfair and oppressive conditions in our society, an elderly black minister read this parable

and gave a once-sentence interpretation: ‘Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.’”7

I know that I do not know what prayer is; I know I do not understand how prayer works. But, strangely when I do pray, I feel that somehow things are different. That somehow things have changed. Most likely, when I pray, I have changed, because I have grown closer to God. Most likely, when I pray, I have encountered the living God in some mysterious way.

1 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

2 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

3 Adapted from the story as told by Thomas Long, in his sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

4 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

5 William Willimon, 10/18/1998 - On Not Losing Heart:

6 William Willimon, 10/18/1998 - On Not Losing Heart:

7 Craddock, Texts for Preaching: Year C.