Pentecost 19C


19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
As I was reading the Gospel lesson for this morning, it bothered me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why at first…but the more I read it over, the more clear it became to me. I just don’t like this judge. That probably seems rather crass to hear me say that; it seems crass to me that I feel that. But I think that’s Jesus’ intent. The judge in this parable is not a good judge.
Look at how Jesus introduces him to us: “ a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” It’s one thing for him to not respect his fellow human beings; that’s bad enough. But if he doesn’t “fear” God either? Listen to this commentary:

That the judge does not “fear God” is contrary to a primary expectation. The obligation to fear God is to be learned by every Israelite (Lev 19:14, 32; Deut 4:10; 6:13; 14:23; 17:13; 19:20). Fearing God and keeping the commandments are linked, as though fearing the Lord is a presupposition for keeping the commandments (Deut 5:29; 8:6; 10:12; 13:4; 31:12); at other times keeping the commandments is a way to learn how to fear God (Deut 6:2; 17:19). Above all, and most relevant for this parable, the fear of the Lord is the antithesis of injustice (Lev 25:17, 36, 43) and the basis of rendering a wise judgment (Ps 111:10). A judge who does not fear God cannot be just in his judgment. Yet righteous judgment on a part of a judge is mandated by the Torah (Deut 1:16; 16:18–20; cf. Zech 7:9).

In this day and age when our society seems to have a hard time with the Rule of Law, the laws of our nation aren’t always applied fairly…and sometimes not at all…and even our courts don’t seem to find that Lady Justice is as blind as we thought she was… this parable hits a raw spot with me.
In that same commentary, it says it wasn’t “that he simply lacked respect for others, but that he had outright contempt for those who came before him. Such an attitude is in direct contrast to the ideal judge... The ideal judge [- God -] is righteous.” [Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, ed. David Noel Freedman and Astrid B. Beck, The Bible in Its World (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 254.]
Now, in the end, he gives the woman justice, so all is well, right? What do you think? As with everything Jesus teaches, the real issue is always the heart. This judge’s heart was not in the right place. Sure, he did the right thing, but for the wrong reason.
But honestly, what the judge did is not the focus of Jesus’ parable. Look back at verse 1. “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” His purpose was to encourage them to pray always…and not to give up. So how does his parable do that?
Jesus gives us the very extreme opposite of our Heavenly Righteous Judge. With God as our Judge, we *can* expect wisdom and righteousness and justice in our judgment. We can also expect that in addition to wisdom and righteousness, our God also treats us with great love and compassion. This is not just a good judge; He is the Greatest Judge - the Perfect Judge.
I’d like to read a different translation of verse 7: “Will not God give justice to his chosen ones, who are crying out to him day and night? Will he put off helping them?” If it isn’t clear, here are the 2 answers: “(1) yes, God will vindicate his elect; and (2) no, God will not delay in regard to them.” [Hultgren, 256.] Again - exactly the opposite behavior of the judge in the parable.
Before we move on, I want to talk about this word “elect” we’ve encountered in this verse. The other translation I used a moment ago said “his chosen ones”. This Greek word has rich meaning behind it. In the secular culture, “the meaning is choice, select, costly, sterling, purified, profitable, best of its kind, of top quality.” [Gottlob Schrenk et al., “Ἐκλεκτός,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 182.] But in New Testament writings, and especially in the case of Luke’s Gospel and how this evangelist uses it, this word always looks toward God’s plan of eternal salvation for us. This is the same word that Matthew uses in the marriage feast “many are called, but few are chosen.” The invitation to that feast “implies an obedience corresponding to grace… Total obedience is always at issue… Election is fulfilled only in obedience… To receive gifts is of no avail if there is no readiness to obey. Thus the concept of election is set in living history. It demands responsibility and decision.” [ibid., 186-187.]
Now, if we’re not careful, you might be thinking that our obedience is how we get our salvation. That is NOT what this says. We are not saved because we are *obedient*. We are saved because we are *chosen*. And we are chosen in… BAPTISM. Our obedience is how we live out our Baptism. Our obedience is how we accept God’s invitation to the Great Wedding Feast. Now let me read those sentences again:
The invitation to the feast implies an obedience corresponding to grace
Election is fulfilled only in obedience
To receive gifts is of no avail if there is no readiness to obey
It demands responsibility and decision
To be Baptized - to be God’s “elect” comes with some responsibilities. Lutherans don’t like to talk like that. I enjoy that meme going around the internet that says “You can pray all you want, but eventually David had to pick up a stone and act against Goliath.” David didn’t pick up the stone to earn God’s grace. David picked up the stone to act on his faith in God…to *do* something with his faith. To accept the invitation that God had extended to him. To be obedient to the call that God had laid in front of him.
Are we God’s elect? Or maybe a better way to say that is: “are we certain that we are God’s elect?” If we’re baptized, then yes, we certainly are. So if that’s us - the elect - then this question is for us, right? Do we “cry to God day and night” seeking justice? Collectively, I’m sure we do. I know that many of us pray regularly…and added together, yes, we are praying day and night.
As for individually... well…I can only speak for myself: I will confess to all of you that I don’t pray enough. Listening to this Gospel reading, studying it, reading the scholars and their commentaries…I don’t pray enough. If *I* don’t pray enough… will you all help me with that? And if you need help with that, I’ll gladly help you, too. Deal? Let’s do a better job of asking God our Righteous Judge for justice more often. He’s promised us that He will give justice to us…and “speedily.” Let’s take him up on that promise.
And that brings us to Jesus’ last question: “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” That one kind of hurts a little, doesn’t it? Well come on, Jesus, we’re HERE, aren’t we? Yes. But what’s in our HEARTS? Do we believe that when we pray for something, that God will answer?
Look again at the widow: she knows this judge is not righteous. She’s been dealing with him “for a while”. Jesus doesn’t say how long, but it’s clear that it was longer than it should have been for a judge to make a decision. She didn’t give up. She kept asking a judge who was not a good man or a good judge. And he finally gave her justice.
If God is The Perfect Judge - and we know that He is - don’t we believe that He will give us justice? Let’s be clear: praying for God to let us win the $454 Million PowerBall likely isn’t “justice”… but when we pray, do we ask God for lots of money…or do we ask for justice? His perfect Justice? Maybe we need to think more about what we ask when we pray. Regardless, this lesson is very clear that Jesus is instructing all of his disciples to not give up - to pray continually.
I hope that it would be very clear to all of us why Jesus is teaching this lesson: we fall into the trap of thinking that God isn’t hearing our prayers. Or that God isn’t going to answer our prayers. At some level, I think this is how most of us “wrestle with God”…and instead of knocking our hips out of joint, we think God is ignoring us or delaying His answer. “This is the very problem that is faced by the elect of all ages: God seems to delay and delay their final vindication whereas [Jesus tells them] that the vindication is coming with speed. … God is not slack as some men count slackness; he delays in long-suffering in order to save as many people as possible; [as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:8-9], ‘with him a thousand years are as one day’.” [Lenski, 897.]
We are not as patient as God is, and we don’t know all that God knows. His timing is always perfect; it just doesn’t always line up with our timing. In fact, I’d say it rarely lines up that way. But if we persist…if we continue to go to God in prayer, to lift up our requests and petitions (and confessions and praise and thanks), what do you think the Son of Man will find when he comes?
Jesus is asking this question for the same reason he tells the parable in the first place: he wants us to pray. He wants us to keep on “crying day and night” to God, as his “elect” until he comes back. “Will there be this faith to welcome me when I come?” Jesus leaves the answer to us and to all the elect that follow us. [Lenski, 898.] But I think it’s clear that he wants us to be in constant communication with our Heavenly Father until that day.
Brothers and sisters, we have some decisions in front of our church family. We have an annual meeting coming up that is going to have a little more substance to it than we’ve had in a while. We have some opportunities in front of us, and we have some challenges. We have some needs, and we definitely have some changes in front of us, no matter which way we decide on these matters. I submit to you that God is extending an invitation to our congregation in these discussions… just as he has been doing with this church family throughout our history. Now we have some new things to look at. And we must discern them together.
Our last several Council meetings have been deliberating over these things. We will be sending out information for you to consider as we all prepare for this meeting. Please consider all that will be brought to this meeting. And please do so in prayer. If you’re not already praying for the members of Council, please do so now - especially in the next few weeks leading to this meeting. And that means both the members of Council who are currently serving, and those who are being asked to step up to replace those who must now step down. And if you aren’t praying for me, I’m asking you now: I need your prayers. Pray for each other. And if you don’t know what to pray, just ask that God would lead our church family in the direction He wants us to go. That’s a good prayer. And that’s what I’m praying for.
God is doing something new in our congregation, and I am excited to see where He leads us. Let’s all pray that we are open to hear and to follow His direction.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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