Monday, October 17, 2016

Proper 24 Year C RCL, offered at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, October 16, 2016

I love the prophets. They tell it like they saw it or heard it. They spoke God’s truth to the perceived power of the day no matter what the cost. And the cost was often their lives.

Jeremiah was a witness to a time of crisis and the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. He survived the Babylonian invasion, the collapse of the kingdom, the defeat of the city, the destruction of the temple and the exile of many of his people. The whole book of Jeremiah reflects all of these events and echoes with warnings of doom and promises of hope.

Today’s reading is his most famous prophecy – a prophecy of a new and better covenant to replace the one made with Moses, the one that the people had broken. The new promise was that God would write the law into the hearts of God’s people and that all would know God and be known by God, from the least to the greatest and just as importantly, all iniquities would not only be forgiven but forgotten.

God is a God not only of Judah but of all creation and who will, in time, bring all creation to salvation through a process of liberation and restoration. Jeremiah’s message was to trust Yahweh above all and at all costs.

The author of the epistle urges Timothy to carry on with all he has learned from scripture and all he has known through faith, that a time will come when people will not listen to “sound doctrine” but will find teachers to suit their own desires. They will turn from the truth so that they might hear the word that suits their ways. Timothy is urged to proclaim the Word of God, to be persistent, to convince, rebuke, encourage with utmost patience, and to always be sober, endure suffering, and to carry out his ministry fully regardless of what others might say or do.

And in this Gospel reading from Luke: Is there anyone less powerful than an old widow woman? Today or in this Gospel, older women are met with such disdain. We have violated all the cultural mores of the day. We have had the audacity to live past the time when their youth has faded.

In the time of this Gospel reading, a widow was fully dependent upon others for her survival. And here she is, powerless…persistently pestering this powerful man.

And here this judge is, a man who is in a position to do justice-who is supposed to do justice especially for the poor and weak, yet a man who respected neither God nor people, here he is giving in to this weak old nagging woman.

If persistence paid off with such a corrupt human, how much more will it pay with a just God of unlimited power?

The corrupt judge is doing God’s will even as he does not believe in it. God’s will is being done even when we do not realize it. Justice is being served even in a corrupt world.

This is hope…that even in the midst of systemic injustice, justice may be done.

Yet it is so easy to lose heart. The weight of the world bears heavily on our hearts and minds. We are assaulted by bad news, tragic news at every turn. The images of dead children washing up on a shoreline, bombed out buildings, waif eyes staring out of ads at us, political unrest, racism, classism, ageism, so many isms that wear us out.

It is easy to lose heart. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the need, the suffering. It is easy to be tired of being horrified and outraged by the ludicrousness of this world.

We want it all to stop. It is safer in the smallness. Our hearts don’t hurt as much and our minds do not have to question those things we do not know.

This is called compassion fatigue or outrage fatigue.

We get to the point that we simply cannot hear of one more tragic circumstance.

I often see posts on Facebook that people are shutting down their accounts or taking time off from social media to quieten their lives, soften the lines, ease the anxiety.

I say to you that ability is an extreme privilege. It is a power that those of us with electronic devices hold.

People in poverty, people struggling to make it through each day, people who worry not only about the food they will feed their children but about whether or not those children will be arrested, or killed before they get back home - these people do not have the luxury of shutting down or logging out. It is not about just making ends meet. It is about making it through each day regardless of the fatigue. They may know about other tragedies in the world but the realities of their own lives are tragic enough. They live in an outrageous time in the middle of not only St. Louis City but across this nation.

These are unjust times.

I see it each day of this ministry. People are hungry. Not just a hunger in their bellies but a hunger in their hearts for justice. Hungry for a time when they do not have to come to a food pantry, hungry for a decent wage, hungry for healthy foods……..

hungry for respect and dignity.

Some of the most spiritual people I know are those I see at the Trinity Food Pantry or the Hot Lunch. People who have little but God to depend upon – these are people who are crying out to God every day to help them survive in an unjust world.

That is the reason that these texts are so vitally important today. God does not tolerate injustice. Jeremiah’s warning to the world of Judah could be said to us as well. The days are surely coming, says the Lord. And in Luke: If even an unjust judge will do God’s will, what justice will God grant to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

Yes, we know that Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us but that does not mean that the systems that oppress people are ok. These are not. When generations of families continue to live in poverty, something is wrong with the system, not simply the people. Our education systems are flawed. Those who can send their children to good schools do; those who cannot afford the good schools must make use of the neighborhood schools. As a result, we have under-served, under-educated students.

Who needs to know about Flint Michigan? My grandson attends a magnet school in the St. Louis Public Schools. Just this semester, we received word that the water from the water fountains was contaminated with lead. 

Now how long do you think this has been going on? It is not as though it just happened. How many children have drunk water from these toxic fountains for how many years?

How much should a people bear before they begin to nag a corrupt system to right that which is wrong?

How many wrongs must be tallied up before a sense of justice kicks in?

And what does that have to do with any of us?

I sleep soundly in my nice big house in the City, I drive my cute little red car, I store up all my little treasures here on earth, all the while those I see each day or each month struggle with the simplest of things.

I can tell myself that I work to right those things that are unjust. I can wear myself out physically and emotionally trying to respond to the literal grip of need that seizes me each time I walk in the midst of the people. I can share my stories with you and try to grab your imagination so that your compassion is stirred to the point of action but     what     good    will    it   do   in the long run?

What difference does it MAKE????????

We live in an unjust society. Our laws are unjust. Our system is corrupt.

Yet, the days are surely coming, says the Lord.

Listen to what the unjust judge says.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

The people of God are crying out.

The parable in the Gospel was to help us remember to pray always and to not lose heart. The difference that we make is in our prayers. If God’s will is capable of being done even in the midst of corrupt human will, what more can be done in the midst of love and respect?

We are to carry on, just as we have been taught, just like Timothy, just like Jeremiah, in faith and love. We cannot allow our own human failings to cause us to be overwhelmed or fatigued. We have to know that God’s will is being done through the small things that we are able to do.

I see what love and respect do when these are shared. I see it in the faces of those I know, of those who ask me to pray with them, of those who ask if they can pray for me. I feel the effect of their persistent prayer. I know that God’s will is being done, regardless of our awareness levels. There is faith on this earth and I do believe that it will override all that is wrong and unjust. The days are surely coming…

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
I say yes. I say yes, he will. We simply have to keep the faith, keep on praying, and do not lose heart.

Amen.

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