Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

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Last Sunday after the Epiphany February 26, 2017 Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 17:1-9
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany February 19, 2017 Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 12, 2017 Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 5, 2017 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
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Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 15, 2017 Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus January 8, 2017 The Baptism of our Lord, Year A The Book of Common Prayer
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Christmas Day, Year A December 25, 2016 Christmas Day, 2016 Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14
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First Sunday in Advent, Year A November 27, 2016 First Sunday of Advent, Year A Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Christ the King Sunday, Year C November 20, 2016 Christ the King Sunday, Year C Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43


Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Sermon Date:October 16, 2016

Scripture: Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 24, Year C

The Widow and the Judge, Luke 18:1-8

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What on earth is going on in our country and in the world?

Have you ever felt less able to do anything about everything going on these days?

On a personal note, here I am up in Virginia, and I’m distressed by the news this week on the continued flooding in my hometown.  The geography of my childhood is inundated with flood waters from the Neuse River and its tributaries.   And in the big picture of the disaster unfolding in North Carolina, Goldsboro has gotten off more easily than towns like Princeville, the nation’s oldest town to be settled by freed slaves.  This town was wiped out in 1999 in Hurricane Floyd, but the people rebuilt.  This time, the town may vanish forever, lost at last to the flood waters of the Tar River.   

What can I do about any of this?  Not much, other than to worry and wonder about how on earth the people who have been flooded out will manage to recover. 

What about the political landscape in our country right now?  Flooded with events that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible—I can’t take it!  I’ve given up listening to news reports.  I just get too stressed out by the hateful rhetoric, the hypocrisy, the anger, the blame, the negativity.  And I’m not alone.  The latest statistics from the American Psychological Association show that 52% of Americans are stressed out by this election cycle.

Although we in this congregation are divided when it comes to which candidate would be the worst for the future of this country, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all worried about political gridlock, the coarsening of political discourse and the self -serving behavior of politicians in general. 

The temptation is to feel hopeless and to give up believing that anything I could do, even voting, will make much of a difference in the divisiveness that this country is experiencing right now. 

And then there’s the world.  Haiti is trying, yet again, to recover from another natural disaster as cholera makes its way through the population after Hurricane Matthew swept through.   Aleppo, one of Syria’s biggest cities, has just about been bombed into oblivion.  Countless civilians have had their lives destroyed.  More refugees are on the move right now than were on the move in the aftermath of World War II.  Thousands of refugees are stranded in Greece with nowhere to go.  Relationships with Russia are the worst they’ve been in decades. 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Hopelessness seems to be the order of the day.

Enter Jesus, who tells his disciples a story about a lowly widow.

She has suffered an injustice from someone and as a widow, she has no power.    She has every reason to feel hopeless and stuck.

But this woman walks down a path of persistence that leads straight to the unjust judge.   She keeps going to this judge and demanding justice.

“Grant me justice against my opponent.”

Finally, the unjust judge gets sick of her persistence so he gives in and grants her justice.

And then Jesus says that God, who is just, will grant justice to those who cry to him.

Jesus told this story about the persistent widow to the disciples because he wanted them to pray without ceasing and NOT TO LOSE HEART.

So here’s an assignment for this coming week. 

Every day, I want you to pick the thing in your life that seems the most hopeless.  Maybe it’s your health, or a family situation, or some local or national problem, or maybe it’s something going on in the world.

Pray with persistence about that thing.  Offer it up to God, and ask for God’s justice, not your own vision of what that justice should be. 

At the end of the week, chances are nothing about the situation will have visibly changed, in spite of your persistence in prayer, but don’t give up. 

Just think, the people in the concentration camps in Germany must have cried out for justice as they went to the gas chambers by the thousands.  And they died anyway. Nothing seemed to have changed as a result of their cries to God. 

But through the decades that have followed, people all over the world have resolved that the the unfathomable cruelty and hatred that caused this injustice against a whole group of people should never take place again. 

Hope has grown out of hopelessness.  Justice has grown out of injustice. 

So prayer over the events that seem hopeless remind us to live in hope, even when hopelessness is the order of the day.

Persistent prayer also gives us courage –the courage to live as a people of justice, working for the common good, trying as human beings to live, even imperfectly, as the merciful and compassionate people that God calls us to be as God’s disciples.

And persistent prayer reminds us to be people of love—God’s love. 

Jesus showed us the way. 

“Love God and love one another,” Jesus said.   

We cannot ever love God and one another without help from God. 

Love is too hard, too demanding, too dangerous.

But persistent prayer helps us to be people of love in a world full of hate, even when that love seems completely hopeless.

Persistent prayer—unceasing prayer brings with it hope, courage, and love, and ultimately, faithful action. 

Even the smallest hopeful, courageous and loving actions will make a difference in this hopeless world.

In Goldsboro, people in churches are working together to provide three meals a day to the over two hundred people who are assisting flood victims.  People are visiting the shelters, simply to be with those who have lost everything, to sit with them in their sorrows.  These small actions bring hope, a reminder that God is at work in the chaos. 

Laura Long is another example of someone bringing hope to hopeless people as she travels to Greece this coming month to work with the refugees who have nowhere to go and who  are warehoused in overcrowded, dangerous and disease ridden camps. Laura is going to Greece as a person bringing hope.    

People of courage, who work for justice, like Irena Sendler, a social worker in Poland who rescued 2500 Jewish children in the Warsaw ghettos during World War II and was tortured by the Gestapo—her small acts of courage that saved so many continue to inspire people all over the world. And yet Sendler said of her actions, “I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little."

People of love like Jonathan Daniels, who went to the south during the Civil Rights movement to work for justice alongside his African American brothers and sisters in rural Alabama and died protecting a young African American woman from the blast of a sheriff’s shotgun.

Jacob’s story in today’s Old Testament reading is a story about God’s love for all of us.

Jacob enters into a night full of worry about what the next day will bring, when he finally has to face his brother Esau, the brother that he has cheated and swindled.

And all through the night before this meeting,  Jacob wrestles with God. 

And God wrestles with him.  All night long, God struggles with Jacob.  God doesn’t leave Jacob to struggle alone.  God wrestles with him.

And when day comes and God says to Jacob, “Let me go,” Jacob refuses, because finally he has realized that holding on to God is the only thing he could ever do that makes any sense at all. 

Only God can save him from himself—from his hopelessness, from his lack of courage, and for his lack of love for anyone but himself. 

And so Jacob says to God, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

And so God blesses him.

But God’s blessings come with a cost. 

We can’t save ourselves and we know it. 

And so we limp along.

But that proverbial limp is a reminder—that God preserves us, walks alongside us, and will carry us if necessary, no matter where we’re taken or what we have to endure.

Through persistent prayer we receive the gifts that God wants to give us– hope, courage, and love. 

Persistent prayer brings with it the knowledge that God is a God of justice, and that God is in charge.

So be a faithful and persistent pray-er.

Pray always and DO NOT LOSE HEART. 


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