First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31
22The same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Psalm: Psalm 121
1I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
2My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
3The Lord will not let your foot be moved
nor will the one who watches over you fall asleep.
4Behold, the keeper of Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep;
5the Lord watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6the sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7The Lord will preserve you from all evil
and will keep your life.
8The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth forevermore.
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
1Then 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?”
CHILDREN’S SERMON: One of our well known statues is the statue of Lady Justice. We think of her as holding scales. There are two other symbols often included. Can you name them? Share with your neighbor.
(Lady Justice is often blindfolded to express impartiality. She will often have a sword at her side to represent the execution of justice. The scales represent that she listens to all sides of the story.)
Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
1Then Jesus told them a parable
about their need to pray always and
not to lose heart.
Last week we pondered Luke’s report of ten lepers who pleaded for mercy as Jesus traveled through the borderland between Samaria and Judah on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. We too live in the borderlands between two kingdoms, the kingdom of earth, this world, and the kingdom of heaven-eternity. Luke has been guiding our thinking in Pentecost to help us differentiate the two kingdoms and how they impact our lives, impact how we live out our faith, affect how we persevere in prayer. They operate by different principles and requirements. We are born into the kingdom of this world. It is not a choice like faith. Faith in Christ who died on the cross and dealt with sin that separates us from God is the key relationship to enter the heavenly kingdom. Faith is not automatic. We see and experience the kingdom of this world with our five senses, but we experience the kingdom of heaven with our spiritual senses and know it by faith. At the end of the text Jesus laments, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Between the opening call to prayer and the closing comment on faith, is sandwiched a parable we will ponder.
Context: Preceding the parable, the Pharisees had asked Jesus when this kingdom of God would come. Jesus had responded that “the kingdom of God is in our midst” but we just don’t see it. Jesus’ presence is ushering in the kingdom of God, but it is not “revealed” to our earthly eyes… yet. Some day, he will return and the kingdom will be revealed, become visible.
That makes me think of the President of Kenya traveling through our town with the President of South Africa whose grandfather had founded a church in our town. Police motorcycles preceded the Presidents’ car caravan telling all of us to get to the road to cheer and wave. Friends near us didn’t want to stop work and go and cheer for presidents they did not consider their own. They were presented with a choice, cheer or jail. I would understand Jesus to say, one day we will be called upon to cheer or go to jail. Jesus is Lord but we just don’t see his full glory…yet. Luke tells us Jesus is on the road coming.
Jesus then tells this parable of a judge who neither fears God nor respects people. A poor widow is seeking justice and pleading constantly with the judge. The judge gives her justice to silence her. Jesus draws a direct parallel between this worldly situation and an explanation of the kingdom of heaven. Again we are seeing Jesus differentiate between the two kingdoms. I will use the statue of Lady Justice to represent the kingdom of this world and our thinking about justice?
Unjust Judge/Just God
The parable is generic. In a “certain” city is a “certain” judge and a “certain” widow seeking justice. It is a story true in all places. Merriam-Webster’s third explanation of justice is “”conformity to truth, fact, or reason”. A judge we think should be impartial, wear blindfolds like Lady Justice, hold scales to show impartiality, and have a sword at her side to represent authority. This judge, we read about, is conforming not to God’s law as defined by Jewish tradition nor conforming to pressures from people and interest groups. We do not know this judge’s internal gyroscope by which he determines what is right. In the United States the judge might be referring to our constitution and the first amendment to make a decision. The constitution is a document that sits outside our emotions and our religion and we refer to it for legal decisions, argue about it, and judge the character of others by it. This parable could be about a woman standing before the supreme court to plead for justice for her abortion. This parable applies to us today. I already feel the first challenge for me – in my little court of right and wrong, as I pass judgment on others, what is the external source I refer to? Do I refer to the Bible and faith or to my feelings? Are my eyes blindfolded? Perhaps this story is not so generic but is about me! Let’s keep digging.
The kingdom of this world has judges who refer to sources outside themselves to evaluate situations and pass judgments. We like to think they are impartial, impartial. But we know that Putin thinks he is right in his eyes and Biden thinks he is right in his eyes and Ukraine wages the war and “widows” are created. In contrast, the kingdom of heaven has a God who sits outside time and events. Ultimate truth and justice rest within God and not from some outside document that he refers to and that can be debated. Also, God does not wait until he is bored with our pestering prayers but responds quickly. We just can’t see him in action. He is not blindfolded.
At the beginning of the parable, Jesus says, “a certain judge”, but at the end calls him “the unjust judge” and tells us to listen to him. We are to listen to the reasoning of the judge. The judge says that if he does not give justice to the widow, he will be exhausted by her pleading and so he gives her justice. I think of some of the “court cases” rolling around in the news in our country now. We have not settled January 6. We have not finished arguing about Roe and Wade. I even heard a continuing trial involving Sandy Hook and the repercussions. Trials are exhausting and can drag on for years as we debate the incident and all the repercussions of the decisions. I suspect “justice” in the kingdom of this world is a demand for results as I think they ought to be and as we refer to various authorities who are not gods. Looking for justice in this world will exhaust us. The goal is that the Supreme Court’s decision will silence the debates about justice that have climbed through the lower courts but I am not necessarily convinced justice is really achieved nor widows silenced. Justice will only fully be achieved at the end of time in the presence of God.
The widow/ the chosen ones
It is very interesting that Jesus chooses as his defendant, his person pleading for justice, to be a widow. There is no male from her life that is representing her or defending her. The judge is interacting with the widow as a person. She, as a female, is facing the same judge a man would. God is not sexist, culture and people are. The title widow also speaks to loss and grief. She was married but lost her husband and her protector. She has not found a kinsman redeemer like Ruth. She has not remarried like Abigail. No angel has interceded for her like with mother Mary. This woman is alone, bereft of family and abandoned by social services. She stands helpless and powerless. She pleads for justice from an indifferent judge who cares nothing for her.
Jesus contrasts her with God’s chosen, “7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” Let us listen with our spiritual ears – we are “chosen.” We are not alone, we are chosen, seen and wanted. We are not the last kid picked for the baseball team because we’re a klutz. We are chosen and valued by the judge, the God of the universe. The kingdom of this world is a lonely place where people fight for justice from judges who are not personally invested in them or understand the details of their case or know the future the client is walking into. The kingdom of heaven is relational, governed by a God who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and who has our names written on the palms of his hands and is guiding us into a good future with him. What a difference! Justice in the kingdom of heaven is not blindfolded nor holding scales. It sees us, really sees us for who we are with all our scars and dreams. God looks at us as his people, his chosen ones, not an annoyance to be silenced. He is not weighing us in scales to see if our case carries more weight or more importance than someone else.
“…he will quickly grant justice…”
Lady Justice is blindfolded to show impartiality and holds scales to show she considers all sides of a case. Thirdly often Lady Justice is a statue with a sword at her side. According to Wikipedia, that of course does not know everything but is a place to start, “Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the moral force in the judicial system. And the sword represents authority and conveys the idea that justice can be swift and final.” When the judge and jury rule, the theory is that a decision has been made considering all the facts presented by witnesses, considering all understanding of the law and now the sentence is declared. The gavel or sword comes down and there is a kind of sense of finality. It’s something like that. Final decisions can range from a death sentence to innocence. Whew! That is the kingdom of this world. And we know, the theory and the way it all works out are not the same.
But how about the kingdom of heaven? In the kingdom of heaven we do not have a sword but a cross. We do not have to live in fear of a trial in front of the God of the universe for we know we are seen through the eyes of grace. Reformation is coming in two weeks and again we will hear, “By grace you have been saved and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God and not of works least any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)” We stand not before an unjust judge who just wants to silence us but before a God who has chosen us. We stand not to be sentenced but to be gifted through grace. God is not blindfolded but knows us and our lives. God is not weighing us on a balance against others but sees us as his unique creation incomparable to others. God is not standing with a sword for a swift execution of justice but stands knocking at the door of our hearts asking to be let in.
And so Jesus ends with a question, “Will he find faith when he returns.” When he returns, he will not be looking for perfection. He will not be looking at our resume of accomplishments. He will not check our bank account for our tithing record. He will be looking for faith, for relationship with him. He will return to bring real justice for his chosen ones. That relationship is grown through prayer, through talking and listening to him during the highs, the lows, the silences and the good chews over our situations. He sees and he cares and he acts. He wants to be in relationship with us!
Let the people of God say, “Amen!”
Thank you, Lord.