Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Pentecost 21 – Year C

I have never been a big fan of our parable for today. It has always bothered me. Perhaps you feel the same way. Some have called it the, “Parable of the Unjust Judge.” Others title it, “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” But whatever you call it, it seems like Jesus makes a poor analogy or at least a difficult one. If taken at face value, it appears that the judge represents God in this story and we are supposed to be the widow. In this sense, God is like a judge who will give us what we need only if we, like the widow, bug him enough, wear him down enough, drive him crazy enough with our prayers that he relents in order to get us off his back. In the parable the judge isn’t really concerned about the widow he just wants some peace and quiet. In the same way, God only answers prayers when our prayers are persistent enough to annoy him into action. Theologically, I find this idea that our God is like the judge completely abhorrent. It doesn’t fit with the God of love and forgiveness that I know and worship. It doesn’t fit with the kind of God who showers us with grace and wants only the best for his children. God may not always intervene in this life, God may not always answer our prayers the way we want, but I am hard pressed to believe that we worship a God who doesn’t care. I refuse to believe that we worship a God who only responds when we are sufficiently annoying.
Last week I discovered a wonderful piece written by Father Thomas Keating, the Cistercian monk and Christian mystic who is the father of modern contemplative prayer. Father Keating, some of you may remember, visited St. James’s a number of years ago. He is a very gifted and special man.
Keating understands this parable differently and I like his explanation so much that I included the entire text on the front of your Chimes for this morning. What if, Keating says, God isn’t like the judge but rather we are like the judge and God is like the widow. In this sense, human beings, like the judge in the parable, are the ones who neither fear God nor respect others. We are the ones who are too busy to be bothered, to self-absorbed to take notice of the God, who like the widow, knocks on our door, sends us messages of good news, speaks to us through the love of others, and showers us with grace – all in the hope that we will take grateful notice and do the right thing, act in the right ways, live the just life. For Keating, God is the persistent giver of good things who persistently surrounds us with grace in the hope that one day we may actually look away from our selfish obsessions enough to take notice of how blessed we are. God, the widow, constantly bothers us with his love in the hope that we may live a grateful life and not a selfish one. I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but it’s like we are those Chilean miners trapped a mile underground and God is drilling, digging, chiseling stone trying to reach us, trying to set us free.
I am reminded of the story of the wife who called a repairman to come by her house and pick up a faulty window blind. The next morning, while the family was seated at the breakfast table, the doorbell rang. The husband went to the door and the man outside said, “I’m here for the Venetian blind.” Looking annoyed, the husband took out his wallet gave the man a dollar and said, “I already give to support the deaf, I can’t be expected to take care of the blind as well .” I know that’s silly, but it does seem to me that far too often many people just aren’t paying attention. First, we aren’t paying attention to the many blessings in our lives. The fact that I have a home, a job, clothes, health, food on my table, people who love me, and so much more – I take these things for granted. Until something threatens them I assume them as if they were a given, as if I had a right to them. Most of us fail to see these things for what they are – they loving gifts of a generous God. Second, we get so wrapped up in the demands of this life – the tasks, responsibilities, expectations, problems, and over-scheduled calendars – that we often forget to take note of how much need there is in our world. We forget about the God who gives us so many good things and asks only that we in turn give to others. Without intending to, we become myopic and self absorbed. All the while God is bombarding us persistently with grace upon grace just hoping that we will take note and respond appropriately.
There is another story about a farmer who went into the house one day to tell his family some good news. “One of the cows just gave birth to twin calves, one red and one white,” he said. “We must dedicate one of these calves to the Lord,” he continued. “We will bring them up together, and when the time comes, we will sell one and keep the proceeds and we will sell the other and give the proceeds to God’s work.” His wife asked him which he was going to dedicate to the Lord. “There’s no need to bother about that now,” he replied, “we’ll treat them both in the same and when the time comes, we’ll do as I say.” A few weeks later, the famer walked into the kitchen one morning looking unhappy. “What happened?” his wife asked. “I have bad news,” he replied, “It seems a virus has broken out amongst the herd and the Lord’s calf has died.” “Wait,” said his wife, ” I thought you hadn’t decided which of the calves was God’s.” “Yes I did.” he said, “I decided it this morning. It’s the white one, and unfortunately the white one died.”
Many of us, myself included, have the greatest of intentions about what we are going to do in response to God’s blessings in our lives. We intend to give more and do more in support of God’s work in the world, but it’s often a future intention, something we will do when the time is right. And then, as is often the case, life intercedes and what we hoped to give to God ends up going to another need. What we forget is that God’s grace does not wait for some more convenient moment in the future. We are blessed everyday. Everyday when we wake up, we have been given the gift of another day of life, another chance to laugh and love, another chance to know joy. That is a gift beyond measure and one we should respond to with gratitude today and every day.
God the persistent giver, the lover of justice and compassion, needs our help. This church, this institution, even with all its flaws, is an oasis of sorts in the midst of our sometimes crazy world. It is a place where anyone can come on any given day of the week and find peace and solitude, support and fellowship, a helping hand and a listening ear. The work that goes out from this place helps the poor, the hungry, the homeless, children and the elderly, around our city and around the world. You are a light in the darkness and you have to keep the flame burning bright. To do this we all must respond with gratitude to the persistent God who asks us to bless others the way we have been blessed. To do this we all have to continually share the bounty of our lives so that we can help to better the lives of others.
Thank you for the money, time, and energy you share to keep the flame burning here at St. James’s. I hope you will join us for the Feast next week as we celebrate our community and our life together. Most importantly, when you receive your pledge card next week I hope you will joyfully and generously fill it out and make a pledge ot the work of this church. That is a great way to say thank-you to a persistent God who has already given us far more than we could ask for or imagine. Amen.