WILL HE FIND FAITH?
Luke 18: 1-8
Preached by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Carrier Mills UMC
October 27, 2013
You’ve heard the story. Jesus told it because his disciples “need to pray and not lose heart.” There was a judge who wasn’t scared of God or man. A widow kept asking him for justice. Although an enemy was taking advantage of her, the judge refused. But she persisted. It got on the judge’s last nerve. To keep the widow from wearing him out, the judge granted her justice though he had no fear of God or man. “Take note of the unjust judge’s behavior,” Jesus admonished. “If the children of God cry to him night and day… will not God quickly grant justice to them?” What a great story! What a great promise! What a joy with one disturbing exception. Jesus questioned our resolve to be people of faith. “When the Son of Man comes,” he said, “Will he find faith?” I want to talk about that question today.
THE DISCIPLES’ NEED
“Will he find faith” is no critique of the disciples head knowledge. They can respond to FAQ’s like “who do men say that I am? What is Passover? When should a Jewish male be circumcised? Where is the Lamb of God? Why are God’s chosen people Jewish?
Neither is the question “Will he find faith” is not a critique of the disciples’ response to questions of heart and soul? “Do you want to be healed?” What must I do to be saved? Do you love me? Because of Jesus’ teaching and example, his disciples know how to address questions of head and heart. However, it appears that our Lord is not having great success teaching his disciples the value and necessity of prayer. What do I mean? Jesus’ disciples know the value of prayer. They see him pray. Despite of what the disciples know about prayer, they just do not pray often. And when they do, a crisis is the catalyst. How could this be? Our Lord selects the crème de la crème to lead the church. These are men after God’s own heart. His disciples have responsibility for the present and future church and/or God’s movement. How could our Lord select disciples lacking the capacity to “pray and not lose heart?” Whatever the reason, he does. In this text, he uses a parable to illustrate that rain will fall into the lives of every disciple. On the journey, we need head, heart and prayer to get us through. Note the widow’s personal situation.
Her husband has died. She lost a companion and perhaps a father. Her status and standard of living have gone down. When Jewish widows lost their husbands, they had to accept welfare instituted by the church. Acts 6 mentioned the church caring for widows.
Unfortunately, Jewish widows were cared for while gentile widows were neglected. In both cases, the death of their husbands made widows vulnerable to poverty. Their social security was church related. Hence, society at large showed this woman little respect.
On top of that, the widow had to deal with somebody trying to take advantage of her. With no money to hire counsel to plead her case, she pleaded for herself and won. Sheer grit and persistence and God’s help resolved the case in her favor.
Thursday night, I saw a show entitled Cold Case Files. It is based on a number of pre-requisites. A crime has been committed and investigated. The investigation failed. The crime was unsolved and new cases clamored for attention. Subsequently, records and evidence are stored and put on a shelf. Eventually, new and/or continued investigations solve many cold cases.
During the program, an investigator cracked a 14-year-old cold case. The death of a young mother and wife had been ruled accidental. Her mother never believed it; she suspected foul play. So she asked, pestered and pushed different investigators to keep reviewing her daughter’s case. No matter how many times one investigator reported to the mother that her daughter’s death was accidental, she persisted. Finally, God gave the investigator new eyes to see. Eventually, he proved that the woman’s daughter was a victim of homicide. The perpetrator went to prison. He died in prison before completing his sentence. Over fourteen years, the woman’s 78 year old mother demonstrated the power of persistence. The 78 year old mother pleading with the investigator and the widow petitioning the unjust judge have us wondering if persistence is an expression of faith. Clearly, certain acts of persistence are prayer? If nothing else, the crises both women experience suggests that there will always be a need to pray constantly and not lose heart.
AN EXPRESSION OF FAITH
How many of us have fallen victim to the pleadings of our children? They know we talk to Santa. Some kids believe Santa can bring them anything even if their parents object. So they plead, beg and ask for what they want from us repeatedly. Christmas Day, it happens. Some gifts under the Christmas tree appear because of a child’s unwavering faith. Other gifts to our children do not take much pleading. Recently, I informed my grown children that I was taking a short trip to Honduras. Immediately, my baby daughter asked me to bring her a necklace. “Please, please, please,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ll have time. We’re going to be very busy,” I retorted. About 10 minutes before we boarded the plane to come home, I remembered her plea and bought two necklaces at the airport. I mailed them to Michigan Thursday.
On issues far more serious than necklaces, Jesus offers his disciples a lesson about God. If they cry to God day and night, God will grant justice to his chosen ones. One time conversations with God are not enough. Neither are “Have it your way” conversations.
God desires ongoing conversation about our needs. Refusing to ask God anything doesn’t work either, we have to “humble ourselves and pray.” Given the parable, our prayers must be as clear and precise as the widow asking for justice from the unjust judge and as long lasting as the mother who pleaded with crime investigators for 14 years. If it takes a lifetime of praying to get an answer through, then so be it. Several realities confront us in protracted conversation with God. We pray to a God that we cannot see. We ask for things that we may not receive and we receive things that we do not request, agree with or celebrate. Wait my child, not now or pure silence may be God’s response to fervent prayer. Joseph Scriven was right in penning these words “Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry; everything to God in prayer.” Many of you know these words come from the famous hymn What a Friend we have in Jesus. Few of us know Joseph Scriven’s original title for this hymn. It is Pray without Ceasing.
If we observe what is going on with our Lord and his disciples, we can figure out why he is so insistent. They are on the road traveling through Samaria. Typically, Jews avoid traveling through Samaria like we avoid traveling through East St. Louis. Too many problems, conflicts and dangers related to race, culture and religion dwell in Samaria. Our Lords does not avoid Samaria. He loves all God’s people. Meeting the woman at the well was a case in point. Society frowned upon that encounter. To offer an effective ministry to and with Samaritans requires prayed up leadership. It’s hard to love and minister to all God’s children if a religious leader is all hung with biases and prejudices, not Jesus. How many of us would be willing to do ministry in East St. Louis or San Pedro Sula in Honduras? San Pedro Sula in Honduras is said to be the murder capital of the world in the past two years. Would our biases and hang-ups get in the way?
Most importantly, our Lord contends that the disciples need prayer because they are en route to Jerusalem. When he gets there, bad things will happen to him and them. He says it three times; twice before they hear the parable and once after. Luke 9:21-22 reads: “The Son of must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” After exorcising a demon out of a child, Jesus says it differently in Luke 9: 44-45. “Let these words sink into your ears.
The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” His disciples did not fully understand or perceive what he was saying. Not only that, I believe that his disciples do not take his warning seriously. They believe Jesus will figure out a way to escape what folk want to do to him. They cannot fathom God using suffering and death by crucifixion to save the world-to save you and I. More than that, the disciples do not want to face the fact that his absence means the weight of church leadership will fall on their shoulders.
None of them were anxious to assume it. Nevertheless, our Lord insists that they need to pray and learn not to lose heart. For when the events of Holy Week come down upon them, they’ll need more prayer and persistence than any of them can humanly muster. Not long ago, different parts of the world and the people in Syria were praying to God that Uncle Sam would not bomb their country because of the posture of their government relative to chemical warfare. God heard and spared the lives of many who would have lost their lives.
Last week, I had an experience reminding me of the mob during Holy Week. As we left the hotel in Honduras, we stepped right into a public demonstration. Masses of people had taken over the streets. Loudspeakers were blaring messages in Spanish. None of which I understood. People were shouting and carrying signs. They were upset with injustice against the poor. When I inquired about the reason for the demonstration, someone claimed it was about Squatters rights. They needed somewhere to live but owned nothing. For such an explosive issue, it turned out to be a peaceful demonstration.
Most of the demonstrations against Jesus weren’t peaceful. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, things turned ugly in a hurry. The disciples were caught flat-footed. So they fell apart at the very time they needed to stay together. Betrayal, doubt, selling out, falling asleep, and absolutely forsaking him on the cross proved to be the order of the day. Had they followed Jesus’ advice, a lot of mistakes could have been avoided. Out of what Christ perceived would happen in Jerusalem came his question before today. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith among us? Will we pray day and night to God?” Will we pray only when trouble comes? No matter how many sermons we hear, or times we preach; no matter how many warnings we hear, are we more faithful than the disciples? Never, never, never would we allow what Jesus says to go in one ear and out the other; isn’t that right? I know; we are not so sure. When the Son of Man comes for you, for me, our church, will he catch us with our faith work undone? Will He find Faith? Amen.