Year C, SUNDAY 29  

16-22 Oct

 

Luke 18:1-8                                         (Sermon 1: “Speedy Vindication”)

2 Timothy 3: 14 to 4:5

Jeremiah 31: 27-34                 (Sermon 2: “Divine Graffiti”)

 Psalm 119: 97-104

 

 

PREPARATION

 

The lavish grace of Christ Jesus,

the steadfast love of God,

and the liberty of the Holy Spirit,

be with you all.

And also with you.

 

Whenever you come to worship God, give it your very best!

You will never be able to overdo your praise,

or exhaust the grounds for thanksgiving.

 

OR–

 

The time is coming, says the Eternal God,

when I will write my law on your hearts.

How sweet are your words to me, loving God,

much sweeter than honey in my mouth.

 

I will be your God

and you will be my people.

How sweet are your words to me, loving God,

much sweeter than honey in my mouth.

 

You shall know me from the least to the greatest,

I will forgive your evil and remember your sin no more.

How sweet are your words to me, loving God,

much sweeter than honey in my mouth.

 

Let us worship this wonderful God.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Loving God, you are the truth far beyond all knowledge, the word excelling all human ideas and wisdom, the joy higher than all delight and happiness, the glory brighter than the light of a billion stars. Yet you are nearer than our thoughts, and dearer than our deepest love. We trust you, we worship you, we adore you! In wonder and love we lift up our hearts in praise.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us examine heart and mind before God, acknowledge where we have lost our direction, or where we have sold ourselves short. 

Let us pray.

 

Maybe we have been too busy to notice deeds that are beautiful and good; or too preoccupied to say ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’.   Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Maybe we have been too stubborn to apologise for our mistakes; too proud to do inconspicuous tasks, or too independent to let others help us. Christ have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

 

Maybe we have been too self-demanding to enjoy a task well done though not perfectly; or too proudly humble to gracefully accept thanks from a colleague. Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Merciful God, Saviour and Friend, forgive us for our obsessive busyness, for our pride, and for our overdone humility.  Forgive us for hurts we have inflicted on others, and for the love we have denied them and ourselves.  By the grace of Christ Jesus, restore us to the joy of salvation.  In his name.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

My friends, God is neither too busy, nor too proud, nor too humble, to say “I love you.” In Jesus he has declared himself forever. His love and mercy are over all his works.

 

“You shall know me from the least to the greatest,

I will forgive your evil and remember your sin no more.

 

How sweet are your words to me, loving God,

much sweeter than honey in my mouth.”

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Things We Really Need.

 

Dear God,

you love us much more than a mum or dad,

and know much better what we really need.

 

Please bless us all,

not with the things we think we want

or think would be cool,

but with whatever

you know is best for us.

 

Through Jesus our Brother and Saviour.

Amen!

 

PSALM 119: 97-104

 

            (Note: For the Christian, the primacy of the Torah, or law,

                        has been replaced by the living Word, Jesus Christ.)

 

Lord Jesus, how I love your gospel,

it stays with me all day long.

 

You make me wiser than my enemies

for your parables never wear out.

I am better off than those who lecture me,

because you live in my thoughts.

Because I follow you all the way,

I have understanding beyond my years.

 

I stop from rushing down evil paths

as I concentrate on your word.

I am not side-tracked from your teaching

because you are my constant tutor.

Your words are sweet on my tongue,

sweeter than yellow-box honey.

 

In your parables I see the light,

and spurn every dark alternative.

 

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

 

WAITING FOR GOD?

      Luke 18:7-8

 

God is near

God will act,

            but is hope here

            to meet him?

 

God will hear,

God at hand,

            but is faith here

            to greet him?

 

God is dear,

God with wounds,

            but is love here

            to treat him?

 

                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

 

SERMON 1: SPEEDY VINDICATION

 

Luke 18: 4b-8

 

Hear what the unjust judge says: ‘’Though I fear neither God nor man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, before she wears me out with her continual pestering.”

And will not God vindicate his called people, who cry to him  day and night? Will he delay over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.

 

 

Is God really like an unjust judge?

 

Only the whimsical mind of the unique Jesus could come up with this parable.  What do we make of it?

 

Three things I would like you to look at in order of importance:

 

 1/ The sting of this parable, as Luke presents it, is in the tail: The speedy vindication of       God’s people who cry out day and night.

 

2/ The similarity, yet enormous contrast, between the judge and God.

 

3/  The details of the language Luke uses.

 

I will deal with these three areas in reverse order; the lesser to the greater.

 

THE LANGUAGE LUKE USES.

 

If you are not interested in words, you should be. Words are a wonderful, yet risky, way of trying to transfer feelings and ideas, hopes and fears, between people. Misunderstanding  is common. The emphasis on a word can make a difference. The context in which it is used, makes a big difference.

 

Take the phrase the ‘unjust judge’.  Do you remember a few weeks ago when we encountered the ‘unjust steward?’ I commented then that the Greek says ‘steward of unrighteousness’;

awkward to translate into every day English.   In today’s parable we have a similar phrase; “the judge of unrighteousness”; again a clumsy expression in English. I prefer calling him the ‘unjust judge’.  Maybe it would be better to call him ‘the scumbag judge’.

 

He is practically a psychopath! He cares only for himself. Goodness is defined by what pleases him. “Though I fear neither God nor have regard for people.”  In other words, ‘Though I don’t give a damn about anyone else, not even God.”  A nasty bit of work! That’s why I say I should describe him as the ‘scumbag judge’. 

 

Leaving that, there is another interesting bit. What we read as; because this widow bothers me, is literally: ‘because of continual blows under the eye’.  Don’t you just love that turn of phrase? I reckon we have here an old Aramaic expression very similar to ones that we use today. For example, if we are being pestered we sometimes say: “Get out of my face!” They said “ continually whacks me in the eye.”

 

So, perhaps we could translate things this way:

 

Hear what the scumbag of a judge says: “Though I don’t give a ‘rat’s ass’ for God or man, because this woman keeps getting in my face, I will rule in her favour. Otherwise she will give me ulcers with her continual nagging.”

 

Colourful language? Yes, for sure. But the language of Jesus was the colourful language of the common people.

 

THE CONTRAST

 

In this account, Jesus makes a sharp contrast between the judge and God. Get this right! God is not being likened to an unjust judge but contrasted with one. If a scumbag like this judge will come to the help of a persistent woman, how much more will God speedily come to the help of his people.

 

It is another “how much more” metaphor. It is like an extreme version of what (on another occasion) Jesus said about parents responding to a child’s request for an fish or an egg to eat. Remember how he said that if parents know how to give good things to their kids, how much more will God answer our prayers.

 

Jesus is not telling us to keep nagging like the unfortunate woman.  She was a widow, and widows in that culture were in an extremely precarious position.  The Bible consistently ranks women among those who need special assistance; what today we call positive discrimination. Her only chance; was to keep at the judge and give him no peace.

 

In our dire need we cry aloud to God; not because the louder we cry the more likely we are to be heard, but simply because we are in distress. In our misery it is the most natural thing to cry out for God’s help. Longer prayers, louder prayers, repetitious prayers, does not make them more efficacious. Quantity or volume are not some kind of bargaining chip with God.

 

I say then: relentlessly nagging God does not make prayer more effective. That is definitely not the point of the parable.  The thing  Jesus wants us to get is the contrast between God and the unjust judge. The “how much more” component.

 

GOD ANSWERS SPEEDILY

 

There is a key thrust of this parable in Jesus’ concluding words.

 

And will not God vindicate his called people, who cry to him  day and night? Will he delay over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.

 

Will he delay over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.

 

God  does hear the cry of the people, God answers that cry speedily. We are not like the widow who must wait for hours or days, weeks or months,  until her nagging wears the scumbag judge down. God quickly responds to our cry for help. Speedily.

 

Does that fit with actual experience?  It does not appear to be as obvious as we would like.

 

The cry of the people of God is pitiful and unceasing. It pours out of millions of people. At this moment while we sit comfortably here, there are the most fervent prayers, the most agonising prayers, rising from the face of this planet. Yet for many, their prayers do not seem to be answered.

 

Parents cry out to God for the healing of their diseased children.

Children pray to God for the healing of their parents.

Many beg for the restoring of broken relationships.

Prisoners of conscience, and their loved ones,  pray for release.

Victims of torture are begging for a speedy death.

Thousands are praying for the overthrow of tyrants.

Millions are begging for the end of all warfare.

The dispossessed and the persecuted are crying out for justice.

Starving people are pleading for food for their little ones.

The mentally ill are begging for peace of mind.

 

(And that is just for starters! The list could go on for hours.)

 

Yet in the majority of these situations God does not appear to speedily come to the rescue of those who cry out in prayer. It does not seem so.

 

Does that mean that Jesus got it wrong?

 

Or does it mean that God does answer speedily but we do not comprehend the working of God’s ways?

 

Speaking for myself, I have cried out to God many times and the answer has not appeared to come. Yet I stake my life on Jesus. We are never forsaken.The heavens may seem deaf to our cries but God is in truth hears us, even before the cry for help leaves our mouth. God is present, experiencing our pain and distress, and with aching fingers God is weaving something good and beautiful out of the loose and tangled strands of existence.

 

Jesus is the guarantee of this. At the last, Jesus himself seemed to be left in the lurch.  There is no time in the whole of history that appears more God-forsaken than the hill of Golgotha. There the most lovely human being of all, the one who alone deserves to be called the Child of God, seems deserted by God.  Yet, in hindsight, we know it is the moment when God is most present; when God speedily and profoundly was vindicating his people. That lonely  cross overflows with God.

 

God was in Jesus, bearing our sins and carrying our sorrows. God is not an absentee deity, watching from afar. God is with us, savouring the joy of our laughter and feeling the agony of pain and grief. Speedily he is always there for us.

 

NO EASY ANSWERS, BUT THERE IS FAITH.

 

This kind of faith that I espouse does not clear up the darker mystery of why so many suffer in this world. No easy answers.

 

The answer which the Cross gives is not a pretty, “neat and nice” one. But it does connect with the fundamental reality of God’s love with us now, deeply with us, redeemably with us, vindicatingly with us.  Jesus does not give us neat answers; he gives us the assurance of Immanuel: God-with-us.

 

Remember how Jesus said not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing its fall? It not a promise that sparrows won’t fall, but that they cannot fall without God being intimately concerned. In the same way, there is no promise that marriages will not break, that car accidents will not happen, or that cancer will not ravage a lovely person. Yet somehow, by the breath, depth and height of God’s resilient, indomitable love, these tough and tragic experiences will be worked into an ultimate vindication.

 

And will not God vindicate his called people, who cry to him  day and night? Will he delay over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.

 

But that is not all to the teaching of the parable. There is a final, discomforting word to be heard from Jesus, the true son of God.

 

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

 

O dear! O My!  That’s rather disconcerting question, isn’t it?

 

 

SERMON 2: DIVINE GRAFFITI

 

From Jeremiah 31: 33-34

 

This is the new covenant which I will make....... says the Lord. I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.

 

No longer shall each man teach his neighbour, and each person his brother, saying: “You must know the Lord. For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

 

God says: I will put my law within them and inscribe it on their hearts.

 

This is the high point. The summit.

This is the apex of Jeremiah’s hope for a brighter future age, a hope which rose up (like a resurrection) out of the nadir of the crushing of his nation, and his own torment and persecution.  When everything collapsed and the future looked hope-less, Jeremiah is given this promise from God: A new covenant will be established.

 

Faith in the one, loving, ethical God would one day again flourish in the land.

It would not be an external faith of obligation and religious obedience. It would be an entirely new covenant, beginning in the very soul of humanity. the ways of God will be written in the hearts of people, religion will be internalised. Divine graffiti will do the trick. Duty will become delight.

 

Jeremiah had seen that external religion has failed.

He now understood that only an internal happening could make the new age possible.

 

THE WAY OF THE LAW

 

Jeremiah was himself a devoted Jew. He knew that in the old era of Moses, there was the hope that the law of God would migrate into the human heart. But the heart was resistant. So the emphasis fell on making the law externally visible around the Jewish home and community.  It was this external religion that had been taken up, while the religion of the heart had been undervalued.

 

Moses had said:

 

These words which I command this day shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. and shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind these words as a sign upon your hands, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the door pots of your houses and upon your gates.  Deuteronomy 6: 6-9

 

Many of those early Jews tried to obey. Not all of them I fear, not even a majority of them, but a few of them. Others resorted  to a religious repetition of the law. Telling it to their children, and writing it on the doors of their houses and upon their gates. Some made little leather boxes in which they inserted a copy of the law, and tied them on their foreheads, between and above they eyes. Others wore copies of the law placed in leather bands around their wrists.

 

I am sure there were many sincere practitioners. If effort and external observance could have made people truly good, and changed the soul of humanity, surely among the extremely devout Jews there would have been some major success. From the time of Moses through to the age of Jeremiah and down to the time of Jesus, there were earnest souls who tried valiantly to make God’s ways their ways.

 

You would have found some among the Pharisees. Pharisees  receive bad report card in early Christian writings. Yet there were some wonderful Pharisees whose brave effort at keeping the spirit of the law who must have pleased God exceedingly. We should not wipe them all off as hypocrites. If an examining angel were to mark such souls (out of a possible 10) for their practice of religion, there were a few choice souls whose report card may have read:

 

            COMPREHENSION 6

            EFFORT: 10

            ACHIEVEMENT: 4

 

The fact is, external religion fails. No matter how sincere, or how extreme the practice, it fails. For at the heart, the human being is corrupt. There is an infection. Given time, and the admiration of those who praise the devotee, even the most sincere practice of such religion can become perverted.

 

Something has to be changed within. A change not engineered by our wisdom, or by our dedication to the rules, but by Christ’s liberating grace and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.. At the crunch we do not need a law giver or teacher as much as we need a redeemer.  We can write God’s rules upon our gates and doors, we can bind them to our wrists or our foreheads,  but we cannot inscribe them on own hearts.

 

Only a Divine physician can do that.

 

BEING CHANGED FROM WITHIN

 

Jeremiah came to understand this. He did not despise the few truly good Jews of his day. However, he recognised that they, like Jeremiah himself, were inadequate, not up to the task. God must redeem the human condition. Replace the old legal covenant with a new one.

 

This is the new covenant which I will make....... says the Lord. I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.

 

This Divine graffiti changes everything.

When God changes the heart, a new creation happens. As the  Holy Spirit moves within  the human psyche, working in those depths of the soul where we only dimly see and poorly understand ourselves,  then that which once seemed impossible begins to happen.

 

Christians believe this life-changing event is tied to the coming of Jesus Christ.

In the most profound way, Jesus is the Divine graffiti; the Word become flesh. His birth, his life, his reconciling death and his resurrection. We believe we are the people of the new covenant that Jeremiah anticipated and promised. By the grace of God we are being transformed from the inside.

 

It in not in the external religious performance, but from within the deep heart and soul of a person, that the power to become children of God really begins. It is not a human achievement but a gift of God. The Divine graffiti. And that is inextricably bound up with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

 

THE WORD OF JEREMIAH IS FULFILLED

 

Jeremiah got it absolutely right. What Jeremiah prophesied, we know has been fulfilled and “filfulled” through Jesus Christ, the bringer of the “New Covenant” sealed with his own precious blood.

 

Transformation comes from within. If external faithfulness could have achieved it, Moses would be our son of God. Jesus would not have needed to come and live and suffer and die, and be raised again on the third day. We don’t need the law giver as much as we need the Saviour.

 

This is one thing I am sure of.

Unless the ways of God, made plain in the love of Jesus,  become inscribed and fostered in our inner being by God’s own grace, we shall never be worth a cracker!

 

Yet in fact we have become worth much more than a cracker.

By God’s inner working, a remarkable miracle of grace, our results exceed both our ability and effort.  An angel examining us, and marking out of 10, might place surprising marks on our report card:

 

            UNDERSTANDING 5

            EFFORT: 6

            ACHIEVEMENT: 8

 

God writing within. God’s saving grace. The power of God’s Spirit. New creation. That is what matters. Anything that is worthwhile and genuinely lovely in us has one source alone: God writing in our hearts. The holiest graffiti.

 

All else is window dressing.

 

A CREED

 

Because of the redeeming grace of Christ Jesus,

I believe in God who is here for us.

 

I believe that hope is stronger than despair,

truth will outlive deceit,

kindness is more powerful than apathy,

forgiveness is stronger than hatred,

peace will swallow up suspicion and war,

joy will triumph over misery,

and love will transcend decay and death.

 

I believe in the grace of Christ Jesus,

I believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the vindication of God.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

The miserly soul is never satisfied. The generous spirit is thankful for many things.

Let us pray.

 

All thanks belongs to you, Holy Friend.

 

Glory be to you for the deep mystery of our being,

            and for all that sustains us hour by hour.

 

Glory be to you for our measure of health and strength

            and the things that make each morning a delight.

 

Glory be to you for the people who are around us and for us;

            for their friendship and support in good times and bad.

 

Glory be to you for the special gifts we enjoy as Christians;

            for church, Scriptures, sacraments and fellowship.

 

Glory be to you for the One who has made faith possible;

            for Jesus your true Son and our Brother and Saviour.

 

Glory be to you for his suffering love, and for his blood shed

            for the healing of the world.

 

Glory be to you for the Holy Spirit, who takes the Word of Christ

            and makes it sweeter than honey in our mouths.

 

All thanks belongs to you, Creator Friend.

All thanks belongs to you, Saviour Friend.

All thanks belongs to you, Counsellor Friend.

AMEN!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

God is the earth’s best Friend. Each creature has a place, each person has had a divine fortune invested in them.

Let us pray.

 

 

Loving Friend of the poor, the neglected, the abused, and the distressed,

we pray for any who on the top of such other sufferings

are now feeling forsaken and without hope for tomorrow.

 

In your mercy, God of many mercies, forget not the needs of -

            the migrant, the child, the elderly,

            the deserted wife, or husband or children,

            the teenage loner or the spurned parent,

            the new arrival in a strange city or country,

            the shy person alone in a small flat,

            the political prisoner without recourse to justice,

            the hospital patient without any visitors,

            the dying soul with no one to sit with them,

            the grief stricken with no one to comfort them.

 

Merciful God, send some human angels of mercy to all such people.

But most of all, by your Holy Spirit with them, draw the ache from their hearts

and grant them quietness and peace. Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Amen!

                                                Adapted from “Brief Prayers” Vol 2

                                                © B. D. Prewer and Open Book Publishers

 

SENDING OUT

 

In days of strong faith may we serve God joyfully.

            In days of weak faith may we serve God courageously.

 

In times of happiness may we sense God’s smile.

            In times of grief may we feel God’s tears.

 

In the midst of failure may we trust God’s mercy.

            In the midst of success may we give God praise.

 

The liberating grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the undergirding, unimpeded love of God,

and the ennobling fellowship of the Holy Spirit

will be with you always.

Amen!