Sermon: Jesus- Deeply Woven into the Fabric of Every Life
Published by Ronald Steed,
St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Madison, CT ¹
JUSTICE | FAITH | AUTHENTIC STORYTELLING
Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)
Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of your love.
A Widow and a Judge
Let’s call the widow in today’s gospel Wendy, and the judge Justin, and let’s imagine that they are members of our parish. Each Sunday, they sit in these pews with all of you and come up for communion. They are part of the Body of Christ.
Wendy’s husband died 15 years ago, and after all the grief, anger, and loneliness that followed his death, she ended up with a house and a mortgage she could not really afford. She couldn’t go back to work since her credentials had expired, and although she worked occasional odd jobs, it was increasingly clear that things weren’t going to end well. She had no family to help, and because her husband had taken care of all the finances, she was not very savvy about getting help.
The house needed a new roof to replace the one that leaked when it rained; a portion of a soaked ceiling in one of the bedrooms had fallen in, she didn’t have the money to fix it, didn’t think about insurance, and the mold was not good for her health. Over the pandemic, she began to make partial payments on her mortgage, and eventually, stopped paying it altogether; she needed the money for food and electricity.
Her bank, one that many of you use, began foreclosure, eventually landing in Justin’s courtroom after the COVID foreclosure moratorium lapsed.
In Justin’s work as a judge, there were two principles he followed. First, he did not let his faith influence his judgements, and second, he did not allow his judgements to be affected either by the rich and powerful or the or by the situations of the poor. His saw his job to apply the law and not to let neither God nor litigants move his judgement. He is very much like the judge in today’s gospel, but he considered himself NOT unjust, but "just before the law"
The day of Wendy’s court appearance started routinely enough; foreclosure is a pretty orderly process. The bank’s lawyer was there… Wendy was there… Justin was there.
Then, to everyone’s surprise and horror, Wendy suddenly sprang to her feet in court and began to scream at Justin. "Give me Justice against this bank!" She yelled. You could have heard a pin drop, and Justin’s heart sank.
A Secret, Hidden in Plain Sight!
Now, I’m going to stop the narrative here and ask a question; where is Jesus in this story? Does it matter at all that Wendy and Justin are Christians at St. Andrews, Madison?
Where is Jesus in the lives of Wendy and Justin?
It’s here that I have to let you in on one of the most closely held secrets about Christianity… one that you may not believe, because it is hidden in plain sight, about how God works in the world. It has three parts.
How God Works in the World
- First, God seems to work THROUGH people who are ALSO part of the problem. That is the whole biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation… it’s God’s power, but if Wendy don’t say "yes", it doesn’t get done, and because we’re part of the problem, Justin might not get it done as well as he might. God can live with that; although, God does seem to be pretty clever about getting his way!
- Second, God always shows up in the most godforsaken places - in the least promising people and situations. God is where no one expects God to be^2; with a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well, with a tax collector in a booth, with a woman inexplicably leavening enough flour to feed an entire village, with a vulnerable widow before a judge. These are stories about God working through simple people, in everyday places, who are doing the mundane things of their life, and finding God transforming them in the middle of their day.
- And third, God seems to have a soft spot for the poor; God has a "preferential option" for them, not because they are better, but BECAUSE they are poor. God seems very concerned for Wendy, and God seems to want Justin to be worried about her too.
That’s the whole secret about how God seems to work in the world.
Many Christians, Episcopalians among them, maybe some you in this very parish, do not believe that Jesus can be found anywhere near the daily workings of their personal lives. But ‘God's future [God’s JUSTICE] is among the regular, ordinary people of God. It's NOT primarily in great leaders, or charismatic clergy, or experts, but among the people "^3 and maybe most of all among the people we think "don’t get it".
Jesus in the Middle of Things
So where is Jesus in Wendy and Justin’s story? Every-where; Jesus leavens their whole narrative. Jesus is in the death of Wendy’s husband, in her grief, anger, and loneliness. Jesus was with her during the decay of her house, with her frustration at not having enough money. Jesus gave her the gift of voice so that the Spirit could speak prophetically THROUGH her to Justin about what real justice might look like, so he can be more than just a servant of the foreclosure courts. Jesus was there all along, working on Justice for Wendy AND for Justin. He not only didn’t delay; he was working in the middle of them the whole time. That it took so long for justice to arrive for Wendy was not for the lack of trying on Jesus’ part, but rather, it was the lack of something else.
And Jesus is in the middle of YOUR lives too… every part of it. Are you having health problems? Dealing with the death of a parent, or spouse? Raising children or grandchildren? Angry over politics? Failing a high school or college course or losing your job? Falling in love again? Falling into addiction? Jesus is at work on you… transforming you through these very things, if you let him. Jesus is found in the middle of the things that shame us. Jesus is there saying, "You are my beloved child… and, I love you, warts and all." Jesus comes to US, WHERE we are and in WHAT we are doing.
What Spills Over Our Eyelids
Friends, this is where the Christian discipleship part comes in. Our calling… our job as disciples of Jesus is to help one another witness the truth of this, by listening to the stories of others, and telling our own stories. By asking and answering more than just coffee hour questions; by asking authentic questions like "What is breaking your heart?" "What makes you feel most alive?" "Where is Jesus in all this?" These are the questions that crack open our hearts so that the real part comes out. And part of what spills over our eyelids and tracks down our cheeks is Jesus.
If we ask questions like this and tell one another our stories, we won’t have to guess what God is up to at St. Andrews or in Madison; we’ll know. We’ll know whether God is working on white supremacy, or elder care, or healing our hurts, so that we can join him with confidence when the Spirit gives us that nudge.
You know, if someone had this kind of Jesus-centered conversation with Wendy early on, they might have helped, or connected her to someone who could. She might have been able to keep her house instead of losing it. Justin might have been asked for advice long before the case showed up on his docket, and he might have brought resources to bear, gladly. All of that justice-work and more is possible when we share the daily stories of our hearts.
Although Wendy and Justin are not real parishioners, I guarantee you that stories like theirs are present in every heart here. Just LISTENING to a heart story is a gift. We may not get a call to fix a problem for someone, but maybe just to listen… just to sit with someone’s grief, or anger, or joy. It may be that the healing work is up to Jesus; our part may be just to listen and to pray. And THAT is the missing piece so often. When we mesh the work that Jesus is doing on all of us all the time, with our own faith and discipleship, then justice flows like a river.
My sense is that some of this happening in our two Sacred Grounds groups, thanks to Jesus and to the gentle nudging of our facilitators. People are opening up in there… telling stories that are heartbreaking and vulnerable to tell and to hear. We’re getting beyond coffee-hour knowledge about one another, and that really excites me because THAT is the POINT; it’s about faith in Jesus AND faith in one another.
At the end of this parable, Jesus asks about this very thing; "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on Earth?" I wonder how we would answer that question at St. Andrews. Are we a congregation who BELIEVES that Jesus transforms us in the middle of everything, from washing the dishes to dealing with dementia? Are we a congregation that HELPS one another have faith that this is true? Can you imagine this congregation at the center of what God is up to?
Pray and Don’t Lose Heart
Jesus told this parable about the need to pray and not to lose heart. And now, we might see how authentic storytelling with one another will lead us to the kinds of prayers we might offer. Will you pray with me?
Gracious and loving God, give us brave spaces at St. Andrews to open our hearts to one another. Help us to hear one another through YOUR ears and not just our own. Change us to be exactly what the other person needs in the moment.^4 Help us to give up the need-to-be-right and in the center of our drama, and rather to be right-with-Jesus, with Jesus in the center of everything. Give us eyes to witness your hand at work through us, that Jesus will FIND faith on Earth at his coming, and your justice flow on Earth as it does in heaven. All this we ask in the name of Jesus who is deeply woven into the fabric of every life. Amen.
- Sermon delivered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Madison, CT on Sunday, October 16; Proper 24 (year C)
- ROXBURGH, Alan. J. (2020). Chapter 2- Cultivating the Imagination of the Missional Leader. In Missional leader: Equipping your church to reach a Changing World. essay, FORTRESS PRESS.
- "What the other person needs" from Best, P. M. (2022, October 1). The church's faithful responses to conspiracy theories - the modern gnosticism - journal of Lutheran ethics..Medium. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://medium.com/@pastormatthewbest/the-churchs-faithful-responses-to-conspiracy-theories-the-modern-gnosticism-journal-of-58f3c8d4f15