A Matter of Life and Death

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, M.Div.
Proper 24/Year C: October 20, 2019
Gospel: Luke 18:1-18

Mother Hymes’ sermon at Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church this morning (Luke 18:1-8).

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 20, 2019

Anyone, who has ever participated in a group such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, learns that the basic necessities for survival in the wilderness are food, water, shelter and clothes. One may live several days without food, shelter or even the proper clothing for protection from the environment.  But, after about three to five days without water intake the human body can no longer sustain itself.  Without water the physical body cannot live.

In his introduction to this parable, and through the parable, Jesus adds to his disciples’ “basic survival list” the practice of prayer. We know from scriptures that Jesus’ life was grounded in prayer, and that it was vital to his ministry and the fulfillment of his purpose on earth. For Jesus, prayer was a matter of life and death, and those who would follow him were to regard it in the same way.

Prayer for the human soul is like water to the physical body.  Jesus calls us to be in private, prayerful relationship with God, and in corporate prayer through our communities of faith. Prayer when outcomes are unknown, and prayer when outcomes are witnessed, is a powerful instrument of faith—that in praying always, God’s faithful people trust that God acts on their behalf always.

Many of you may remember the country song from the 1980’s, “Lookin’ for Love.”  Recall that the refrain was, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places; lookin’ for love in too many faces.” In today’s Gospel we are introduced to a widow seeking justice against her opponent, and who, on multiple occasions, engaged a dishonest judge.  This widow turned to a Godless judge with no regard for the welfare of people.  From the start of this parable, it seems the widow was looking for justice in all the wrong places.

We know nothing about this nameless, faceless widow, other than her extreme persistence and how worrisome she became to the judge. She was a passionate self-advocate, holding the judge accountable to his obligation to uphold the societal expectations to care for orphans and widows.  We also know nothing about the widow’s opponent, we do know that the woman was so desperate to resolve the situation that she was willing to repeatedly face rejection before the judge.  Whatever the situation was, the widow was incapable of resolving it on her own;

she went to the source who could act on her behalf to ensure justice. She was looking for someone to save her, but she was looking in the wrong place and seeking compassion in the wrong face.

In the Book of Deuteronomy there are 12 curses and the fifth is “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (Deut 27: 19). Recall the judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. By ignoring the widow’s repeated pleas for help, the judge operated in complete disregard for Jewish law. To whom, then, would this man be held accountable? He operated above the law and on his own terms. Now, the widow, it would seem, was completely at the mercy of both her opponent and the judge.

But the widow did not lose heart; she remained persistent, and was unrelenting in her pleas for justice. For the Lord is the judge who “will not ignore the supplication of the widow when she pours out her complaint” (Sir 35:17).  The judge finally gave in, realizing that the woman would not. We know from the judge’s inner-self talk that the widow had gotten on his last nerve and that granting her justice was an act of his own self-preservation—nuisance be gone!!

Now, please don’t let the takeaway from this sermon be that our prayers get on God’s last nerve. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our prayers are pleasing to God and they are the way that we show God that we are clear about the source of our hope and justice in a world that is so often the antithesis of God’s love.

At various points in our lives, each of us will experience what it is like to be the assertive, self-advocating widow, pleading to the unjust structures of society for justice against our opponents.  We are reminded to resist the urge to go looking for justice in all the wrong places, and putting all our hope in unjust faces.  Whatever your situation is, know that you, like the widow, are incapable of saving yourself, and that there is only one source of divine justice.

It can be challenging to patiently wait on the Lord, but in the midst of impatience—insert prayer. Perhaps the outcome of your prayer has manifested and it looks nothing like you expected it would—do not lose heart; in the process of seeking to understand—insert prayer. When God shows up for you in ways that are more than you could have ever imagined—insert prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Prayer is necessary for the preservation of the whole self, and when we pray expecting God to act on our behalf—God acts upon us, so that over time, our human nature and our character are transformed into the full stature of Christ. As that happens we are, with God’s help, able to persistently face myriad opponents and injustices in this life.

For Jesus, prayer was a matter of life and death, and we must regard it in the same way.  For the faithful, a disciplined life of prayer, as it was for our Lord and Savior, is a matter of life and death.  For what good is your physical body if your soul is dying? We NEED to pray always as if our very lives depend on it…because… they do.

Amen.