News

The Tale of the PERSISTENT Widow + Luke 18: 1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24], October 15/16, 2010

Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA  - The Rev. Roy Almquist

 

In nineteenth century America there was a man who failed in business at the age of 21.  This man decided to run for elective office, but was defeated.  He failed again in a second business enterprise at the age of 24.

The woman he loved died suddenly when he was 26 and he then had a nervous breakdown.  This man then ran for Congress at 34 and was once again defeated.  He ran for the Senate eleven years later and lost.  This pattern continued when he sought election as Vice President of the United States at the age of 47 and again ran for the Senate at 49.  In both elections he was defeated.

 

Finally, at the age of 52, this lawyer from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln, was elected the sixteenth President of the United States.  Was he a failure?  I do not think so.  We remember him today because he was persistent.  For Abraham Lincoln, defeat was a detour and not a dead end.

 

Wilbur and Orville Wright were reprimanded for not applying themselves in an attentive manner while high school students … so distracted were they by their conviction that a machine, heavier than air, could actually fly!

 

A mother in New Jersey was told that her partially deaf four-year-old child was too stupid to learn and she should, therefore, get him out of school.  She took him out of school, but she instructed him at home.  She knew he was not stupid.  Her little boy, Thomas Edison, grew up to be one of the greatest American inventors, despite the fact that he had only three months of formal schooling and was partially deaf.

 

Persistence and tenacity … that is what marked Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, and Thomas Edison.

Persistence and tenacity … this is what we find in our Gospel lesson today.

 

Today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Persistent Widow, focuses our attention on a most unconventional character.  The classic Biblical description of a widow is a woman who lives in poverty, a person who is weak and vulnerable, and a woman without a protector, who is easily exploited.  Certainly all widows were not in such a situation in Jesus’ day, but the threat to such women was profound.

 

The Scriptural admonition to care for widows is compelling.  In Deuteronomy 10: 10 we find this powerful admonition:  God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. In Exodus 22: 22 we are instructed:  You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.

 

The Hebrew Scriptures are not the only place where we hear a call to guard and protect the widow and the orphan.  The Christian Scriptures also insist that widows should be sheltered.  In the Epistle of James we read:  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. [James 1: 27]

 

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the story that is our Gospel lesson in his modern language paraphrase of the Christian Scriptures, The Message.  Peterson writes:

There was once a judge in some city, who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people.  A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated.  Protect me!’

He never gave her the time of day.  But after this woman went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think.   But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice ~ otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’

Then Jesus said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying?  So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help?  Won’t he stick up for them?   I assure you, he will.  He will not drag his feet.  But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”      [Luke 18: 2-11]

 

How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?  I find these words most intriguing because I believe that they are addressed to you and to me.  For whether Christ comes again in our lifetime or at the end of our lives, the issue will be the same.  Will we be found living lives of faithfulness and commitment … lives marked by that persistent faith?

 

Luke preserved this unusual little story to make one clear and essential point for First Century Christians … Do not lose heart!  Do not surrender … do not give up with a spirit of resignation that looks at the evil around us and says, Oh, what’s the use?

 

What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st Century America? … We do not surrender!  We do not lose heart … we live with a determination that we will endure.  We will not wilt when life gets hard and demanding.  We will not remain silent in the face of injustice.  Because our faith is in Jesus Christ … we will endure.

 

Our Gospel lesson encourages us to find strength in the mettle of this unnamed woman … this woman who refused to sit in her home and feel sorry for herself …  this woman who would not let that arrogant judge get away with shaming her, ignoring her, denying her the justice she deserved.

 

Luke does not define her grievance, but he captures her grit.

She is the mother who bombards the school district until she gets the special educational needs of her child addressed in an appropriate manner;

She is the father who practices “tough love” with a teenager, no matter the cost to him personally;

She is the dedicated legal advisor who will move heaven and earth to get a new trial for an innocent person wrongly imprisoned.

 

If it pleases the Lord for me to continue to serve in his Church, next September will mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of my ordination to a ministry of Word and Sacrament … what we would call the Priesthood in the Episcopal Church.  If I would pick one word to capture what I think has marked my time in professional pastoral service to the Church it would be persistence … regularly showing up with purpose and determination.

 

I do not have the energy that I had in the first decades of my ministry, but I have the same love for Christ and commitment to the Church.  More and more I find myself inspired by the Gospel according to Aesop … particularly his Parable of the Tortoise and the Hare.  My hare-like days are over … I am not the fastest one on the track.  But in the end the tortoise won!  He was persistent.  That hard-shelled creature should inspire us all to keep on keeping on … in Jesus’ Name.

 

I would like to close with these wonderful words from our Second Lesson:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead … I solemnly urge you: proclaim the Gospel; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.  [I Timothy 4: 2]     AMEN.

 

The Tale of the pERSISTENT Widow + Luke 18: 1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24], October 15/16, 2010

Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA – The Rev. Roy Almquist

In nineteenth century America there was a man who failed in business at the age of 21. This man decided to run for elective office, but was defeated. He failed again in a second business enterprise at the age of 24.

  • The woman he loved died suddenly when he was 26 and he then had a nervous breakdown. This man then ran for Congress at 34 and was once again defeated. He ran for the Senate eleven years later and lost. This pattern continued when he sought election as Vice President of the United States at the age of 47 and again ran for the Senate at 49. In both elections he was defeated.

  • Finally, at the age of 52, this lawyer from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln, was elected the sixteenth President of the United States. Was he a failure? I do not think so. We remember him today because he was persistent. For Abraham Lincoln, defeat was a detour and not a dead end.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were reprimanded for not applying themselves in an attentive manner while high school students … so distracted were they by their conviction that a machine, heavier than air, could actually fly!

A mother in New Jersey was told that her partially deaf four-year-old child was too stupid to learn and she should, therefore, get him out of school. She took him out of school, but she instructed him at home. She knew he was not stupid. Her little boy, Thomas Edison, grew up to be one of the greatest American inventors, despite the fact that he had only three months of formal schooling and was partially deaf.

Persistence and tenacity … that is what marked Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, and Thomas Edison.

Persistence and tenacity … this is what we find in our Gospel lesson today.

Today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Persistent Widow, focuses our attention on a most unconventional character. The classic Biblical description of a widow is a woman who lives in poverty, a person who is weak and vulnerable, and a woman without a protector, who is easily exploited. Certainly all widows were not in such a situation in Jesus’ day, but the threat to such women was profound.

The Scriptural admonition to care for widows is compelling. In Deuteronomy 10: 10 we find this powerful admonition: God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. In Exodus 22: 22 we are instructed: You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.

The Hebrew Scriptures are not the only place where we hear a call to guard and protect the widow and the orphan. The Christian Scriptures also insist that widows should be sheltered. In the Epistle of James we read: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. [James 1: 27]

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the story that is our Gospel lesson in his modern language paraphrase of the Christian Scriptures, The Message. Peterson writes:

There was once a judge in some city, who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

He never gave her the time of day. But after this woman went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice ~ otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’

Then Jesus said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” [Luke 18: 2-11]

How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns? I find these words most intriguing because I believe that they are addressed to you and to me. For whether Christ comes again in our lifetime or at the end of our lives, the issue will be the same. Will we be found living lives of faithfulness and commitment … lives marked by that persistent faith?

Luke preserved this unusual little story to make one clear and essential point for First Century Christians … Do not lose heart! Do not surrender … do not give up with a spirit of resignation that looks at the evil around us and says, Oh, what’s the use?

What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st Century America? … We do not surrender! We do not lose heart … we live with a determination that we will endure. We will not wilt when life gets hard and demanding. We will not remain silent in the face of injustice. Because our faith is in Jesus Christ we will endure.

Our Gospel lesson encourages us to find strength in the mettle of this unnamed woman … this woman who refused to sit in her home and feel sorry for herself … this woman who would not let that arrogant judge get away with shaming her, ignoring her, denying her the justice she deserved.

Luke does not define her grievance, but he captures her grit.

  • She is the mother who bombards the school district until she gets the special educational needs of her child addressed in an appropriate manner;

  • She is the father who practices “tough love” with a teenager, no matter the cost to him personally;

  • She is the dedicated legal advisor who will move heaven and earth to get a new trial for an innocent person wrongly imprisoned.

If it pleases the Lord for me to continue to serve in his Church, next September will mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of my ordination to a ministry of Word and Sacrament … what we would call the Priesthood in the Episcopal Church. If I would pick one word to capture what I think has marked my time in professional pastoral service to the Church it would be persistence … regularly showing up with purpose and determination.

I do not have the energy that I had in the first decades of my ministry, but I have the same love for Christ and commitment to the Church. More and more I find myself inspired by the Gospel according to Aesop … particularly his Parable of the Tortoise and the Hare. My hare-like days are over … I am not the fastest one on the track. But in the end the tortoise won! He was persistent. That hard-shelled creature should inspire us all to keep on keeping on … in Jesus’ Name.

I would like to close with these wonderful words from our Second Lesson:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead … I solemnly urge you: proclaim the Gospel; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. [I Timothy 4: 2] AMEN.