October 16, 2022

The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

October 16, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

It is on days like today that I am reminded of that great evangelical hymn “To God be the
Glory”. “To God be the Glory! Great things He has Done.” And great things continue to be done in
God’s holy and grace filled name. The 44 th Annual Valle Country Fair is now past, and I cannot wait
to hear the final results.
You know, seeing the thousands of people gathered here yesterday – people of all sorts and
backgrounds and shapes and sizes, of different economic standings and race, and no doubt, people
with a myriad of beliefs and a myriad of worries, I was reminded of what can be accomplished
when people of God commit to work together and seek to serve Christ in every person they meet.
Well done Holy Cross! Well done!
Now I have to admit this morning that earlier in the week – I think it was Wednesday – when I
noticed a change to our weather forecast, a forecast that suggested rain perhaps even on the day
of the Fair, I started to pray for Divine intervention. When it started to sprinkle Wednesday
evening, prayers that began, “God, please don’t let it rain” turned to “Well, if it has to rain tonight,
that’s alright, but let’s not overdo it.” And then I added a bargaining chip: “After all, Lord, the Fair
raises money to help so many people throughout the community … so get rid of the rain, okay?”
Do you ever find yourself adding bargaining chips to your prayers? One of my favorite what I now
call “bargaining chip” prayers – in reality, a prayer of desperation – was offered by a Seminary
classmate. See, we were about to write a final exam and I watched as he lowered his head and
whispered, “Please God, if you will give me an ‘A’ on this exam I promise to study next time.”
I laugh about that prayer and yet, the truth is many Christians tend to approach prayer as an
opportunity to present God with a “to-do” list of things we need or want, or the needs and wants of
others. Jesus did, after all, encourage us to ask God for whatever we need. And yet such prayers
seem to be more about asking God to fix something, to give something, to correct what we might
think is a wrong in society or even within our own selves, rather than listening for what God might
have us to do. You know, like amending our own lives. For all their honesty, such prayers suggest
that whatever mess we find ourselves in, if God really is God, and really loves us, God has to fix it.
On the surface, this morning’s parable from the Gospel according to Luke - the story of the
Widow and the Unrighteous Judge – suggests such an approach to prayer. It has an almost
Prosperity Gospel message to it: a message that claims if you pray hard enough, if you just keep
asking, keep nagging God to act, God will be obligated to do what you want. Yet, our Lord was
speaking about something far deeper and perhaps even more difficult for us to grasp because its
message is so simple. Our reading from Luke is not about nagging prayers or confronting an
unwilling God, but rather, about a God who bears with us, bears our suffering with us. This
passage is about remaining faithful, about clinging to faith, about persevering in faith in God’s
justice, mercy, love and forgiveness even if (and I’ll add “even when”) everything around is falling
apart. It’s about faith that endures even when we believe we have been treated unfairly by others,
or when God seems strangely silent and distant, maybe even uncaring. Faith clings to the promise
that God is always faithful even if, and when, we are un-faithful.
In the days of Jeremiah, the people of Israel lived in exile in Babylon. Their great nation, in
many ways an empire, had collapsed from within and everything they held dear was either gone or
forever changed. For a while, these exiled Israelites blamed this calamity upon the sins of their
parents – “the sour grapes” – a common teaching at that time that said if something went wrong in
your life, it was because your ancestors had sinned. In today’s reading, Jeremiah debunks such
thoughts and affirms God has been present to God’s people all along. God has seen every act –
every act of kindness, everything that built up society just as God has seen every act of evil,
everything that uproots or destroys. Jeremiah says we can’t blame anyone but our own selves. And
in coming to grips with the reality that we each bear the responsibility for our actions and choices,
and repent of such actions and choices God, in turn, promises to forgive and restore and redeem
people of faith.
See, it’s at times when things seem to be changing and in so doing, one’s future seems cloudy
and certainly unknown, we need to remember the impact of our faith, our trust, in God. For it is by
faith – persevering faith and urging people to faith -that the church continues her role in God’s
work of transformation in the human heart and mind. It is faith that continues to transform us. It is
what gives us hope. Faith enables us to get up in the morning after a sleepless night of worry or
grief. Faith tells us that God’s ways, God’s values are not simply etched into stones posted on
courtroom walls or public squares, but rather, faith enables them to be etched, to be written on our
hearts as Jeremiah proclaimed. And that is faith that will continue to transform who we are, how
we think, how we live. By faith, God’s ways and values become a part of our very being.
St. Paul, in our reading from his 2 nd letter to Timothy, urges the church – people of God like us -
to be persistent in faith and in proclaiming that faith. But then Paul also notes that such is only
possible when and if faith truly transforms who we are – when it ensures that God’s ways and
values become written on our hearts – and therefore drives us to take action, to proclaim the good
news of God in Christ to our communities through our words and especially our deeds, our very
lives, our hearts and minds.
Faith urges a little country Church called Holy Cross to bake, to put up preserves, to crush
apples into cider, to make apple butter, to cook huge vats of stew, BBQ pork, and chili, and
hundreds and hundreds of corn muffins. Faith urges volunteers to give of their time, talent, and
treasure to feed and meet the needs of these our neighbors – so many of whom are unknown to
us. Faith pushes us to reach outside of ourselves, beyond ourselves, to embrace and welcome the
stranger, to uphold the dignity of every person we meet, to truly seek and serve Christ in them –
even in those who, at times, might, like the widow in our Gospel reading, nag us to distraction.
Those who get under our skin – or as I like to call them – those “gifts that keep on giving.” Faith
moves us to persevere even in the face of extreme hardship. At times, in my own life just as I am
sure is true in your lives, it seems that all I had left to cling to was faith. And that may not sound
like much, but friends, Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. And
such faith has moved me, moved you, moved us time and again to change, to amend our lives, to
repent and right the wrongs we have committed. And faith continues to transform me just as I
know it continues to transform you because ours is a living faith.
Luke says that Jesus shared the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge to remind his
followers to pray always and not lose heart. And after explaining the parable, Jesus gets to the
crux of the matter by asking all those present, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on
earth?” I wonder how you might answer that question. It’s a tough question because the answer
puts the onus on us. It requires each of us to make a decision, because how we answer our Lord’s
question is truly our choice and our choice alone. My answer is simply this, “Yes, Jesus most
certainly will find faith.” I know he will find it in Valle Crucis, and he will find it in you because I saw
it at the Fair and I still see it this morning – see it written on your hearts just as it is demonstrated
in your lives. And most of all, that faith continues to transform who we are as people of faith,
people of God. How do I know that to be true? Well, I have faith. How about you? Amen.