Guest preacher Glenda Hope explores the power of persistence in the pursuit of justice.
Then Jesus told them 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?’’
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
It is instructive to notice how often Jesus chooses to hold up a despised person as a role model for his listeners. The Good Samaritan – the Grateful Leper – The beggar who could not be silenced – the Samaritan Woman at the Well – The Prostituted Woman who crashed the party and humbly sought his blessing – an insane woman we know as Mary Magdalene – and the list goes on. In this way, Jesus manages to feed two birds with one scone, making his points about faith while reminding us that we are all God’s precious children and that God speaks to us through whomever She chooses, whenever She chooses, however She chooses – sometimes a shocking surprise.
The woman in this story is another in that long list – perhaps based on something Jesus actually observed or that one of his disciples experienced, for there were many women among his disciples.
Both Old and New Testaments cite widows and orphans as some of the most needy and oppressed people because in that time a woman without a man was vulnerable and most likely poor. There were few ways in which a woman could earn a living, driving many of them to the streets to beg or to rent out their bodies, simply to gain survival for themselves and their children. A woman’s word was worthless in a court of law unless it was substantiated by a man.
Well, here was just such a useless, voiceless being daring to give voice day after day in the pursuit of justice. Someone had taken advantage of her widowhood – maybe taken advantage even of her fresh grief – it still happens – and she was not going to be denied her day in court even though she really didn’t have one. I love this woman! She refused to “stay in her place.” I could spin a story about her – the bailiffs throwing her outside the court – she hung out until court was over then followed this judge through the streets making a fuss and being hauled away again – she came back, conducting a sit-in – with her children – on his front lawn. With a big sign proclaiming: UNJUST – UNWORTHY – IMPEACH HIM!
He gave in to shut her up and SHE WON!
The power of persistence in the pursuit of justice.
Back in the -50’s at the beginning of the contemporary Women’s Movement, Flo Kennedy – an African American attorney and women’s leader- observed: “Most women are just one man away from welfare.” Still true for far too many women in our country today, esp. women of color and older women. Today an assault is being waged on Social Security – seeking to raise the age of eligibility or lower the cost of living adjustments or to destroy this vital safety net altogether. Women and men who worked hard to support their families in jobs such as laborers, waitresses, hotel maids, childcare workers, cooks – cannot push their bodies any farther into old age. They must retire and receive the return on the money they invested in Social Security. So many have worked at low wage jobs allowing for small if any savings and typically with no pension. Overwhelmingly, they are old women of color. We must magnify their voices to see they receive what we owe them. Our society could not function without their work.
Sit down at your computer. Take a moment to breathe a prayer of thanks that you have a home and a computer and bring up Strengthen Social Security to find your way of giving voice to these so voiceless. Doing so is a continuation of our worship, a matter of simple justice. Doesn’t require from us a lot of trouble or effort but – like most struggles for justice – this does require that we adopt THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW of today’s Scripture as our model.
Let’s go back to the beginning of today’s lesson: “Jesus told them a story about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” “Pray always…????”
Pray always – that prayer which is an ongoing conversation of the heart with the One who is the Heart of All Creation.
Pray always – be in the spirit of prayer – the Buddhists call it “mindfulness.” See without naming – really see – the gorgeous moon we have been viewing – the faces all around – the shapes and colors of vegetables so beautifully displayed in the markets – really see with your whole being.
There is a chant Victor taught me years ago: “I am One with the heart of Creation; I am one with the heart of Love.” Well – I am not at that place of Oneness but chanting it aloud or silently reminds me to be prayerfully mindful.
Pray always – at regular times in the place of solitude.
Pray always – in communal worship – in the company of believers who are praying even when I – somehow – cannot.
Pray when it seems about as meaningful as reciting the alphabet.
Pray unabashedly – when I walked those Tenderloin streets in collar and Cross so many reached out – “Please – stop – pray for me.” Pray for me – right here – right now – with cars and pedestrians going by. Let us each ask: when was the last time I asked someone to pray for me – or offered to pray for them? You don’t need a title in front of your name.
Pray to be a peacemaker – a healer – a justice creator. Pray when you watch the TV news or read the paper.
Pray when you wake up in the dead of night.
Pray always and do not lose heart. Do not lose heart.
Norma Hotaling was an importunate woman. When I met Norma, she had just established a small daytime drop-in center for homeless, drug addicted, prostituted women. Network Ministries was on the verge of founding the SafeHouse for Women Escaping Prostitution – a residential place for women to live and heal and change their lives – and we consulted Norma. She had once been on those streets – dating back to her early teens – and she told us it took her 26 tries to transform her life. 26 tries. Don’t judge! Ask yourself about the last time you vowed to lose 5 pounds and keep it off. Or be diligent in some intellectual or physical or spiritual discipline and never falter. Read this book: “Generation X” – which will be in the church library – if you want to understand better the power of addiction.
Norma went on to enlarge that center called SAGE – Standing Against Global Exploitation. She became a world traveler in the effort to combat sex trafficking and slavery. Cancer claimed her life but her legacy lives on among those – like SafeHouse – seeking justice for God’s exploited daughters and sons so they may grow into the fullness of God’s image as She intended from their birth.
A woman came to SafeHouse, having been trafficked from another city. She had been abducted as a preteen and held for years as a sex slave before being dumped on the streets because she was no longer young and desirable. At SafeHouse, she discovered her inner strength and beauty and renewed her faith in Jesus. She is about 6 feet tall, an African American trans-woman, a fundamentalist Christian believing in the literal interpretation of the Bible. She found a church which welcomes and affirms her and she is persistently pursuing her calling to get the needed education for becoming a minister to at risk youth and an advocate for them. AN IMPORTUNATE WOMAN of deep prayerful faith.
One more inspiring story: after John Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became president, a group of Civil Rights leaders met with Johnson, demanding his leadership in passing the Voting Rights Act. Johnson told them: You are right but this will be a battle. I need you to create an atmosphere forcing me to do this.” They did – but not alone. Thousands of people persisted in the pursuit of justice and there came that bloody confrontation on the Selma bridge. The legislation passed and was signed. A young John Lewis, suffered a fractured skull on that bridge and was 2 weeks in a coma. Today, still with a steel plate in his head, he is a Congressman from Georgia. This past June, following the massacre in Orlando, he led a 40 members of Congress in a sit-in on the floor of Congress, protesting the failure of legislation proposed to limit gun violence. This man of deep faith, some 53 years since his near death, prayerfully persists in the pursuit of justice.
In the early 70’s, Malvina Reynolds wrote and sang: God bless the grass that grows through the cracks; they roll the concrete over it to try to keep it back; the concrete gets tired of what it has to do; it breaks and it buckles and the grass grows through. God bless the grass.
Pray always and do not lose heart.