Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 20, 2013
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
Thank you, Jesus, this is exactly what I need. I don’t know about you, but it seems just about every day that I lose heart and forget to pray.
It seems that some old widow has been robbed, and she’s trying to get this judge to hear her case. Sorry, I should say, “bozo judge.” Because he doesn’t care about anybody. This old widow keeps trying and trying, she is downright persistent. Widows at this time were the most vulnerable in society, they had nobody to take care of them, and they were the most easily forgotten. So this was her only hope. Finally, after trying and trying and trying, the bozo judge decides to help the widow out. Not because he’s a nice guy who wants to help somebody who is in trouble, but because he’s sick and tired of hearing from this old widow.
The English translation doesn’t do this passage justice. In what we read, the judge says, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” That’s nice and all, but here’s the literal translation, “I will grant her justice, so that she will not give me a black eye by continually coming.” Yep. This old widow is so persistent the bozo judge feels like she’s punched him in the face.
Remember, the judge doesn’t decide in favor of the widow because he’s a good guy. He only does so because the widow is so tenacious. Jesus then says that if this bozo judge does the right thing, then God, who is a good judge, will definitely do the right thing. The morale of the story – don’t lose heart. And if you are tempted to quit praying, don’t. Because God, who is way better than this bad judge, will definitely listen to our cries for help.
This week, I came across another story of a persistent widow. His name was Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky. And no, I’m not making that up. He was a Lithuanian. For everybody’s sake, we will refer to him as “Sam.” Sam was born in 1831 into a Jewish family. In his younger days, he encountered the New Testament and became a Christian after moving to America. He was a Baptist for awhile, then he was a Presbyterian, and then he finally settled down and became an Episcopalian. Good choice.
Now let me say, Sam was a smart dude. By the time he was ordained in the Episcopal Church, he was fluent in Yiddish, Polish, Russian, German, and Hebrew. Sam never finished seminary, because he answered a call to become a missionary to China. In 1859 he hopped on a boat to Shanghai. Like I said, Sam was a smart dude. He did not know Chinese when he set sail. He taught himself Chinese on his voyage across the Pacific. Eventually, in 1877 he became the Bishop of Shanghai.
Bishop Sam was a rockstar for Jesus. Can you imagine? Converting to Christianity, moving to America, becoming a priest, becoming a missionary in China, and then becoming a bishop. Look, if his story ended there, he would be a model of the persistent widow; someone who never lost heart, someone who prayed always. But his story gets even better.
In 1883 Bishop Sam was stricken with paralysis. He was confined to a wheelchair, and his hands were rendered functionless. But Bishop Sam did not lose heart, Bishop Sam prayed always. If that would have been me, I would have called it quits. “Well, that was fun. Now it’s time to retire.” But not Bishop Sam. Typing on an old typewriter with only one finger on his frozen right hand, he translated the entire Bible into Chinese. *Click.* *Clack.* For two thousand pages. *Click.* *Clack.*
Jesus tells us, “Do not lose heart. Pray always.” Bishop Sam is an icon of that exhortation. Just think of the words to describe him: Sacrifice. Courage. Love. Persistence. When the unjust judge of life gave him a raw deal he picked himself up again for the sake of Jesus and did what he knew he had to do. *Click.* *Clack.*
I challenge you to be the persistent widow, to be like Bishop Sam. To pray always, to not lose heart.
When you think about your financial pledge to this church for 2014, do not lose heart. Do not think about what else you can spend that money on. I ask you to think of Bishop Sam, paralyzed in his wheelchair, with a wrecked hand, cranking out a translation of the Bible one keystroke at a time, all for Jesus. *Click.* *Clack.* If you are not inspired by a single sermon I ever give about money and sacrifice, be inspired by that single image of a crippled old man in a wheelchair, sacrificing everything for the Lord Jesus.
When you think about how you want to serve the church, do not lose heart. Do not think about what else you could spend your time doing. Think about the persistent widow who went to the unjust judge again and again and again, to the point where he felt that she had given him a black eye. And in the end, all the time she committed was worth it. If you think that God is calling you to something new, do not give yourself an excuse. Do not let that bozo judge dictate your life. You know who that is. It’s the little voice in your head that tells you that prayer isn’t worth it. It’s the resistance you feel when you want to serve the poor, but just don’t. It’s that calling that God gave you a long time ago, that you’ve just swept under the rug. The bozo judge is whatever it is that is holding you back from following the Lord Jesus. Do whatever it takes: learn Chinese, punch a judge in the face, be so committed to the Lord Jesus, that you pray always. Do not give up. Do not lose heart.
Finally, I want to turn this parable on its head. Jesus is the persistent widow. We are the unjust judge. Jesus comes knocking at our door with dogged resolution. Jesus comes bursting into our lives, whether we are ready for him or not. We are the ones who try to shut him out. We are the ones who will not listen.
I want to warn you. If you do not pay attention, sooner or later Jesus is going to give you a black eye. Jesus will wear you out so much that you will eventually take notice of him. Because Jesus will do whatever it takes to claim you as his own. You might resist. You might even try to run away. But that will not work. Jesus will do whatever it takes, even die on a cross and rise from the dead. Not to prove a point, not to show his anger, but to tell us how much he loves us, and to give us the meaning of love.
Pray always. Do not lose heart. Because you are not alone. Jesus is relentless in trying to get your attention. Slowly, but surely, Jesus is knocking on the door of our hearts, *Click.* *Clack.*