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October 18, 2016, 11:11 AM

To Not Lose Heart

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.
Luke 18:1-8
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?”
To Not Lose Heart
“To not lose heart.” “To not lose heart.” That phrase in our gospel reading grabbed my attention this week. It grabbed my heart. “To not lose heart.” That is an easy thing to do right now, to lose heart. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit exhausted with all the ‘battles’ raging right now. My heart is weary. My soul is weary. My head hurts. Friends, family, community members are battling each other about the election, about what lives matter, about gun violence, about economic policies…the list goes on and on. Sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church are battling about inclusivity, about biblical interpretation, about doctrine, about polity, and about schism. People are dying: in cities and towns across our nation, in Aleppo, in the areas of the Middle East controlled by ISIS, in the Sudan, in more places than I can name. Here at home, in our community, there has been too much bad news. Any bad news is too much, but it seems like it is raining illness and brokenness and heartbreak and loss. I don’t think I’m the only one losing heart, growing weary, bending under ‘battle fatigue.’ In our gospel reading Jesus says he is gifting to us a parable about prayer and not losing heart. Yes, please Lord. How can we not lose heart?
But what follows this promise of a parable is a strange story about a widow and a judge. At first glance this story seems to be another exhausting tale of injustice. The story appears to be about a poor, vulnerable, widow pleading and pleading for justice from an uncaring and unsympathetic judge. Much of the artwork online for this passage depicts an elderly, bent woman often kneeling in front of this wealthy aloof judge, hands pleading for help. Just looking at the images made me tired. Another injustice in the world. This poor woman wearing herself out to wear out the judge so she might get just a little relief. But then I looked a bit more closely.
The New Revised Standard Translation, and all other translations are very, very similar. “Grant me justice,” pleads the widow. And the judge finally does before the widow ‘wears him out’ by continually coming and bothering him. But this is not what the Greek says. Our translators are trying to be more polite and gracious in their translating, but the Greek is a bit blunt. First, this widow is not pleading for the judge to grant her justice. She is demanding that the judge make things right. That is the verb in Greek, ekdikeo, to set things right, to make things right. The judge finally relents because he doesn’t want the widow to give him a black eye. He isn’t worried that she will wear him out, the Greek text uses a boxing term that refers to being hit in the eye. Whether the black eye is figurative or real, the judge perceives this widow as dangerous, a threat, and he gives her what she wants. This widow is not the weak and pleading woman of the popular internet art. This is the widow Ruth standing before Naomi shouting “NO! I will not leave you! Where you go, I will go…” This is Anna in the Temple of Jerusalem who recognizes the infant Jesus and proclaims him before all. This is a strong, tenacious woman, with a vision for what she believes is right. She is not losing heart. She is standing strong. “Set things right!” “Bring me justice!” “Now!” Here is Jesus’ promised parable—don’t lose heart. Stand up. Make things right. Keep your eye on the goal. Don’t lose heart.
Our reading today from Jeremiah deepens Jesus’ urging to not lose heart. Jeremiah shows us just how precious our hearts are. He tells us how important they are for God’s work in the world, for realizing God’s Beloved Community, God’s Commonwealth, God’s Kingdom. Jeremiah promises the exiled Israelites, that once they are liberated, once they return home, a new covenant will be established between them and God. This time the covenant won’t be carved onto stone tablets, it will be etched on their own hearts. God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. They will carry the knowledge of the Lord within them. The Israelites did indeed return from exile. We now live in the ‘after that time’ that Jeremiah spoke of. We carry all we need right here (touch heart). God’s way of living is carved into the fabric of our being. It is etched onto our hearts. We cannot afford to lose them. Our hearts carry the promise of God’s Beloved Community—your heart, my heart, our hearts together.
Yes, it is a dark time in our community, our nation, and the world. Battle lines crisscross each other over different issues, beliefs, practices, ideologies, and theologies. It is easy to lose heart and to lose our way. However, we follow Jesus. We answer Jesus’ call to build God’s kingdom here, now. We march across the battle lines waving the banner of Beloved Community. We enter the world with a new conversation, one focused on building the Beloved Community. This message flows from our lips, colors our emails, and fills our tweets, postings, and memes. We keep our eyes on the promise of God’s commonwealth, God’s kingdom. We must not lose heart. The world is depending on us. The light of God’s promise shines through us. We are called to be kingdom builders!
What is the kingdom of God like?
  • It is the seed that is scattered everywhere, regardless of soil types.
  • It is like the mustard seed that grows to provide shelter for all birds.
  • It is like the tiny amount of yeast that gives rise to the whole loaf.
  • It is a treasure, a pearl of great value that we would give anything to have.
The Kingdom of God is the Beloved Community, a table set for all, overflowing with abundance. It is Mary’s song from the beginning of Luke—God’s mercy for all, the proud and arrogant scattered, the powerful pulled down from their thrones, the lowly lifted, the hungry filled. In Luke, God’s commonwealth is the great leveling, where all stand side by side. We are called to bear this to the world, to live as an example to the world. Jesus told a parable that we might pray unceasingly and not lose heart. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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