Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Patient Widow

Sermon on Luke 18:1-8
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 6, 2013 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost)

The church is the bride of Christ.  She has as her adversary the devil.  She keeps pleading that the Judge would give her justice against her adversary.  And yet, the Bridegroom, the Judge of all the earth, seems to take way too long to show up and defeat him.  It almost seems as if her husband isn’t even there and that she’s left as a widow.  And justice isn’t something that is easily found in this world.  Everyone in this old world is corrupted by sin and therefore there is no such thing as justice under the sun.  Even what seems like justice may be the exact opposite, as criminals go free and the innocent are jailed or even put to death, all because judges and juries and witnesses make mistakes, and some of them are even corrupt, such as the judge in today’s parable.

That judge seems like an unlikely stand-in for Christ in this parable, and in one sense he isn’t.  His reason for giving the widow justice is, of course, the complete opposite of the reason why the true Judge will give justice to His bride, the Church.  He only wants the woman to go away so that he can get some rest.  He doesn’t care about her or about her adversary.  He’s being completely selfish and just wants to put the whole thing behind him, so that this annoying widow will leave him alone.

But isn’t that how we are tempted to think about our Lord?  Isn’t that how the world describes Him?  After all, if He’s really able to do anything, how can he let evil and injustice go on for so long?  Why doesn’t he directly intervene to rescue His people when the unscrupulous and evil take advantage of them, mock them, and even persecute them?  If there really is an almighty God, how can He let Christians be martyred for their faith?  Why doesn’t He stop all the injustice?  Why does the Church so often look like a widow here on earth, poor, lonely, and neglected?  If He really is God, why doesn’t He save us from everything that plagues us in this damaged, deranged, messed up world?  If He really is the Son of God, why doesn’t He even come down from the cross and save Himself?

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?  There are two, and only two, ways of dealing with the problem of sin in the world.  He can either destroy it with a wave of His hand, or He can allow it to kill Him.  To wipe out injustice and evil by His sheer power would not give justice to His bride who begs Him day and night.  To wipe out injustice and evil by His sheer power would destroy everything He has made, and especially His bride, whom He loves.  And so He takes the harder road.  He allows the evil and the injustice and the sin of the world to destroy Him.  He who is perfect is treated like a common criminal.  He who by definition cannot die, dies.  He becomes the victim of the unjust judge.

And so we really shouldn’t lose heart, because our praying and begging day and night that He would come and give us justice against our adversary is heard.  Many have given up praying to Him, because to all the world it looks like we are talking to a brick wall rather than the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.  It’s tempting to give up.  It’s tempting to look for other messages, that have to do with this life, rather than wait patiently for eternity, and go after preachers who scratch their itching ears by giving them good advice rather than the good news.  Many of these have even done so in the name of “evangelism.”  By the way, when St. Paul says “Do the work of an evangelist,” that really should be translated “Do the work of a Gospel preacher,” which is to say, “Do the work of a preacher of the good news of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation,” not, “Get every warm body you can inside the church building by giving them whatever message they want to hear.”

Because of all these pressures, probably every Christian out there has, in fact, given up praying for a time.  Even the eleven disciples couldn’t watch with Him for even one hour in Gethsemane, and so it shouldn’t surprise us if we give up at times too.  But our praying is heard.  Our bridegroom’s prayer was heard.  On the cross, He cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  But this wasn’t only a cry of anguish and despair.  It’s the opening line of Psalm 22, a psalm which sounds like despair, but halfway through changes to joy and resurrection.

We know that our prayer is heard because our Bridegroom’s prayer to His Father was heard.  We know that our salvation is coming because we too were crucified with Him and rose with Him from the dead, by the power of water and the Word.  It’s not just the historical facts of what Jesus did that comforts us here.  It’s that we ourselves became participants in those events through water and the Word.  It’s that we already feast at His marriage banquet.  It’s that we ourselves are already participants in the judge’s righteous verdict.  The Holy Christian Church, who looks like a widow, begging for deliverance from a judge who seems uncaring and far off, is really the bride of Christ, who has been joined with Him in the blessings of eternity.  And the Judge Himself, rather than being far away and uncaring, is here in our midst, giving us, the Church, His own crucified and risen body and blood as the guarantee that He will come and take us to be with Him forever.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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