Sunday 16th October 2016 – Persistence and Humility.

The Word This Week:

Luke 18:1-14 (Australian Anglican Church Lectionary Reading.

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?’
 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

A Sermon on the Word:

Persistence and humility.  Our Gospel gives us two strong messages for our journey of faith with Jesus.  So lets have a look firstly at this theme of persistence:

In our opening Gospel parable Jesus relates to us a story of an unjust – unfair judge who eventually relents and does what is right, simply because of the persistence of the widow who continues to press her case. Then he says to us – well then don’t you think we ought to trust in God to do what is right – the unrighteous judge even does what is right in the end when the woman is persistent.
so then what do you think the outcome will be if we continue to be persistent with God?   You see God is already Just – God doesn’t need us to wear him down in order to do what is right – in fact his only requirement on us – the only thing he asks of us is that we have faith – that we trust him.  Of course that isn’t always easy to do is it?

It is especially hard for us to trust in God when we are facing moments in life that are hard – when we confront those times of pain, of suffering, those moments of sickness or struggle.  When we are in the midst of these times it is often incredibly difficult to simply trust that God is there, that God is with us – that God ultimately is in control.  It is in those moments that we find ourselves demanding answers rather than trusting, it is in those moments that we find ourselves angry with God. 

We are allowed to be angry.  We are allowed to question the things that happen to us, we are allowed to cry out to God in anguish and frustration.   But we must not despair – we must not give up and turn away.  The message for us here from Jesus is that God is in fact on our side – and if we can look to the unjust world and see that even those who are not in our side will cave in and look after us if we are persistent enough, how much more confidence can we have in God who we know loves us.
The message is to be faithful – to maintain our hope and our trust in God, even when we face thing is this world which are unfair, which are unjust and which try us to the brink of despair.

We know we can be faithful – we know we can hold fast in our faith and we know this because our God is one who is not far off – but one who was willing to come to earth as one of us – to live as one of us – experiencing the same temptations and trials that we face – experiencing the love and the loss that we experience also – do you remember Jesus tears at the tomb of his dearly loved friend Lazarus? Do you remember his frustration and anger in the temple as he drove out the money changers? Ours is a God who knows what it is like to live as we live, to feel as we feel.  Ours is a God who loves us so much that he was willing to go to a cross for us and die to fulfil the righteous judgement that we as offenders – sinners should get – he took it on our behalf, this God we worship could not abide that justice not be served – but so great is his love for us that he himself paid the fine – he paid the cost.
This is why we can have absolute confidence that God is working with us and for us – even when we face things which we cannot understand – even when we face the greatest challenges of our lives – he is with us.  The message of this parable is that we need not despair – we must not lose heart as Luke says – we must keep looking to God – we must keep praying – we must hold fast – because he is faithful and has not, and will not abandon us.

Of course having this confidence in what God has done for us, can also be a bit of a trap for us.  We can become, if we are not careful, like the Pharisee in the second parable we read today.  We can become so confident that we are ‘good people’ that we begin to lose our humility when before God.  That Pharisee, lets be clear was not there to worship God – he was there to make a show of how wonderful he was to everyone else – praying loudly about how grateful he was, not for the incredible grace that God had shown him, not for the many blessings that he had been given in life, but instead he was grateful that he was just ‘better’ than everyone else. 

You see what the Pharisee had done was to move his faith from one of awe, reverence and honour for the God who created him, sustained him and provided even the air he breathed – to a faith in himself – a self righteous faith, which said only the ‘other’ people needed forgiveness of sins, only the others needed to repent…

I can promise you if we are ever feeling that we have nothing at all to confess to God, if we get to that point where we believe we are righteous without the redeeming sacrifice of Christ then we are being just like that Pharisee, and we will walk away from our prayers unjustified, just as he did.

So what do we do then? We continue to trust, to place our hope and our faith in the God who created us, who sustains us and who was willing to die for us.  We come before his throne in prayer every day and give thanks for what he has done for us, humbly acknowledging that all we have comes from him, and confident that he will never forsake us.
The Lord be with you.