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Sunday October 18, 1998
Luke 18:1- 8


Focus Text: "Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." [18:1]


Qualities of Faith

III. Perseverance - "Trusting God for the Long Haul"

A cartoon shows a long faced, disappointed looking fellow standing with what appears to be an angel on the desolate lunar landscape. The angel is explaining to the puzzled looking man, "There's been a change in plans.  The meek --   it turns out --  will inherit the moon!"

That's the view of the world.   Meekness is weakness. There are a lot of truisms taken for granted in our culture which seem to be at odds with biblical propositions. You can likely finish some of these cynical clichés:

"Good guys finish _______  (last)."
"Might makes ________ (right)."
"It's not what you know, it's  _______ (who)  you know."
"You can be sure that no good deed will go ___________  (unpunished)."

You can likely think of more.   There is a cynical streak running through our culture that affirms, "The best things in life are...  for those who grab them." The beatitudes are as one skeptic called them, the "chump attitudes". The poor, the meek and the persecuted aren't blessed, they are just hapless losers in the survival of the fittest.

I can see one of these cynical moderns saying to the woman in Jesus' parable, "Forget it lady, you have no connections -- you're nobody. The judge won't listen to you. Live with it -- you can't fight city hall you know."

If you spend much time with these cynical, negative folk you will have to beware of getting caught in their downward spiral. Take a look at Jesus' question at the end of our scripture. How do you think most of these people would respond to,  "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" ¹

There is a powerful lesson in today's gospel.  It addresses a major question that lies behind much of the crisis that comes into our living rooms every single day through television. Whether it is senseless killing in Northern Ireland, Bosnia or the Middle East -- the latest incident of terrorism or a school shooting -- or another drive by shooting that takes the life of an innocent child -- the question dominates:

"Will right ever win out over wrong?"

When all is said and done...   when the final curtain falls and history has come to its conclusion... Will justice prevail?  Will there be a triumph of good over evil? Most of us will have a basic "gut" reaction.  It will be a positive sense within that says, "Yes -- good is going to triumph over evil."  Or... there will be a more pessimistic feeling that, "Evil will finally win out over good." The way you answer that question is determined in part by the answer to two questions. 1.  What generation are you a part of?     2. Would you call yourself a person of faith?   The first question is something over which we have no control. The second is within our ability to choose.

1. What Generation are You a Part of?

Last July when Roy Rogers died, it was as though a whole era went with him. Roy Rogers was a "good guy" in a white hat -- on the screen and off the screen.  He was Roy Rogers in the movies and he was Roy Rogers in life. When Roy was around bad things and tough times were resolved. The bad guys in black hats lost and the good guys won.  Many of us date ourselves if we can remember standing in line waiting to see it happen over and over again. The story would begin with good people who were put upon by bad people and Roy Rogers would show up to send the bad people to jail and the good people would at last celebrate goodness -- frequently sitting around a camp fire singing something like, "O give me land lots of land under starry skies above..."

When I first stood in line to see Roy Rogers, I held a dime in my hand to buy my ticket.  Somewhere along the line the price of admission skyrocketed to 25 cents then half a dollar!  Nonetheless, there was a certain basic sense about life that the good would finally prevail over evil -- even if we rarely thought about it. It was just a basic substrata of life. Good will wins and right prevails.

The last time I went to a movie, the tab was something like $13.25 per person -- including the popcorn and soda. (That's eighty eight Roy Rogers Movies including popcorn and soda when I first saw him!) The characters in today's movies are not so easy to identify.  The hats are gray and it is hard to tell what is good and what is evil.

Roy Rogers wouldn't fly today.   Can you imagine going to a movie or television mogul and proposing a story line like Roy Rogers?  That positive, optimistic general confidence that life is good and the right will win out over the wrong has fallen on tough times.  The view of the world is that good guys finish last or, "the meek shall inherit the moon" -- or, the Nike T-Shirt that says on the front, "The meek shall inherit the earth" and on the back, "Yea right!!"

So where does that basic, optimistic sense that right will triumph over wrong come from now?

2. Would You Call Yourself a Person of Faith?

Some people call the time we live in a "post Christian" era. We can no longer assume Christian values or attitudes in the culture around us.  In fact, many argue that we live in a culture that is antagonistic to Christian values. Absent the support of cultural values, the profound message in today's gospel lesson is that much more important. Faith provides power for an optimistic, positive view of life and the conviction that goodness will finally triumph.

For people of faith life is built on a foundation principle that says God is good -- and no matter what the present might look like the promises of God are certain. The Psalmist said it this way, "For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." (Ps. 100:5)

In our brief scripture lesson, Jesus prescribes two absolutely counter cultural identifying marks of people of faith.  1. We are to build hope through prayer instead of giving up on life. and 2. We are to trust God for the eventual triumph of good.

1. We are to build hope through prayer instead of giving up on life.

Luke's words, "Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." are directed at disciples who would face tremendous difficulty as time went on. They were not super saints. They were flesh and blood, fragile human beings. They needed to be encouraged and built up. Phyllis McGinley, an American writer said,

"The wonderful thing about saints is that they were human.  They lost their tempers, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient, made mistakes and were sorry for them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven."

Moses complained to God, "Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he has done harm to this people; and Thou hast not delivered Thy people at all." (Ex.5:23)

The Psalmist wrote, "I say to God, my rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?" (Ps. 42:9)

Isaiah faced the question of why wrong prevailed and cried out to God, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down..." (Isaiah 64:1)

Still, they took their pain and anguish to God.   They did not simply work their way through the tough times, they prayed their way through. Instead of giving up on life, they found strength for living in their praying -- even when that prayer was agitated and angry.

A woman whose husband had walked out on her and their two children said, "I am so angry with God." "Have you told God how you feel?" I asked.  Surprised at this she answered, "You can't do that!" "Why not," I responded, "Working through the tough times is a part of any relationship. You have the choice of turning away and giving up -- or working it through."

As we pray through the tough times and stick with God when life seems to be so wrong, we receive encouragement and build spiritual endurance.

2. We are to trust God for the eventual triumph of good. 

Here's a critical issue for living.  The final outcome is not in doubt!  Life is not like an NBA basketball game where victory hangs in the balance until the last second and the crowd sits on the edge of their seats waiting to see who will prevail. In God's universe, good will triumph!  The right will prevail!  Justice is certain! However, It is only with the eyes of faith we can see the outcome. The letter to the Hebrews says, "...faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)

From the beginning of scripture to the end, there are good times and bad times for God's people -- there are utterly joyous times and bone crushing horrid times. The long haul outcome, however, is never in doubt to the eyes of faith.

If the unjust judge finally gives justice to the persistent woman Jesus says, how much more will the Lord answer the cry of God's people for justice?   So don't lose heart. Pray -- especially in the tough times.  Pray hardest when it's hardest to pray!

"Yet," Jesus says,  "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" The question translates to you and me in a direct way.  It is as though Jesus is asking, "Will you be waiting for and expecting the triumph of good?  Will you keep the faith?"

[Apply It]

1. What would you say is your basic orientation to life and life's circumstances? Are you generally positive -- trusting that the right will prevail? Or are you more pessimistic -- expecting the worst?

2. Prayer can shift your basic orientation to an upward trend. Use the Apostle Paul's prescription to the Philippians: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6-7) The "Peace of God" is the inner assurance of the Holy Spirit that in the end all things will be made right.


Notes On The Text

¹  The parable Jesus tells should be interpreted in the context of the eschatalogical theme of chapter 17.   Verse 8b makes it clear that this is not so much an instruction about prayer as it is about a specific attitude of prayer in light of the seeming delay in the coming of God's absolute justice.  An alternate sermon idea would be to do something on the theme of "How Long O Lord?"  See: Rev. 6:10, Psalm 6:3, 13:1, 82:2, & especially 2 Peter 3:4.  Your conclusion could be the Psalm of the day 121.

v. 2 The "judge" in this passage is not to be compared to God, but contrasted with God. An appointee of Herod or Rome, these local magistrates were notoriously corrupt. Unless a plaintiff had influence or money, they had no hope of prevailing in court. Williams Barclay points out that there was a play on words with their title.  Officially these judges were called "Dayyaneh Gezeroth" = "judges of punishments".  The people called them "Dayyaneh Gezeloth" = "robber judges".

v. 3 The point of the story is that under normal circumstances there would be no way this poor woman could receive justice.  Yet, here persistence finally wins the day.  The story is uniquely Lukan and plays to Luke's constant theme of God's care for the poor and dispossessed.

v.5 "So that she may not wear me out"   Interesting term used here.  "Wear me out" is "hupopiazo" literally "strike under the eye" or "give a black eye".  Most commentators assume a figurative meaning...  like "wear me out".  Some, like Barclay suggest the possibility of an actual fear of physical harm.  In any case the judge finally acts -- but out of something other than righteous motives.

v.7 "chosen ones" = "eklekton"   Used throughout scripture, but especially significant in denoting those who at the end of history are a part of the victorious side. ( cf. Matt. 24:31, Mark 13:27, Rev. 17:14)

v.8 Luke's gospel carries a characteristic theme of perseverance -- or "patient endurance".  True believers are those who trust God and endure to the end.  Many see the parable of the unjust judge as primarily eschatalogical.  See:  Luke 8:15, 21:19, -- also Ps. 27:13, 37:7, Rom. 15:4, Heb. 10:36, James 5:7-11 (Especially good if you consider an alternate sermon with a focus on "patient endurance)


Alternate Sermon Ideas

II Timothy 3:14 - 4:5  ~ Foundations for the Church - III. The Basis

As the young Timothy is being nurtured for his ministry, he is now instructed on the basis for his ministry.  Through good times and bad times, whether there are receptive listeners or people who chase after the latest new idea, Timothy is to remain firmly planted on the basis of his ministry -- namely, "the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

1. The Basis of Instruction (3:14-15)
* The content of the curriculum from the youngest age is the scriptures.
* This will not change -- i.e. "continue in what you have learned"
* The purpose of the curriculum is to lead persons to faith in Christ
* Faith in Christ brings the gift of salvation

2. The Inspiration and Function of Scripture (3:16-17)
* "All scripture is inspired by God"   The words "inspired by God" is the familiar "God           breathed" = Gk. "theopneustos".
* This verse provides a great place to discuss authority in ministry and in the Christian life
* The function of scripture is to provide: teaching, reproof (show where the wrong is),               correction (to help get back on track again), and training (from "paideia" - as one         would teach a child) in the right / righteousness

3. The Urgency of Timothy's Work
* The language is clearly suggesting an urgency to Timothy's ministry.  He is to:Proclaim         the message -- with Persistence and Patience!
* The solid teaching of the minister - based on the scripture - will offer some protection for       the "time that is coming" when people will listen to teachers who will tell them what        they want to hear.


Worship Helps

A Responsive Call To Worship   (Based on Psalm 121)

Leader:  We gather today to open our hearts to a question,
People: Where do we look for help in troubled times?
Leader:  Our help come from the One who made heaven and earth,
People: The Lord our Creator is also the One who protects us.
Leader:  The Lord will keep give us strength to resist evil,
People: He will watch over us today and for ever and ever.
             Blessed is the name of the Lord. Amen!

A Prayer of Dedication

We dedicate these gifts to you O Lord our God, for you are worthy of all glory, praise and honor. You have given to your people beyond measure, and saved us with an everlasting salvation.  May the ends of the earth come to know that you alone are God, and that your grace and mercy are from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

Be gracious to us today our Lord, for we are in need of your mercy.  We are often quick to doubt and slow to pray. We are tempted to let go of faith when we need to hang on. We are discouraged by wrong when we need to be encouraged by your Spirit. O God, our loving Lord, give us strength to trust in you all the days of our lives. Amen.