Sermon by Paul Ablett, Lay Preacher in Training
Trinity 21 – Lk 18:1-8
Sun 20th October 2013 (Brede)
Firstly, I would like to thank Fr Martin, and Bobbie and Duncan (as your churchwardens) for the welcome you have given me whilst on my twelve weeks of training placement. The ministry of welcome is an important one to the church, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to spend time within this Christian community.
Secondly, a little joke for you. There were two cats, an English cat called ‘One, Two, Three’, and a French cat called ‘Un, Deux, Trois’. They were good friends who enjoyed sport, perhaps unusually for cats, loving swimming. Anyway, one day, they decided, as you do, to swim the channel. So they went down to Dover, covered themselves with goose fat, and set off for La Belle France. Now which one of them do you think arrived in France first, and why?
The answer is that the English cat got there first. The clue is in the French numbers, because ‘Un, Deux, Trois’ cat sank.
Now of course, channel swimming is a sport that requires discipline, preparation, and perseverance; not unlike our prayer life, which Fr Martin has spoken about recently. But let’s turn our attention to the Gospel reading we have just heard.
The gospel of St Luke is a particular favourite of mine, partly because the style of writing is easy to follow and take in. Many will know it has the most detailed Christmas narrative of the gospel writers, and chapter eighteen, from which our gospel came from this morning, certainly gives much to ponder, containing as it does four distinct stories or episodes.
The reading we have just heard is often called ‘The Parable of the Persistent Widow’ sometimes ‘The Parable of the Unjust Judge’. But these are perhaps misleading titles, as they concentrate the mind on the characters involved, rather than overall point of the parable outlined in verse one, which is that we should be regular in our times of prayer, and persevere with that prayer when expected answers do not materialize.
The storyline may be familiar to a lot of us. The widow goes to the judge with her simple request, ‘Grant me justice’. The judge is not inclined to listen or do anything; but the widow is persistent, and eventually he ungraciously grants her request.
Under Moses, judges were appointed to dispense fair and impartial justice. We see here though, a judge with no respect for God nor man, a man of high self-centredness and regard. And before him, we see a widow, who in society of that time was not highly regarded, and in need of help. What’s her problem got to do with him, we almost hear.
But either because he can’t stand the constant badgering, or because he fears a backlash from elsewhere in society because of his lack of compassion, he grants her request and gives her the justice she is seeking.
How many times have we said ‘Anything for a quiet life’ or ‘It’s nothing to do with me’? Quite a few, I suspect. And it’s all to do with whether we are willing to consciously live by God’s standards, or whether we default to worldly pressures.
Four years ago, I heard Mgr Bruce Kent misquote Pope Paul VI in a talk on behalf of Pax Christi. ‘Peace is not the absence of conflict’, he said, ’but a renewed daily intention to live in the love and justice that God intends’.
This sense is what we should be aiming at of course, and what the unjust judge has failed in conduct and intent to do.
Moving to the end of chapter 18, we witness the persistence of the blind man resulting in the restoration of the man’s sight. ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me’, he asks. ‘What would you wish me do for you’ asks Jesus. ‘If you will, restore my sight’. ‘Receive thy sight’ says Jesus, ‘Your faith has saved you.’
In these two vignettes at either end of chapter eighteen, we see the both the power of prayer, and the power of persistence. But the point to really ponder is that given justice is eventually given by the imperfect judge,
how much more love will be shown by our heavenly father?
When I used to be employed by a certain banking organisation, we used to have a mnemonic for dealing with customer queries. Listen. Thank, Act. First, we listen to what is being said to us, we thank the person concerned, and we act upon what we have been told to achieve a satisfactory end.
It is the same with God. We must listen to him in his commandments, and in the parables of his Son. We praise him for his goodness to us; and we act in accordance with his commands to bring about his reign of justice, love, and peace.
May we resolve therefore, not to live by the ways of the world, acting as we often do in our own self-interest; but open our hearts and mind to the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, that we may act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.