Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Year C

October 16, 2022

Genesis 32:22-31                              Psalm 121                            2 Timothy 3:14-4:5                           Luke 18:1-8

          In the second letter to Timothy, we read: “As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  Two thoughts occurred to me as I read this last week.  First, it reminded me of discussions with some of our members about their faith.  They talked about what they had been taught growing up and how their faith has matured.  They did not abandon their childhood faith, they built upon it – made it more their own.   My second thought was one of envy.  I envy those who believe with such certainty.  Many of us are filled with questions.  Some of us keep circling back to the same question: why?  Especially in the wake of the shooting spree leaving five dead in North Carolina this weekend, the war in Ukraine, the Coal Mine explosion in Turkey killing 51 workers, and the floodings throughout the world – we want to know why.

          Nothing is wrong with questions.  In fact, I have also been hearing members express great appreciation for being part of a church that encourages us to question.  My parents and my church may have taught me a great deal about faith, but by high school I was full of so many questions that I began to question what I had been taught.  By college I was done with church.  I appreciated what church offers, but I no longer believed. I was too full of questions that I could not answer.

Questions, and my childhood faith however, eventually led me back to church, and the rest, as they say, is history.  It is history because I found the Episcopal Church where questions are accepted and encouraged – and I felt the presence of God in our liturgy.  Still, I have many questions.  These questions challenge me to dig deeper into my faith – my understanding of God in the world today. 

When I was first considering my call to ordained ministry, I visited with a recent graduate from seminary about how his studies had impacted his faith. He told me that after all the theology courses he had taken, all he really knew with certainty was “Jesus loves me this I know.”  This brings us back to the letter to Timothy and the faith we are taught as a child.  It also brings us to a reading from Matthew where Jesus says to the disciples who ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus has a child placed among them and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Children are innately curious. They ask lots of questions – and that is good.  It is how we learn.  They are also quick to believe that there is more to life than we can see or touch.  They approach their belief in God with wonder.  

In the gospel reading a couple of weeks ago, Jesus talks about faith the size of a mustard seed being able to move mountains.  A child’s faith is simple, it is humble, and it is enough.  I often need this reminder.  Questions are good, especially when they help shape and develop our faith into a deeper relationship with God.  

          The most difficult questions to answer are why bad things happen, and why our prayers seem to go unanswered.  In our gospel reading we are taught to continue to ask God for what we need until we get it.  Jesus suggests that our persistence, like that of the widow, will be rewarded and justice will be served.  All three of our lessons for today are about persistence.  In the Old Testament reading, Jacob wrestles with God through the night.  In Second Timothy, Timothy is told to “proclaim the message; be persistent. . ., convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Sometimes we wrestle with God’s call for us to love, especially when people are guilty of abusing their positions of power and harming the innocent.  Sometimes we may feel like evil will win over good.  I have been appalled at all the reports of clergy misconduct that I have been reading about and I struggle when I hear people focusing on blaming others for all that is wrong in our world rather than truly seeking to work together.  I have struggled with feeling that some people are undeserving of God’s mercy.   Jesus teaches us however, to continue praying and have faith that when all is said and done, justice will be served and the love of God will triumph.  In the end, God’s love will turn the hearts of all humanity.  Those who grieve or suffer from any adversity will be comforted.  It is important to be persistent and patient – especially when the pendulum of societal values is swinging in what we believe to be the wrong direction.   And especially, while we wait for good to win over evil. 

As we pray, remember it is not up to us to forgive and it is not up to us to pass judgement.  It is our collective responsibility to administer judgment and protect the vulnerable – but it is not our individual responsibility to do so.  Our part is to protect the vulnerable, insist on justice, and to pray.  The widow went back again and again until the judge acted.  Jesus uses this parable to teach us to pray continuously and never give up hope. 

We are all to pray for God’s healing touch for all who are sick, suffering, or facing any adversity.  We are to pray for our enemies and those with whom we disagree.  We are to pray for those who have harmed us and for those who have harmed others – as well as those who have been harmed.   I do believe our prayer makes a difference.  Often, the difference it makes is within us.  We come to accept our limits and are able to let go of our anger and hatred.  Persistence in prayer does not guarantee the outcome will be what we want, but it does enable us to find peace in an unjust world.  A world created that was created for us and a world in which selfishness and greed has corrupted. 

Let us not forgive that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus suffered for us and in the midst of our suffering he offers us peace.  If you don’t remember anything else I said today, please remember the foundation of our faith is “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Faith, by definition, is our response to an experience of the divine – the experience of Christ’s love for us. And please, pray continuously for all who suffer and all whose hearts have been harden and do not know the love of God.

Let us pray.

          Lord Christ, you came into the world that we might all be saved.  You turned our hearts, and for that we are grateful.  Your presence in the world in represented by us, your church.  Help us to accept this responsibility and act according to your will that others may be brought to you and experience your love.  All this we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.