Sunday, October 20, 2019

She Persisted

Don't Panic is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The novel explains that this was partly because the device "looked insanely complicated" to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travelers from panicking. "It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."
Arthur C. Clarke said Douglas Adams' use of "don't panic" was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.

On February 6, 2018 SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster which had "DON'T PANIC!" written on the screen on the dashboard.”[1]
Now isn’t that reassuring
It is also recommended that as one travels through life to always know where one’s towel is…
“Somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is. The logic behind this statement is presented in chapter 3 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy thus:
... a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”[2]

Today Jesus begins by telling his disciples that the parable he is about to tell is about praying “always” and not losing heart. Oh, How often I have heard but I pray and I pray to no result. Or worse I hear a prosperity preacher tell people that if they are not succeeding in the world, they must be bearing some sin or praying wrong…ugh! 
The parable focuses on a widow dealing with a judge in a corrupt justice system. Luke twice tells us that the judge in this tale is someone who neither fears God nor respects people, and Jesus himself characterizes the judge as “unjust.”
An Unjust judge who doesn’t fear God sounds about right, well maybe for this day and age but, think of Jesus’ time who were the Judges for the Jewish community? “The Sanhedrin was to be recruited from the following sources: Priests (Kohanim), Levites (Levi'im), and ordinary Jews who were members of those families having a pure lineage such that their daughters were allowed to marry priests.”[3] Even in this simple parable Jesus is getting a little political  political.
 Is the widow deterred by this unjust judge? Not at all…the widow comes to the judge again and again in pursuit of justice. The verb used here is ercheto: “she kept on coming.” This isn’t a gentle plea, she is aggressive. She tells him, tells him “grant me justice against my opponent,” which can be literally translated as “against the one who has treated me unjustly”. Though her demands are strong and just, the judge does nothing. He refuses to act because he simply cannot be bothered, and so he does not respond at first.
Knowing who the judge is, his assumed role and lineage in the community, makes judge’s lack of action especially appalling. Specifically, when it is compounded with the fact that this is a widow making the demand. “Widows are counted among the most destitute of society, alongside other vulnerable groups such as the poor, orphans, and resident aliens. Because of the precarious social and economic position of such groups, biblical texts also make provision for them, helping to ensure that they do not fall victim to exploitation”[4]
Though widows are assumed to be the downtrodden, the broken and meek, the widow in this parable resists the exploitation to which she is being subjected. Yes, She resisted. She resisted and Persisted! “Like other widows before her, such as Tamar in Genesis 38 and Ruth and Naomi, the widow in Luke 18 takes matters into her own hands. Her persistence and call for justice are such that the judge characterizes her actions as those of a boxer. It is difficult to discern this boxing image in the NRSV, which translates the judge’s words as follows: “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming” (verse 5). In the original Greek, though, the judge says: “because this widow causes trouble for me, I will give her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming”[5].  Don’t mess with this widow…she’ll take you to the ring till you are down for the count!

English translations and time have obscured the humor that Luke infuses into this scene. We are supposed to laugh at this topsy-turvy picture of a meek and demure widow taking on and boxing the ears of this unfair judge. “But as New Testament scholar F. Scott Spencer rightly recognizes, the humor in this scene is not one of comic relief. The humor in this scene instead pokes fun at the powers-that-be, “lampooning and upending the unjust system stacked against widows, orphans, immigrants, and the like.”1 Like our political cartoons today, Jesus’ parable encourages us to laugh at those who wield their power unethically. We laugh, though, in order to challenge such figures, and ultimately, to offer a different way.”[6]
A different way, an alternative way of being and acting in this world…
Jesus offers a few concluding comments that touch on the character of God and the nature of faith. He uses the judge’s words as a jumping off point Jesus says listen to the unjust judge Judge…what does the unjust judge say? “yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”  Most importantly The Judge says…I will grant her justice.
Through her persistence and through her own faith, knowing if she keeps coming at him, he will break down?
“while Jesus compares God to the judge with this transition, the real point of comparison is one of contrast.2 God is in fact not like this reluctantly responsive judge.3 God does not need to be badgered into listening, and when God does respond, God does so willingly. If anything, God is more like the widow in her own relentless commitment to justice.”[7]
The widow also shows how we are to be oriented toward God. How we are to be praying in relationship to God.
Now I did mention prosperity preachers and people who say I pray and pray and pray and many interpret this passage about really being persistent in our requests to God. I can see where some may hear this…but…but
What is the widow's pursuing here?  What is she relentless in? How can we change the perspective of this text often simply interpreted as pray, and pray often?  Which isn’t a bad thing but hear what she is after?

The widow is relentless in her pursuit of Justice…Justice! You see we are called to a life of prayer and we should be praying often if not always.  We should be making our daily living into a prayer and an act of worship.  I pray when I write, I pray as I weave, I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters of the way, I pray for this congregation and I pray I do not fail you.  Those are constant prayers woven throughout my day.
Yet with a prayer on my heart I am called, we are called to the pursuit of Justice. Then the question becomes what does Justice look like? What is this justice we are pursuing?  
Let me tell you exactly what we are perusing these are some ministries that we support
Immigration and Refugee Support (IRSG): 
Provides information, education and general consciousness-raising within our NH denominational family (and the broader community where possible) about immigrant and refugee/asylum-seeker personal plight in our state as well as broader immigration and immigrant-focused policy concerns at both the state and national level 
Environmental Stewardship: 
Environmental Stewardship Mission Group (ESMG) is developing a brochure, “Green Congregation Challenge.” It provides information and education about becoming a green congregation. They are also planning for the next New England Youth Environmental Justice Summit over the fall and winter months. A tentative date is March of 2020. 
The Economic Justice Mission Group of the NHCUCC Justice and Witness Ministry (JWM) is focused on heeding the call of our faith to be a voice for economic justice and to serve as a catalyst for others in UCC congregations statewide (as well as those in other faith communities) to join together as faith witnesses for economic justice. 
The Peace with Justice Advocates of the NHCUCC is committed to growing into the peace of Christ by: 
·  Being inwardly contemplative so as to allow God to disarm our hearts and transform us into people of peace and nonviolence. 
·  Being outwardly active in publicly witnessing/ evangelizing/ teaching peace, love, and nonviolence in our churches and in the greater society. 
·  Being in community with and acting in solidarity with other individuals and groups rooted in peace and nonviolence. 
Focus Issues include: Challenging Islamophobia; Challenging Militarism; Challenging US Relationship with Israel and Palestine. 
Opioid Crisis Mission Group: 
The mission statement of our group is: “Helping churches to become healing communities for all of us who are affected by the opioid crisis.” Our goal is to provide local churches with resources to engage their congregations in programing that works to reduce stigma and expand its potential for healing. 
Open and Affirming (ONA): 
Our mission is to bring awareness to churches and educate them on acceptance and making a safe place for all of God’s children. We hope that we can increase participation in our mission group so that we might reach a wider range of churches. We are hoping that more congregations will become Open and Affirming. We are making good progress. 
Racial Justice Mission Group (RJMG): 
Awakening to Racial Justice in 2019, our goals have been to: Develop a process for churches in NHCUCC to become a Racial Justice Church; provide PTS workshops and Annual Meeting connecting sessions; be available to churches for programs on racial justice; offer educational programs open to the NHCUCC; 
All these programs and initiatives are from eh annual report of the NHUCC This is what we are a part of…This is why I mentioned the don’t panic button in the beginning.  When we see all the injustice and the work to be done, we become overwhelmed and just want to curl up and stay on the couch and say I can’t do that!
Well you can’t not alone and that is why I mentioned the towel It is also recommended that as one travels through life to always know where one’s towel is…
“Somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is.” Our towel is prayer That persistent prayer.  That constant connection with God and with God all these things get done.
Take a moment out of each day to just pause and pray…then, if you can, try to make a conscious effort that whatever you are engaged in be it work or play make it a prayer offer it to God…this becomes a habit  it will be woven into your lives.
Jesus, “By ending on a question of whether he will find faith at his return, Jesus raises a number of additional questions for us. How do followers not lose heart and maintain the faith in light of the fact that Jesus is not returning as soon as many would like? How are we to act if God’s justice is not delivered according to our own timetable? How do we go on in the face of injustice if God’s ultimate justice only arrives “suddenly” at Jesus’ return? In response to such questions, Luke maintains that we are to act like the widow. We are not to wait quietly for Jesus’ return and accept our fates in an oppression-ridden world. We are instead to resist injustice with the resolve and constancy of the widow. As Jesus explains elsewhere (Luke 11:1-13), prayer is not a passive activity but one that actively seeks God and pursues God’s will. Like the widow, we are to persevere in the faith, crying out to God day and night. This is what persistent prayer looks like.”[8]

[2] Ditto
[5] Ditto
[7] On this point, see Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 190-94.

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