A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on October 20, 2013.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m notoriously bad at casting myself in the right role in a parable of Jesus’.
But this one! This is the role of my lifetime! I am the annoying woman!
I mean the persistent widow.
It might be an insult when someone else says it, but if I self describe that way, it becomes a term of endearment. Right?
That’s my story.
If my parents were here, they could tell you the stories of me as a child, not stopping with my demands until they either spanked me or gave in from sheer exhaustion.
Once, my parents decided to “pretend” I was under 2 yrs old so they didn’t have to buy me a plane ticket. All was going well with me on my dad’s lap. Until he got up to use the restroom. He came back and I was happily eating the meal they served. (Remember when airlines served meals?) And no amount of begging, pleading, or cajoling from him could convince me to get up from my seat and leave my meal so he could sit back down.
My poor dad. Standing in the aisle of the plane, trying not to cause a scene while I was perfectly happy to cause a scene if that’s what I needed to do to enjoy my meal in peace.
I am the annoying woman.
Or I aspire to be most days.
I want to be persistent in my advocacy for justice. I want to do whatever it takes to speak out for justice, and if the unjust leaders out there don’t like it, all the better. They should have thought of that before they began oppressing people and being mean.
I want to get up every morning and put on my cape (or robe) and my cowboy boots of justice and go out and conquer the world.
But some days I get tired.
And some days I am weary.
After the bloviating nonsense coming from congress the past few weeks, I wonder if justice is ever to be had. I’m relieved they came up with a 3 month solution, but I fear we’ll see the same showdown in January. We watch this theater of the absurd play out again, and again, and again, and no wonder it gets harder and harder to put on my Annoying Woman of Justice costume and go knock on the doors of our unjust congress yet again.
And while I’m being a little tongue in cheek about my Annoying Woman Superhero identity, I recognize that there are people who are, actually, out there every day, speaking out for justice when none seems to be had. Advocating for children, for the environment, for a nuclear free world, or, more personally, for the health of a child, for the safety of a loved one, or for the freedom from addiction.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m usually wrong when I cast myself in parables. And as I dreamed of being Annoying Woman this week, it just didn’t work. Even if I were truly persistent for justice as she is, the problem with it is that God is cast in the role of the unjust judge. And nothing I know or have experienced about God suggests that God is unjust and answers our prayers to make us shut up and go away. Even if God is the Anti-Unjust-Judge, it still feels off.
And then it occurred to me: God is the Annoying Woman.
Yes, in one sermon, I’ve called myself annoying and have mistaken myself for God.
Welcome to my life.
God is the persistent one. God is the one who never stops calling out for justice. God is the one who cries out and demands that unjust people start treating people with compassion, with mercy, and with love.
Sadly for us, this would mean we are the unjust judge. We are the ones with no fear of God and no respect for anyone. And like the unjust judge, we know it about ourselves.
And how often have we gone to church, or helped out someone, or done the right thing, but only because we were feeling guilty, or were goaded into it, or we needed volunteer credit at school, or we just wanted our mother to give us a break already?
When I was in junior high and high school, my family used to volunteer to serve Meals on Wheels on Christmas Day. It gave the regular delivery people a chance to enjoy their holiday. And by the afternoon of Christmas, we had free time. Presents had been opened. Dinner was eaten.
But I never wanted to do it. Not once. I complained. I moaned. I wanted to stay home and play my new records or try on my new roller skates(or whatever it was we did back in the day). I didn’t want to go to strangers’ homes and take them dinner.
But we went.
And by the time we were done, I had transformed from sullen teenager into grateful child who was thankful not to be alone on a holiday. Kindness and mercy prevailed, but not because of my good attitude.
I hate it when I realize I’m the unjust judge.
But the good news for me and for any other unjust judges in the room is that, in the end, he still did the right thing. He granted the woman justice. He didn’t do it for very good reasons, “If I answer her complaint she’ll go away and annoy someone else”.
But he did it.
And that counts for something. Because justice was still served.
The other Good News, of course, is that we can aspire to be the Annoying Woman. Even if we can’t do it as well and with as much persistence as God does, it can be our aim, our goal, our lodestar.
Because we look at the world around us and see justice is in short supply. People are in need—of food, of mercy, of shelter, of loving kindness, of a second chance, of healing, of peace, of freedom, and of new life.
And so we cry out to the halls of power.
And we cry out to our own life choices in hopes we’ll make better ones tomorrow.
And, most importantly, we cry out in prayer. And Jesus tells us not to lose heart.
And so we pray. For peace in a violent world.
For healing in the face of disease.
For hope in the midst of despair.
For safety in the midst of fear and danger.
We pray. And we pray. And we pray. And we don’t lose heart.
And some days, we seem to have nothing to show for it. Loved ones die. New wars rage. Cancer returns. Congress can’t pass a budget.
But we do not lose heart.
Because God is the persistently annoying woman standing right next to us demanding justice, working at it until it is done. And so we continue in the work, reminded that we aren’t alone.
A friend shared this quote with me this week from Frederick Buechner about prayers we haven’t seen answered as we had hoped them to be:
“…..the one thing you can be sure of is that down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer, the God you call upon will finally come, and even if God does not bring you the answer you want, he will bring you himself. And maybe at the secret heart of all prayers, that is what we are really praying for.”
And so we pray, not to tell God about something God doesn’t already know. But we pray to make clear our hope is in God and not in ourselves. Our prayers for justice, healing, mercy, and peace are a claim of faith in God’s purposes for the world and a claim that we align ourselves with the Divine force for mercy and justice.
In the chapter immediately preceding this parable, the disciples were asking Jesus where they could see the kingdom of God. And Jesus tells them to pray without losing heart.
Which suggests to me that if we want to see the kingdom, we might just find it in prayer.
One of my favorite passages from Paul’s letters is his prayer to the church in Philippi. He writes:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
This week, I’m going to try to be that kind of annoying woman—the one who prays in love, in confidence, and for the knowledge and well being of the world around me.
May our prayers give us glimpses of the Kingdom of God and confidence in the goodness of God.
May it be so.