Summit Presbyterian Church
October 17, 2010
Luke 18: 1-8
Faith on Earth
This week, the world celebrated the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile who had been trapped underground for two and a half months. When they were first discovered deep in their underground shelter 17 days after the accident, they were beginning to starve; rescuers were worried most about their physical condition. After sending down food, medicine, and instructions, the men gained in strength, they even began exercising and putting back weight; no one was seriously ill. But it could still be months before they were freed - if the rescue was successful - so those above began worrying more about their morale. Would they keep up their spirits, or would they lose heart, and give up? It's not that the living condition were so terrible. They had plenty to eat and drink, hot meals expertly and lovingly were sent down the long tube. The men could send and receive notes from their loved ones; after they were found they had electricity and rudimentary lighting: they could watch movies and soccer games. They knew the world was praying for them, they had rosaries and bibles, magazines and journals. They were cramped, but they had room to move and even tunnels to run in. And they had each other: they kept an amazing solidarity throughout their ideal (parenthetically, Chilean miners - and the Chilean working class - has a long history of courage and solidarity). But the miners - and the world - didn't know how it was going to end. Perhaps shifting rocks would bury them again; maybe the rescue capsule would get stuck, or the shaft would collapse. Any one of them could get seriously ill; perhaps only some of them would make it. And although every day brought them closer to rescue every day was also another day of uncertainty and fear. The not-knowing must have been hard to bear -- the days and weeks long and stressful. But they did not lose heart: they prayed, they took care of each other, and sent and received messages from their loved ones. They were an example of faith on earth.
These past two weeks have also been a time of mourning, as we learned of several gay teens - or teens who were perceived to be gay - who killed themselves in recent months after being threatened and harrassed by their peers. Peers who learned messages of hate or fear through family, or churches, or TV or any other number of places. In response to these suicides, a number of gay/lesbian/queer adults have made videos, where they speak to kids who may be depressed or fearful saying, "it gets better." Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire made one of the videos, but the most moving one that I saw - and one that now has media attention - is by Joel Burns, a city council member in Forth Worth, Texas, who told his story at a City Council meeting. He said that as a son of a methodist church pianist and a cowboy named butch, living in a small Texas town, he had a certain image of who he should be. As he became older he had feelings that did not fit with that image, but for a while it was OK: he was well liked if sensitive, a band dork and basketball player, and although he was teased like all kids he could handle it. But one day, he said, he was confronted by a gang of older boys who called him a faggot, roughed him up and told him he deserved to die. He went home ashamed, humiliated, and confused, certain there must be something terribly wrong with him that he could never reveal to anyone. He said he went home and he was about to tell what happened on that day -- but then stopped himself and said it was too hard, that he also didn't want his parents to bear the pain of hearing what happened. (In a later interview he indicates it was some kind of suicide attempt). But at the city council meeting he skips ahead, and tells of meeting his husband and the love and support he now knew from his parents and friends. On the video he says he would like to go back and show that 13 year old boy, the one who was in such despair on that day, that,as he put it, "the story doesn't end where I didn't tell it," and he wants to tell other teens, too, that the story can end very differently than how they may be imagining it. That things will get better. To not lose heart.
The story of the Chilean miners, and the story Joel Burns, are stories that ended well. The miners were rescued; Joel Burns found love and acceptance even in Forth Worth, Texas. In the faith and mutual support of the miners, in the hard work of the rescuers; in the courage of the adults who have told their stories publicly we can see, as Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is among you." They are stories to inspire us, and help us keep heart. But we know not all stories end well. Not all miners are rescued: since 2000, about 33 miners have been killed each year in Chile. 34 miners have been killed in West Virginia this year. Not all struggling teens find love or happiness when they are older, even if they are able to sidestep that extreme despair that leads to suicide. We know this in our own lives: prayers are not always answered, at least in the way we ask. Things may get better but then new losses come, often one right after the other. And when we look at the suffering in the world around us, it may seem that the tragedy and evil far outweighs the good: The holocaust. A century of wars, each bringing greater destruction than the last. Children still dying of hunger and thirst around the world. The threat of nuclear war and global warming which will bring catastrophes we can barely imagine if we don't do something about it soon. It's so easy to lose heart. To stop praying and to stop acting; to hunker down in our private lives, to be concerned with only those close to us, to watch lots of TV. We are not always rescued. It doesn't always get better.
It is to this reality, and to this hopelessness, that Jesus speaks in our scripture today. He knows how easy it will be for the disciples to lose heart when he is gone. The good news of the resurrection will give them hope, but things will also remain much the same. Unjust judges will continue to ignore widows and orphans. Rome will continue to rule Palestine. The disciples will continue to fall ill, lose loved ones -- the world, full of suffering and death, is not going to change overnight. There will be times of joy, times when the Kingdom of God will seem to be among them, but those times will pass and it will seem that God is not listening to, or caring about, God's people. They will wonder if God will ever respond to their prayers, if God will bring justice to the earth or salvation to God's people.
kSo Jesus tells this parable of the widow and the unjust judge. The story of the persistent widow who kept going to that judge who neither feared God nor respected the people. The story of that judge who gave her justice, because he was getting worn out. Jesus is not saying God is an unjust judge, or like an unjust judge. But Jesus knows that God may seem that way in the face of so much unanswered prayer, in the face of so much waiting, in the face so much suffering. But, Jesus says, if even this unjust Judge will give justice to the widow, how much more so will our just and compassionate God respond to your prayer. How much more quickly will God bring justice to the earth, the God who has taken the side of widows and orphans throughout Israel's history. Jesus also reminds the disciples that he, the Son of Man, will return. Not necessarily in our lifetimes here on earth -- but in God's time, where a thousand years are like a morning gone. We do not know the day or hour and we also do not know how God will ultimately bring final justice and salvation and healing to God's created order -- that will remain a mystery until it comes. But Jesus assures us it will happen. Things will get better. All will be rescued.
In the meantime, we have instructions. Keep praying! Don't lose heart! Look at that widow -- she kept coming back. She didn't take no for an answer. She didn't give up. She kept insisting on justice, even though it looked like it would never come. So it should be with us: praying, seeking justice for all God's children, caring for God's world, trusting that all will be well.