Never Underestimate Your Power – October 16, 2016
In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.
In 1990, in anticipation of my first meeting regarding my desire to be received as a priest in the Episcopal Church with Arthur Walmsley, then bishop of Connecticut, I was speaking with my dear, Father Jerald Miner, the rector of Christ Church, New Haven, where I worshiped regularly. “Nicholas,” he said, “don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.”
His words still resonate with me from time to time and jumped out at me when once again I read this Gospel story of the widow and the judge. The usual explanation of this parable is the importance of praying without ceasing. Jesus assures us through this story that God will do justice in the end and told this parable to encourage his followers to persevere in prayer and to struggle against injustice while awaiting the coming of the reign of God.
Jesus is not suggesting that God is like that judge—an unjust person who only gives in to us when badgered. In fact, the spotlight in this story is not on the judge, but on the widow. This parable has to do with the struggle and endurance of this woman. In the time of Jesus, judges often made alliances with the priests, governors, military chiefs and the rich. The insistence in the Scriptures on doing justice for the widow and orphan is due to the fact that generally, for those living in poverty, there was no justice. It is a simple, ugly fact of life: wherever there is money and power we will likely find corruption.
This judge was a bad dude who neither feared God nor respected human beings. He was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the widow. She was totally vulnerable and defenseless and had a legal case pending against someone who had wronged her. The judge had power, arrogance, and lacked compassion.
In first century Palestinian culture, widows, orphans and foreigners were the most unprotected persons, their rights often denied. It was a male-controlled, patriarchal system. Women belonged to men as property, and did not have the right to make decisions about or for themselves. The parable doesn’t tell us what injustice had been committed against her, but it was not uncommon for widows to have their homes taken from them. Whatever her need, it surely had to be something she required for her survival, since she insisted ceaselessly that he hear her petition. One day the judge said to himself, “Because this woman keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continuing to pester me.” The judge didn’t concede out of his own good will; the rights of this women did not interest him. The judge gave in because he was overcome by her perseverance. He wanted her to go away.
About this time every year I feel kind of like the persistent widow. It is the season when we are asked to consider the value of this unique and amazing entity we call St. Paul’s on the Green and what we will do to ensure that it continues to be the gift that keeps giving. Today I make my appeal as your rector to join me in rendering an investment in every facet of the life of this community and its fabulous mission. Yes, we need to talk about money. It is the fuel that keeps this dynamic place going and growing. Asking for your financial support is an important and life-giving task but it is not one that comes easily for me. A few weeks ago a long time member reminded me that some years ago I told the congregation that I’ll know I’m in heaven when I no longer have to ask for money.”
Well, I’m not going to ask for money today. I’m going to ask you to weigh the value of this community and what it is and stands for and how it touches your life. I’m going to ask you to think about it’s worth to you. I’m going to ask you to think about people who are desperate to hear the message we bring to the world: God’s radical love, hospitality, and grace—people who need a place like this to be there when they don’t know where else to turn. I’m going to ask you who the widows are in our society, those denied justice and respect, and how we will listen to them and support them.
The parable we read today has real contemporary applications. Women and other minority groups still struggle for justice even as they had to fight for the right to vote, for the right to elected public office, for the right to ordination in the Episcopal Church, and still fight for equality in the work place. Women still endure harassment because of their gender and too often treated like objects rather than equals. The prevalence of sexual abuse, date rape, and lecherous language directed at them is enormous and the offenders are vindicated by inane comebacks like “Guy will be guys” or “They’re men, they can’t help themselves.” And what an insult that is to honorable, principled men.
So when the widows of this age present their appeal for justice, who will speak for them and for others still denied respect because they are deemed less capable, valuable, or resilient if not a faith community like ours?
An unnamed widow in our Gospel fits the profile of largely unsung, hardly remembered, but worthy-to-be celebrated women who are role models for us. The widow in this parable demonstrates for us how we have to keep working for justice in the present day social order, no matter what the cost. We can’t passively allow ourselves to be imprisoned in the roles that society assigns us.
We cannot simply accept the injustices that are committed against so many people in the world and just shrug our shoulders, cross our arms, and feel helpless. Yes, we must pray but we must also challenge and we must persist.
Tomorrow you will find a constant contact message from me that introduces a wonderful brief video about life here at St. Paul’s. Please take about four minutes to watch it. It will make you proud. It will rejoice your heart. Then please look for a large white envelope in the mail this week. Take time to read the contents and think about what St. Paul’s offers you and those not yet here.
You’ll also find a pledge card in the mix, the document that lets you can declare the value of what this community means for you, your family, your friends here, the wider community of Norwalk and beyond—a church without borders. Know that more than 80% what it costs to be the St. Paul’s we cherish and count on is supported by the regular generous giving of the congregation.
The great preacher and teacher, Fred Craddock, tells the story about an American missionary under house arrest in China when soldiers came one day and said, “You can return to America and you can take two hundred pounds with you.”
Well, they’d been there for years. Two hundred pounds. They got the scales and started the family arguments: two children, wife, husband. Must have this vase. Well, this is a new typewriter. What about my books? What about this? And they weighed everything and took it off and weighed this and took it off and weighed this and took it off and, finally, right on the dot, two hundred pounds.
The soldier asked, “Ready to go?” “Yes.”
“Did you weigh everything?”
“You weighed the kids?”
“No we didn’t.”
“Weigh the kids.”
And, in a moment, typewriter and vase and books and everything else became trash.
So this persistent priest of yours asks us this week to “weigh this place” – to consider the value of this faith community and all it is and does and stands for. Because of you and your support, we see lives touched by God’s work of restoration every day. I proudly and enthusiastically invite you to join me in participating in St. Paul’s Annual Giving Campaign for 2017. Never underestimate the power of your giving. With that important decision, you can change someone’s life.