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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
How Do We Love God?
I was pleased by the Plain Dealer report on Thursday which told us that finally, after months and months of investigation, the mayor and Chief of Police gave disciplinary action to the police officers who chased Timothy and Melissa through Cleveland streets, cornered them in a parking lot in East Cleveland and shot them. 137 times. The cops who actually did the shooting are still being investigated separately by County Prosecutor McGinty’s office. Apparently, the prosecutor is going to make the police chief and mayor do the right thing.
I know someone who robbed a bank. And got away with thousands of dollars. And he called me to confess, and came to me and told me the whole drug-related story. He knew what to do, he eventually turned himself in. But, it was difficult. He didn’t want to admit defeat; he was freaking out about going back to prison.
I say: Do the right thing. People are watching. They watch to see what you are doing . . . if you go the wrong way, others will follow because they think they can get away with it if you got away with it. If you go the right way, it may be difficult, but there is honor and integrity in positive action. This builds trust.
Doing the right thing: that is the first thought that enters my mind when I hear today’s passage about the widow and corrupt judge. What do you think of when you hear that the judge is forced by the widow to rule in her favor? I think of all the crazy things happening every day in the news; in our city; and country. Who is helping the most disadvantaged folks make good decisions? Why has our society gone so far off the deep end that politicians think it is the will of the people to cause suffering and pain?
In contrast, when a widow, or anyone for that matter, comes before God, we are immediately healed, through prayer, we are brought out of the darkness and our prayers are answered. I mean, that is the central focus of church, right: Praying for divine guidance so that we can continue to do the right thing day after day. God answers prayers.
Doing the right thing: As your pastor, you have given me the green light to get involved in positive forces in this city. There are many issues, here in Ohio City, city-wide issues, and even here in the church where conflict is brought to my attention. And my attention is needed because there is a lack of trust. It’s part of my job to be a mediator and possibly a conscience. People trust me, but first, you trust me.
For ten years now, you have trusted me. I have been here and hopefully, under my leadership, you continue to benefit from what this church has to offer. Obviously you enjoy worshipping here, you enjoy pitching in to be a part of this community. And maybe you even enjoy the people who come each Sunday to pray and fellowship. So I have a question. What do you think is the most important characteristic of a leader?
I believe integrity is critical to leadership. Honesty, truthfulness, uprightness and here is a good word – honor. It is an honor to be the leader of this church. Judges have sworn an oath to be honest, upright, truthful and people trust that they will always do that. Pastors, doctors, sheriffs in the old movies, cops, mayors and politicians. Isn’t it right to hold them to a higher standard?
That’s why it is so painful to hear stories like that priest who was arrested in Edgewater Park for asking a park ranger for sex. He is a sick man. He broke the trust of his congregation, his colleagues, his family and all of us are a bit more suspicious of priests and pastors. It is like the corrupt judge in our story. If people in authority cannot be trusted, the structures of society break down and people start to be suspicious, skeptical and even paranoid. It shreds the fabric of society.
In this Bible passage today, there is a lack of trust in the judge. He is well-known for never giving God a thought and caring nothing for people. He was totally self-serving. He has let the people down, time and again, and this widow woman will not let him get away with it. The history of corruption is beginning to end today because she would not stop badgering him to do the right thing.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up to a system that is stacked against you. Back in Bible days, women had no authority. Her life was probably in jeopardy. But it didn’t matter to her. She was going to see justice. It’s like in the movie “The Butler” which looks at the Civil Rights movement, or the Equal rights movement when women were trying to get on the Constitution. There was a lot of threats, violence, murder and mayhem. It takes a lot of courage and energy to keep pestering politicians, or judges to do the right thing.
Equal rights for all; its still an issue today; women have to fight for their place at the governing table. Even in the 21st century, women are not equal players in board rooms; men make the rules. But that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Women will keep pushing for change. Women have the spirit of perseverance, dedication to duty and follow through to bring the Equal Rights Amendment before Congress but it will take more men to help.
But I want to mention that this Gospel passage is about prayer. Not about power and authority and privilege. It is about the power of prayer. If this corrupt judge responds, how much more don't you know a loving God will respond to the prayers of our hearts? It takes a superhuman motivation, interior strength and a persistent courage to bring people do the right thing. The only way to achieve these levels of commitment and dedication is through prayer.
I remember a man who came to me every day and asked for a coat. And I would take him back in thrift store and look around and nothing fit him. And he would come back the next day, same thing. Until finally, one day, I gave in and took him to Value World and bought him one. At first I was annoyed. But then I realized that I had lost my focus. And then I was relieved. But he had pestered me like the woman pestered that judge.
Sometimes I need it. I can get stuck in my own little world, focused on my own little issues and won’t budge off my own little track. I can become complacent, settled into a rut. I think God puts people in our lives to move us out of our comfort zone. That is the prophetic calling, isn’t it. And prophets give their lives to say what needs to be said. They lose their lives for the greater good. Prayerfully lose their lives in order to gain it.
Do the right thing; Church people; Christians; Followers of Jesus. People are watching to see what you are doing . . . if you go the wrong way, others will follow because they think they can get away with it if you got away with it. People are always watching to see if your actions match your words. There is honor in living with integrity. That is a true mark of leadership.
We are the ones who pray. We are the ones who find the inner strength. And we will be called upon to be persistent in the face of great opposition; and we will be called to speak for those without a voice, so that their interests are known and justice is served. The widow, the children, the innocent, the child within ourselves, and even the lame judge remind us that prayer is more than merely talking to God and requesting what we want or need. Prayer is not only asking to God, but rather it is using our own actions and persistence against adversity. Prayer is "to come into the presence of God," Harold Kushner writes, "in the hope that we will be changed by doing so." (To Life—A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking).
This story is about God, and opening ourselves up to the God who changes us when we come into God’s presence. Jesus teaches us by contrasting the corrupt judge with God, or using the argument from less to more. If this corrupt judge responds, how much more don't you know a loving God will respond to the prayers of our heart? Our prayer life sustains us even in the worst of times, and it keeps us close to God: "You are going to trust the process," Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "regardless of what comes of it, because the process itself gives you life. The process keeps you engaged with what matters most to you, so you do not lose focus, so that you do not lose heart." The reading is about God and about Jesus returning to find people who have held fast, through everything, and have persevered in trusting God.