Profound Limitations and Depths of Faith

 A sermon for Proper 24: Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

JT’s diagnosis is crushing. Cerebral Palsy evokes images of crippled children; however, when symptoms appear early physical therapy can help retrain the brain, and three days old is about as early as you can get. Weeks go by; life settle into a routine, and something like normalcy begins to set in. And then the symptoms change. JT and his parents go back to the Children’s’ Hospital PICU. Adjusting medications don’t stop the seizures. Changing medications isn’t effective. JT has a different kind of seizure that leads to a high definition MRI which reveals a significant shrinkage of JT’s brain. The diagnosis is a mitochondrial DNA defect, which is not treatable.

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. There is nothing one can do beyond being present as the countenance of God, and even this is limited by the realities of miles upon miles of distance (Almquist). Where is the justice?

This morning’s Gospel story is about justice. We are used to hearing about the tenacity of the widow, and that if we are tenacious in our prayer life, our prayers will be answered. Most, well many, okay some preachers make adjustments to account for unanswered prayers while still holding up the widow’s tenacity as a model trait. And ~ it is a valuable model; ~ however, this past week, tenacity did not draw my attention. This past week I’ve been drawn in by “locker room talk.” And yes, I am going to mix politics and religion in the pulpit, in what, I hope, has been prayerful discernment.

Mr. Trump said what he said, and I’ll leave it to you to decide what you are to decide. However, the excuse that it is just “locker room talk” requires attention, at least in part because October is domestic abuse awareness month, and the alleged abusive behavior parallels domestic abuse. “Locker room talk” is not an excuse for any language that justifies or encourages any kind of abusive behavior. To try and use it as such does great damage to the recent years of hard mentoring work by high school and college coaches across the country as they seek to teach young men how to respect young ladies. It diminishes the efforts professional sports have taken to hold professional athletes accountable for their abusive treatment of women. It is up to you to decide the truth of the allegations. Either way, I strongly believe the excuse of “locker room talk” is a grave injustice to everyone. It diminishes our ability to see ourselves and others as the image of God we all are. It diminishes our ability to live into our baptismal vows as consecrated people, set aside for God’s purposes. It thwarts our efforts to be stewards of justice for all. And by “for all” I mean “for all” I’m not just adding women.

Here is my other concern. In dismissing Mr. Trump, I fear we will also dismiss the depths of the injustice he and Bernie Sanders have touched on. There are many, millions, of people who for forty years or more have not benefited from the economic growth in the world; and many have been harmed by laws and policies that enable the growth. Coal miners in West Virginia, automobile manufacturers in Detroit, air conditioner builders in Indianapolis, Milwaukee Tools workers here in Blytheville, have all lost jobs because of changes in the world trade conditions.

I don’t believe the market changes by themselves are unjust; however, the failure to provide displaced workers and their families with alternative careers is an unjust action by officials, who neither feared God nor respected people (Luke 18:2). The bias has worked its way into the legal system. Last week a Federal court found against two computer techs who were forced to train their replacements who came into the US on H1-b work visas, that are not supposed to “adversely affect the working conditions” (PRESTON). We have also heard over the last few weeks that US Bankers, at least at Wells Fargo, neither feared God nor respected people, as they fired 5,000 people for basically following instructions. Yes, two executives have lost their jobs, but with little financial repercussions, and the stockholders have an $185 million fine to pay. These workers’ anger and fears are just, and they can be dangerous.

You may be aware the new President of the Philippines has started a literal war on drugs. To date, some 14,000 addicts and drug dealers have been killed. President Duterte has compared himself to Hitler, though he later recanted. The link to my concern is that his actions are seen positively as signs of a willingness to act. He remains very popular, 83% of the people trust him. A citizen said

I see something that I have not seen in a long time in the Philippines, which is that he cares. He cares for the small guy, which is very important to me (ALMENDRAL).

Here is the link to Jesus’ parable. With no way to support themselves, widows are the most at risk of all people in Israel (Hoezee, Proper 24 | Luke 18:1-8). By law widows, second, only to orphans, should receive special protection (Lose). The parable is a much about a corrupted judge as it is about the widow’s persistence. Today, we must be concerned not only with judges but with a justice system and perhaps a government that neither fears God nor respects people.

I am reasonably sure that part of the reason we see business and governing decisions that neither fear God nor respect people is that we have bought our own story that the capitalism will cure all ills, and then we have sat by as the commoditization of everything is leading to the diminishing of everyone. We can no longer hear the cry for an end to bigotry and misogyny, and the abuse of women, or workers. We can no longer hear the cry for justice even as we passively allow justice to be leveraged for our own advantage (Lewis). We no longer see our neighbors as the image of God. When will we lose the ability to see ourselves as the image of God? And without that vision how do we live into our baptism and calling as consecrated stewards of all God’s creation?

These are times when our limitations are profound, and we learn the depths of faith. A core theme of scripture is God’s radical love for everyone of any distinction we can imagine, and then some. I know the limits with JT’s illness. I know our calling as consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, is to be as relentlessly dedicated to justice as the widow is. I know that with your prayers and support I will find outer limits and deeper faith as I walk with JT’s family in the time to come. I know that together with consecrated stewards of Jesus’ ministry to share the presence of the Kingdom of God, from faith communities of every distinction, we can continue works of mercy and bring justice to all.

References

Almendral, Aurora. Rodrigo Duterte, Scorned Abroad, Remains Popular in the. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/world/asia/philippines-rodrigo-duterte-rating.html>.

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “countenance.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 9 10 2016.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 24 | Jeremiah 31:27-34 . 16 10 2016.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. 16 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 24 | Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 24 C 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 . 16 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Just Justice. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 18:1-8. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Preston, Julia. Judge Says Disney Didn’t Violate Visa Laws in Layoffs. 13 10 2016. <nytimes.com/2016/10/14/us/judge-says-disney-didnt-violate-visa-laws-in-layoffs.html>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

TAYLOR, JEMONDE. “Returning to Pray, Proper 24(C).” 16 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Jeremiah 31:2734. 16 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

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