Persistence

I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing quite like the opportunity to preach.

At the seminary from which you graduated.

On a vague parable.

About 24 hours in advance.

 

I think this right here could either be attributed to outright insanity or the Holy Spirit. As we’re a people of faith, let’s go with the Spirit and just take it from there.

 

This parable brought up a lot for me in the past 24 hours. In prayer and reflection, I thought of my mother. She became a widow over one year ago, and she’s been trying to navigate this world without her spouse of over 45 years. My brother and I have done everything humanly possible to look after our mom, to make sure she receives just and fair treatment from the institutions and organizations she now has to deal with. My mom immigrated to this country from India when she was 18 and as a newlywed… and if she didn’t have my brother and me… where would she be today? The thought is almost too much to bear, if she had to navigate this present climate on her own, having so much already that defines her as an outsider (like being an immigrant), and she would be then even more on the margins… as a widow without an advocate. She would have no one.

 

A widow with no one. What does this look like in the world of this Gospel lesson?

Commentary after commentary states that this widow is the ultimate loser.

When it comes to telling stories about marginalized people, she’s lowest of the low.

She’s low because, well, she’s just a she.

She doesn’t have a husband or a family to be her advocate and to be her voice.

She has no property.

Theoretically, her community in this city is supposed to take care of her, but that’s all good… in theory.

But there is something amiss.

 

This woman is repeatedly, over and over and over and over, confronting a judge to grant her justice against an opponent. We’re not given much information on this opponent; the title of opponent means there is some form of conflict between them and the widow. Time after time after time the judge is unmoved. But then… the judge’s thoughts run away with him. He outright says to himself, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” If we want to get to the nitty gritty of the translation here, let’s rephrase it to the more honest and more brutal, “I shall avenge her, or she will give me a black eye.” Oh, violence and vengeance. Only when the judge thinks that violence will be inflicted upon him does he decide to finally act, because heaven forbid that violence be inflicted upon those in positions of power? Yet violence has already occurred with the judge; he should have moved to act not upon threat of violence. The judge’s inaction in the face of obvious need is evidence of his own spiritual brokenness. This system of oppression has damaged the judge, too.

 

It is important to state that both the widow and the judge are under God’s purview. Because God’s grace is ultimately unfair, we cannot talk about one being outside God’s grace and the other being the sole recipient. What we must come to understand, especially in situations where we seem to be pitted against one another, where one has offended the other, where one has done damage to the other… the Gospel is still for the widow AND the judge. But what they may hear is different. The Gospel comforts, but if it only comforts, we would be a people of cheap grace. The Gospel also challenges and afflicts. We are a people of both and, simultaneously saint and sinner, and we are to be both challenged and comforted. We cannot simply be mere recipients of grace and not respond to the Gospel message. We are called to respond.

 

But there was something to the widow’s response in her persistence. She kept coming back to the judge. She kept using her voice to advocate for herself. She used the strength of her voice to advocate for her survival. She spoke out, she moved. This was her embodied and Incarnational prayer. This prayer for her survival against her opponent was her life of prayer. In that prayer… we need to be persistent. The lives of our neighbors depend upon it. Our prayer should be that of movement, that of action, that response. If our Lord and Savior was of flesh and blood, that can be the embodiment of our prayer life.

 

If we are to take on this title as reformers and as people of faith, we must realize that there are persistent people in our midst. We are called in our identities to seek justice and to act, even when it takes us to those places of discomfort, and even persecution.

Were it not for the actions of many, that holy moment of 45 years ago would not have happened with women being ordained in our church. Yes, our church.

Were it not for the actions of many, some sitting in this chapel today, that holy moment of the vote in 2009 for LGBTQ+ siblings in committed relationships to be ordained would not have happened in our church. Yes, our church.

 

Oh, siblings in Christ, our need for persistence is not over, by any means. We are still called to reform; we’re at this time in our history, looking back on our almost 500 years of being reformers, but are we looking forward? Are we even aware of what’s happening around us today? Are we hearing the cries of the present day widows around us? There are people who are repeatedly coming to the judge, over and over and over and over. Are we truly hearing them, but more importantly, are we acting on them out of response to God’s love and grace? Don’t just hear those stories and those narratives that are not your own. Do not be complacent; we are being called to use these bodies. We cannot look away. We cannot sit idly by.

This is #decolonizeLutheranism.

This is #BlackLivesMatter, why we must #SayTheirNames.

This is #Pulse.

This is a litany that goes on and on and on where we have siblings who have been crying out and demanding justice for far too long because their blood screams to us from the ground. Do not let your inaction be your action, thereby denying righteous justice.

 

We are called into action, into persistence, into an active, lived, and embodied prayer. I do not know how this will look for you; that is a conversation you have to undertake with your siblings in Christ and with God.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of this world.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of Empire, which will constrict us… and kill us.

 

We cannot look away from one another.

We are intertwined with one another; we are accountable to one another. That was professed to us in our baptisms, that we belong to God… AND we belong to one another.

We’re called to do something. We’re called into a form of action. We’re learning that people’s identities, people’s lives are very much depending on how we act… or how we do not act.

 

Your prayer is your action… let your action be your prayer.

 

Go. Do. The crucified and risen Christ is with you in the midst of all of it.

 

The Rev. Tuhina Rasche
@tvrasche

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