First Congregational Church
October 20, 2019
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18:1-8 & 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
“Always Pray and Not Give Up”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A young pastor was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. He opened a letter he'd just received that morning from his mom. As he opened it a twenty-dollar bill fell out. He thought to himself, Thanks, Mom, I sure needed that right now. As he finished his meal, he noticed a beggar outside on the sidewalk leaning against the light post. Thinking that the poor man could probably use the twenty dollars more than he, he crossed out the names on the envelope and wrote across the top in large letters, PERSEVERE!
So as not to make a scene, he put the envelope under his arm and dropped it as he walked past the man. The man picked it up and read the message and smiled. The next day, as the pastor enjoyed his meal, the same man tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a big wad of bills. Surprised, the young pastor asked him what that was for. The man replied, “This is your half of the winnings. Persevere came in first in the fourth race at the track yesterday and paid thirty to one.”*
If you are ever feeling lonely, Google - or have someone Google for you - lonely quotes. Or if you are ever feeling joyful, Google joyful quotes. Same with sorrow or antipathy or any other feeling you might want to explore. You will undoubtedly find far more than you bargained for, and that you are in good company.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an English Particular Baptist - Particular with a capital P - was known as the Prince of Preachers. He wrote commentaries - word by word or line by line explanations of the Bible, books on prayer, poetry, hymns and preached for 38 years. In regard to the idea of this morning’s topic, Spurgeon said, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” The famous Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” 19th-century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, who went by the pen name, Josh Billings, said, “Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.”
Today’s scripture passages continue in their respective books, Luke and 2 Timothy. Luke carries on with the string of teachings Jesus gave to the disciples during his 3 years of ministry and 2 Timothy continues the letter that Paul was writing to his young colleague. Paul was in prison and the missions he had started, taken over by Timothy while Paul was in prison, had begun to fall apart and away from focus on Christ. An interesting tidbit is that Luke was a faithful companion and co-worker of the apostle Paul for years, even going on Paul’s second and third missionary trips.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Thank you, Bill. An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, "Pull, Nellie, pull!" Buddy didn't move. Then the farmer hollered, "Pull, Buster, pull!" Buddy didn't respond. Once more the farmer commanded, "Pull, Coco, pull!" Nothing.
Then the farmer nonchalantly said, "Pull, Buddy, pull!" And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, "Oh, Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn't even try!”
This is one of those parables that really needs a second and third glance, because our initial glance may not be all that helpful. Pastor and poet, Steven Garnaas Holmes made the point that “Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow. But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people? That would be us. And who continually demands that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”
To make better sense of it, I went back and substituted God for the widow and “a certain individual” for “a judge,” and read it again, understanding that I - you - any one of us - as the certain individual.
“there was a certain individual who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And God kept coming to him/her with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ When we read it that way, God becomes the one asking for justice. When we read it that way, we discover the ball is in our court, not God’s. Then Jesus’ warning reminds us that God can outlast us. But when God comes, will God find us listening?
One Sunday a cowboy went to church. When he entered, he saw that he and the preacher were the only ones present. The preacher asked the cowboy if he wanted him to go ahead and preach. The cowboy said, "I'm not too smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I'd feed him." So the minister began his sermon.
One hour passed, then two hours, then two-and-a-half hours. The preacher finally finished and came down to ask the cowboy how he liked the sermon. The cowboy answered slowly, "Well, I'm not very smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I sure wouldn't feed him all the hay."
United Church of Christ minister and story teller, Jean Ann Ferguson, commented on the 2 Timothy passage of encouragement to keep on keeping on. She said, “God’s very nature is to be persistent in relationship with us, with God’s people. The character of that relationship is unconditional love, abundance and unremitting justice for all people. God shows up and we meet God. That amazing pastor over there at Frankfort Congregational Church thought, “congruency in our lives comes when we reflect - like a mirror - that ‘unconditional love, abundance and unremitting justice for all people.’” Where God is faithful - we can reflect back faithfulness - even when life is hard or exhausting or uncertain or nonsensical - even if our faith is as small as a mustard seed. Even when we feel small or inexperienced in this persistent faith part of our lives, we don’t even do that alone.
The famous Polish composer-pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, was once scheduled to perform at a great American concert hall for a high-society extravaganza. A mother, with her fidgety nine-year-old son was in attendance, and naturally, weary of waiting, the boy slipped away from her side, drawn to the Steinway on stage. Without much notice from the audience, he sat down at the stool and began playing "chopsticks." The roar of the crowd turned to shouts as hundreds yelled, "Get that boy away from there!" When Paderewski heard the uproar backstage, he grabbed his coat and rushed over behind the boy. Reaching around him from behind, the master began to improvise a countermelody to "Chopsticks." As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy's ear, "Keep going. Don't quit, son...don't stop...don't stop."
What a vision of persistent faith! God’s arms, coming around us, making so much more of our simple offerings and situations. Even when we wander into areas in which we have no business, God’s arms surround us, faithfully, perseveringly, giving us not only the vision but the energy to play just one more note, to take just one more step, to pray one more prayer, to hang on for one more day.
There are times when God needs us to not feed all the hay to the one cow, and we certainly need wisdom for those times. But I wonder how many other times what we need to hear is “Keep going. Don’t quit, beloved. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.
The great Methodist preacher, John Wesley kept a diary, and over the course of a month, he recorded the following.
Sunday, A.M., May 5: Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore. Sunday, P.M., May 5: Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12: Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19: Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19: Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26: Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service. Sunday, A.M., June 2: Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway. Sunday, P.M., June 2: Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.
Let us persist in our quest to be the best followers of Christ that we can be as we pray together. Heavenly and Eternal God, thank you for the food you have provided this day, reminding us of those who persevered before us, in this church family and community. We know that you know it is sometimes hard to be human, that sometimes we get tired and sick and sick and tired and it would be so easy to bag this whole faith thing. Help us, when we are in those low places, to remember that you are also in those places with us, your arms around us, encouraging us to reflect even the smallest grain of faith back at you. Inspire us with just the right amount of examples of persistence, that we not be overwhelmed, but encouraged to do the next right and good thing. In all our days and ways, give us the determination to do the next step, prayer, note or even breath, knowing that you will give us the ability to do so. For all the previous moments of perseverance, all the present encouragement and all the future motivations, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.