Consecrated Stewards are Persistent Stewards
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 18:1–18:8
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria,VA
“Consecrated Stewards are Persistent Stewards”
Persistence just keeps going back at it. I’m guessing that you don’t really need much of an explanation here. You’ve probably encountered persistence in at least few different situations. If you had a persistent cough, you know that you’re supposed to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Something that’s persistent, though, is different than something that’s continuous. Imagine going to the supermarket with a young child –your son or daughter or little brother or sister – and, somehow, suddenly, you stumble into the cookie aisle. You can hear the sudden intake of expectant breath, and as you turn to look – already knowing what you’ll see – you are momentarily blinded by the light reflected from an incongruously huge pair of shining eyes, looking longingly at the shelves of cookies upon cookies, eyes that hover ominously above a little mouth which is already starting to move. “Pleeeeeeeeease?” Now, this is the difference between continuous and persistent: how does the child attempt to persuade you? “Can we please get some cookies? Please? I’d really like a box of chocolate chips – or maybe Oreos – or Nutter Butters. You like Nutter Butters, right? Can we please get some? I think that we’re all out at home… no cookies in the house. Could we please just get one box? Wouldn’t it be great to have some cookies? Please?” The continuous approach never stops, never lets up. A persistent child might ask once: “May we please get some cookies?” And again, in the next aisle: ““May we please get some cookies?” And again, in the frozen foods section: “May we please get some cookies?” And again, on the way to checkout: “May we please get some cookies?” Persistence just keeps going back at it.
In your experience, what would you describe as persistent? Though persistence can be a good thing, I think that we’re more likely to be familiar with negative persistence: things that we’d love to get rid of, but they stick around. Our bad habits are like that: actions that, even though we know can be harmful to us and to the people around us, we keep going back to them. It seems like persistence is easier for things that we know we shouldn’t do than for things that we should. It can be a challenge to keep up with something like exercise – or prayer – if we don’t see the results that we’d like as quickly as we’d like. But persistence just keeps going back at it.
Persistence is a focal point of today’s Gospel text. When you’re reading Luke, it helps to pay attention to the introductions, and this one’s pretty clear. Jesus tells his disciples this parable to show them the importance of persistent prayer, encouraging them to not lose heart. If we take a look at this parable, we can learn a lot by looking at the characters. First off, we’ve got the unrighteous judge. Jesus puts it right out there: this judge neither fears God nor respects man. In that place and time, to say that someone didn’t fear God meant that they were a heathen, an atheist, not part of the Jewish faith. As such a person, the judge didn’t feel any need to live according to God’s instruction or to be concerned about God’s judgment. Neither did the judge show favoritism or partiality towards his fellow men: rich or poor, weak or mighty, the judge treated them with equal disdain. But to this judge comes a woman, a widow, someone who would be least in that society, without anyone to defend her or bring justice for her – unless she were able to convince this judge. So is she able to convince the judge when she comes to him and asks for justice? No! He disregards her, just like he disregards everyone else; why should this widow be any different? But she comes back. And she comes back. And she comes back. So on one hand, we’ve got a shameless judge, who doesn’t care about his responsibility before God or man to bring justice; on the other, the shameless widow who continues confronting the judge and asking him to deliver justice. And what does he do? Like many of the other people in Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel account, he talks to himself, saying: “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, I will give this widow the justice that she seeks. Not because I like her, but because she keeps coming back.” The translation that we often see about the widow “wearing down” the judge is pretty weak. The full sense of the Greek text is more like “She’ll beat me down” – “give me a black eye” is a literal rendering. And although perhaps the widow might have gone and socked him if he’d kept ignoring her, really he’s most concerned about his reputation. If he continued to deny the widow’s plea for justice, that would give his reputation a black eye, hurting his standing in the society, such that he might be in danger of losing his position as a judge. To drive home the point of this parable, Jesus tells the disciples that God, unlike the unrighteous judge, hears His people’s prayer and will answer them. But on the day that the Messiah comes, will there be faith on earth? Will the people continue to be persistent in prayer? Persistence just keeps going back at it.
What need do you and I have for persistence in prayer? Why are consecrated stewards persistent stewards? Like the widow, we call out for vindication. As we heard in the epistle reading from 2 Timothy, the times are coming – indeed, have already come – when people will reject sound teaching because it’s not what their itching ears want to hear. They pick and choose what they like, and mock the rest. That’s happening in our society. Just a couple of weeks ago, a popular TV show featured a storyline where one of the characters accidently burned an image of Jesus onto his grilled cheese sandwich and proceeded to pray to “grilled Cheesus.” Is that what people think about Christianity, that we pray to “grilled Cheesus” to give us everything that we want? Is that what Jesus is commending when he tells his followers to be persistent in prayer? Certainly not! Called to persistent prayer, we’re also called to patience: we might not see results of prayer right away. But persistence just keeps going back at it.
About a month ago, when we lifted up the work of St. John’s Braille Center ministry in worship, our congregation heard tell of an example of Christian persistence in our midst. Well over a year ago, before that ministry started here, various challenges popped up in the process of establishing a Braille Center at St. John’s. The late Jane Jones kept going back at it. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, finding constructive ways to overcome those hurdles – and that ministry has now produced over a thousand volumes for use by sight-impaired people around the globe. Persistence just keeps going back at it.
It doesn’t take much living to figure out that God’s time isn’t always – of often – our time. You might pray for health, but remain ill. You might ask for God to give you work so that you can provide for your family, but no job offers come in. You might cry out for justice in a world where God’s people are persecuted for their faithfulness and those who mock enjoy popularity and success. Consecrated stewards, people set apart by God for service as His own, aren’t limited to just seeing the “now.” We look ahead to the “not yet,” the things to come. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. God is nothing like the unrighteous judge, who only gave in to the persistent widow to protect his own standing. God is not indifferent to the prayers of His people. He is not unresponsive. He is merciful. He is compassionate. That’s why we point to the cross as our hope: there, Jesus fulfilled the promised that God’s people had heard for so long. In Jesus, God broke into human history to bring forgiveness and reconciliation into the world. And in His love, God watches patiently over you and me and the rest of our fellow sinner-saints in the church. Persistence just keeps going back at it, and we persistently fall short. But when we repent and ask for God’s forgiveness, He persistently gives it. With that forgiveness comes hope as we wait for Christ’s return. When Jesus comes again, he will bring the victory and vindication that will topple his adversaries. That day might have been long in arriving, but when it happens, it will be swift and unexpected. The justice for which the saints have called out day and night will be delivered!
So what then does it mean for us to say that consecrated stewards are persistent stewards? Consecrated stewards pray. They are persistent in prayer. Our heavenly Father hears that prayer and answers it. Though we might think that “yes” is the only way that God can respond to our prayer when He hears it, that’s not the case. He may give us a “yes,” but “no” might be the answer that we need. He may tell us “wait,” or “yes, but not in the way that you expect,” two answers that dredge up doubt and despair. Have you come to God in prayer, only to become discouraged when it seemed like nothing changed? Remember why Jesus told the disciples this parable: you and I should be persistent in prayer and not grow weary. Persistence just keeps going back at it. Come before God in prayer – today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year – and rest assured that He hears you, that vindication is coming.
Take hope in the cross. God is not an unrighteous judge, but the loving Father who has promised to hear you. He is calling you again today to trust in him. God is persistent; and as you’ve probably heard, persistence just keeps going back at it.