Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 18:1–8
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“Four Words on Stewardship: Persistence”
One of the Brothers Grimm household tales tells of a little shepherd boy. This shepherd boy had become famous far and wide because of his ability to give wise answers to any question. A king heard of the boy, but doubted the claims of his wisdom. So the king called him in and offered him a home in his palace, to be raised as his own son – if the shepherd boy could answer three questions. The king puts his first two questions to the boy: “How many drops of water are there in the ocean?” and “How many stars are there in the sky?” The shepherd boy astounds the king and his assembly with his clever responses – without actually answering the questions. He does, however, give an answer to the king’s final question: “How many seconds of time are there in eternity?” “In a corner of the kingdom, there is a mountain of diamond that is two-and-a-half miles high, two-and-a-half miles wide, and two-and-a-half miles deep. Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the mountain. When the whole mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.” Now, you might think that’s an amazingly long time. But if you’re a current fan of Doctor Who, you might be thinking what I did: “That’s an amazingly persistent bird!”
It’d just be easier to give up. A huge undertaking such as whittling down a mountain requires a huge investment of time and effort. Wrestling with the Lord as Jacob did might sound like an equal challenge. (Genesis 32:22-30). However, even lesser tasks might feel like a strain on your determination. It’d be easier to give up than to keep trying to rebuild homes after hurricanes and floods. It’d be easier to give up than to keep working to listening to people who disagree with you in your politics or your faith. It’d be easier to give up than to keep meeting injustice with persistent calls for vindication and reconciliation.
How persistent are you? It’s hard enough to be persistent in eating right and getting enough exercise for most adults. Bigger challenges like learning a new language or advancing a career demand even more time and effort if you want to see results. And should your life turn sideways and derail your plans, it’s not as if anything will go back to the way you hoped it’d be without a whole lot of persistence. It’d be easier to give up than to face what might be an eternity of trying to restore your life to what it should be.
You’ve heard the parable Jesus told about the widow who sought justice from an unrighteous judge, a man who neither feared God nor respected men. He didn’t care what anyone thought about him. He didn’t see the value in living according to His Creator’s design for life. But this widow comes to him seeking vindication against injustice. She didn’t have anyone to speak up for her. She had no authority or influence in society. Why should the judge make any effort to hear her plea, let alone help her? So he doesn’t. But she comes back. And she comes back. And she comes back. Like the bird sharpening its beak on the diamond mountain, the widow beats him down with her persistence.
It’d be easier to give up and abandon all hope. But the widow has no one else to whom she can turn for vindication. The unrighteous judge is the only one who can deliver justice.
Now if Jesus’ parable were merely about being persistent in how you should relate to the world around you, that’d be kind of discouraging. That’s not what he’s telling his disciples, though. Take a look at Luke’s introduction to Jesus’ illustration: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) In this parable of the widow and the unrighteousness judge, Jesus is teaching us the importance of persistent prayer.
Like the widow, you and I live in a broken world where people experience the sting of injustice. But when we seek vindication – unlike the widow – we’re not stuck with pleading our case before the unrighteousness judge. Jesus wants you to bring your concern to your Father in heaven, because He loves you. Unlike the unrighteous judge, God cares about your welfare regardless of your position in society. Going to God in persistent prayer, then, isn’t a matter of wearing Him down with your repeated petitions for justice. If that were the case, you’d be worse off than the widow. You can go to God in persistent prayer because His attitude is the exact opposite of the unrighteous judge.
Like a loving Father who stands ready to help His child, God wants to hear your prayer. In His compassion and mercy, He gives the faith that you need. It’s faith that let you come to Him persistently in prayer that is confident that He will hear and answer it. We need faith which moves us to persistence, too, because we, like Jesus’ disciples, don’t always see God answering our prayers – even when He is.
Our Father in heaven always hears His people’s prayer and answers it. Although you might think that “yes” is the only answer that shows God has heard your prayer, it isn’t. He might give you a “yes.” In other times, “no” might be the answer that you need. We might unknowingly be praying for things that wouldn’t be good for us, even if we don’t think that’s the case. But God does know, and He’s not going to give you a harmful gift. Alternatively, God might answer your prayer with a “wait,” or a “yes, but not in the way that you expect,” two answers that can dredge up doubt and despair. They might have you thinking it would just be easier to give up. 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 are called to be persistent in prayer, not growing weary or losing hope. Persistence just keeps going back at it. Come before God in prayer – today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year – and look ahead in confident hope.
God will vindicate His elect. With his own death waiting in the near future as he told today’s parable, Jesus’ faith showed how God’s vindication would come quickly. He went to the cross carrying our weakness and unfaithfulness to put them to death. On the third day, our Lord was vindicated in his resurrection from the dead. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, you’ve got your vindication, too. As the elect, redeemed people of God in Christ, sin, death, and the devil have no claim on your future.
Last weekend, we launched our focus on Christian stewardship with the celebration of our congregation’s 60th anniversary. We considered the first of our “Four Words on Stewardship” this month, Thanksgiving. True stewardship has to start with thanksgiving. Properly speaking, a steward manages that which is not their own. Everything that you and I manage – time, health, wealth, skills – it all comes from our loving God. He puts it into our care, our stewardship, for use in each new day we receive as His people. Thanksgiving shifts your perspective from thinking of yourself as an owner. It frees you by driving home the truth that everything under your management has come from God – and it’s all still His.
If you heard last week’s message, you may recall that these “Four Words on Stewardship” are meant to move us forwards on stewardship. That’s why we’re talking about it now. As you and I look ahead in the confident hope that comes from faith, we’re called to live in stewardship that persists: Christian stewardship keeps going, even when it’d be easier to give up. As we follow Jesus through life, we exercise persistent stewardship by intentionally managing what God has entrusted to us – the big things and the small things alike – with a vision for the future. And as Paul encouraged Timothy to do, we persistently engage God in His Word to guide us in the way.
“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” As you look ahead to the future with the confidence that God hears and answers prayer, what needs persistent prayer in your life? How are you being called to exercise persistent stewardship of that which God has entrusted to your care? The answers to those questions might have you feeling a bit like the bird on the diamond mountain. It might seem like it’d just be easier to give up and that your vindication is an amazingly long way away. Don’t lose heart! You have an amazingly persistent Savior.