There is nothing better than baseball in October. The thrill of the playoff chase. The tradition of the World Series and hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season. The tradition that the Cubs will lose.
At least, that is my yearly hope. You see, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan which means that cheering for the Chicago Cubs is one of the worst thing you can do in sports. Some friends of mine who share my opinion have gone as far as to say we are “NeverCubs.” My few Cubs friends tell me this is the year. That this is the year the curses will be lifted and that a championship will return to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1908 William Taft was preparing to make William Jennings Bryan the Chicago Cubs of presidential politics. Look it up and you’ll see what I mean.
My few Cubs friends tell me that all their troubles center around a goat named Murphy. Legend has it that a storeowner, Billy Sianis, tried to bring his goat to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. When he was asked to remove the goat, Sianis became irate said that the Cubs would never win another World Series. The Cubs were up 2-1 in the series and would eventual lose the series.
Truthfully, though, as much as I cannot pull for the Cubs I do admire the perseverance of Cubs fans who continually believe, “This is our year.” Even when things seem too difficult to believe or the season does not go as they would hope they never give up. They continue to believe that something good, another World Series title, is coming their way.
What about us? No, I’m not asking about whether we think the Cubs will win this year. I am asking if we have that kind of perseverance. Do we have that same never give up attitude about life and faith? Do we have the keep believing attitude even when we think it is all for not?
Those are questions for us to reflect upon as we continue our series on the things we need to keep doing and being about as a church today. We’ve said we need to keep a faith that trusts God enough to use us in the little things. Last week, we said the church needs to be a people who heal and are willing to be healers. This week, as we turn to our passage from Luke 18:1-8, we see that God calls us to keep persevering and never give up.
We come to this passage after Jesus has given a description of what to expect when the Son of Man, the Christ, comes. As is typical for Jesus he followed a very difficult moment of teaching with a parable to further express his point of maintaining our faith and never giving up. The story is focused on a life of constant prayer and the actions of a widow towards a corrupt judge. Through this story, Jesus inspires us to think deeply in our own life and ask this question: If you were the widow what would you do? Truly, do you persevere in your faith?
It is important to note that widows had a special place in Luke’s gospel. They were people of special concern and care for Jesus, especially in this gospel that often focuses on what it means to take faith to people society often forgot. It was for good reason. Widows were often people who were taken advantage of and were often placed in precarious situations. Because money and property were transferred to the male heirs, widows had to depend on the benevolence of others. Sometimes, too, they were by people. They were worth being concerned about.
We do not know the struggle that this widow is dealing with. Jesus doesn’t give us that detail. We can assume it likely had to do with something from her family based upon the culture of the time. She believes that she is in the right and believes that the judge will grant her relief. This judge, though, has no such concern for her or her plight. He is defined as someone with no love for God or others. Even though Scripture and the culture demanded that this widow be cared for, this Judge ignores her. He doesn’t care.
The widow is facing a dilemma. She has asked the judge for help, but no help seems to be coming. What should she do? What would you do?
Here is where the parable meets a crossroads for us in our lives today. When we feel that our prayers of help or concern are not being heard, what do we do? Do we keep praying? Do we give up?
I think if we were honest with ourselves, and I know this is true for myself, I think we give up. If a prayer is not answered in the immediacy we shrug it off or we get tired of keeping up with the prayer. A lot of it has to do with whether we are truly committed to our faith. Being committed to faith is about a long game that keeps going and seeks prayer, community, and discipleship regardless of the ups and downs of life. That doesn’t always describe us. We have grown accustomed to a society that says we can have it now and that we can get quick responses to things in the present. We take that moment and look at our faith and go: Why am I now growing now? Why do I not hear God? Should I even bother?
In these moments this is when we need to hear the story of the widow and see her as an example for us. Faced with struggles that were daunting and hard to imagine for us today she doesn’t give up. She keeps knocking on the judge’s door. She keeps asking for help. She refuses to give up. She does so to the point that the judge has no choice but to help, because he is worried about what this widow was willing to do. The phrase “driving me crazy” comes from a Greek term that meant “give a black eye.” The judge gives in and grants the widow’s request, because he was worried she would ruin his reputation.
If an unjust, unloving, and uncaring judge is willing to offer justice to a widow, how much more is the God of justice, of holy love, of complete compassion willing to do for you? We’re called to be persistent in our faith like the widow and trust that God hears our prayers. God calls us to have a faith that never gives up on God’s love and seeks God’s direction. This is the faith that Jesus calls us to have upon the day of Christ’s return. A faith that never gives up. A faith that is persistent in prayer and continually seeks God’s desires.
We need this kind of prayer life today. We need that kind of faith today. We need this kind of commitment. But how is this lived out? What does this look like? Theologian Fred Craddock tells the story of an African American pastor was once asked to reflect on prayer. He responded that “Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.” Until you know what it is like to keep going when all seems lost – to keep going when everyone tells you and us to just give up – then and only then will you know what persevering prayer and a persevering faith is like.
This perspective forces us to look within ourselves and examine how we focus upon the issues of our day. We have challenges that are numerous and obstacles that seem difficult to overcome. When faced with the challenges before us, I believe our basic response is to survive and advance. To keep doing what we’ve always done, even though doing what we’ve always done isn’t really working, because it is comfortable and familiar. It is about going through the motions of faith and life, to have all the outer appearances of faith, without deeply connecting ourselves to anything deeper. Survival is not persevering. Survival is the quick way to lead to death and spiritual burnout, because we’re not seeking to be led by God. We’re more concerned about just getting by.
The faith God calls us to claim is a perseverance that says, “I can trust in God because God gives me the strength to face the challenges.” It is about looking at the challenges before us in a new light and seeking God instead of ourselves. To persevere instead of merely surviving.
When we see issues in the church, of attendance that isn’t what we would like, or our struggles to reach new people, God doesn’t call us to have a response that blames others, that says “you’ll never get them to come here,” or to just generally complain. The response of God’s people is to pray with fervent hope and power for doors to open to reach new people in new ways. Not just once in a while, but daily.
When the national political landscape makes us disheartened for the American civic experience, the response of God’s people isn’t to get caught up in the political mud that is being spread this election year. Our response is not to get caught up in the partisan muck. The response of God’s people is to persevere in our prayers for our nations and our leaders.
When we think there is nothing left for us to do, when we get discouraged and feel like life is just about passing the time, the response of God’s people is not to say “I give up.” The response of God’s people is to persevere in our prayers for God to use us in whatever ability, strength, or time we have to be a blessing to others.
The more we persevere in our prayer life in seeking God in the midst of our challenges, then, the more we will see our faith strengthen and able to stand the tests that come before us. To never give up on God, on the Lord’s people, on ourselves is the pathway to perseverance that deepens our faith and our awareness of God.
So, what kind of faith do you have?
Do you have a faith that perseveres and prayerfully seeks God’s direction or desires, even if it means that we are continually our knees and constantly praying for God to come and be present in the moment? Or do we have a faith that says our best days are behind us, that there is no use trying anymore, that there is more important things to worry about?
The faith I pray we have, the faith I believe God wishes we have, is one that perseveres just like this widow and never gives up, especially when the odds seem stacked against us.
Are you persevering in your faith?