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Pentecost 21 Proper 24C, October 19, 2010

Pentecost 21 Proper 24C RCL October 19, 2010

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

In our reading from the Book of Jeremiah this morning, the people of Judah are still in exile in Babylon, and the prophet is called by God to announce a new relationship, a new covenant between God and the people. God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me.”

Following the devastating experience of the Exile, the people will be closer to God. Each and every person will know God in a close and intimate way. What a beautiful and powerful statement of God’s love for us, and this closeness with God is something we all yearn for.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul continues his encouragement to Timothy to treasure the legacy of faith which he has received from his mother and grandmother and to live that faith and teach the faith so that the people under his care will be “equipped for every good work.” This is exactly what we are doing today, sharing our faith so that we can go out into the world and share the good news.

One note which I always offer on this passage. Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God…”There are some people who teach that the Bible was literally dictated by God to a divine secretary who wrote it all down. This is a view which arose in the Fundamentalist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Biblical scholars have traced the composition of the scriptures.

In the Hebrew scriptures or the Old Testament, we can find four strands of composition dating from 950 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E., four different groups of scholars and editors who composed these scriptures. In the Greek scriptures, or the New Testament, there are also many authors. All of these scriptures were certainly inspired by God. The people who wrote these words were doing their best to share the story of God’s relationship with us humans. There are many contradictions in the Bible, but this does not detract from the deep truths which are found in the scriptures. So, to sum up, the people who wrote this library of books called the Bible were certainly inspired by God to do that work just as we are inspired by God to spread the Good News in our own day. But the Bible is not to be taken literally.

In our Gospel for today, we have the familiar story of the persistent widow. She gave the unjust judge such a hassle that he finally granted her request. The traditional interpretation of this parable is that, if this obviously less than sterling judge could be badgered into granting the widow’s petition, how much more will God, who loves us, answer our prayers. This is a fine and true interpretation.

Audrey West of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, offers an interesting variation.

She point out that, as we know, widows were among the most vulnerable people in the society of Jesus’ time. If a woman’s husband died, she could lose her livelihood because the property and possessions she had shared with her husband reverted to the husband’s family. West points out that, from the beginning of the life of the people of God, widows were among the poor and marginalized and the community was called to show care and concern for them. West states that widows, and we can say women in general, were supposed to confine their activities to the private family sphere, but this widow moves into the public sphere, challenging the status quo by her persistent appeals to this judge, who in his unresponsiveness, goes against everything a judge in that culture should stand for. According to the law, a judge was supposed to represent God’s justice. This judge certainly does not meet that standard.

West writes, “The widow brings about a change in the judge, not by force, but by her unrelenting pursuit of justice, even from her position of vulnerability. In this regard, she is a lot like God, who comes as a vulnerable child born into poor surroundings, who brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the poor and lowly, whose own power does not force others to act, but is revealed on the cross in the crucified King of the Jews.”

Like the widow,” West continues, “God is persistent in the pursuit of justice, returning again and again despite the arrogance and sinfulness of human persons and institutions. God does not give up. There is reason to pray always, trusting that God is at work to bring about justice in every circumstance, no matter how bad it might appear. Even in the face of sinful powers-that-be, God is victorious through the vulnerable persistent power of God, demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Is this not reason to pray always, to remain faithful, and to trust in God?” (West, New Proclamation, Year C, 2010, p.247)

God is writing God’s law of love and compassion on our hearts. God reaches out to us to form a new and deeper relationship so that each of us can be as close to God and to each other as we are to our own breath. God has given us the legacy of faith. God has given us new life in Jesus. God is building God’s shalom at this very minute, and we are called to help in that work.

The Church in the twenty-first century is called to be different than the Church of the past. In our meetings with Lynn Bates, Lynn alluded to the idea that we are now in the post-modern, post-Christendom age, and we are called to be the vibrant Church in this new era. I have some copies of a fascinating book which Lynn also mentioned. It’s called Changing the Conversation. It was written by Anthony Robinson, a minister in the United Church of Christ and an expert in congregational development who has thought-provoking ideas to share. He will also be with us here in the Diocese of Vermont on June 4 and 5, 2011.

Each of you is welcome to take a copy of Mr. Robinson’s book and read it. We will then make some time to talk about this book as well as the other book we have been reading, called The Shack. Together, these two books give us much to think about. They speak of our deep relationship with a God who loves us very much and how to form ministering communities based on that love.

May we grow ever closer to God and to each other. May we share the good news as Timothy did. May we persevere in prayer and in sharing God’s compassion with all we meet. Amen

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