Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Give Up!

A little background:

October 16 is a really emotional day for me. It's the anniversary of my mother's burial and of my father's death. This year, my pastor and mentor lost HIS mentor on the same day. When I wrote this sermon, I had no idea that Larry, the mentor, was going to transition. That adds to my belief that life is not fair, but you cannot give up. 

The sermon transcript is below, and the audio can be heard here. I hope it encourages you.

Sometimes, life is not fair.
When you are a child and have older siblings, that is the refrain of the day. It’s not fair that my older brother can stay up until 10 and I have to be in bed by 8. It’s not fair that Cheryl can go to the movies with Jackie and I can’t go with them. It’s not fair that she gets to go to college out of state and I have to attend Tick Tock Tech here in Town. It’s not fair that she got a car and I have to beg to borrow yours.
Sometimes, life is not fair.
Things happen to remind of us this daily. The crops don’t yield what they are supposed to. There is a drought, there is a flood, there is a tornado, there is a hurricane. A job is lost. A car is wrecked. A husband dies. A wife is diagnosed with cancer.
A child dies.
Several of you in the congregation have lived a little longer than I have, but even with that, I just need to tell you that sometimes, life is not fair.
You did everything you were supposed to do – you put in 29 years on a job, and right before you were supposed to retire, the company goes belly up. You’ve played by the rules – you went to school, got the degree, did the internship, and still cannot find a full time job in your field. You’ve applied for job after job after job, and still cannot get an interview.
Sometimes, life is not fair.
This morning, I can tell you from personal experience that life is not fair. A father dies at 44 years old, leaving behind a wife and three children. A mother dies in childbirth.
There are some times you feel like Job – you remember Job, don’t you? He lost everything in a single day. That’s not fair. Then he got sick. That’s really not fair. Then his friends, in an effort to make Job feel better, only make him feel worse.
If you have not figured it out yet, sometimes life is not fair.
One of my best friends, just this week, sent a message to our circle that he thinks that God is out to get him. His birthday was yesterday, and he reminded us that, on this celebration of his 63rd birthday, he is STILL single. Everyone else in the circle is dating or in a long relationship, but not him. This has to be, he said, some kind of cosmic joke. God is just mad at me. It just is not fair!!!
And that’s where we find the widow in this morning’s parable from Luke. This woman, who was, in her day, the epitome of what life not being fair would look like, gives us a model of what we should do when we come up again unfair life situations. This woman, who in her day was the most vulnerable of all people, shows us how to handle life when it gives you a raw deal. This powerless woman shows us how to deal with the powerful who think you are just a pest looking to get paid.
She keeps pestering.
Let’s look at the text. The woman, Jesus tells us, that this widow had to deal with two situations in which she was at a disadvantage – her opponent and the judge. The opponent was the least of the two problems; it was the judge that was her main obstacle to getting justice, because that’s all she wanted.
Look at the text – she says it plainly – “Grant me justice against my opponent.” I can imagine that this widow has been fighting for a while. She’s been fighting this opponent who, based on her request, no her demand, is more powerful than her and she is getting no where with the opponent.
Can you imagine how she feels? I can. She’s been battling an opponent that has more money than her, has more status than her, has more lawyers than her, and all she wants is justice. Can you imagine how the widow feels? Have you ever had to deal with an opponent that has more resources than you, and all you have is the moral high ground?
I can, and if you are honest, most of us in the room this morning have felt like the widow. Some of us just want justice – we want our claim to be paid on time, because we’ve paid the premium on time for 20 years. We want the company to honor their promise. We want the client to pay the invoices we’ve submitted on the work that we’ve done, and we go to the judge and say, “GRANT ME JUSTICE! This is not fair!!!”
And we come up against this judge, who by his own declaration, does not fear God and has no respect for anyone. The judge is supposed to be unbiased; the judge is supposed to be fair. The judge is supposed to be impartial. The judge is supposed to hear both sides and make the appropriate decision. The judge is supposed to at least HEAR my side, I can hear the widow saying. Grant me justice!!!
The judge continues to ignore her until one day he realizes that the widow is not going to give up. And he grants her justice – not because she is right, but because she is persistent. Look at the text again – “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
Let me place a footnote here – in some translations, it says that he grants her justice so that she does not slap him in the face. He grants her justice, one can say, so that this powerless woman does not slap down the powerful… think about that for a moment.
But back to the judge – he does not grant her justice because she is right, he does it so that she leaves him alone. She is persistent. She is, as my late mother and grandmother would say, like a dog with a bone – she ain’t letting go. This widow is who we should model this morning – we should never give up.
And Jesus tells us WHY we are to never give up – because God hears our cries and will grant justice to the ones who cry out to God day and night. Jesus tells us that he will “quickly grant justice to them.”
But what happens when the “quickly granted justice” never appears? What happens when we don’t get justice? What are we supposed to when we come up against systems of injustice? What are we supposed to do, when we’ve hit a brick wall? What are we supposed to do when God, it seems, is silent and has become the unjust judge?
Oh let’s be honest – there are times when GOD himself is the unjust judge, it seems. The “quickly” is slow, if it is anything, and God is actively ignoring us. We’ve been praying and crying, we’ve been pleading, all to no avail. We’ve done EVERYTHING we’re supposed to do, and nothing happens.
We have prayed that the cancer goes away, and it comes back. We have prayed that our nephew is healed from his heroin addiction, and he is more strung out than ever. We pray that our daughter gets her life together, and she is wilder than she was last week. What do we do when God is the unjust judge and, it seems, actively ignoring us?
We act like the widow and continue to, by faith, keep pestering God. We never give up! God WILL grant you justice. If the unjust judge can change his mind, and he does not respect anyone, God will answer your petition because God loves you. So, don’t give up.
But Pastor Guy, I hear you saying, I’m tired.
Life is not fair, but don’t give up.
I’ve been fighting for years, and nothing seems to change.
Don’t give up.
No matter what I do, it just does not seem to work out for me.
Don’t give up.
A few years ago, a video appeared on line of a little girl, no more than 4 years old, singing a song from a children’s show called “Yo Gabba Gabba”. Now, I have never seen the show. However, this little girl is embodying the widow’s stance and reminds me that no matter WHAT’S going on, to never give up. She sings:
“Don’t stop, don’t give up. Keep trying. You’ll get it right.”
“Don’t stop, don’t give up.”
So, hear me clearly. We have a baby and a widow both telling us that if they can keep trying, so can we.
Life is not fair. It’s not. But if you keep trying, if you never give up, you WILL get justice, even if it’s so that you will go away.
Don’t give up!

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