You know the passage we have from the Gospel today is missing one word. There’s one word at the beginning of the first verse of Luke chapter 18 which does not appear in this text. And that word is “Then.” If you read the Bible from Luke chapter 18, verse one begins, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.” Which suggests, through the word “then,” that this is a continuation of what came before. Like saying: it got dark and then I got up and turned on the light.
And what came before the ‘then,” at the end of chapter 17 of the Gospel according to Luke was a long passage where Jesus describes what it’s gong to be like on the day of the coming of the Kingdom of God. That there will be lightening and storms chaos and woe. And it will be like things were for Noah on the day of the flood or like they were for Lot when fire rained down on Sodom- an apocalypse of suffering both for the people and for the Son of Man.
And after telling his disciples about the apocalypse to come, you could imagine they are worried. They hear about this horrible thing that’s on the way and they don’t know how they will respond or what they will do and they are afraid. And so after that he gives them some advice about how to live in the face of such despair, and that’s what we have today. He says they should pray and be persistent in prayer and not lose heart.
When things get bad and you see everything change and you encounter obstacles you’ve never seen, then you keep praying and don’t lose heart. That’s when you become like the widow in the parable going up against the unjust judge and you let your prayer be this persistent knocking and asking. And you keep knocking and asking until the judge says yes. And, Jesus says, if the judge says yes, if that unjust judge says yes to your request, how much more will God say yes to those who cry to God for help. Because God is not an unjust judge.
This is a passage about having faith in God. About having faith in God’s protection and love and care for us even though we may not see these things. And especially if we have not seen them and we’ve been asking and praying and begging to God. Jesus brings us back to faith.
And he is reminding us here of two things- first is the undeniable fact that God exists, that our prayers are not going out into nothingness, and our intentions to be good and to do good and to make a difference in the world are not being wasted, because the framework of the universe contains a divine being who is good and who loves us and who listens. Jesus is reminding us of God.
And the second thing Jesus is telling us in this passage is that sometimes it is really hard to see God but that faith gets us through. Faith is the response to challenge, and some have said if there were no challenges in life why would you need faith. Faith exists because we have challenges and we don’t always get what we want and things are not always easy.
I’ve known people, and you have too, who have faced tremendous challenges with great faith. Years ago when I was in seminary, I had a friend named Bill. I’ve lost touch with him and I don’t even remember his last name. Bill was bald and he used to wear a little skull cap and he smelled like roses. He was going to be ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. And he was living with HIV.
Back then, more than 25 years ago, the treatment for HIV and AIDS was not like it is today. Because today there are medicines which essentially allow people to live normal, healthy lives. But back then if you got AIDS it was essentially a death sentence. I remember hearing that something like more than half of the people who contracted the disease ended up dying within a couple years. And that was bill’s community.
I got to know Bill and we were in class together, and one day as we were talking he told me: most of my friends have died. Which I thought was an incredible thing to say. But then he said something even more incredible. He said, “But I’m not giving up.” In response to the AIDS crisis, Bill found his purpose and mission in helping people who were sick to not lose heart, to not give up. Because, he said, I’ve seen how much of a difference a person’s attitude makes. It can be the difference between life and death.
So he went to see people. He prayed with them, he sat and listened to them, and he knocked and he knocked and he knocked on God’s door with them like the widow in the Gospel because he wanted the people he visited to have no doubt that God was there with them. I can just picture him doing that. And he became the presence of faith and hope in the midst of despair. Which is what I imagine Jesus wanted the disciples to be in the Gospel today – faith and hope in the midst of despair.
As the disciples of Jesus Christ today day, we still live facing uncertainty and challenge. There may not be floods of that proportion or fire coming down from the sky or people being brought up into the rapture. But there are still challenges and wars and civil unrest and unjust judges and plenty of things to keep us up at night. And people increasingly are turning away from church. And the pandemic has affected us all.
Part of what’s challenging right now about church is that every congregation like ours and house of faith is working to rebuild after the pandemic and return to some kind of normal. But the normal has changed. Clergy talk with each other about the fact that there are fewer people in church, and fewer people to volunteer to do things, and fewer resources in our budgets, and our concerns about supporting what we want to do in the future. That is the reality now.
And we talk about having to reinvent ourselves. Which is in some ways harder than what we were doing the pandemic, because during the pandemic it was just a couple of us livestreaming from an empty church.
In retrospect, livestreaming from the empty church was simple: Linda and Joel and I were here. Savanna was our acolyte. Todd and a couple of singers lead the music, and the people from the livestream team sent it out. And it was easy to do, once we figured out some technical issues. And we realized that our obligation to be church could be met in this simple way.
But we wouldn’t do that now. We wouldn’t want to go back to that because going back would be simply giving up and losing heart.
The faithful response to where we are now is to pray and to keep praying and to not lose heart. The faithful response by the widow in the Gospel is to knock. So we begin to knock, and I am knocking on your doors today. I am asking you to start praying for our Cathedral in the midst of the changes and challenges we face as we rebuild from the pandemic. And those of you who have been praying, keep praying.
I am not knocking on your doors because you are unjust judges. But I am knocking on your doors because you are disciples of Jesus Christ, and you are pretty cool people. And I don’t want you to give up and lose heart as we move forward.
This process of rebuilding from the pandemic is going to be slow and in the end things may not look like they used to. We don’t know what will happen this next year. And that’s why we have faith. As my friend Bill taught me, this attitude counts, this attitude of faith counts for so much and can be the difference between us moving forward and us giving up in despair. So I am pushing faith. I am team faith. And I want you to be too.
Something I realized this week is that every single ministry, every single thing we do is new. Every thing we do at the Cathedral that is more than just livestreaming from an empty church – which is the baseline – every thing that has been added since we have been back has been done so because we think it is important, because we think it can make a difference in our lives, and because we think it can change the world.
Outreach, the Capital Campaign, the Buildings and Grounds committee, the choir, Sabatina and children’s ministries, the coffee hour, adult forums, the Holy Communion, the chalice, social gatherings, pastoral visits, the drop in center, the work we are doing with the Khan family, all of these things are new.
Please pray for these ministries and for those who volunteer to make them happen. Pray that our ministries and our volunteers do not lose hope. And I am knocking on your door to ask you to consider what you can do to support them too. And why do you support them? Because you bear faith, and because you think like my friend Bill that this attitude makes a difference in life.
The ACTS tutoring program is running again on Wednesdays and I have seen the volunteers come to sit with children and help them in math and English and share stories of Jesus from the Bible. And if you ask those tutors: do you think what you do makes a difference in these children’s lives, they will say: without a doubt.
The same for the volunteers who come to the drop in center on Thursdays. You see a tight community of people which has developed week after week, some weeks as many as 50 people, some of whom are experiencing homelessness, some of whom are neighbors from next door, some of whom are in need of food, and some of whom are just lonely so they come in. And if you ask the volunteers – look at these people, does your attitude make a difference for them, they will say: without a doubt.
I’ve had so many of you tell me how grateful you are that we are in person again and how much of a difference it makes in your life. I’ve had people tell me how they join us online or they watch the recorded service at some point during the week, and how much of a difference it makes to see their own cathedral, maybe even their own pew where they used to sit, and hear their own choir, and see their own church family, because they cannot be here. And through this we are sharing faith with them.
Through what you do and all the ways you give, you are creating a space for people to find Jesus Christ that is bigger than the space used to be. In the month or so since I have been back from sabbatical, we have had something like 6 new people who are visiting the 12:15 service and slowly getting involved, people who previously did not go to church or who came here once upon a time a long time ago, but who have found that their faith needs a little bit more, and we are here to give them a little bit more in the encounter with the living God.
One woman in particular, we sat down for a conversation a couple of weeks ago, and she told me that she found the Cathedral through Facebook. She saw the live feed on our Facebook page – thank you again livestreaming team. And she doesn’t drive hardly ever, she said, she hates to drive, and she hasn’t driven in years. But that she felt this need. And because her husband works on Sundays she gathered up her courage and with fear and trembling drove here that first week. And she has been coming back ever since.
And on Wednesday we had a healing service and she brought her husband. Which means that she’s into it. She doesn’t know all the things we used to do and what it was like before the pandemic and all that has changed since then. She knows what it’s like now. That she comes here and she gets fed spiritually, and she gets reminded about God and community, and she finds a reason to have faith.
And if you do that for one person, you can do it for the world. We can keep doing it as we build back. We can be bold and persistent like the widow in the parable. We can see what God wants us to be now. And we will remember that God seldom gives us exactly what we want the moment we want it. Because God is not our waiter. But God has given us Jesus. And Jesus has reminded us to pray, and to keep praying, and to not give up. And that this attitude will make the difference in our Cathedral and in our lives, and it will change the world.
Our stewardship conversations have begun. And I hope you are team faith.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.