Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (video!)

Finally:  YOUTUBE FAMOUS.

I was invited to be the guest preacher at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview WA. They digitally record all of their sermons for YouTube– very 21st century!  These folks were a bunch of sweeties.  The highlight of my morning with them was when one of the LOLs* came up to me as I was drinking coffee in the parish kitchen before the 10am service began and said loudly, “I hope your sermon sounds as good as you look!”

*little old ladies

Full text after the jump.

Sermon: 10-20-2013/St. Stephen’s Longview WA/Proper 24: Year C/Luke 18:1-8

Rev. Kathleen invited me here to preach on the diaconate.  I was especially honored by this because I am not a deacon.  Just an aspiring deacon.  Nobody knows if I will make it all the way!  Since I’m still jumping through the hoops, I’ll stick to repeating Bishop Rickel’s own words on what the diaconate is.  He says, “The deacon’s job is to go out into the world, find trouble, and bring it back to the church.”  Remaining faithful to that charge, I am here to trouble you.  Just like this parable.

It’s an easy one.  Right?  It’s standard.  A couple of stock characters–a mean “legalistic” guy who hates God and everybody else, a stout-hearted widow as our heroine.  Jesus generously gives us the moral of the story beforehand: “Pray always and don’t lose heart.”  Easy!  Easy Jesus.  We love easy Jesus.  We feel so smart and smug.

Some of us should feel smart and smug.  Some of us should feel terrified.

This widow is not just going toe-to-toe with one grumpy judge.  She is going toe-to-toe with an entire social order.  She is not just seeking justice against one adversary.  She is seeking justice against a world built on the premise that her life doesn’t matter.

How do we know all this?  Isn’t it just a parable?  We don’t have hard evidence showing that this widow, her adversary, or the judge were living, breathing historical figures.  Jesus doesn’t mention any other players.  Why read more into it?  We don’t even know what the widow was so stubbornly demanding.  Come to think of it: why doesn’t Jesus tell us that?  Isn’t that important?

Apparently not.  The main pieces of this story that seem important to Jesus are 1) the widow fights for herself and 2) she wins.

Widows in Roman-occupied Palestine, in Jesus’ lifetime, were disposable.  You may have noticed: Jesus likes to recycle that message we find throughout the law and prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, the one about caring for orphans and widows.  So that’s one big hint about the status of widows.  When God has to endlessly nag the people about something, they probably haven’t been doing a great job at it.  Moses nags, Isaiah nags, Jesus nags, scribes record and distribute all these respective nagging reminders.  The people of Israel keep on abusing the poor and vulnerable among them, i.e. the widows.  On top of this, by the time Jesus comes along, there’s the Roman Empire to deal with, which certainly offers no haven to the rebellious people of Galilee, where they’ve crushed several uprisings already.  Economically, legally, politically, socially: widows were, by and large, non-persons.

The disciples, as eye-witnesses, didn’t need as much explanation as we do on what life was like for Galilean widows.  But they did need to learn something.  Evidently Jesus thought they needed a story about a widow who refused to let the system crush her.  This is a different message than Jesus telling them, “Be nice to the widows.  Throw them some extra alms once in a while.”  It’s also a different message than telling the disciples, “Rescue the widows.  They are helpless.”  Jesus doesn’t say that.

He says:

“There was a widow who demanded that her voice and her life be valued in this world.  She had the guts, the brains, and the endurance to make it happen.  She broke through an unjust system instead of allowing it break her.  Be like her.  God is a just judge, but this world is riddled with unjust judges, and I need disciples who can restore faithfulness here and now.  Restore it the way this widow did.  When you are oppressed, cry out.  When your leaders betray you, call them out.  Wear them out.  Even the ones whose hearts cannot be moved will have to answer for their abuses, if you keep showing up.  Like she did.”

So.  Where is the deacon in this story?  It’s tempting, but I don’t think we can easily say, “Jesus is the deacon!” or “The widow is the deacon!”  Personally: I like to imagine that the widow is holding a megaphone.  Yes.  A megaphone.  It doesn’t distort her words, or clean them up and make them respectable-sounding for court.  It doesn’t make her argument more palatable for the hostile judge.  It’s just a megaphone.  It makes her voice louder and clearer.  It’s annoying.  It’s consistent.  It makes the widow harder to ignore.

I think that megaphone is the deacon.

The deacon’s job is to be one of the widow’s people.  Unlike a priest, a deacon’s ordination vows identify a specific group of people to prioritize in their ministry—the poor.  Our church has no special order of ministry to the rich.  There’s some wisdom there.  Somebody way back listened to this parable.  Somebody got it: that there comes a time when “agreeing to disagree” with the unjust judge fails God’s dream for us.  God calls us instead to stand and endure with the poor, the disposable, the widows who won’t shut up.

You don’t have to be a deacon to take that stand.  Deacons sometimes take the lead, but everyone knows someone who needs a megaphone.  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe it’s your neighbor.  Maybe it’s your coworkers, your kids, your kids’ teachers.  Maybe it’s those people you’d rather not see, sleeping under bridges as the weather turns cold.

Find one story you can amplify this week and be a megaphone.  Jesus’ movement started with the telling of untold stories: stories about widows who were powerful, judges who cracked, people who rose from the dead.  Impossible stories that got so loud they started coming true.  That’s how movements always begin.  Our stories can do that.  Our stories have to do that.  Because: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

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About aaron

Catechist at Chaplains on the Harbor.
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