Perseverance Luke 18: 1-8
A Sermon by Revd Chris Williams
If you didn’t find that gospel reading difficult and challenging – then maybe you weren’t listening!
Jesus clearly intends the judge in the story to represent God – and yet the judge seems as un God-like as possible: he has no respect for God and he doesn’t care whether he does the right thing for people or not. But the point of the parable is to say: if even a rotten judge like that can be persuaded to do the right thing by someone who pesters him day and night until it happens, then of course God, who cares passionately about people, will vindicate them and see that justice is done. This woman, you will recall, wanted justice against her opponents, and finally receives it when her opponents are judged.
The parable assumes a time when God’s chosen people will be vindicated after their life of suffering, holiness and service. Christians may have been denounced, ridiculed persecuted or simply ignored, but ultimately God will act and show them and the world that they are truly his people. Of course, when this was written, Christians were suffering at the hands of those who didn’t believe. Many Christians today in many parts of the world are also facing vociferous and often violent opposition. We have been remembering Syria where the Christians are facing awful problems.
If we’re honest, our reserved and respectable Anglicanism is rarely in danger of upsetting people too much – in fact it’s our mediocrity and niceness which causes us to be ridiculed or despised in some quarters. Jesus – the person we say we follow, was never simply ‘nice’ or mediocre. He burnt with a passion for humanity – a passion that so upset the authorities, that they put him to death.
But, of course we do experience suffering and opposition – although maybe not as a direct result of our faith. And the point is that, in the face of discouragement and opposition, we should persevere. And in particular, persevere in prayer and not lose heart because we know that we have a judge who will ultimately vindicate us.
The Timothy reading is again in the context of a world that doesn’t ‘get the point’ and where people have wandered off to other beliefs and ways of thinking. (So, not much change there then!). But despite the indifference or opposition of others, Timothy is exhorted by Paul to ‘convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching’ – regardless of how he feels. ‘In season and out of season’ one version says.
Yes, it’s easy to share the message when the going is good and metaphorically the sun is shining. But Paul here encourages Timothy to persevere even when things get tough as they will from time to time.
And although the message here is directed to a Christian leader in the early church, the message is a universal and timeless one – to persevere against all opposition and indifference.
There are no prizes for spotting what word connects these two NT passages: perseverance – perseverance in prayer and perseverance in sharing the good news of the kingdom – despite suffering, or pain or persecution.
Now if both of these things were easy, we wouldn’t have to be encouraged to persevere. Why would Jesus have to tell a parable encouraging the disciples to keep praying and not lose heart – if losing heart was not a very real possibility?
And why would Paul exhort Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the message regardless of whether the time is favourable or not – if there wasn’t the real possibility that this was a difficult thing to do.
If you are finding the Christian life difficult, If, instead of floating along on a rush of euphoria and excitement as some people seem able to do, you find yourself having to grit your teeth and simply get on with the job of praying and living as a Christian, then these are words for you. Ultimately they are words of encouragement – because both passages state that this situation is only temporary.
Underlying both of these passages is the idea that God is at work doing something of universal and infinite importance: He has been at work and willcontinue to be at work until ‘At the right time’ the writer to the Ephesians says, ‘God will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.’
And that’s what will pull us through – enable us to continue – to put one foot in front of the other: it’s our confidence and hope in God, that he will do what he has said he will do and bring us at last into the full and glorious presence of God – when we will see him face-to-face, when we will see clearly and not through what seems like dirty glass.
I expect most of us can think of situations where we have persevered because of the rewards that lie ahead – and often it’s the greater the reward – the greater the perseverance. Even Jesus was motivated by what was ahead of him: the writer to the Hebrews says that “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So what is it in our lives that is drawing us forward in hope?
Do you have a vision of the joy that is set before you? Are you aware that you are a part of God’s salvation history – God’s plan which started before the foundation of the world and ends…well, who really knows? Paul said “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him” says Paul in 1 Cor 2:9. (although, thank God, by his Spirit, we do get glimpses of that glorious future).
Christian perseverance can be very tough – as countless people have witnessed through the ages. Faith will need perseverance to continue the journey she has started today. Parents and Godparents will need perseverance as you bring her up in the knowledge and love of God. Every baptised believer in this room needs perseverance to make it to the end of the journey. But Christian perseverance is (or should be) perseverance with hope – and that makes all the difference
Let me finish by reading a great message of hope from Romans 8
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son-ship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
So, brothers and sisters – let’s patiently persevere – with hope in our hearts.