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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 20, 2019

I am probably one of the last dinosaurs to have a radio that tunes with a knob. Most of the time it is just fine as I only listen to one station, but some evenings I turn it on and it is scratchy and hard to hear. I don’t know if it is the weather or a problem at the station, but I am not able to do what I love, which is listen to music (and sometimes sing). I have to move the knob very gently to find the radio station again so I can tune in to my favorites.

God is going to bring justice Jesus says when God brings God’s kingdom. There is no question about that. God will bring justice because God loves God’s creation and wants every good thing for it. The problem is that justice does not seem to be coming very quickly. When the Christian community began, everyone expected God to come within the generation of the people who knew Jesus. But it didn’t happen. And as the generations rolled along and God didn’t come, people began to wonder. Was this thing really going to happen? If so, now would be a good time. There is so much wrong in the world. So many are suffering. There are so many oppressed. Thousands of starving people die every day. Whether it is Jesus’ time or the 21st century, all of those things are true. And it is also always true that it is hard to have faith and wait for God’s time. Straying from God’s ways is an ever-present possibility.

Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to lose faith. If they lose faith, they will not be able to do their work of bringing in the kingdom. He has an answer for their wavering hope. Pray. Always. Persistently. So you will not lose heart. That is how you will stay in tune with God and God’s promises. That is how you will keep the faith and help others to keep the faith. Prayer will not make God bring the kingdom in fully with the promised justice any faster. That is not its purpose. The purpose is to keep you remembering what God has promised and hoping for that day, rather than losing heart and wandering away.

Jesus tells a parable about a widow and an unjust judge to give shape to his lesson. Judges were responsible in Jesus’ time for taking care of those who could not care for themselves – the widow, the orphan and the alien. But this judge doesn’t. He seems to take perverse pleasure in turning such people away because he doesn’t fear God or respect people. But the judge meets his match in the widow. She is not going to give up. She nags and nags him until he gives in because she is such a problem. She had what she must have thought was a hopeless case, but she wouldn’t give up. And her persistence brings her the answer she wants against all odds.

This parable is about someone who is not like God, Jesus says. God is completely just. God hears the prayers of God’s people. God knows that people want justice to come. God has love and compassion for God’s people and wants them to experience the full coming of the kingdom. Jesus says God’s kingdom will come quickly – but not by our definition. Our job is not to worry about when. Our job is to keep praying, keep bringing the world’s needs and our needs before God. The persistent prayer will keep us tuned in to the prize that is coming.

But talking to God is not the only form of prayer we should engage in. Timothy learns about some other forms. One is studying Scripture. Being that close to the God-inspired word is a way to remember the promises and, for Timothy, to help others remember the promises. All scripture is good for teaching, for reminding people of how God has moved in the past and how God will move in the future. In this case, the Scripture means the Hebrew Bible because there is no “New Testament” yet, though Paul’s letters were probably in circulation and people may have begun to regard them as Scripture as well. Scripture is also good for reproof, correction and training in the righteous behavior we are supposed to keep practicing as we help usher in God’s kingdom. Righteous behavior is another form of persistent prayer we can employ, doing our best to bring God’s justice to the world.

Timothy can be guaranteed that he is going to have trouble, Paul says. People are fickle. And when things get hard or when the kingdom doesn’t come, people will look for whatever will suit them, not what God’s will is for their lives. They will have itchy ears and will want to listen to false teachers. A nearly empty congregation is enough to make any preacher feel discouraged and Timothy has already been doing some wavering. But Timothy must be persistent in the face of this feeling of hopelessness. He must continue in what he has been called to do, whether times are good or bad. He is to carry out the work of an evangelist even in the face of suffering. Doing his work is another form of prayer that will give him hope and keep him connected to the ways of God that he has been trained in by his mother and grandmother and by Paul.

Another form of prayer we are called to is persistent listening. The Jews are in exile because they have disobeyed God. They have not been persistent in keeping the Commandments. They have worshipped other gods and have failed to love one another properly. But no matter how bad things look God will help them. God will bring Israel and Judah back to their land. But most of all God will put a new heart and a new spirit in people to make it possible for them to stay tuned in to God’s will, to be faithful and obedient. But it won’t work if God gives them the new heart and the new spirit and they fail to listen to what God is saying to them. They will go off the rails again. Their hearts will give them nothing but static and they will stray off the mark as my radio does. They will be given God’s Spirit in their hearts, but they need to be open to what the Spirit is saying. Persistent listening in their lives for God’s word to be spoken is what will keep them on track.

God’s kingdom is surely coming. God has promised justice and God will deliver it to God’s beloved children. But since it is clear that God’s definition of quickly is not our definition of quickly, we must wait and hope. The way to stay tuned in to God’s goal of bringing God’s reign on earth is to pray – pray by talking to God, pray by reading Scripture, pray by continuing to practice righteous behavior in all that we do, pray by being faithful to God’s particular call to us and pray by listening to God. We have to tune our hearts to God’s ways and follow them or we will surely fall off the path God has opened for us.

Another way to pray persistently is by giving. Giving out of gratitude for all God has done in Jesus and for all God has promised to do. Giving to advance God’s work in the world. Today we begin our commitment campaign – a time when we pray about all that we have received from God and ask God what part of our financial gifts we are called to give for the work of the church. St. John’s needs your support to minister as we are called to do – to do our work faithfully for the kingdom. When we give out of gratitude we will remember God’s actions in the past and God’s promises for the future. We will live in hope. As with all forms of prayer, we are called to be consistent and persistent about giving as we can. Prayerfully consider your pledge and stay tuned in to God’s love for you and God’s promise to bring justice.