Faithlife Sermons

10.16.2022 - Biblical Faith - Persistent Faith

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Scripture: Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1–8 NRSV
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ”6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Persistent Faith

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Frustration

Ancient Greek mythology has a story about a king named Sisyphus who was condemned by death to roll a bolder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again for eternity. A couple of thousand years later, Dante wrote a poem comparing this same experience to purgatory, a kind of afterlife where baptized sinners went to be cleaned up for heaven. Neither of those things is taught in the Bible, but the concept of never-ending frustration is something that many of us experience. This story may not portray the afterlife, but sometimes it is what life feels like for us right now. We do a lot of heavy lifting. We feel like we’ve made some progress, and then something happens, and the boulder rolls all the way back down the mountain again. The world does not often play fair with us. I remember a sermon that Rev. Bruce Rushing, the senior pastor I served under in Illinois, preached years ago. He was raising a young teenager and trying to understand their culture around video games. He said he didn’t understand them. There were no fun video sequences when you won the game in his day. You did not earn badges or special items for making accomplishments. No, the video games he grew up with on Atari or black-and-white computer screens just got faster and faster and harder and harder until you died. There were no winners, only those who survived the longest. Everyone died on the Oregon Trail of something eventually. I remember playing many of those games, and the following generation responded to them with a powerful invention to overcome that frustration. Two magic words that made the frustration go away. Cheat Codes. Before the internet, we would go to the library or gaming stores and research cheat codes for all our favorite games. If you just pressed left, right, left, right, up, up, down, down, A, B, and hold start, and your character would suddenly become invincible, gain an extra life, or get a million dollars to spend in the game. That may sound like a win - an end to frustration. But in this microcosm of entertainment, we played out the same ways we deal with frustration in every aspect of life. We give up, or we find a way to cheat. Losing is not an option. How many times have we seen this played over and over again in the news: in sports, in entertainment, in business, in politics? All the way back to the book of Genesis, we have struggled to overcome the frustrations of life, and those frustrations have led us to make poor choices with terrible consequences. Faith - that is our relationship with God, is built on something different than success and winning. Indeed, it was Jesus who taught that only those who lose their life for His sake will find it, save it, and keep it forever. (That teaching is in all four gospels: twice in Matthew and Luke.) The purpose for our lives is not to receive something. Our reason for existence goes beyond what we can see, feel, and experience. Real love exists in relationships when they are about more than what we get out of one another, and maturing faith extends beyond that which we receive.

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Promises Made

What does that mean? Our faith, our relationship with God, is based on promises. The author of Hebrews spells this out in the first verse of Chapter 11, which says: Hebrews 11:1
Hebrews 11:1 NRSV
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
This shows us that faith is not based on what we have received - but that which we hope for. A few verses earlier, it connects faith to promises in Hebrews 10:23, which says:
Hebrews 10:23 NRSV
23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
Jesus taught this in the parable that is our passage today, but we need to understand the role of faith and promises to understand the relationships in the parable. Our parable today has three characters: a judge, a widow, and her adversary. The Hebrew law protected the widow, the orphan, and those who did not have community connections protecting them. So, a good Jewish judge would have already favored the widow. But many of the appointed judges during the time of Jesus were not Jewish at all. They were Romans who were working on behalf of the emperor. They would have promised to uphold the law of Rome rather than the law of God, and Roman law was enforced by whoever could pay the most, either in money or political favor. Widowed women usually did not have an abundance of money or political power. No one in the time of Jesus would have misunderstood this parable. Widows were left out, and judges were often unfaithful to the promises to keep justice and fairness in the land. The best of them could fall to political pressure from Rome, and the worst of them worked in league with those who took advantage of the weak and isolated. The parable here has a simple point. Even in a dark and broken world, those who persist to the point of nagging will eventually get something for their efforts. Perhaps not everything. Maybe they will only be heard. The world history of justice is full of orphans and widows who went without justice, but nothing was changed by those who gave up. The heroes who defend right against wrong are those who keep seeking justice despite the odds. So don't give up. Even a bad judge will help out the widow eventually if she is persistent. She will wear his patience out, and whatever benefit he gains from siding with her adversary will not be worth the pain of dealing with her. You’ve heard variations of that story before, from The Tortoise and The Hare to The Little Engine that Could. Keep on going! Think Positive! Never Give Up! Keep up the good fight! Those are all very common, very acceptable, secular understandings and applications of this passage. Our world tells us that if we keep fighting, we will eventually win. That’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says this:
“Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and even a bad judge gets it right every once in a while. What, then, about your God? Our God is greater, wiser, and more loving than even the best judges that ever lived. Our God not only metes out justice, but He also defines it by Who He is. We only know what goodness, mercy, justice, and righteousness are because we know God. If a bad judge can get it right eventually, how much faster and better will our God take care of us? Then Jesus turns the tables on us. He turns the question about God’s apparent slowness in coming and setting things right back upon us as His questioners, saying this: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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Promises Kept

That widow would have been a fool to put her faith in an unjust judge. She would have been a fool to put her faith in herself. She knew better than to trust her adversary, her enemy, to do right. She needed God to put her faith in. We make promises when we put our faith in others. Last week I mentioned that Gratitude toward God is like the muscles of a body. Following that analogy, Promises would be like the bones. The more we make promises, the more structure we have to hold us upright. The more we keep those promises, the stronger those bones become. This is so important when it comes to our own faith. How many of you have seen heaven? If you have not been there, how can you know for sure how to get there? And yet, we are called to live each day as if we are taking another step in that direction. Many days it involves making choices and doing things that take away from our own happiness because Jesus calls us to do so. Remember, those who try to save their lives will lose it, but those who lose their lives for His sake will find it, save it, and keep it forever. Giving up this life in hope of eternal life sounds crazy, but that is exactly what we are called to do as Christians. Faith is what we do when we make and keep promises to God, whether His promises are coming true right now or not. We trust, we have faith, that they will, because we know Him. So when Jesus asks whether He will find faith in the world, when He finally comes to answer all our prayers, deliver justice, and make everything right, we can answer, “Yes, He will, and He can start with us!” We can choose to prove our faith by making and keeping promises with Him one step at a time. As you walk: left foot, right foot - you can say the words to yourself, “Make a promise, keep a promise.”

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One Step at a Time

We carry our cross, one step at a time, one promise made and kept at a time. That is challenging enough, but it is how we witness and share Christ by our words and actions. It means going through frustrations in life without giving up and without resorting to cheating. It means trusting God even when we seem to lose. The only thing harder than going through faith frustrations yourself is watching your disciples go through it. You can share worldly wisdom with them, telling them to keep trying and never give up. You can share your own stories of persistent faith with them. Watching us show our persistent faith and hearing the stories of our struggles may be some of the very things they need to grow a persistent faith of their own that will last a lifetime. But the most important thing they need is God. If we give them all the wisdom of the world, but they do not have God, they will put their faith in something or someone that will fail them eventually, and that someone may be us. As parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, friends, neighbors, mentors, and coaches, we will all fail them - but God will not. So we must share and show them that our faith is rooted firmly in the God we lay our lives down for, knowing that He has far better in store for all of us.
Sunday school starts in just a few minutes and come back and join us for our Sunday evening service at 6 pm. Gus Lavin will be sharing at that service.
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