Sunday, October 17, 2010

Twenty-First after Pentecost

RCL Track One, Proper 24C
Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Luke 18: 1-8

Good morning, and grace and peace to you, as we gather here on this beautiful fall morning. I was thinking this week how as we watch the leaves begin to turn and have the first hints of frosty mornings here in Pittsburgh, our friends in Peru are moving along into the early weeks of spring.

It’s always interesting to me to think about how these associations get turned upside down hemispherically. To imagine Christmas Eve just a few days after the first day of summer, or Easter for that matter, as the nights grow longer and the leaves begin to fall.

In any event, wonderful this morning and with thanks to our Five Talents Prayer Circle for hosting the annual Harvest Brunch—which is I guess a decidedly Northern Hemisphere way of thinking in mid-October. And as we gather our thoughts and prayers and support for the ministries the Prayer Circle and all of us have supported for a number of years now, in the microcredit financing outreach of Five Talents in Lima, and of the ways that outreach takes place not simply as an economic matter, but also gathering a community for social support and life skills and business skills and training, and spiritual formation. Certainly something we all are privileged to be a part of.

When Craig Cole, the director of Five Talents, visits us here in Pittsburgh, he always expresses great enthusiasm and thanks for the ways St. Andrew’s has participated in this ministry. What we always say, though, is that we are honored to be able to take part.

And it is an honor as well in the same way to have grown in friendship over these years with John and Susan Park, missionaries in Lima, where John serves at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and with ministries that reach out into the poorest communities of the city and region. Some of us have enjoyed the Brunch already, at the 10 a.m. sitting, but if you haven’t, please do come over for a most enjoyable time and always great food and great company.

I love the Jeremiah reading this morning, as it is part of the series that I know I’ve commented on over the past few weeks. To hear from this ancient text such an inspiring word of hope and encouragement. Spoken first to the people scattered in their exile after the fall of Jerusalem. As I’m sure they must have had these huge issues of identity, a huge crisis of faith. What kind of a God is it that would let something like this happen? What can it possibly mean anymore to affirm the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David’s God, who ruled his Covenant People from Mount Zion? No Temple anymore. No priesthood in any meaningful way. No nation. What’s the point? Here we are in Iraq, in Persia, in Egypt, in Syria. Why not just turn the page? Move on . . . .

And in the midst of all this, Jeremiah speaks a word of encouragement, to hang in there, to trust in the power and good intention of God, and the power of God, to redeem, to repair, to renew and restore. To honor his holy Covenant. We may have fallen, but he will lift us up. We may have broken our end of the deal, turned our back on the promises we made, and now we are suffering the consequences.

But he will not forsake us. With him there is forgiveness, life, and hope.

A good word. And a word they seem to have heard. A word that sustained them not just for days and weeks, but though months and years, and even from one generation to the next.

The gospel reading from St. Luke has something to say about this as well. As Luke interprets the parable of the Unjust Judge in the introductory sentence. It is a story, he tells us, about the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Even in this broken world, a world of corruption and untruth, a world that sometimes seems to us to be very far from God, there are moments when the right things happen. Even if sometimes or even often for the wrong reason. There are these moments. When the good guys win. When the nice guy finishes first. In the Five Talents Prayer Circle we have moments like this when we read the stories of women and men and children on the very margins of the human family, who with incredible personal strength and intelligence and creativity and generous dignity and wonderful faith are able to find a new way not simply to survive but to flourish and prosper. By every objective measure for them it was already “three strikes and you’re out.” But they didn’t give up. They didn’t lose hope. They believed even when every available shred of evidence told them that their story was over before it even started. Like the Widow before the Unjust Judge. Refusing to take “no” for an answer.

Right smack dab in the middle of this broken world, scattered like exiles, lost, expelled from a home that has been for all intents and purposes erased from the map of the earth. But not losing heart. Discovering even in this broken time, that as we would bend the knee of our hearts, he will lift us up.

There is this little hint of Advent in the question Jesus asks at the end of the gospel reading. More than a month away, but I guess Advent is never that far away. What will the Son of Man find, when he comes? Who will be there to greet him?

A parable about the need to pray always and not lose heart. To live wherever we are, leaning forward with expectation. Knowing deep down this morning and always in the midst of our lives that as we will hold out our empty hands to receive whatever he has in mind for us, he will feed us with the Bread of Heaven.

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