Sunday, October 21, 2007

Does Nagging Help?

Churches know something about nagging – well at least if you ask most parishioners.

We nag about needing money. We nag about needing committee members. We nag about dinners, and Sunday School and fundraisers.

And THEN we nag about saying your prayers and caring for the poor and studying scripture on a daily basis. We are nags.

On the other hand, have you ever tried standing up in church once and saying, "We need new members of the finance committee. Those interested should see me at the back of the church." Just wait for the crowd you'll get with that one.

The reality is, nagging does work – somewhat. I mean, we're still functioning, aren't we?

But is that really what Jesus was talking about; beating people over the head with a request to do a job they really don't want to do? We need to look at what the widow in today's Gospel was doing first because that makes all the difference.

Jesus tells us that the widow went to the judge asking for justice against her opponent. You need to know that justice throughout scripture is a concept that focuses especially on God's "special regard for the poor and weak…" in which "a corresponding quality is demanded of God's people. Justice is closely related to love and grace rather than being a contrasting principle. It thus provided vindication, deliverance, and creation of community in addition to retribution." (Harpers Bible Dictionary)

That's a way of saying that justice for first century Jews was directed at what was the rights of the poor. The rules of the game, as it were, demanded that widows and other poor as recognized by society be cared for. Those who chose not to do so violated Jewish law. The woman, in other words, is demanding that her opponent give her her rights.

Those rights were simple. Food for the stomach, a roof over the head. That's something we can understand. If we believe what Jesus says, all we have to do is keep asking, and it'll finally be granted. In the same way, if we keep asking God for JUSTICE, God will grant it.

Only, does God grant justice to them? Billions upon billions of poor, needy, sick, injured, abused people have begged God over the millennia for justice, yet they suffer and die in pain and squalor. It's certainly happening today and in fact is happening to more people than ever before. How can we say that God will grant justice if we just pray more? What is Jesus telling us if that's not it?

First, as people of faith, we keep praying and working for justice anyway. Despite all appearance. Why? Because even if it doesn't help everyone, it will help some, and the more we help bring true justice, the closer we come to the Kingdome of Heaven.

Second, and more important. There is something we need from God which is greater than this earthly sort of justice. It is the only thing that we can have on this earth that cannot be stolen or broken or denied us, and it's the only thing we can bring with us from this life to the next. God's Presence.

God's presence in our life is – in fact – God's justice. Because while food will fail us someday, God's presence will always be there. While shelter will someday no longer help us, God's presence will always be there. While money and friends and yes, even the internet will someday be completely and totally meaningless to us, God's presence will always be there and will always fill us with God's love and peace. None of these other things – which are part of earthly justice – can ever do that. Let's face it, there are countless people who "have it all" and are miserable. That's not what they truly need.

Again, not that we should deny them to those in physical need – it is God's will that we care for each other, and without that, we can't begin to understand God's love. But when Jesus says that our Father in heaven will hear our pleas for justice, he's telling us to keep asking for it despite appearances because God will never deny that presence, yet asking for it is the only way to become aware of it.

I said a few weeks ago that we go to church to practice following God. Let's practice here praying – becoming aware of God's presence. There are a lot of distractions, but if we keep at it, never give up, we can become more and more aware. And as we grow in our awareness of God's presence, of God's love for us, we'll want to do as Paul says in his epistle: share that love with others around us. With those who cry out in their own need for God.

So true and ultimate justice is knowing God's presence and sharing it with a world hungry for real bread, real water. Jesus says you don't have to nag God for that sort of justice. Just ask, and the one thing we need above all else is ours. Amen.