The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on Luke, Chapter 18, verses 1-8

The parable of the widow and the unjust judge”

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts and our minds, may all of it be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.

 During the introduction of the reading this morning, you might have found yourself praying on the sidelines as Jesus instructed his listeners to do the same.

You might have found yourself aligned with the woman who perseveres in seeking support over and against an unnamed adversary.

Or you might have found yourself sitting up front with those first followers in the way whose passion for change has them hanging on Jesus’ word.

It is good to locate yourself somewhere in the context of the reading as you hear it so as to deepen your awareness of how God’s word is speaking to your life and our life as a church.

Coming back to the present moment, however, I am aware that we, in the United Church have been celebrating World Food Sunday annually since 1979. 

World Food Sunday is usually set aside to be celebrated on the third Sunday in October. 

As such, it’s a day that many United Church of Canada’s congregations make space in their service to do some awareness raising around food security and food justice issues. 

Thirty seven years later, we continue to celebrate World Food Sunday. 

With world hunger needs ever before us, I am glad for the opportunity to continue with the awareness raising and the opportunity to consider how we might make a difference.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with one of our longstanding Knox lay leaders who told me a story recalling an experience of dividing up and sharing unequal portions of food at church to show a concrete example of what it feels like when some have more than others.

Thirty seven years since the awareness raising initiative about world hunger has passed already-Oh my! 

How quickly time has passed and how slowly things change!

The good news is that my experience in most congregations where I’ve served in ministry and here at Knox is this:

We do like to take part in ministries that involve breaking and sharing bread together!

Whether it be making sandwiches to take down to First United, foodstuffs gathered for our Thanksgiving food display last week, or our monthly community lunch meals we share with others, we are good at amassing and sharing food with the hungry, the lonely, and the isolated.

Though we know these ministries to be important and meaningful for all involved, still,  it is good to take a breather or a pause and to step back to get a wide angle view on world hunger.

Let’s begin with a few related facts as we celebrate the thirty seventh annual celebration of World Food Sunday in the United Church.

For example, did you know that 1 in 9 people around the world are chronically hungry?

Did you know that there are 5 million children around the world who die each year of malnourishment?

And closer to home, here in Canada, did you know that in there are more than 100,000 hungry children in the province of Alberta alone?

And

Did you know that 32% of our foodbank clients are children?

Further to that, did you know that here in Canada, we waste  approximately 40% of the food we purchase for our own consumption?

Sounds disheartening, doesn’t it?

But, just in case you might be wondering why I am persisting with this train of thought,  the point is this:

despite our best efforts,  food security and food justice issues are just not going away.

The fact is they are becoming more and more apparent.

How then might we, as followers in the way of Jesus, eager to make a difference in the world that lies beyond our doors-how might we make a bigger dent in the problem? 

Or as we sing in the refrain of our  hymn, “Go make a difference” how might we be about the going and making a difference in the world beyond our doors?

Our scripture passage from Luke’s gospel for today provides us with a place to begin. 

Here, in the first verse of the 18th chapter, Jesus tells all who have ears to listen that “we need to pray always and not lose heart”. 

This last week in our gratitude study we spent a considerable time talking about  prayer and prayerfulness; about what constitutes prayer and what prayerfulness looks like. 

Maybe that’s what sustained the poor widow as she took her complaint to the unjust judge.

Going back to my own experience of hearing the parable this morning, I find myself wondering about the woman’s embodied tenacity in her gestures and her facial expressions as she pleads with the judge.  Could it be that her whole being embodies a persistent prayerfulness that exemplifies what Jesus means when he speaks of praying without ceasing?

 There’s no clue in the passage to clarify what’s really at the root of the woman’s plea but we do know that hunger was a real and pressing concern in Jesus’ time. 

In my imagination, I see a woman small in stature, but imposing in dignified grace as she presents her case to the seemingly indifferent judge. I can even hear the woman’s tired, but persistent voice, and I can see her outstretched hands.  And my mind boggles at her relentless persistence.

The woman's persistence finally pays off we’re told,  as the unjust judge, who, wonder of wonders, has a change of attitude in response to the woman's pleas. 

“If I grant her justice” he tells himself,  “then this tiresome woman will not wear me out by continually coming” to my place of work.

Justice granted but from a place of expediency rather than a place of heart.

In our introductions this morning, we also spoke a little about how Jesus’ parables are ambiguous and provocative. 

That is, Jesus uses this method of story telling by starting out with what seems like ordinary folk grappling with an ordinary and familiar circumstance. 

As we are drawn in to the story expecting predictable outcomes flowing out of a predictable line of thought, Jesus adroitly takes us into a surprisingly different direction. 

Herein lies the gift of the parable. 

Thinking for a minute on the two strong characters portrayed here, we might find ourselves easily resonating with the plight of the poor vulnerable woman, one whose persistence in prayer grounds her in action that leads to change.

After all, who hasn’t’ had some experience of feeling marginalized and in need, whatever that need may be. 

Who among us hasn’t felt the effects of bullying or some other experience of exclusion? 

Who among us hasn’t had some experience worthy of praying without ceasing for our needs to be met?

But then, its also worth considering where the character of the unjust judge might resonate with our own character. 

Was he really all that shallow and full of self importance? 

Perhaps he has a long suffering wife and family somewhere who is able to see the good in him. 

Because of his own sense of privilege and self absorption, real hunger may never be an issue for him.

All this makes me think on the times in my own life when I have been self absorbed, busy, and blinded to the needs of others. 

How about you?

The story of the unjust judge’s capacity to relent is instructive. 

Even though his motivation for granting the woman's needs is not genuine or authentic, it is a beginning.  It is a shift in culture that gives me hope.

At this point in the reading,  Jesus gifts us with the nugget of truth for today which is this: 

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

With these final words, we, like the disciples, find ourselves back at the start of this morning’s story left with questions about what all this might mean for own lives and for the lives of others.

The good news for today?

The parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge brings into close contact with our own vulnerabilities and our own privilege. 

Further to that the parable reminds us not only that our God is just, our God is a God of mercy and grace. 

Our God, unlike the unjust judge who responds out of expediency, our God responds out of place of compassion and love.

Our God hears every prayer and will be quick to grant justice to those in need even though that might not be readily apparent.

Trusting in that good news, what might we do or be about as followers in the way of Jesus?

On this, the occasion of the thirty seventh anniversary of World Food Day whose purpose is awareness raising around the topic of world hunger,  we can begin by praying without ceasing for people everywhere who are engaged in ministries that feed body and soul. 

We can pray for hungry people wherever they may find and teach us about how to be the body of Christ in this time and in this place.

And, we can live in bold confidence and hope that these our prayers, can become a springboard for action in the co-creation of God’s vision of shalom.  

May it be so.  Amen.