Keawalai Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, October 17, 2010
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I imagine for the people of ancient Israel and Judah the words of the prophet Jeremiah often caused them great distress. They were often words of condemnation and punishment.
But Jeremiah also offered words of consolation and encouragement. Despite the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and the exile of the people to Babylon, Jeremiah assures them a time is coming when their knowledge of God will be revealed to them in a new way.
It is into their anguished lives that Jeremiah comes and instructs them: to put down roots in Babylon; build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what is produced; marry and have sons and daughters; seek the welfare of the city and pray on its behalf. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Their attachment to the Temple and to the city of Jerusalem is no longer necessary. The old covenant that God made with the people when God took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt will become a new covenant.
Thus God says, “I will put my law (of love) within them” – not on stone tablets – but “on their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
“No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall know me, from the last of them to the greatest. I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Some may argue that the new covenant is intended only for the “house of Israel” and no one else. But I would venture to say that it is in and through the new covenant that is ours in Jesus Christ that God has also put the law of love within us - and on our hearts.
All of this is to say that in many ways we are not unlike the people of ancient Judah and ancient Israel. Like them we form our attachments to our houses of worship. In the same way they found comfort in going to the Temple, so it is that we find comfort in going to our various churches.
And in the same way they found comfort in laying claim to the temple grounds and the city of Jerusalem, so it is that we find comfort in laying claim to other grounds and other cities. But Jeremiah’s words to the people and to us, is that we ought not to be so quick to assume our knowledge of God is limited to any building or place.
We ought not be so quick to assume that our doctrines and dogmas and our rules and regulations are the source of what gives strength to our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us. God’s law of love has been put within each of us. It is written on our hearts.
As Jeremiah encouraged the Hebrew exiles to live faithfully and not despair in their circumstances in Babylon, so it is that Jesus calls the disciples to live with a persistent faith in all circumstances – “to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) Before Jesus tells the disciples the parable of the widow and the judge, we learn that he had been responding to questions from the Pharisees concerning the timing of the coming of God’s reign.
But the parable is not a story about signs or forecasts of the future but the final hope of those who are held in low regard by society. In Jesus’ time and day it was the responsibility of a judge to settle disagreements between people.
Disputes involving widows as well as orphans were not uncommon. The law did not allow a widow to inherit her husband’s estate. Instead the estate was passed on to the deceased man’s sons or brothers, not his wife.
If family members did not act with justice and honor in providing for the widow of their father or brother, a judge was the widow’s last recourse for securing the resources necessary to live. For those without any rank or status in society, a story about a widow with no power and a judge with no compassion might not have shocked anyone.
But the judge did not simply lack compassion. He was also unjust. He did not fear God nor did he have respect for the people.
The widow is persistent. She refuses to accept her fate. The judge is astounded and though he did not fear God or have respect for the people, he is eventually worn down by her persistence and grants her request.
So like the widow, we do not lose heart. We hold fast to the law of God’s love that is written on our hearts. Through all of life’s circumstances we know God is present.
There is not much else to say. Whatever our shortcomings or failures may be; whatever we may have said or done to cause another to suffer, God forgives us and in that forgiveness we will come to know the Lord. We will know in our hearts that we have been made right in our relationship with God. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, pages 170-175)
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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