Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Someone's Knocking at the Door

Knock Knock.  Maybe you remember Russell the young Wilderness Explorer from the movie Up .  Ernest young Russell who comes to cranky old Mr. Frederickson’s door.  Knock Knock.  Good afternoon.  Are you in need of any assistance today? I could help you cross your yard.  I gotta help you do something! Mr. Fredrickson says no, I don’t need any help, and he slams the door.  Knock Knock.  This child does not go away, he does not rest until he can help. 

Jesus tells us that unless we seek the Kingdom of God with the heart and passion of a child, we will not find it. He says ‘truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’  Children know a lot about persistence.  Maybe they ask to many questions, or pitch a fit when they cannot get what they want.  Children know about persistence.  Today we encounter Jesus, the Pharisees and the disciples deep in a dialogue about the Kingdom of God. They ask Jesus the questions we still ask:  what exactly does it look like, where is it and how do we get there? 

Jesus tells us a parable, a story within a story, something quite short and strange.  He begins with the clue that we are to pray always and never lose heart. Prayer is not like making three wishes, or throwing coins in a fountain.  Prayer is responding to God’s desires, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Jesus instructs us that we are to pray always, so that our whole lives are directed toward God’s kingdom. We are not to sit down, we are not to give up.  We are not to play dead and let someone else do the work.

In a city, somewhere at sometime, there was a judge who did not fear God and had no respect for people at all.  In ancient Israel the duties of a judge are clearly outlined.  His task is to maintain social peace, to decide disputes between all the people of his land, rich and poor, native and foreigner.  He is to hear complaints fairly and without prejudice.  The book of Deuteronomy states that judges are to
 “Hear out the small and the great alike and do not be intimidated by anyone for the judgment is God’s.”   Like a Hollywood villain we meet a judge who doesn’t care for God’s will or peace on earth. 

Maybe he lined his own pockets with the favors of the wealthy, maybe he had lost interest in compassion. He seems to be a cantankerous curmudgeon of the first order.  At the same time in the same place there was a woman who had lost everything.  A widow with no generous sons, or righteous brother’s in law.  She had no means of support, no man to speak for her, and no man to defend her cause.  Yet she knew that God will judge his people by how we treat people in need of help. 

The scriptures are clear, all people in the land are to be cared for because we were once slaves in Egypt who journeyed through the desert with no support.  God set us free and cared for us in our wandering and so we are to seek justice for those who wander now.  So this persistent widow comes to this cranky judge, she stands outside his house.  She knocks on his door.  Can you help me?  Can you help me?  Grant me justice.  Protect me.  Defend me.  Again and again she pleads her case, when she has no case by the standards of her time.  Something breaks through to the judge, seeps through the hard rock walls he had built around himself.  He is so bothered by the demands of this lowly widow that he chooses to grant her compassion. 

We ask Jesus about the kingdom of God and he tells us this parable.   He tells us that the reign of God is a place where the poor, the weak and the stranger are set free.  It is a place where the least of us is cared for, where the woman with no standing has a voice.  He says the reign of God is already within us, but it is also far off.  It is within us because we were created in the image of God, and given the basic rules of God’s way love god … love your neighbors (all of them) just as God loves you.  God’s kingdom is built by his compassion, built by his compassion planted in us.   The kingdom is also not yet because we fail to keep knocking on the door, we do not pray constantly.   We are exhausted, worn out by a million demands, wondering if we can live up to our promises. 

The classic understanding of this parable is that we are supposed to see ourselves in the unworthy widow, knocking at the door of the anti-God.  If this mean old man will grant you justice, how much more will our loving God hear your cry.  If we keep knocking, keep praying and serving and we do not give up the true God will respond with love and mercy.  All of which is true.

What if that isn’t the end of what we are to learn.  What if we are also the unjust judge?  What if it is we who do not really love our neighbors?  What if it is me who fails to do what I have promised? What if I am too busy with myself and my concerns to hear the call of those in need?  Who or what knocks at your door each night, pleading for help?  Is it mothers with nothing to feed their children?
Oceans in need of restoration?  What if the widow is like God?  Who is beating at our door, pleading day and night?

What if it is God knocking at our door,  shouting our name, calling us to help? Sometimes our practices of the Christian faith are like a young scout knocking at a stranger’s door, full of hope and enthusiasm.  Sometimes we are more like the lonely old man,  so lost in our sadness that we growl at the world.  Jesus invites us to live God’s kingdom, compelling us to pray with lips of hope and lives of mercy. 

The God to whom we pray is compassionate, but the prophets tell us he is also a little weary of watching us lay down in the road and play dead.  Where is the kingdom of God?  It is already within you.    God is knocking at our door.  Knock Knock.  Good afternoon.  Can you help me? Can you help me? Can you show me faith on the earth?

Probably October 2010
Epiphany Episcopal Church, Socorro, New Mexico