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Sunday, October 16, 2016 | 4:00 p.m.

Hoping for God's Justice

Abbi Heimach-Snipes
Pastoral Resident

Psalm 119:81–94, 105
Luke 18:1–8


I have to admit this week’s Gospel reading was hard for me. This parable begins “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people,” but in my heart it reads “In a certain country there was a politician who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” You can tell what’s been on my mind. And because of this, I admit to feeling a lack of faith, of feeling a sense of hopelessness, and feeling both wounded and paralyzed by the racist, sexist, and xenophobic political rhetoric, the lack of transparency from government leaders, and the deep divisions in our country that make justice and equity seem like a long shot. I admit to questioning the so-called inevitable presence of God’s justice and turning to Psalm 10 that begins: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

I share this because I believe that in Christian community it is important to be honest about where we’re at in our faith and that our faith journey is one of ups and downs and winding roads. I also believe that it’s important to come together to remind ourselves that we are a resurrection people, that hope and faith is a discipline and a practice—not an emotion. When we worship together as Christian community, we make space for our grief, anger, joy, and wonder, but we also keep practicing the sense of hope that is the heartbeat of the Jesus-following life that we lead. So I take us back to the text of the week and remind us (and myself) that it is not just about an unjust judge. It’s about a woman who possesses a fearless and unrelenting faith, a God who scoffs at such a judge and says, “Well, of course I will quickly grant justice,” and also a question turned on us, asking, “Will God find faith on earth?”

Whenever “widow” comes up in scripture, we know that the author of the text is not just referring to a woman whose spouse died, but because of the patriarchal structure of biblical antiquity, a woman who has lost her male spouse has less financial power, less means for survival, and is in need of some kind of justice. She longs for a society where her sole existence can be enough. Therefore, the woman in today’s scripture is in some kind of a situation that to many of us seems hopeless. The judge she turns to is named as unjust. She has no reason to believe that justice will come, and yet she persists. She continues to pray. She continues to cry out and ask and demand justice. And she wears that judge down. She makes him so annoyed and bothered that the impossible happens. He grants her justice. She knew the judge would not have compassion. She might not have believed that justice would ever come, and yet she practiced hope. She held onto at least a mustard-seed-size sense of faith that she kept on trying, and it was enough for justice to come.

In chapter 17 of Luke, just a bit before the text we read for today, some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God is coming. Jesus answered with “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is! For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Again in Luke, Jesus reminds us that this impossible sense of justice and the Beloved Community is not just something off in heaven that will someday come to earth, but it is both here and not here at the same time. The parable of the woman and the unjust judge is evidence of such a tension: there is both injustice and justice. The woman is an example of God’s kingdom because she lives with such profound hope and persistence for God’s justice that she plays a role of bringing it to earth. She lives the faith and does so within the tension. The kingdom of God is among her.

Her faith reminds me of a poem called “Por qué cantamos?” or “Why do we sing?” Mario Benedetti wrote this poem about Uruguay in 1975. He was a poet and journalist who lived in exile during the military dictatorship of Uruguay and wrote about the cries and the persistence and the beauty of his people. I learned of this poem through a teacher I had who reads this poem in his Christian community as a reminder to practice hope and that God’s justice demands persistence from us.

I’m going to recite a translation of this poem, but I need your help. I will read the verses, and for the refrain, I will turn to you and we will all say together, “You will ask why we sing.” We’ll continue this for a number of verses, but for the very last one, I’ll say “We sing,” and you’ll repeat that line, again saying, “We sing.”

If each hour brings death
If time is a den of thieves
The breezes carry a scent of evil
And life is just a moving target
you will ask why we sing
if our finest people are shunned
Our homeland is dying of sorrow
And the human heart is shattered
Even before shame explodes
you will ask why we sing
if the trees and the sky remain
As far off as the horizon
Some absence hovers over the evening
And disappointment colors the morning
you will ask why we sing
we sing because the river is humming
And when the river hums
The river hums
We sing because cruelty has no name
But we can name its destiny
We sing because the child because everything
Because the future because the people
We sing because the survivors
And our dead want us to sing
you will ask why we sing
we sing because shouting is not enough
Nor is sorrow or anger
We sing because we believe in people
And we shall overcome these defeats
you will ask why we sing
we sing because the sun recognizes us
And the fields smell of spring
And because in this stem and that fruit
Every question has its answer
you will ask why we sing
we sing because it is raining on the furrow
And we are the militants of life
And because we cannot and will not
Allow our song to become ashes
We sing

In this powerful poem, Mario Benedetti reflects the kingdom of God within his community. He’s honest about the reality of death and assuming hopelessness, but like Jesus’ death at the cross, Benedetti doesn’t let that be the last word. He practices hope and resurrects the resilience and strength of the community. He remembers the ancestors and strength and struggle of the people before. He looks toward the possible future for the children. He turns toward the beautiful stability of God’s creation . . . and sings. This is what they do. This is how they hold onto their humanity. They sing. Although their hearts may be crying, although their grief may try to bury them alive, they sing. They find the resources and strength within the community and sing because how else do you live? Persistence is a marker of God’s justice and part of the discipline of Christian hope. It’s what we must do too.

For God, you don’t need to persist to be enough. For God there’s always grace, justice, and reassurance. That’s a given. But in a reciprocal relationship with God, we respond to God’s grace and faith in us by practicing a faith and hope in God. We persist for justice in the here and now. We practice a sense of impossible hope like the woman in our text. We come to that Table and remember Christ’s resurrection in the bread and juice and imagine and know God’s justice deep in our bones. The woman had no reason to believe that justice would come, but it did. She rose up and persisted for justice until the unjust judge was weary. Mario Benedetti’s community sang for justice because they refused to become ashes. For us, the injustice and hatred we regularly see can never be normal and can never be acceptable. We too must rise up and believe that God can empower us to be part of God’s justice that will come. Hoping is what we do. Persisting is what we do. Wearing down unjust judges is what we do as Christians. Our hope agitates the injustice in the world, and this is how we’re a resurrection people and hope for the seemingly impossible.

Next weekend, the young adults group will be traveling to Michigan for our fall retreat. We’ll be exploring Christian hope by being honest about the hopelessness we see and experience in the U.S. and digging deep for the resources we have in our faith tradition to continue practicing hope for the work of God’s justice. Together we will rest and build community and fellowship, but we’ll also hold each other accountable and remind each other of what it means to be a resurrection people and hope and persist like the woman in our text today, because this is what we do as Christians. This is one way of reminding each other of the kingdom of God among us, that God’s justice is also here. This is where God finds faith on earth. So please pray for us as we go on our retreat, as we will also pray for you. And together, let us continue in the practice of hoping for God’s justice. Amen.