“A Love Story” – October 16, 2016

“A Love Story”

October 16, 2016 – Year C

Once upon a time a man was out in his yacht and it struck a floating log and began to sink.

This man was a devout Christian so he prayed for God to save him.  His boat sank further.  By and by a man in a canoe came by.  “Do you need help? He asked.

The man refused.  “I’m a Christian; and God will save me!”

Soon his boat was almost totally under water.  A woman in a speed boat roared up and offered her assistance.  The man refused again for the same reason.

Now his boat was completely swamped.  A helicopter from the Coast Guard appeared overhead.  “We’ll throw down a ladder!”  said a voice from the helicopter.

“No thanks,” said the man.  “I’m a Christian.  God will save me.”

So the man drowned.

He arrived in heaven.  He bowed low before the throne of God.  “I have just one question God,” he said.  “I’ve been a devout Christian all my life and I’ve always believed that you answer prayer.  Why didn’t you save me when my boat sank and I prayed for deliverance?”

“Of course I heard your prayer my child,” said God.  “I do answer prayers.  I sent a canoe, a power boat and a helicopter!  What more did you expect?”

Can’t you just imagine Jesus offering this story, to grab our attention and to remind us that God is merciful.  Approximately 2000 years ago Jesus told a story to his disciples.   It was a tale with interesting twists and characters. As the story went, there was a widow – a woman who was a nobody by society’s standards.  She had no source of income, no husband and was not even considered a real person.  This woman was a little like Canadian women prior to 1929 when woman were not legally considered persons.  Anyway, back to the tale that Jesus told.  The widow was a nobody – a bag-lady.  But she didn’t let her social standing deter her from approaching a judge at his home.  Now, the judge had no right to pass judgment on the woman.  Remember, the widow had no rights.  And further, pestering a judge at home was just not done.  Besides, as powerful as the judge was, that power and authority only resided when he was holding court.  The judge had no right to hear the case or to render a decision.

Yet, the widow was not deterred.  She pleaded her case and persistently approached the judge seeking justice.  The widow was stubbornly in the judge’s face.  Talk about audacity!

It’s a fascinating story isn’t it.  A widow – a nobody, and an unjust judge meet.  It is a tale of persistence.  It is also a story of God’s incredible mercy and grace.  But, it is also a parable where Jesus offers a series of questions rather than definitive answers.

Jesus suggests to his listeners that just as the judge in the story acted, will not God also act with mercy and grace?  Rather than legalistically following a human designed law, grace is God’s gift for persistent seekers. 

God’s power is always surprising.  While we may want God to act in dramatic and terrifying ways, God chooses the way of steady perseverance and never gives up.  While we might like to think of God as a mighty judge, instead, Jesus chooses images like a poor but persistent widow.

Those of you who have read or studied the books of Bishop John Shelby Spong recognize that he talks about God’s wasteful love.   What a fabulous description of God’s relationship with us.  Wasteful love!  Now that certainly is a powerful picture of God’s persistence in wrapping us in love and compassion.  However, that wasteful love is also a call to justice.  If all people of the world are to experience such love, there must be justice. 

So- what does wasteful love and enduring justice look like?  Surely it is the hundreds of visits that this congregation offers, to folk in hospital, hospice, care facilities and homes.  It is expressed as this church makes itself available to the community for funeral and memorial services.  It is lived out as we hand out over 35 food hampers every month. 

The 175 folk who shared Thanksgiving Dinner at the soupateria surely know something about wasteful love and seeking justice.  The dedicated workers there offered such compassion and caring that one wonders if we too are as persistent in our caring.  So it is that we are called to reach out to those who are hungry and homeless.

I believe that our gospel parable is also challenging us to pray fervently.  For when prayer is who we are, then our lives will be transformed.  It is in prayer that our hearts are bound with God and we have the strength and courage to love wastefully, just as God in return bathes us in wondrous love.  Now- perhaps you are saying that you do pray ceaselessly, but God doesn’t respond.  When we face illness, tragedy, death of loved ones and all the other struggles of life, it is easy to feel as if God is not answering your prayers.  However, if we earnestly pray “Thy will be done” then boundless love is the gift.  And then we have the courage to take the next step, and the next step, and the next step assured that God is with us.  In other words, prayer is not demanding of God what you wish God to do, but rather opening ourselves to God’s grace. 

Wasteful love and true justice transforms us as a church.  We fling our door open wide so that all people can experience the welcoming community of God’s beloved.  We embrace the person with HIV/Aids, the street-wise teenager, the lonely widow, the differently abled, the straight and the gay, the questioning sojourner, the Aboriginal  person,  and everyone who is needing the blanket of acceptance.  And yes, it is not easy.  We need to be like the widow of our story who persistently insists that justice be done.  And that may cause us to re-think long held beliefs and understandings.  It may make us squirm a little.  It may even challenge our sense of what church is all about.  But I assure you that God’s abundant love is here at Penticton United Church.

Let me finish with a true story.  “David was a devout Quaker.  During the civil rights movement, he and his African American friend went into a drugstore in the deep south and calmly ordered sodas.  All of a sudden, David felt a sharp object jabbing him in the back.  He turned to look into the angriest eyes he had ever seen.  The eyes sparked with hate.  Now that he had turned, the sharp knife was aimed directly at his heart.  David looked directly into the eyes of his adversary.  He spoke calmly and softly, “Friend,” he said, “whether you push that knife into my heart or not is obviously up to you.  I want you to know that in either event, I love you.”  The man’s hand trembled, the knife fell to the floor, and the man ran out of the drugstore.  The man had never confronted that kind of power before.”

May each of us be filled with God’s persistent, wasteful love.  Amen.

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