You belong to God, and you are God’s justice answer to the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 29 C
Texts: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Luke 18:1-18; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“They will be my people,” God says.
That’s God’s new promise Jeremiah declares today: God will bring all God’s people together and start over. “I will write my law on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be my people,” God says. “Everyone will know me.”
And God means everyone. Twice God says that this new covenant, this new promise, will be made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. All God’s people, all the chosen ones, are included.
It’s hard to imagine the impact of this promise. If Judah had little hope in their own return from exile, they certainly had long since abandoned any hope for their siblings and cousins to the north, lost for 150 years by this time. But God says, “I know where everyone is, and I’m blessing them all.” Everyone will be God’s people again.
This new promise is fulfilled in Jesus, God-with-us, the Anointed of God, and in Christ we see the true breadth of the Triune God’s promise: it is for all people, the whole world, all God’s children. Everyone is now chosen, everyone now belongs.
You belong. You are God’s. So, Jesus tells you, pray always.
That’s why he tells this story.
Jesus says, “If someone as corrupt as this judge finally gives justice because he’s tired of all the asking, how much more will your God give justice to God’s chosen ones? That is, to you, to everyone.
So don’t lose heart, Jesus says. You matter. You can pray and God will hear, God will answer. If this widow doesn’t give up trying to connect with this wretched public official, who doesn’t care for God or for people, don’t give up trying to connect with the God who loves you and wants justice and mercy in this world. God will not delay in giving help.
This prayer Jesus talks about is an invitation to trust that you are God’s beloved and God wants to talk with you, listen to you, help you. It’s an invitation into a relationship with God just like Jeremiah says God promises.
Prayer for Jesus is living into a life of trust in God. It’s not words to operate a divine vending machine.
God’s voice in Jeremiah says, “They will be my people, and I will be their God. They will all know me. My words, my law, will be written on their hearts.”
God gave the chosen people the Torah, the written law, and again and again they failed to follow it. Everything they needed for life was there, and yet they went their own way. But now, when half of them seem lost forever and the other half are stuck in exile, God says, “let’s try again.” This is God’s answer to our inability to follow the written law of God: I’ll just put it inside you, so you know it by heart. This is the whole point of Scripture, Timothy says today, to “equip those who belong to God to be proficient for every good work.”
So God comes in person, in Jesus the Christ, to do this. To meet us face to face. To place in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, the love of God and love of neighbor that is the backbone and heart of God’s law. As you live into the life of the Triune God, and know God’s love and grace, God’s Spirit changes your heart into God’s heart.
That’s where you hear God’s answer to your cries for justice, to the world’s cries for justice.
It’s always been God’s answer. But now, in relationship with God, changed in your heart, you can hear it. God says, “I will quickly grant justice. Come, let’s do it together.” God can only make the justice and mercy God dreams for the world through your hands and mine, your hearts and mine.
So persistently pray for justice, Jesus says. Just be ready for God’s answer: “you’re with me; let’s go do this.” God’s justice answer to the world is a changed you, a changed me. A changed everyone who belongs to God. This isn’t individual salvation. God needs widespread heart transformation, millions of children of God with God’s love and grace written on their hearts, living God’s justice, knowing they belong and that all belong.
This is the faith Jesus wonders if he’ll find when he returns.
He wonders if he’ll find people who live in trusting relationship with God, knowing they are loved and forgiven. People who are transformed in their very hearts to love and care for the world as God does. To hear all the cries for justice, and to answer with their bodies, their voices, their hearts, their love.
Given how we’ve tended to pray for God’s justice and expected God to do it, Jesus’ concern is valid.
But it needn’t be. You belong to God. You are loved and forgiven always, your sins wiped away and forgotten in the Triune God’s sacrificial love. You are God’s chosen one. You can live in trust with God through Christ Jesus, and have your heart changed. You can expect to work with God for justice in this terrifying and toxic world we live in. This is God’s dream for you. And the world.
Ponder this deeply. Because there’s another possibility to this parable.
Maybe Jesus looks at us sometimes and sees the unjust judge. Acting as if we don’t fear God or respect people. Closing our ears to the cries of those crushed by this oppressive world we’ve built, our hearts to the pain of anyone who isn’t us. It’s not how we always are; but it can be. Keep this corrupt official in mind when you consider sitting out an issue, or avoid looking for ways to make a difference, or are tempted to resist the sacrifice God’s justice for all will mean for you.
The artist Sara Bareilles has a breathtaking new album about living in the midst of the chaos of these days, where she sings, “Be the hand of a hopeful stranger, little scared, but you’re strong enough. Be the light in the dark of this danger, till the sun comes up.” 1
That’s God’s dream for you, beloved child of God. You are God’s answer to the cries for justice. God says to those who cry out: Have you met my child, my light, my beacon of hope? They will hold out their hand to you, and help you find a safe place to be.
So, my friends, do not lose heart. Pray always. And let God’s love move you as God’s hope in the world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
1 Sara Bareilles, in “A Safe Place to Land,” on Amidst the Chaos, 2019, Epic Records