Faith - Humanism - RR142A2
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Our Scripture this evening is from the gospel according to Saint Luke, the 18th chapter, verses 1-8. And our subject is faith. Luke 18:1-8
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray , and not to faint ; 2 Saying , There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying , Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said , Hear what the unjust judge saith . 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily . Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh , shall he find faith on the earth?
This parable has always exerted a very strong hold, on me. I recall thinking about it when I was a very small boy before I was in school. At our little church in a small farm town in California where my father was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church, a little old brick church, Swedish style in architecture, I would sit in the front and second row. And I recall vividly wondering about the widow, and her boldness. I knew a widow; there was one on a farm nearby. A lonely, older person, no one there to look after her, a lovely home she had burnt down by a fire, she only had enough money to put up a very small thing that seemed like a shack compared to her original home. And she had to look after the place and hire and fire the work men, hitch up the horse to her buggy to go to town and shop. And the idea of that widow going up to the judge at the county seat because judges in those days were few and far between and far away, and demanding “avenge me of my adversary” ---why that took courage it seemed to me. And so, I associated prayer, and faith, in my mind with courage. [00:04:28]
Then I grew up, and I went astray as far as understanding...
Then I grew up, and I went astray as far as understanding this parable was concerned because I started reading commentaries. And the commentaries put all the emphasis on the last sentence “nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” As though the whole point of this parable is that, there is going to be less and less faith on earth. I don’t think that’s what this parable is about. I think I understood it better as a child. [00:05:00]
First of all, when our lord says ...
First of all, when our lord says “when He comes” He doesn’t necessarily and I believe does not here mean his second coming. The Bible over and over again speaks of the coming of the Lord in judgment on a particular generation. In the prophets we find the prophets peaking of the coming of the Lord, here and now, upon you the prophets declare our Lord tells the High Priest and his associates at his trial that they shall see him very soon, coming in the clouds of judgment upon that generation. And I believe that happened with the fall of Jerusalem. And I believe our Lord here has reference, not to the fact that ‘faith is all but to disappear before the end of the world’, but that very soon with the fall of Jerusalem, men are going to be put to the test in the days between now and then, ‘and will I find faith when I come back in judgment upon Jerusalem and Judea?’ The point of the parable is in the widow, and what she did. [00:06:38]
The widow is selected as a type of faith...
The widow is selected as a type of faith. Now widows are portrayed to us in the Bible as types of helplessness, and over and over again we are told that God judges a people by how they deal with widows and orphans, the helpless ones in society. And we are told that when we rejoice before the Lord we are not to forget the widows and orphans, but to invite them in to our home. In fact Biblical thanksgiving and our Thanksgiving Day comes from the Biblical celebration which was to include widows and orphans, and the strangers. This is why the first settlers here invited the Indians, the strangers to them, to their thanksgiving, in obedience to Scripture. Thus a Widow is a helpless figure. [00:07:54]
And our Lord takes the widow, a helpless person, one...
And our Lord takes the widow, a helpless person, one who has been wronged and defrauded, who is in a position of extreme helplessness because, she has been wronged, she has been defrauded, she has no one to go and plead for her, no husband, no brother or brother in law or near kinsman, she has to do it. And the judge she had to go to was an unjust judge. ‘Which feared not God neither regarded man.’ Now our Lord in the parable is really stacking the deck is he not, against the widow. Helpless. No relative to go and try and get justice for her, she has a crooked judge to deal with, a man who regards neither god nor man. And she came unto him and said ‘avenge me of my adversary’. [00:09:35]
Now what’s the point of this parable? He spake a parable...
Now what’s the point of this parable? He spake a parable unto them of this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint. So here’s a widow, that does the one thing she knows how to do, she nags the judge. She goes after him day and night, she haunts the door to the court and to his house. Pleading with him to open the case. ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’ And he would not for a while. Why bother with a helpless woman? Let sleeping dogs lie. Whoever defrauded her is an important person perhaps in the community, she doesn’t count, she can’t get a single man in the community, a single friend to come and plead for her. Why bother with her? But afterward he said within himself: ‘Though I fear not God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenger her. Lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ Now here’s a crooked judge. Justice is not his concern. But it was getting to him that that widow was right with him all the time, pleading her case. It was getting him down. And so he said ‘just to get rid of her, to have this annoyance come to an end, I’ll give her what she wants.’ And our Lord said ‘Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall God not avenge his own elect which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?’ I do not believe there are many passages in Scripture that equal this as an indictment against of us. As an indictment. [00:12:20]
Because what is our Lord saying? ...
Because what is our Lord saying? ‘You who claim to be believers, if a crooked judge is going to hear the prayer of the most helpless person is society that you can imagine, a lone widow, how dare you treat the almighty as though and all righteous God as though he will not hear?’ And isn’t that how we pray? We don’t expect our prayers to get out of the room. We do it because it’s a duty. We do it with no expectation of an answer or of victory. Here is a woman pleading for justice, for righteousness, and even an unjust judge grants it. And our Lord says ‘shall not God avenge his own elect? I tell you he shall avenge them speedily.’ [00:13:35]
This is a rebuke to us...
This is a rebuke to us. We are confronted with all kinds of problems, in our own circle, in our community and in our nation, as citizens and as Christians. We are ready to bewail them, we are ready to talk about them at the dinner table, and on the telephone and with our friends, and to write letters to the editors, I write enough of them, and to the congressmen and the state representatives, good, I believe in that. Very strongly. But how about letters to the all-righteous judge? All our talking one with another accomplishes very little. But our Lord declares that he will avenge his own elect speedily. [00:14:38]
And what’s the whole point of this parable? ...
And what’s the whole point of this parable? ‘Men ought always to pray and not to faint.’ If an unjust judge can give justice to a widow, how dare we not expect justice, victory, answers, from the all righteous judge upon the throne in heaven. This is a parable that tells us there is victory, there are answers, that god tells us that he will avenge his own elect speedily. And therefore men ought always to pray and not to faint. It’s like the old puritans who said ‘If you’re going to have a prayer meeting for rain bring your umbrellas.’ That wasn’t how they put it, but that’s what it meant translated into modern language. They prayed expecting to get an answer. I really enjoy reading the old puritan prayers and accounts of them. One of the most delightful by the way is one in which one of the old puritans when the war of independence broke out, prayed with the American troops before a battle, and as a strong believer in predestination as he wrestled in prayer he was faced with the fact that perhaps God had predestined that they lose that battle. And so he went around and around the barn dealing with the problem of predestination, and wondering whether God ordained and purposed that they should win that particular battle, and finally in exasperation he gave up and said “Lord please, sit on the sidelines and let the best man win!” Now that wasn’t a very good prayer, but at least he knew God was there. [00:17:08]
And that he was talking to God...
And that he was talking to God. And what God asks of us is not that we try to probe his mind, but to come to him, to make known our needs and our wishes, our hopes in him. And when there is injustice, unrighteousness, ungodliness, to pray, and not to faint. I think it’s obvious that we have not been praying as a Christian people. Oh I think we have lots of prayers, but we don’t pray like that widow. Demanding an answer from God. ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’ Old John Welch the son in law of John Knox, and others like him, were men who as they faced the problem in Scotland were in prayer and one of them so much so in prayer that his wife came to him in the morning as he was wrestling in prayer and heard him cry out “Lord give me Scotland or I die!” now that’s the kind of faith out of which this church was born. You’re heirs of the Covenanters. It was that kind of attitude in prayer that made them great. Go to that old volume if you can find it the Scotch Worthies which gives story after story of the Covenanters and their prayers. It’s no wonder when John welch was dying and sent his wife, John Knox’s daughter, to ask that the old exiled man be given permission to go back to Scotland, to die on his native soil, James in terror refused. He said “I dare not trust that dying man even on his death bed in my realm.” James knew that even on his death bed Welch was a man of prayer. [00:20:03]
Who rattled the gates of heaven for Scotland...
Who rattled the gates of heaven for Scotland. God declares to us, through his word, that if we pray without the belief that he is capable of more than an unjust judge we dishonor him. We say that he does not have the capacity of an unjust judge, to hear a cry for justice. Why with some battles in courts we’ve even been able to get some concessions out of some of our state departments of education, and even a time or two out of the IRS. Do you think we cannot do better with the Almighty God? Thus the whole point of this parable is a summons to boldness, a holy boldness in prayer; [00:21:33]
To courage in the face of all things knowing that God...
To courage in the face of all things knowing that God is ready, to avenge his elect speedily, if they cry to him night and day. Well were not going to cry to God night and day for anything unless we believe in it. Unless it concerns us strongly. If it doesn’t concern us very strongly we’ll mention it in prayer: ‘Lord we thank thee for this bread, we pray for this country, and we pray for our church and we pray for this, and thank thee Lord and amen.’ It doesn’t mean much to us, it’s a form. We haven’t prayed. We haven’t expected God to hear us. We haven’t expected an answer. Now when I talk to my wife I expect her to listen, and when she talks I’d better listen too. We’re man and wife, and we have a very wonderful relationship together because we talk to each other and we hear each other. [00:22:55]
Now we’re not going to have a good relationship with...
Now we’re not going to have a good relationship with God unless we hear his word. And not always to pray and not to faint, unless we talk to him, knowing, that he has commanded us to speak and that he hears. Thus saith the Lord. “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Let us pray. [00:23:42]
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we come to thee...
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we come to thee confessing that too often we live at ease in Zion. That we are full of complaints, and restlessness, that we talk to men by the hour, and read the words of men by the hour, but we are prayer less. Give us oh Lord a holy boldness in faith and in prayer, that we might be stirred up with the unrighteousness of our time, and might come to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ, crying out ‘avenge us oh Lord of our adversaries.’ Give us a victory against the powers of darkness, deliver the persecuted saints, here in this country, and behind the iron curtain, and everywhere. Overthrow the powers of darkness, reach out by thy Holy Spirit and turn the hearts of our loved ones unto thee. And in all things, give us zeal in prayer, that our hearts may always be open to thee, and our voices ever heard by thee. We give thanks unto thee our father for these thy people, for thine under-shepherds and their faithfulness, for this congregation and school, and we pray that though wouldst continue to bless and prosper them, make them a beacon light of grace unto this community, and of power for Thy kingdom, in all their doings. In Jesus name, Amen. [00:26:40]