The Privilege of Patience – Sermon by Shelby Condray

patience

Sunday – October 16, 2016

 

Unless you’ve completely avoided all news sources this week, you’ve probably heard that the notorious computer hacker site, Wikileaks, has, released several thousand stolen emails from John Podesta. Among the political emails making headlines, there was a sort of “human interest” fluff piece that provided a little chuckle to many, myself included. Podesta is well-known in Washington circles as a fairly accomplished chef, and, in the middle of these thousands of stolen emails, is Podesta’s response to a question about making risotto. For those who don’t cook, risotto is a creamy rice dish the preparation of which requires constant attention … you boil a pot of chicken stock, and in a separate pot, you put some rice… you add the stock to the rice slowly, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly while cooking and waiting until each ladle of stock is absorbed to add the next ladle of stock. It takes about 40 minutes of constant attention and stirring to make a good risotto.

 

Podesta’s email is a response to someone asking why risotto recipes call for slowly adding stock to the rice rather than adding the stock all at once. Podesta shared this culinary tidbit:

“The slower add process and stirring causes the rice to give up its starch which gives the risotto its creamy consistency. You won’t get that if you dump all that liquid at once.”

Patience plays a big part in getting risotto just right.

Patience is a virtue, or so they say…

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart…

Every time I’ve heard this passage preached, the message has been identical.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

Be patient and be persistent.

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

She was patient; she was persistent.

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

She was patient. She was persistent. She was rewarded.

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”

You should be patient. You should be persistent. If you are, then you will be rewarded.

Parables are fabulous little things… in a simple sense, they are just stories used to instruct. But, they are so much more than that. Postmodernist that I am, my favorite thing about parables is that they don’t have a singular “fixed” lesson; they are—to the consternation of fundamentalists everywhere—fluid and open to interpretation that develops over time. The parables of Jesus, in particular, are open to diverse readings and are a rich source of sermons.

For lectionary preachers who live on a 3-year cycle of scripture readings, this trait proves beneficial. You can choose a new interpretation every time the parable appears. One technique of doing this is flipping the script … switching the character with whom we identify. In the parable of the Prodigal Son… are we the Prodigal Son or are we the Good Son? What we take away from a sermon that focuses on one or the other will be quite different. Which one is actually being sinful? The one who sinned and returned or the one who spitefully rejects him?

In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

You don’t want to be this person.

In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

We identify with this person, the widow patiently and persistently seeking justice and ceaselessly petitioning for it.

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

Choosing to play the role of the widow, we praise her (and ourselves) focusing on her dedication and persistence. We get off the hook with a little pat-on-the-back sermon that praises us for being patient while God works and encourages us to continue doing so. If we just keep on praying, we will wear down God’s patience.

“Dude… it’s 3 am on a Tuesday… I’m trying to get some sleep here… can you stop with all the praying? I get it… you really want that new job… here… *poof*… take your new job and stop bugging me…”

God loves us. We just have to be patient and wait for God’s love to manifest and give us more stuff. Our mountain of stuff shows that God loves us and that we are properly patient. Your lack of stuff shows that you’re just not patient enough… or maybe God doesn’t love you… either way… just be patient and some day you too will have a mountain of stuff from God.

Patience, it seems, is a virtue. Luckily for me, I never claimed to be virtuous. I am not… a patient person. I’ve got things to do, care to provide, justice to demand, ain’t nobody got time to sit here and wait around for you to decide that I’m worth your time. This “be patient” interpretation of the Parable of the Unjust Judge has always rankled me for the privilege in which it is comfortably nestled.

Be patient… just work harder… and you’ll be rewarded… it’s easy to preach this theology if you’re sipping mimosas in an Adirondack chair watching the sunset from some overpriced spiritual retreat in the middle of a nature reserve where your only concern is if they’ll have enough organic kale at the lodge’s gluten-free all-salad bar … I may have an opinion or two about these things coming from a place where gun violence was real, where physical safety—let alone physical comfort—was not a given, and where going home meant willfully subjecting yourself to degradation and emotional abuse because the alternative was what? The street? Patience is not a virtue; it’s a privilege, and Jesus never preached about helping the privileged hold up their privilege as a virtue.

 

‘Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

 

I am sick of hearing people with the privilege of being patient extoll to those in need of relief from oppression the virtues of being patient. How about we stop telling people to be patient and start using our privilege and power to change our world?

Maybe, just maybe, we need to cast ourselves not as the widow in this story, but as the unjust judge.

In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

What is the sin of this judge? At this point we know that he does not fear God … he does not fear, phoboúmenos (have proper respect for) God nor does he éntrepómenos (have proper respect for) people. The judge is living a self-centered life and cares only for himself. Sounds like the marketing message of modern day America… me, me, me, me… and more me. I am the greatest. I do the greatest things, I build the best walls… and no one else matters.

In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

Once again, we see him acting only out of self-interest… even when this judge is doing good things, it is only because it serves his own selfish desires. He has the power (and responsibility) to provide justice, but he refuses to help until helping others benefits him. If I’m stomping on the back of the oppressed masses, do I really get credit for lifting my foot because all that stomping is giving me a leg cramp? Oof… that angers me… it angers me… and indicts me. Do I do as Jesus ordered and give to all who ask? Do I tirelessly fight for justice and give all I possess to the service of God? Do I truly love my neighbor as myself? Or… do I help just enough to assuage my guilt and then move on to more comfortable spaces where I’m not challenged?

Recognizing in ourselves echoes of the unjust judge, it becomes evident that we’ve got some major changes to make.

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.

Small piece of advice: if you are ever choosing someone to be compared to, try not to let that someone be God… I mean, you’re gonna come out looking pretty bad. If the judge in this story is our stand-in holding up a mirror to show us our sinful selfishness, then God is, of course, the model for right behavior. What does God do? God grants justice to those in need… and quickly. What should we do? Grant justice to those in need and quickly.

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”

When this passage is preached from the viewpoint of the petitioning widow, this line again admonishes us to be patient and diligent. As the judge in a position of power, however, we end up with a different call.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? What would that faith look like? How does God exemplify faith in this parable, and how does the judge fail to demonstrate faith?

We often hear that the modern Evangelical movement, even with all its warts, has at its core something invigorating that is missing from mainline Protestantism. In many Evangelical churches, so the story goes, they take their faith “seriously”: their faith guides their politics, the way they approach social issues, and indeed all of their interactions with the world. While I may not agree that it’s a completely accurate description of the reality of the movement that birthed the Prosperity Gospel, I do think that this goal of being guided by faith in all things is strongly present in the parable of the Unjust Judge.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them

God is faithful to those who cry for justice, swiftly delivering it. We as a congregation are in a period of exploration and discovery about who we are, and a period of decision-making about who we will become. How do we follow God and bring justice to those who cry out for relief? How will we continue to follow God and bring justice to those who cry out for relief? As we enter into this process, let us learn from Jesus’ parable and make choices that proudly and unapologetically proclaim our commitment to delivering justice swiftly. Make this a church that we can brag has at its heart a commitment to social justice. Make theological choices that actually call us to action on behalf of the oppressed, not choices that leave us feeling good about ourselves for being diligent in empty concern while admonishing those who suffer to simply be patient in their suffering.

Make theological choices that reflect our faith and embody the deepest respect for God and God’s people. Being faithful is about how we act with the power we have. The Unjust Judge can’t be bothered to use his power to help the widow. Do we faithfully fulfill the demands of our position of privilege?

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Faith is more than hollow “believing”; it is action… living a life of faith. Do we grant an ear to and give justice to those who cry to us, or do we ignore them like the unjust king until our own selfish feelings of guilt makes us pay a modicum of attention? How often do people come to the Church asking for justice… asking for welcome… asking to be heard… only to have the Church turn them away with a statement that tells victims of injustice to “just be patient” and go slow?

This church is in a time of discernment about who we are as a congregation and who we will become.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith in this church?