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Don’t Lose Heart

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Luke 18:1-8

Have you ever been struggling to get justice for yourself or another person and felt that you were beating your head against a wall?

A non-caring bureaucracy? A medical system that you couldn’t penetrate? a court system? Have you ever wondered if anyone was ever going to listen to your complaint or your concern? Have you ever had to stand up and speak your truth even though you knew it would be unpopular, and likely rejected? Have you ever prayed and prayed and prayed to God, and wondered if anyone was listening or paying attention to your needs?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you can relate to the people in our scriptures today. Scripture reminds us that we are not the first people to struggle with life and with injustice. We aren’t the first people who must have been tempted to give up. We are not the first people to live through chaotic, frightening times.

Today we meet the widow in the story Jesus told, who doesn’t lose heart, even though she seems to be getting nowhere. I’ll come back to her in a moment. The prophet Jeremiah is another good example of someone who does not lose heart in times of turmoil. He lived through chaos in the middle East – the war that saw his country defeated and occupied by the superpower Babylon. He lived through the exile of leaders to Babylon; the destruction of the nation. Yet he continued to speak his word from God, unpopular though it was, sometimes at great personal risk. He was imprisoned at one point because he did not tow the party line.

Today his word is from the latter part of his ministry. The destruction he foresaw has happened bigtime. Now Jeremiah speaks hope. There will be new seed for new times. People will not stay locked in generational cycles of vengeance and blame. God may seem far off says Jeremiah but our persistent God will meet us in a new, and deeper way. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord; “the days are surely coming when the promise of God, the knowledge of God, the way of God will be written deep within, written on hearts. They will know that I am their God, and that they are my people. Everyone shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

What have we got written on our hearts? Is it God’s way, or the fear-mongering way of our media? Is gratitude written on our heart?or is it anxiety? Is it a knowing that we are all God’s family? or fear of the stranger? Through the Bouchard Taylor commission we are discovering that distrust, and even dislike of the stranger seems to be written large in heart of many in Quebec.What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

Jeremiah was a persistent, faithful man in times of crisis. He did not lose heart. And he gave heart to others reminding them of God’s presence written on their hearts in times when they felt abandoned.

Jesus also tells a story of a woman who did not lose heart. In Jesus’ times, a woman was dependent on her father before marriage, then on her husband and sons after marriage. A widow without sons was desparate. The law did not allow a widow to inherit her husband’s estate, It went to the sons or his brothers. If the relatives did not act with justice and honour toward the widow, a judge was called in as the widow’s final and only hope. Widows with no one to defend them, were exploited.
Yet Jesus uses a widow as a model of persistence in seeking justice, perhaps even as a model of a persistent God who keeps on knocking at our door demanding we pay attention. There’s lots for us to learn from her.
She did not let herself be defined by the way others in her society defined her. In the culture, she was a non-person once her husband was dead. But this woman did not see herself this way. She saw herself as worth fighting for. She saw herself as one who could resist with what she had, her voice, her presence, her persistence, and the fact that she knew to the bottom of her soul, that she was right. She was not paralyzed by the labels she was given. The widow in the gospel is a good model for any who find it hard to stand up for themselves, or for what they believe in. I know this week I reminded a person who had to go to court about her. What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

The widow also knew in her heart that her cause was just; something she needed to fight for. She knew as well that the judge knew her cause was just. The judge at no point questions the facts or the rightness of the cause. In the end he says “I will see her righted before she wears me out”, so it seems that he accepts that she is right all along. She kept on even when the odds were against her. There was no Legal Aid for her, no Civil Liberties Union, no Gray Panthers, she had to fight for herself.

This widow is prepared to face the cost of persisting. She was prepared to be not liked, prepared to face adversity, to be ignored. She stands up to this person who has the power of decision-making in her life, with clarity, with consistency, not stopping when she does not get immediate action. And perhaps most importantly, she does not judge the worth of what she is doing by her results. Rather, she takes her sense of what she is doing from deep inside. She chooses to be faithful to what she believes, even when it looks as if there is little chance of success. Someone once told me that the church needs to be more like this widow. We take too short a view on change. She said we need to be prepared to think long haul, and keeping on keeping on with what is right, knowing that it may be other generations who will see the results. What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

The widow’s moral strength to resist must have come from what was written on her heart. A deep sense of her own value, which could only have come from a core relationship with God. In Jeremiah, God says the covenant will be written on the heart of the people, the sense of right relationship with God and with all others would be seared right into the heart and soul of a person. This is what I sense in this widow. She was grounded in a strength which empowered her to act in ways that were unexpected, even counter-cultural. The misery of her situation, the oppression that she experienced, the rejection, were not enough to destroy her will. She transcended these. What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

When I think of modern day persistent widows, I see them everywhere. Women like Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma elected 20 years ago under house arrest since then. I don’t know if you have seen the powerful TV footage of her walking right up to and through the lines of guns pointed at her some years ago. The tremendous cost of persistence and standing up for justice is right now being paid by the Buddhist monks of Burma, and by those who struggle for human rights there. One can only pray that they not lose heart.

Or I think of Nobel prize winner Rigobertu Menchu, surviving the murder of her family and the destruction of her home and community to lead thousands of Guatemalan refugees back to their own country as free citizens. Or Monia Mazigh wife of Maher Arar who campaigned fearlessly for his release from a Syrian torture chamber at the height of the 911 backlash. Or Wangari Maathai of Kenya who won a nobel peace prize for thirty years work mobilizing poor women to plant 30 million trees in Africa. I think too of Cindy Sheehan, anti-war activist who for 2 years camped outside George Bush’s Texas estate, demanding a meeting over her son Casey’s death in Iraq. She said as she ended her protest “Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. Cindy lost heart because of all of the abuse she took. But she continues to believe in what she was doing. But she spoke up when others were afraid to, and there are many who have taken up her concerns in times when it seems safer to speak out.

The church too, with its continuous work for justice and peace is a modern day persistent widow. The church continues to speak out for human rights, to work with marginalized people around the world, to resist a culture that suggests that little people with no power, like the widow, are unimportant. Our Dix Milles Villages ministry of fair trade, works with craftspeople, mostly women living in the poorest parts of the world, enabling them to build healthy communities. Our Youth in Action Group’s work to build a well and a school in the most devastated part of Sierra Leone and now another school in Kenya is a wonderful example of persistent work for justice in the face of an horrific situation.
There are many people of courage and hope right here in this congregation, who work to build a healthy community in spite of all of the obstacles; who continue to hold sacred values in the face of a consumer driven world. Let us take this widow as a model for not losing heart. Jesus seems to have. And remember
What’s written on the heart makes all the difference.

Jeremiah: 31:27-34
The reading from the prophet Jermiah, speaks from the middle of crisis in the middle East, 6 centuries before Christ. The nation has been defeated by Babylon, its leaders led into modern day Iraq. The temple and its religious system was destroyed, as was the Davidic kingship. Jeremiah, as a young man, was called to proclaim God’s word of uprooting, destroying, upbuilding, and planting. The destruction and uprooting has happened, but the building and planting have not. Hear these words of promise Jeremiah offers into the chaos of his times.

Luke 18:1-8

Today we meet a strong and courageous woman who persists in hope for justice

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