Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34
27 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
A New Covenant
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is* useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Luke 18: 1 – 8
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
18Then Jesus* told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’* 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
NB – The sermon published on the St Peter’s website only approximates that actually delivered on 16 Oct 2016.
The actual sermon began with a reference to the introduction of the sermon on 9 October where ‘a geography lesson was in fact a history lesson’ – namely the Old Testament background to the formation of the group of people known in Jesus’ time as the Samaritans – namely the division of the Kingdom after King Solomon, the deportation of the Northern Kingdom to Nineveh and the Exile and return of Judah with particular emphasis on Ezra’s policies and the rise of the Pharisees. Those who remained in Samaria developed a syncretistic faith and were consequently despised by the returned Exiles.
Today’s sermon was introduced by ‘a history lesson that was in fact a theology lesson’: namely the fact that the Israelites found themselves living between the Covenant on Mt Sinai and the ‘great and terrible Day of the Lord’ when Yahweh was to return to right the things that had gone off track in Israel’s history.
This explains how Jesus (in the Parable of the Importunate Widow) shifts from issues of justice (seen in the light of the deliverance circuit court judges in Israel carried out) for the widow, to the Parousia. This shift is seen in Jesus’ thinking in the last few verses of the Gospel reading. * 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Jesus’ mind moves from Covenant and accompanying lifestyle/justice issues (probably through their non-performance) to God’s needing to return to ensure a just world. The shift comes with Will he delay long in helping them? The idea of ‘delay’ reminds him of the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord – God’s ‘delayed’ return and Jesus immediately wonders how ready people will be – And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ Faith is what people will need.
Later reference in the sermon was made to Christians living between the Covenant wrought on Golgotha and the Parousia.
Reference was also made following mention of Romans 10: 17 to the King James Version’s bias in wanting to create the impression of the corpus of Scripture as that which engendered faith (given the Reformation acrimony between the Church of England and Roman Catholics). A more accurate translation is the word of Christ (not the word of God).
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
This is a strange sentence for Jesus to tack onto a paragraph about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.
But when we see where this parable fits into the gospel it becomes a bit clearer.
Jesus has just been warning about the day of his return, that it would be a day of judgement. He makes reference to Sodom that was destroyed by fire, to people being whisked off to destruction, to corpses and vultures. It is a dramatic passage very much rooted in what the prophets Joel and Malachi call the great and terrible Day of the Lord (Joel 2: 28 – 31 and Malachi 4: 5)
It seems as though the lack of godliness when he returns to earth is going to create some trying times. It will look as though things are going on as usual – he says this is what it was like before the days of Noah and before the destruction of Sodom – but the destruction will be sudden and unexpected.
Perhaps this is what prompts Jesus to tell them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
The time will be characterised by a lack of justice. Even the judge in the parable has no fear of God and no respect for anyone.
Jesus says that in these circumstances a widow persistently bothers the judge who eventually gives in and deals with her case.
How much more will we be taken care of if we are persistent in prayer to a just God. He says 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
That last bit seems to be artificially added on by mistake. After all, the parable is about persistent prayer being answered.
It is as though Jesus’ mind goes back to the circumstances that have given rise to the parable. Godless times, probably not too different from our own, and the one thing that comes to his mind – the thing on which success will depend upon – is faith. He asks, And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
We’d do well to take note of that
But what really is faith? Is it simply trust? The writer to the Hebrews gives us a clue about faith. (Hebrews 11: 1) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Faith is not airy-fairy. It has substance. And it is associated with the things we believe for. Faith can grow and it can be lost. It is not just an idea or an emotion.
The dictionary defines substance as “the real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence.” Well, faith is not physical but it’s as near to it as possible.
It seems that to survive these trying times we need faith.
A few verses on in Hebrews 11 we read in verse 6: 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Here’s the link to persistent prayer. In order be like the persistently praying widow, in order to diligently seek God, we need faith.
So if it’s so important, how do we grow this substantial thing called faith?
Paul tells the Roman church (Romans 10: 17) then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Other translations say the word of Christ.
Is this a reference to the Scriptures? Is this why Paul tells Timothy 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is* useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 15 – 17) ?
Does a deep soaking in the sacred writings top you up with faith like a car filling up with petrol? It would seem that might actually be so.
Immediately following Paul’s words to Timothy about the need for this soaking in the Scriptures he speaks about Jesus’ second coming: 4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: (2 Timothy 4: 1) and he goes on.
- When Jesus thinks about that terrifying day when he is to return, he asks himself whether he will find faith on the earth when he does so.
- When Paul writes to the Romans about faith he implies it is built up by the communication of God to us – and the Scriptures play a part in that.
- When Paul writes to Timothy informing him of the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, he goes on to think of the second coming of Jesus.
You see here’s the thing: when we think of salvation we think of:
- Salvation from sin so that we can go to heaven
- The acquisition of peace so that our lives can be balanced and meaningful
We think of all manner of things.
But Jesus was a Jew, and for him salvation could not be divorced from:
- God’s judgement against sin (Covenant-based justice/lifestyle)
- God’s vindication of Israel (fulfilment of all his promises)
- God’s eventual restoration of the earth into the kind of place he always intended it to be. (The great and terrible Day of the Lord)
And here’s my final point: the citizens of the Kingdom of God will have a number of characteristics (including prayer) but the defining one will be a substantial faith – a faith that:
- that cries out for justice (New Covenant-based lifestyle)
- yearns for the return of Christ (The return of Christ that will all to rights)
The challenge to you and me is where do we stand in all this?
And yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?