Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Righteous Judge. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 22, Proper 24C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, October 16, 2016.

    Very rarely are Jesus' parables as straightforward as this one.  From the very beginning we're told it's meaning: always pray and don't lose heart (Lk 18:1).  Hearing this parable, we're to follow the example of the widow, we're to be persistent in our prayers.  But why?  Is it because persistence pays off?  Is it because if we continually pray and come before God pleading our desire every day God will give it to us?  NO!  This isn't why our Lord tells us to be persistent.  We're persistent in our prayers because our Judge is righteous and He always give justice to His elect.  It's because of who our Judge is that we don't lose heart.     
I.    The widow in the parable had been wronged and she sought out justice from a judge.  However, this judge didn't have the upright kind of character that we expect judges to have. He was an unrighteous man and "neither feared God nor respected man" (Lk 18:2).  He had no moral bone in his body; he didn't care about what was right or wrong, he didn't care if justice was served or not...he only cared for himself. 
And because of this, he ignored the widow's plea.  He refused to give her justice.  But she wouldn't give up.  The routine of pleading and refusing went on for a while, until finally the judge had it.  He gave in and performed his duty.  He gave her justice; not because it was the right thing to do or because he had a change of heart, but because he got tired of the widow nagging him.  
Hearing this parable, our sinful natures' first inclination is to interpret it as a lesson on the power of prayer and how to get what we want.  We see how the widow got her desired justice by being persistent in her plea.  So, we think to ourselves, "If I pray hard and long enough, just like this widow, then God will relent and give me what I want."  But this is a wrong and even sinful view of prayer.  This makes prayer a self-indulgent endeavor, no different than the whining of a child who kicks and screams in a toy store, pestering his parents until he gets the toy he wants.  This thinking twists the gift of prayer into a way of strong arming our Father into giving us what we want.
That fact of the matter is that we can't rightly pray on our own.  Our sinful nature, our Old Adam only knows how to pray for what he wants.  Left to ourselves, we pray for all the wrong things, the things of our fleshly sinful desires. 
But we're not alone in prayer.  The Holy Spirit is with us, teaching us what to pray for, teaching us to pray for daily bread, for deliverance from evil, for forgiveness of sins.  The Holy Spirit helps us to continually pray for justice against our adversaries: the world, the devil, and our sinful nature.
This trio of adversaries beats us down.  They put the weight of temptation, sin, and guilt on our backs.  The world provides us with ample temptations to sin.  Television and the internet, society and culture, our jobs and careers, even our friends and families lead us to sin.  They lead us to think, say, and do things that break God's holy commands.  They lead us to fear, trust, and love things other than God.  And our sinful nature is more than willing to comply.  We easily give in because our Old Adam wants to.  Then, once we give in, Satan attacks us with guilt.  He convinces us that we're all alone in our sin, that there's no hope.  He leads us into despair, telling us that God can't love sinners like us. 
These adversaries attack all the time, day and night; and there's nothing we can do about it, except pray.  We pray with the help of the Spirit, coming day and night to God, crying out for justice from our righteous Judge (LK 18:7), pleading Him to avenge us against our adversaries.
II.    The judge in the parable wasn't a good judge.  He delayed in helping the widow.  He had no desire for justice; and yet, even though he was unrighteous, he still gave her justice.  Christ, through this parable, is teaching us about God's character.  He does this by contrasting it with the unrighteous judge's character.  Jesus said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long over them?" (Lk 18:6-7).  Of course not!  Of course God will give justice to his elect, because He is righteous.
    God desires justice, that's His will.  He cares about what's right and wrong.  He's the righteous Judge who can't tolerate lawlessness.  Because of His righteous character, He must punish those who sin against Him and His perfect law.  Those who hurt others and don't respect man, those who care only for themselves and who don't fear God, they must receive their punishment.  They must be repaid for their sin.   The wages of sin is death, sinners must receive their death sentence.  This is justice.  In order for justice to be served, sinners must die...and this includes you and me.
Each and everyone of us is a sinner; we're like the unrighteous judge who doesn't fear God nor respect man.   Our sin is our sinful prayers.  When we think we can strong arm God into giving us what we want, this shows we don't fear Him.  When we pray only for the things we desire and want, instead of the needs and wellbeing of our neighbor, this shows we don't respect man. 
The Righteous Judge demands death for our sins.  But God is also  gracious and merciful, and in this mercy, He sent His only Son to serve this death sentence for you.  Jesus, the God-man, sinless and perfect, died the death that sin requires.  Christ our Savior willingly took your death upon Himself, and with His death, justice was served.  Christ took your guilty verdict and you're declared innocent.  With His death, God gives you forgiveness and you're avenged against your adversaries.
  The unrighteous judge delayed in giving justice, your Righteous Judge doesn't.  When you come to Him, pleading for justice, He's there with the forgiveness that overcomes your sin; He's there with the innocent verdict that takes away your guilt; He's there with the death and resurrection of His Son that defeats Satans.  Through the words of His Gospel, through the waters of His Baptism, through the Meal at His Table, your Righteous Judge gives you justice.  And this justice preserves you as you stand against your adversaries.
III.    We have justice through Christ our Lord right now, but we don't always see it.  Our adversaries continue to torment us.  We still suffer from their attacks, and because of this, it's easy to lose heart, to give up the faith, to stop praying to the Lord.  But we mustn't.  We must be like the widow who persevered in her prayer.  She never lost heart in her pursuit for justice even though it seemed like she'd never get it.  At times, it seems like we won't receive justice.  The world continually tempts us; the devil never rests in his pursuit of pulling us away from God; and our sinful nature is always with us.  But God doesn't delay in giving justice.  It's already been served in Christ.  And because of this, we don't lose heart.  We come before our Righteous Judge, knowing He hears us, giving us justice. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we persevere and stay strong in the faith.  We continue to stand up against our adversaries, we continue to come before God, because He is gracious and merciful and He's provided justice in Christ.  In Jesus' name...Amen.

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