Monday, October 17, 2022

Two Letters While I was Away


Luke 17:11-19

Proper 23 / Year C

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The church where I grew up presented a bible to every child when he or she was in the 2nd Grade.  I still have mine in my office.  Covered in black leather with gold lettering, it is a copy of the Revised Standard Version, with a concordance.  My name is embossed in gold on the lower right-hand front of the cover.  The very first page indicates who it has been presented to.  Someone from the church went to the trouble of writing my name on this page and included the date: May 25, 1969. 

The person also referenced a bible verse: II Timothy 2:15.  It doesn’t include the verse, only its citation, which we heard read just moments ago:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

It has always been one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, I suspect, in part, because it was referenced in the bible given to me by my home church.

Even more, it has always felt like marching orders, of a sort.  If it was the only verse of the bible I had, it would chart a pretty good course for me to follow in life.  “Do your best to present yourself as one approved, with no need to be ashamed.”  I have strived to live up to this high standard and have not always made it. 

The biblical word for ’sin’ is a term used in archery and means “missing the mark.”  Sometimes you miss the mark because the arrow flies high or wide of the target.  Other times you miss the mark because the arrow never gets to the target.  This happens when the archer does not pull back the bowstring far enough.  In this sense, we “fall short” because we simply do not try hard enough to hit the target. 

I can honestly say when I have missed the mark of God’s high calling for me, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I have done my best, but there have been times when it wasn’t good enough.

But, like the lepers Jesus meets in today’s gospel reading, I find myself being made “clean” by the grace of God.  Forgiveness is real and it is essential.  It is something for which I continually offer thanks.  It gives me confidence that my best, while not perfect, is good enough.  Thanks be to God.  May you know this spiritual peace in your heart and mind and soul as you strive to do your best.


Luke 18:1-8

Proper 24 / Year C

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “persistence” means “a firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”  It comes to us from two Latin roots, one which means “forward” and the other which means “come to a stand.”  In this sense, persistence is a trait we exhibit by moving forward when forces want us to stand still.

It takes no small amount of persistence to navigate our way through life.  You will need great persistence if you are engaging with the health care system, an insurance claim of any kind, or just about anything having to do with government—especially the DMV or IRS.  If I ever get married again, my wife will be incredibly persistent in these areas, because I am not.  I expect the system to work after one call or visit.  Any more than two or three cracks at it and I give up.  I demonstrate anything but “obstinate continuation.”

When St. Paul writes his first letter to the church in Thessalonica he admonishes them to “pray without ceasing” (5:17).  Of course he is not directing them to be in church on their knees 24/7.  He is describing a spiritual mindset in which a person is in frequent, if not constant, communication with God. 

Jesus points to this posture as well in this morning’s reading from the gospel of Luke.  He wants to tell his followers why it is important to pray always and not to lose heart.  And, as he often does, Jesus makes his point by telling a story—a parable, which often has an ‘over the top’ quality to it.  Today’s parable is known as “The Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge.”  In the story the judge refuses to do the right thing for a widow who has been wronged.  But because she is the epitome of obstinate continuation, he finally relents simply to get her out of his hair (and courtroom). 

Jesus asks his listeners this: “If the unjust judge who cares nothing for anybody will eventually do what you ask if you keep asking, how much more will our loving and caring God do for you?

There are some prayers we offer which take time to be answered.  One example—when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.  A prayer pleading for it simply to go away—to disappear—most likely will go unanswered.  Remission and a clean bill of health will take months or even years.  It is easy (if not expected) to lose heart in the process. 

Praying ceaselessly looks like praying for an ultimate healing, but also praying for today.  What challenges do you face today?  Where or from whom will strength and encouragement come today?  Will I be able to handle a set back today?  Will I be able to experience the joy of living today, even though I am sick? 

This is what praying ceaselessly looks like and it is what Jesus encourages us to do.  It is how we are encouraged to approach all of life—firmly moving forward in life in spite of difficulty or opposition supported and encouraged by prayer.