Swinging Widows and Swinging Doors – Pastor Ingrid’s Sermon from 10.16.16

The gospel according to Luke, the eighteenth chapter:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

We open the door to Luke’s gospel and what do we find? We find a woman who had lost everything. We don’t know all of the details, but we can surmise that this woman had been left man-less: her husband, her sons, her brothers—all of them were either dead or gone. And in a first century patrilineal system, in which men were the keepers of all of the keys, this woman had lost her financial stability, her standing in the community, her rights to inheritance. In short: she had lost any hope of a future.

We open the door to Luke’s gospel and what do we find? Society’s future-less woman, who, against all odds, hasn’t lost heart. And here she is, demanding justice from a judge tasked with upholding laws constructed for the benefit of someone—someone that didn’t look like her. She keeps coming again and again, we’re told. Bishop Ann Svennungsen reminded me last weekend that the judge’s remark about the woman bothering him and wearing him out is better translated “this widow keeps giving me a shiner.” In the original Greek, this isn’t mere annoyance; this is a boxing image. This is widow woman who is swinging and hitting. And this is a judge—with no fear of God and no respect for people—with a black eye.

We open the door to Luke’s gospel and what do we find? A widow with sore knuckles and a judge who turns to justice—not for particularly admirable reasons—but for fear that the persistent lady, with a stunningly-good left hook, won’t ever give up.

We open the door to Luke’s gospel and what do we find? A justice that Jesus says comes quickly. Here, again, our synod bishop says that an alternate translation might be helpful. Rather than justice that comes quickly, God’s justice often comes suddenly. Suddenly, like one minute the unjust judge cares for nothing apart from his own professional ladder-climbing, and the next minute he renders a decision that will, no doubt, upset his colleagues and the whole unjust applecart. Suddenly, like one minute the widow has nothing and the next minute she’s given what she needs to live. We know enough about justice to acknowledge it does not often happen quickly, but we have seen it appear suddenly.

Here at Holy Trinity, we had our own experience of “God’s sudden justice” this week, when the accessible door button was installed outside the new east entrance. It’s only taken us 112 years to have doors that didn’t require regular workouts to enter—no one would accuse us of moving toward justice too quickly. But then “suddenly” the button is here, installed, and for the first time in our congregation’s history all bodies can enter this building.

Pastor Jay was out eagerly snapping pictures of the new button after its installation—you know, getting the perfect shot for Facebook—when our project electrician said to him, “All this work that we’ve done, pointing around to the whole of the project, and that little button is what you care most about?” [Well, yes, I guess it is.]

We care about the little button because it allows us to open the doors to this community. We open the doors to this community and what do we find? We find a community that for over a century has been learning to get real with each other—learning to share our joys and sorrows and the bulk of our lives that exists somewhere in between.

We open the doors to this community and what do we find? A community learning to confess and to forgive. We’re learning to confess our interpersonal failings—you know, the ways we have hurt one another. We’re also learning to confess the unjust systems, particularly as they relate to matters of race, that some of our sinner-saint ancestors created or sustained. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes that “the power of structural sin is so fierce, so mesmerizing, so seemingly impenetrable precisely because—failing to recognize it—we fail to confess it and to repent of it.” Together, we’re learning to recognize, confess, and repent. And God’s sure and certain forgiveness—that absolves us of everything other than responsibility— is allowing us to imagine another way.

We open the doors to this community and what do we find? A community learning to let the children come. What’s that you say? They don’t know our unspoken rules about silence? They don’t know that everyone is supposed to be completely stationary during worship? Kids. We’re learning to love you. And we’re learning to give up just enough control to allow you to lead us into a gospel freedom that, somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten.

We open the doors to this community and what do we find? We find a community learning to honor women. We stand firm when we say that there will be no denigration, no body-shaming, no sexism here. And we await the day when our stances against such things will be true in practice. We say there will be no “locker room” talk within these walls—unless it consists of tennis shoes and yoga schedules. We know that language matters, and thus we choose to use it wisely in our daily interactions and in our worship. Together, we are slowly learning to imagine a God who looks more like the widow than the judge. It’s a stretch for about 99 percent of us, but we won’t be deterred from living into new images of who God is for all people.

We open the doors to this community and what do we find? A community learning to agitate for the sake of the poor and marginalized. A community learning to agitate for the sake of the Earth and all its creatures. Don’t misunderstand me, here we’re not inciting violence, we’re inciting justice. The biblical understanding of shalom does not presume an absence of conflict. Shalom is more like Jacob’s wrestling match we heard about in the first reading. Together, we’re learning evangelical defiance for the sake of God’s visions for the whole world. Together, we’re learning to live faithfully with sore knuckles.

Our opening doors celebration could be all about what happens here, in these four walls. But, today, we open the doors, we welcome the freshness that fills this space, and we find the real gift exists beyond them. In the neighborhood that has been cultivating shalom for far longer than Holy Trinity’s been around. Up and down Lake Street, throughout the streets of Longfellow, all the way over to Corcoran, and up into Seward, there are people, organizations, and companies serving up love, mercy, and grace. We’re learning to follow the lead of our neighbors.

Today, we open the doors and find the real gift exists beyond them. In the beauty of the Mississippi, the rustle of Howe’s big old oaks, the wonder of Minnehaha Falls, the beauty of Brackett. The Irish Catholic poet John O’Donohue, writes that beauty that “is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth [for our] unfolding life.” As a community, we’re learning to love a beauty that we didn’t create.

Today, we open the doors and find the real gift exists beyond them. In the witnesses, who, like the persistent widow, show us what love looks like in public. Oftentimes, their stories get drowned out in the public square by the dominant voices, but they keep demanding justice: The Lakota and Dakota tribes united at Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Target, Macy’s, and Best Buy janitors united in a 44-month organizing campaign under the leadership of CTUL. Refugees creating new homes out of nothing but tenacity and hope. All of these are people who have every reason to lose heart, showing us what it’s like to not give up in the face of great adversity. With open doors, we can learn from them what it really looks like to call the powerful to account. With open doors, we can hear when we are, in fact, the powerful being called to account.

After almost two years of daily work on the Opening Doors Campaign and a few grey hairs on my head that weren’t there when we started this project, I can attest—justice rarely feels like it comes quickly. But it does come. It comes because God’s vision is a powerful current that keeps moving us toward a new day for all people, for all of creation. God’s vision keeps moving us—bruised knuckles and all—toward vulnerability and community, confession and forgiveness, children and women, justice and beauty. God’s vision keeps moving us out toward our neighbors. Even after 112 years, God’s vision keeps moving us.

So open wide the doors, Holy Trinity. And let God’s commonwealth come.

AMEN.

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