29th Sunday, Ordinary Time October 20, 2013
Genesis 32:22-31; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
It is no mystery to me why a man with 2 sister wives, 2 maids and 11 children would find himself alone after decamping his household across river – because he felt constrained under his father-in-law’s roof.
But I do have a little respect for someone who can hold their own in a wrestling match; with God no less.
I didn’t learn to swim properly until I was in high school, and was excited to do so. In Junior Life-Saving, we were taught that the struggling swimmer drowns a lot of would-be rescuers. By the day of that exam, the instructor and I were in a contest of wills; she told me I’d ace or fail the class on how I did.
She was a judo instructor: strong, but my height. I knew I couldn’t overpower her, so when I could, I locked my hands together around her rib cage and held on for the ride. We rolled in that pool through the lunch hour and then some. I got my A, with plenty of bruises. And I learned to save a struggling swimmer.
It is fairly awesome to intimately encounter resistance and persist. It is also cool to know just what to do when faced with a certain circumstance. Perhaps those type of experiences are too rare during much of our lives.
When we hear today’s excerpt from the letter to Timothy we are reminded of a time in which being a “follower of Christ” was not a static demographic description, and “the Scriptures” were not an enshrined bit of ritual, but a training course for active evangelization, a mobilization of those entrusted with Good News.
We are given in Luke the parable of an indomitable widow capable of instilling fear in the judge who wanted to dismiss her! The judge gave in to her demands, not just because this women – a struggling victim- was fired up and capable of popping him in the eye – as this literally translates- but because also knew how few times she’d need to rat him out before his seat of power could be destroyed. Even in Jesus’ time, a black eye could mean both.
When I try to think of anything resembling the description in Timothy in our time, in our land, it is the Civil Rights Movement and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that come to mind. A trained, disciplined, nonviolent movement for jobs and justice, bringing that message into the churches, streets, the marketplaces. Life and freedom lifted up for those without security or power. The movement swelled; bricks and bombs could not stop it.
Meetings were held. The Civil Rights Act was passed. Laws changed; but the economics, schools and neighborhoods by and large did not. Hope dissipated for many, and for very many that hope has not been renewed.
So what happened to Persisting in telling the truth, in and out of season?
Where are the judges who would stand up for the widows with their children and the poor, over the powerful who trample their rights?
How did we get where we are – as a city, a state, a nation, so polarized?
I trust that we here assembled share a yearning to live in a community that is whole. Many of you have engaged in works of justice, anti-racism, outreach, and inclusion efforts across the years and decades. But the deeply entrenched, overt, covert, ubiquitous racism in this country persists. And we churches- all of us – bear a share in the history that makes it so.
We raise prayers, support causes, and wince when yet another news story or article brings our country’s racial wounds to the fore. I want to believe that mostly we are stalled here because we just don’t know what to do!
For whatever reason, in ways we can’t yet grasp the holy work of healing has not yet taken hold.
We may give up for awhile but then we meet a child whose life could be anchored by a mentor, or a co-worker whose situation cries out for redress, and this morning, a tenacious widow,
and we are reminded that our current way of doing business robs all of us of the full justice and beauty that we could enjoy together. And we want to rise up as healers and liberators no mind the cost.
In today’s Good News, Jesus lifts us up this woman as the model of persistence we all are to bring to our prayer.
I think I knew her, back in the 80’s. Her name was Hattie Kay Williams. Hattie was what some would now call the Big Mama of the 4000 block of South Lake Park, in Chicago. She lived in the townhouse across the street from the Washington Park Homes in which with her husband she had raised 5 children. When she was 40, she prayed her way out of brain cancer so she could complete that work, and dedicated her life to serving God through ministering to her neighbors. Her home was the go-to place for all the stories, hugs, and help her neighbors needed so badly in that epidemic of drugs, shootings, rape and teen pregnancy. Her husband had died, and her own children had not escaped all of those tragedies, to her great pain. Yet Hattie’s faith was so tangible, persistent, and gave her such joy in the midst of it all, that she was a healer for many. She and another remarkable woman from France formed Shalom ministries, and taught Mission in Reverse as ad hoc faculty members of the Catholic Theological Union.
Hattie did truly believe that Jesus, when he was lifted up, would draw all people unto himself. That was her abiding vision of our Gospel call, painted across her dining room wall. And she, in turn, drew countless seminarians and ministers from around the world to her home to educate them as students of the poor. When she thought he was getting off point, she’d order Jesse Jackson to sit at the table and remind him who’d introduced him around the South Side; she was a parent advisor to the U of Chicago and when they set up one of the first Head Start projects a block away, and met with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Chicago. She was fearless, loving, and wise.
Everything began with her favorite prayer: O Lord, Make a Way out of No Way; and that God did.
Before she died, Hattie exacted a promise of me to never forget her young black boys. She knew that they were the most vulnerable; and of course she was right.
I do not know what it will take to free our sisters and brothers who are Black from the oppression that persists in our communities. But hatred – however subtle-metastasizes in silence, and has for too long. Let us bring it into the light of the Gospel we are privileged and urged to proclaim, in times that are favorable and unfavorable.
Let us together believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us, and Make a Way Out of no way.
Today is Social Justice Sunday at Holy Wisdom. After our liturgy you are invited to review the various efforts in which your table companions are engaged, a variety of good works and wonderful people.
Should you want to join with those literally facing down judges and lawmakers on issues of justice in the prisons and corrections systems, ask me or someone else with a rose nametag about MOSES. Our chapter is just rounding out its first year, with good news to report – and, of course, money to be raised.
It is my prayer today that each of you will find the mission that brings you joy and renewed vigor in proclaiming the inexhaustible, unconditional love of God for all creation, and for each of its precious creatures.