Harrowing Of Hell
October 20, 2019

The Widow: Persistance and Hope

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

This morning I’d like to talk about power. I’d like to talk about personal power, and I’d like to talk about kingdom of God power; and I’d like to suggest both are available to you. The invitation today, however, is for you to tune into real power…Kingdom of God power.

Jesus uses the parable we hear to teach us about power. We meet a widow. She has a case, and day in and day out she goes to the courthouse; and says to the judge, “Hear my case and find favor with my cause.” He rejects her. But she goes back again. And he rejects her again. But she goes back again… over and over the cycle spins until finally the judge relents and rules in her favor.

Who has power in this Gospel story? The widow, because she wins? The judge, because he rules? Is it her persistence or his position… What is power? Who has power? How is it gained? What is its source? And how do we, that is you and me, employ it…personally? Or for the Kingdom of God?

I want to give you an image of power this morning to roll around in your mind as I continue to preach. Imagine a car radio. Power is like a car radio that has two dials: one is the power source, the other is the power cycle. One measures strength; the other time. Hold that imagine of a car radio in mind while I tell you a story.

As a young man, right out of college, I had the privilege of being introduced to power-personal power and Kingdom of God power. I worked at an international relief organization called AmeriCares. It was founded and funded by a most amazing man, Bob Macauley. He was, I dare say (and this is no exaggeration), one of the most powerful men in the world. He had a red phone on his desk like Bruce Wayne (Batman). And more than once while I was in his office the President of the United States called…once Bob even said, “I’m talking to Doyt, just got back from Eritrea, I’ll have to call you back.”

Through Bob’s connections we were able to move relief supplies to any corner of the world at a moment’s notice. Raisa Gorbachev helped us in Russia; the Government of Iran was our sponsor during the 1st Persian Gulf war; Mrs. Fujimori would meet us at the Airport in Peru…Barbara Bush, Colin Powell, Bill Simon, Peter Lynch, Zbig Brzezinski, and others whose names you might recognize sat on the board of AmeriCares. And I had a front row seat to power and how levers are pulled to get things done. It was heady stuff for a 22-year-old.

Bob was a big man, tall and broad, with huge hands twisted with arthritis. He used a cane that was more like a tree branch, and he claimed it was made with wood from an elephant tree (whatever that was).

I’ll never forget the day Bob came crashing out of his office muttering something about “the Albanian.”  He was in more of a mood than usual, so, we all picked up our phones and pretended to be saving lives. That is what Bob would always say to us…“Go out there and save some lives… quit sitting around;” and then with a softer voice, sometimes, tag on- “And remember it is love, only love, that will save the world.” No question, Bob was a man of faith. He also wasn’t afraid to run something over to get something done. I saw that happen more than once, and it wasn’t pretty… He had personal power.

But I was curious about the Albanian rant, so later I asked Bob’s assistant what that was all about? “Oh,” she responded, “Mother Teresa just called…”  I knew Bob knew Mother Teresa because there as a picture of them on the wall. The assistant continued: “She needed Bob to send her a $100,000.  He hates it when she does that.”  “What did he do,” I asked?  She gave me a look.  “It was Mother Teresa… he sent her the money.”

Power has two dials; source and cycle. Bob’s source was money and connections and brilliance of mind, and he was in a hurry to save the world. He had limited time. That is why, I think, he’d always yell at us project directors, “Get out there, do something, save the world.” He was a pretty intimidating, and I loved him.

And then there was Mother Teresa. Her red phone had a different voice on the other end of the line. Her cycle, her timeframe, allowed her to sit at the bedside of a dying child for hours and hours shooing flies off the child’s face. Bob recognized real power when he saw it, so he always sent money to the Albanian whenever she called.

In Jesus’ day power wasn’t much different than it is today. Power sources were pretty much the same: privilege of birth, knowledge of the cultural rules, both written and unwritten; and then there is size, gender, maybe skin color; certainly money and occupation, and country of origin. These were sources of personal power 2000 years ago, and they remain so today.

And so, let’s return to the Gospel. We have a judge. He is an atheist and a narcissist, and he seems to have what he needs in life: right occupations, and thus right income, probably attained his post through right learning, which was more easily attained from the unearned privilege of his birth.

Then the widow appears…aka: the most unlucky of lots.  In Jesus’ day people believed widows were despised by God, which is why God allowed their husbands to die.  And then they were victimized over and over and over again…cursed by God, so abused by men. That was the story the culture chose to tell itself, even though it was a lie.

Whether this woman had a just case or not, because of her widow status, her cause would have been deemed unworthy, irrespective of the legitimacy of her claim. And yet, there she was day after day; present, persistent, unabating. 

And the judge finally relents and rules in her favor.  But the words he uses to justify his ruling are enlightening and tell us something about power, its source and its cycle… He claims: “I do not believe in God, and I could care less about my neighbor. This woman’s case is not worth my time, and yet, and yet, she is going to wear me out, she is going to be the death of me, so I will rule in her favor.”

The source of the judge’s power was himself; his personal power. It was sustained through the fuel of his job and his wealth and the very presence of his body, and yet he knows it is a fragile system; with a limited shelf life. The judge’s power source is finite, and his timeline is bounded. The widow is going to wear him out; (sooner than he wants to be worn out), so, he cuts his losses and rules in her favor for his own sake.

The widow had a different power source, she had a different timeline. Here is what she knew…because God is love, and love never ends, and God never puts an end to anything God loves, then the source of power is love and it is unlimited; and range of engagement is as long as it needs to be for justice to prevail. When love is the source, and eternity is the timeframe the widows always win.

The judge had no idea. The widow clearly did. Bob knew this. Mother Teresa lived it out. There is personal power, and there is Kingdom of God power; which do you live by? It depends on how you turn the dials I suppose. Let’s look at some ways.

First, the power source. What is yours? Your size, the sound of your voice, the speed of your actions, your bank account, or patience or persistence or humility? What do you do when you are depleted? Go to the spa; pray; go to church?

At the core of these questions resides practice and habit. Prayer is a practice.  Worship is a practice. They orient toward God, as source and cycle; for the practice of being present with God allows eternity to unfold moment by moment, in a way that is refreshing to the participant and relentless to the recipient: widow to judge. The widow always wins!

The widow was fearless, because she knows, at the core of her being, that God is God first, foremost, and above all things. And all else pales by comparison…even judges. If we know God, and the reality of God, then what is there to fear? Love will win every time, because God is love; and there is nothing greater.

The power of eternity then unfolds naturally, for God never puts an end to anything that God loves, and God loves the widow. She has all the time in the world, and justice prevails. 

Desmond Tutu, was a man that lived in the real power of the Kingdom of God, and, like Mother Teresa, helped the world look more like God intended it to look.  That is what kingdom power does, incidentally. Let me tell you a Desmond Tutu story to wind up this sermon.

As Desmond Tutu was leading a worship service in rural South Africa, in a valley surrounded by hills. South African Apartheid soldiers gathered at the ridge above with guns trained on the worshippers below. Archbishop Tutu called up to them during his sermon…“Come join us. Victory has already happened. We have won.  You are included. Love wins. Come join us!” They didn’t on that day…though I imagine some of them did later as Apartheid crumbled in South Africa. That is real power.

Kingdom of God power has two simple dials: love as the source, eternity as the timeframe…both are available to you. Are you tuned in?