Please Hold

LK 18:1-8
10/21/07

“Your call is very important to us. Please hold and someone will be with you momentarily. This call may be monitored for quality control purposes.” Does that sound familiar to you?

For the last eighteen months my wife has be importuning me to get rid of my 1989 Ford Crown Victoria Station Wagon. Like the judge who fears neither God nor man, I kept turning a deaf ear to her. My station wagon has character and balance. Both the engine and the transmission slip. There is symmetry to its problems: during the flood last week water came in through the holes in both front doors. Saturday I started to cave. I came home from celebrating mass at the 5:00 p.m. service and found my son and my wife on the Internet searching for a Dodge Dakota Club Cab pickup truck for me. (I had allowed once that I thought such a vehicle was keen.) They had found a used truck at just the right price in Commack, Long Island, and they wanted me to drive down and see it. Because she “kept coming to me and bothering me,” I relented and said I would consider such a trip. They also found a truck in Hamden, CT. After premature “buyer’s remorse,” I agreed to call Commack on Monday to see if the truck was still available, and if it were to drive down. So on Monday morning I called and heard, “Your call is important to us. Someone will be with you momentarily. This call may be monitored for quality control purposes.”

The upshot of it was that I was on “hold” for one hour and fifteen minutes! Three times I got through to someone, only to be put back on hold. In the end I was told that the truck was no longer available. So I called the church to report in. Guess what? I got the answering machine. (Sandie had gone to the bank.) Eventually I settled for a truck up in Hamden, after realizing that it would not cost me any more than a used Toyota.

Now there is a point to my ramblings, and it is this: to be put on “hold,” to be refused to be heard; to be kept dangling (regardless of the reason) can be humiliating. No matter what you have to offer, to be ignored is demeaning. You are discounted. You don’t count. You are valueless. You are not a person; you are an “it.”

When the judge refuses to listen to the widow, who is seeking justice over against her opponent, he is putting her on “hold.” He is devaluing her. He is treating her not as a person, but as an “it.” However, because of her persistence, the judge takes her case and grants her justice “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” The woman’s worth is acknowledged, or restored. She now “counts.” She is now one who is valued. She is now a person.

I find this passage in Luke interesting because right off the bat we are told how to interpret the parable. “Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Ostensibly, then, the passage is to encourage people to be steadfast and persistent in praying. “Pray always,” is the point. If an unjust judge, who fears neither God nor man, will relent, then how much more will God, who is just, listen to the prayers of His people. Jesus is using a rabbinic reasoning technique, which is to move from the lesser to the greater (i.e., if an unjust person etc., then how much more so would a just God do such and such).

There is a shift in the last part of the passage to the issue of “justice”. God will grant “justice” to those who continually pray to Him. But what is “justice”? In the Old Testament the term is sedak, which means vindication or deliverance. In the New Testament the term is dikaiosune, which means right relationship or restoration to goodness. Thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle along with theologians such as Aquinas and others use the analogy of “proper order in creation, or the natural world.” Paul Tillich talks about “love” and “power.” Martin Buber, a rabbinic philosopher, speaks of “I — thou.” To treat someone as a “thou” is to see him/her as one of God’s creation and as having value. All in all the idea of “justice” seems to imply a kind of “balance,” or “right relationship.”

So what? Well this passage and parable is told during Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion. It foreshadows the significance of what happens in His sacrificial offering on the cross. In this huge expression of God’s love for us, His dying on the cross as expiation for our sins, there is an indelible sign of God’s love for us. It means that for God we are not and have never been “on hold.” We count. You and I are loved and valued.

Our right relationship to God, then, is one of being in constant conversation with Him. It is an “I — Thou” relationship. It is one of constant prayer, similar to a constant conversation within a family. Obviously we have lots of things to do in our lives: work, rear children, chill out. But all of those things in our lives are rightly done when they are done with a sense of the importance of God and of the presence of God in our lives. This is not just something that pops up. It requires tending, diligence and participation in the sacraments. Jesus calls us to be steadfast and not lose heart. Our justification, our justice, is taken care of and based in the life and actions of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Hence “to pray always” is to participate in our justification and in the justice of God.

In terms of the living of our faith (the topic of last week’s sermon) what all this means is we do not live “on hold” in our relationship to God. The line is always open, even if we are not getting what we seem to think we want. That means that we live with “love of God,” the first commandment. It also means that we treat others as we would ourselves want to be treated. In our actions and attitudes we treat others as valued human beings whom God loves and values. We are to strive to avoid devaluing others, to cease being indifferent and insensitive to the needs of others. This can be through a smile at the store to the clerk or through participating in Amnesty International. We can strive to participate in bring about justice, or right balance, through the actions of the Episcopal missionary enterprises outlined in The Living Church or through helping at St. Luke’s Life Works, Pacific House or New Covenant House. On a simple level we could double the number of Thanksgiving baskets this year and triple the amount of foodstuffs brought to the Christmas Show and later distributed to St. Luke’s and the Food Bank. To pray without ceasing is to live in balance and to strive for justice by paying attention and ceasing to ignore the fabric of our society and our lives. To not care, to ignore, to treat others as “its” is to put people on emotional “hold.” That is pernicious, destructive and a sin.

What is true of the fabric of our personal, psychological, religious and social lives is also true of the fabric of our worshiping structure. This building of St. John’s has been “put on hold” for nearly fifty years. Being ignored, treated as of second hand importance and neglected has brought its toll, just as it does with individuals, nations, economies and other entities. God’s house of prayer, our sanctuary for education, outreach and worship is breaking down right before our eyes. We need to pay attention, “to pray and always not to lose heart,” and to bring about a proper balance between our business of worship and our business of outreach. As I said several weeks ago, it is not a matter of “either/or”; it is a matter of “both/and”.

I know that each of you brings to church burdens and responsibilities that are heavy and often painful. Some of us are dealing with illness in our own lives or the lives of our relatives. Some of us are dealing with financial issues or relational issues. We lie awake at night worrying ourselves sick about these things. Then some character stands up on Sunday morning and tells you “don’t worry” and please support the capital fund drive. If that is what you hear, then I am sorry.

What this passage is saying, and what I am desperately trying to convey in my ministry and priesthood here at St. John’s is this message: God is steadfast. He hears our prayers all of the time. Our proper relationship to Him and to one another is through our faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. Our world is tough. Our lives are tough. Our Lord and Master is tougher. When we think we are forgotten, are “on hold,” we are assured now and eternally that He is “holding us,” not “ignoring us.” Our vision is imperfect. We see through a glass “darkly.” Our lives are imperfect. Yet even we can do good things. How much more, then, is God doing things for you and me that we cannot fathom? After all, in Him our souls are saved. In Him you and I have eternal love. With that salvation and that love come enormous challenges and opportunities. Those challenges and opportunities are to bring balance, renewal and justice that reflect the justice, love and perfection that you and I have in God and in Jesus Christ. So brothers and sisters, pray without ceasing. Know that God holds you close and is willing to direct your life and your ways. As part of the body of Christ, as the Church, you and I always have an open line to our God. He asks us to keep an open line to others (to treat others as “thous” and not “its”) in return for His support. And for that support, thanks be to God! Amen.