Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily - Complain to God? Yes, He Commands It (Luke 18)

[Much of the material for this sermon is adapted from Rev. John Kleinig's book, Grace Upon Grace (Concordia Publishing House, 2008).  Artwork is "Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8" by John Hrehov via his Facebook page]

Think about a person who is never happy, always getting the short end of the stick in life, nothing goes right – and they constantly complain about it all.  Jesus says you should do what that person does 
Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8, by John Hrehov
          Shocked?  Well, true, Jesus is not saying to be like them in every way.  Especially if they forget about God.  But the same way such a person pesters the people around with their problems, so are you to pester the Almighty with your problems.  Only He does not count you as a pest.  God is not bothered by you.  He loves you.
And so last Sunday Christ in this place gave us the encouragement to cry out, “Lord, have mercy” through all our trials and troubles – and to pray it for our neighbor in the midst of their personal disasters.  God promises to hear those prayers in Psalm 34:17, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
However you had to live this past week.  And face all the large and small injustices of this world – health problems, relationship troubles, job stress, the attacks of sin, the march of death.  Whether you never started praying, or started praying and stopped, or still are going, but you are getting a bit weak-kneed and questioning if you should give up on prayer – things might just be worse for you today than last Sunday.  God has not appeared to deliver from all evil.  Sicknesses have gone without healing.  There has been little defense for injustices at work.  Relationships have gotten more strained.  So have finances.  When we need Him the most, God seems to go silent and offer no help.  Some people have come to the conclusion that He is not gracious, does not care, is ticked off at us and has finally left us for dead.  As a result, we get frustrated with life, feel disappointed with God – and maybe even angry at Him.  However, should we really complain about these things to the Lord?  That does not feel right.  It feels disrespectful, unholy.
If that were the case, if we were not allowed to complain, then how can we explain all the Psalms – like 13, 27, 42, and 142 – that lament to the Lord?  The Psalms are filled with thanks and praises to God.  However, most of the Psalms are complaints either from one person or from all the people of Israel.  Does that surprise you that there are MORE complaints than thanks?  I would never have guessed that.  And these complaints are brutally honest.  In them God's people confront their troubles head on and do not mince words with God.  There are angry words, bitter arguments with the Almighty.  And yet, the Church has tended to ignore the complaint Psalms because it feels unholy and disrespectful to be angry and moan and groan.              
This is why Jesus today tells this “parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  When God seems to be silent and unresponsive, be as persistent as the widow, day and night (v 7).  Injustices were done to her.  The court of law sided with her unfair adversary against her, even though she was the innocent victim.  Yet she does not give up.  Outside of court, she directly demands justice from the judge against her adversary because she knows the judge is a vain mawho likes the comfortable life.  He cares about his reputation.  While the English translates that the judge fears that she will beat him down by constantly pestering him, the Greek gets much more vivid, literally saying he is afraid she will give him a black eye if he ignores her complaint.                
Now keep in mind that God is different from that judge.  The earthly judge does not care about the woman – he only cares about his own ease of life.  God in Heaven, on the other hand, does care about you.  He baptismally claims you as His child.  He exercises grace and mercy in declaring us innocent of our guilt, apart from our observing His holy and eternal Law.  He even has declared you innocent of all the times you and I have given up on praying to Him – or never even started!               
For you and your salvation, He sent His only Son to live this life filled with injustices.  When you do complain to high Heaven about what goes on in your life, do you imagine Jesus responds by saying, “You think you have it rough?  Just think about how bad I had it.  I never did wrong to anyone.  I just came here to love them.  And what thanks did my goodness get me?  Hatred, insults, personal attacks.  Falsely accused.  Arrested and beaten.  Cold and crude metal spikes nailed into My hands and feet.  Hoisted up in the air on a dead tree for all the world to see.  And then the Justice of God puts all your guilt and the Hell it deserves on to Me.  And you think you have life rough? ”              
NO!  Jesus does NOT say that to you.  He does not stop your complaints to God, but actually encourages them.  So that you “always pray and not lose heart” He tells this parable.  Jesus actually commands you to moan and groan to God.  Daily.  Copy the widow.  Trust God to deliver you from your adversary the Devil who seeks to accuse, devour, and destroy you.  Your complaints are evidence that you have faith because your prayers are built on His promise to listen – despite that God may appear to be silent, turned against you, indifferent, ignorant to your situation, unresponsive, and unhelpful.  For the Scriptures tell your faith to trust that the Lord is actually none of those things.  God is truly just and gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in eternal love.   
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father, use such Psalms of complaint as 13, 27, 42 and 142 and so many others in your prayers to God.  Refuse to accept disaster, but protest to God against it.  Appeal to God’s justice in the face of injustice.  Appeal to God’s grace in the face of wrath.  Despite your troubles, take God at His Word and know for certain He is still involved in your life and committed to you.  Like the persistent widow, refuse to be quiet until He intervenes and deals with your problem – no matter how long He takes, for today Jesus told you this "parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart."  Amen.