I'm behind, I'll admit it. I haven't been preaching much lately, and I've had a little mini-vacation, to boot. So, instead of thinking about this Sunday's readings, I'm thinking back to last Sunday.
We are in Stewardship season already in our congregation, so we haven't been preaching on the texts. We've been talking about generosity and giving and why we should pledge and our congregation's mission and ministry.
But I caught myself listening to the texts, and especially the gospel, with special interest on Sunday. I listened to myself reading the story about the unjust judge and the persistent widow in light of our visit to the Martin Luther King Center last week. We toured the old Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the house where Rev. King was born and raised, checked out the exhibits about the history of the civil rights movement. (Among other tidbits, I learned that, as a child, Martin hated doing the dishes.)
At the gift shop, I bought a book, No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King. The book was written by an Episcopal priest called Gurdon Brewster. I had read a review in the Christian Century magazine about the book, so I looked for that one in particular.
I ended up reading the whole book on the plane home.
In the summer of 1960, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student in New York who spent the summer working with Martin Luther King Sr. and his son at Ebenezer Baptist. He worked with the youth group at Ebenezer, and tried to put together some special events for integrated youth groups. He had a couple of successes and a lot of setbacks, and some close calls.
He also learned to pray.
When he first got to Ebenezer, he had never said a prayer out loud, except for those written in the Book of Common Prayer. He relays his fear of speaking, his stilted language, and his progress in prayer as he gains more and more experience throughout the summer. In particular, he tells the story of a young teenager who is in the hospital, dying of an unknown disease. It is as he prays for and with her, that he begins to pray intimately, as if he were in conversation with God. This dying young girl teaches him how to pray.
Prayer and Justice.
I don't know about you, but for some reason I rarely think about them in the same sentence, or even the same breath. My friends who are passionate about social justice: I don't think of them as being passionate about prayer. Social justice is Doing Something, and prayer is, well, isn't prayer just the opposite of Doing Something?
On the other hand, the people I know who are passionate about prayer, for the most part look at me blankly when I talk about social justice.
Prayer and justice. Those were the two things that Gurdon Brewster learned from his summer with Daddy King.
And, as I listened to the gospel reading on Sunday, it seemed to me that these are more connected than I had thought before. Is the parable about the widow beating on the door of the unjust judge about persistent prayer? Or is it about seeking justice?
Yes. I think the answer is yes.
Persistent prayer and seeking justice: both of them, it seems to me involve struggle, involve wrestling, involve honest questioning. When we come to God in prayer, we learn to speak honestly, to ask questions, to persist despite failure, despite silence. And when we persist in seeking justice, we also struggle, become more honest with God and with others and with ourselves, and persist despite failure.
In both cases, we persist because, somehow, we have learned to trust God. We believe that God is just, that ultimately, God is on the side of healing, or reconciliation, of the poor being lifted up and the silent finding a voice. I don't know why we keep believing it, sometimes, but we do. There's so much failure, so much silence, so much injustice, so much death -- except for that strange story that intrigues us, that we keep coming back to, you know the one: about the Son of man rising on the third day. So, despite ourselves, we keep praying. Or we keep seeking justice. But usually, not both. Why not?
Prayer and justice. If we put them together more often, what an explosion the world would hear.
In the meantime, the question remains: "When the Son of man appears, will he find faith on earth?"