The Question that Haunts Us
"However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8
Old Testament: Deut. 32:48-52
Psalter: Psalm 62
Epistle:! Peter 1:3-9
The question for this first week is very instructive, because it reveals the first thing Christ will be looking for at the great moment when history reaches its climax, and he returns to sift the hearts of all peoples.
When you apply for a loan, what is the first thing your lender looks for? Your credit history. When an accident victim is wheeled into the emergency room, what's the first thing the doctor looks for? A pulse. And when Christ appears, what will be the first thing he'll be looking for? Faith.
This jolts us, because faith development is rarely discussed, much less valued, in our culture. Look at what matters to us: jobs, the environment, AIDS, crime, family values, homelessness. But when Jesus returns, he's not going to be checking on whether we found the cure for cancer, protected the environment, or fought abortion—worthy though these matters are. Rather, his first concern will be how our involvement in matters such as these demonstrated and developed our faith. Did all your hard work, your successes, and your failures deepen or destroy your faith? That will be his question.
Your relationship of trust to Christ transcends any earthly accomplishment or failure. So you fed the hungry and gave the cup of water to the thirsty; what did that do to your faith? So you did many good works in his name; did you—do you— know him (Matt. 7:22-23)? Viewing our lives through that perspective can serve as a critical caution and corrective to us ac-tivistic, project-centered, cause-driven people. As we look toward the end of another busy church season, it's fair to ask, "What did my deeds do to deepen my spirit of dependence upon the Lord?" Ultimately, only faith matters; because, ultimately only what's done in faith matters.
The skepticism of Christ.
There's a haunting tone of doubt in this week's question. Jesus is obviously implying that he expects to find precious little of the faith he'll be looking for. And that's deeply troubling. But there's good reason for Jesus' grave concern.
Faiths true opposite is not so much disbelief (which is correctable) or unbelief (which is convertible) but cynicism, which is usually irreparable. Cynics (unlike skeptics) are people who once said a tenuous yes to God; now, some disappointments later, they're uttering a bitter no. What's troubling is this: there's an immense amount of cynicism around today and the spirit of cynicism never lurks very far from the edges of our own hearts.
It's very easy to catch the jaded spirit of a Charlie Brown, who upon hearing that in life you win some and lose some, responded, "That would be nice!" In a society so filled with despair, it's no easy thing to keep a sweet spirit alive. It's so tough, in fact, that Jesus asks, with more than a hint of doubt, "Will I find any sweet faith, and any triumphant trust when I return?"
Help for fainting hearts and faded spirits.
Knowing how real the danger of cynicism is, our Lord tells a remarkably realistic story of faith under assault. If anyone has a right to become cynical, his heroine does. Everything is against her. First of all, she's a woman. In her day women had no rights and no power. Second, she's a widow Her support group numbers zero. Third, someone has mistreated her; she's a victim. Fourth, the judge to whom she appeals doesn't fear God, so she cannot appeal to his conscience. Fifth, the judge doesn't care what people think of him. Sixth, he has no time for her; he won't even hear her case. It's a situation ripe for producing a cynic.
Instead, says our Lord, the woman makes a choice. She decides that she will never stop knocking on that judge's door. She can still walk. She can still knock. She can sit in his waiting room all day if she has to. So she does. Every day it's the same routine: get up, get dressed, walk to the judge's courtroom, knock on the door, ask to see the judge, be told "no," wait outside in the lobby go home, sleep, get up, etc., etc, over and over again, and fust never quit. And, quite predictably she wears that judge down. Jesus ends the story with humor. He pictures a frazzled judge giving in just to keep his sanity!
Swiftly Jesus paints a sharply contrasting picture. The powerless widow is replaced by the chosen ones of God. The hard judge is replaced by a tender Father who is moved by their cries. Doubtless their prayers would get a swift hearing. But, asks Jesus, could the unthinkable happen? When the way is wide open, and heaven is eager to hear and answer, could it be that earth will have succumbed to cynicism? It's a question meant to haunt us.
The bottom line.
It all comes down to a choice: either pray or give up. The people whom Christ will applaud upon his return will be the ones who, though pushed to the brink of cynicism at times, repeatedly chose to remember who they were, who God is, and chose— simply chose—to never quit crying out to him day and night.
Call to Worship
People of God, worship the living God today! Remember that out of nothing he created the heavens and the earth. Remember that he raised Jesus from the impotence of death to the power of his right hand. Remember that not even the gates of hell can stand against his purposes. Behold your God, who reigns now and forever!
Prayer of Confession
Father, you tell us in your word that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. We confess that we have frequently relaxed our faith. We have allowed ourselves to become cynical, and our cynicism has boiled over with slander, criticism, prayer-lessness, and pessimism. How easily we've allowed ourselves to crumple under the stresses of our lives. Forgive us for our smallness of faith. In your mercy hear us. For Jesus' sake, Amen.
Psalms and Hymns
Psalm 37: "When Evil People Sin" (especially st. 2)
Psalm 62: "My Soul Finds Rest"
"Christian, Do You Struggle"
[PSH 575, TH 574]
"If You but Trust in God to Guide You"
[PsH 446, PH 282, RL 151, TH 670]
"In You Is Gladness"
"Like a River Glorious"
[PsH 560, TH 699]
"We've Come This Far by Faith"