A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, October 20, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, October 20, 2019

It is good to be back at All Saints’ after a weekend away in Santa Cruz with family and friends at the wedding of our son and now daughter-in-law. I returned with many photos, memories, and lots of bay laurel garlands from the table decorations. I brought some of the garlands here to the church this morning and they’re decorating the high altar.

I also brought back a huge sense of blessing and joy.  Scripture often uses wedding banquets as a metaphor for the reign of God, and that image ran through my mind last Saturday as our hearts were overflowing with joy.

Fortunately, as mother of the groom, I did not officiate at the wedding.  Our presider was a family friend, the Rector of Transfiguration, San Mateo. It was an outdoor wedding, but we put away our phones, prayed together, and as we witnessed the couple’s vows full of promises, love, and hope. And that is what stands out for me in our readings today, too, even in the parable of the unjust judge. Promises, love, and hope.

In our reading from Jeremiah, we hear God say, “the days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.” “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 

Even though God’s people let down God time after time, God promises to initiate a new covenant, and new relationship with God’s people  which, eventually, comes to us in the gift of Jesus Christ.

Our God is a God of promise, love, and hope, who reaches out to us and offers us grace through the gift of  Jesus Christ.

Our second reading is a letter to a congregation of early Christians.  Paul writes, “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

This morning I hear Paul speaking to us at All Saints’ during our time of transition. I think it’s important to remember that we have a lot in common with the early Christians who lived before the thousand years of Christendom. The early Christians were swimming against the current of Roman life in which people worshiped a multitude of local gods and goddesses, as well as wealth. 

Paul encourages them, and he encourages us to persevere in our faith. His words speak to me today in the 21st century. How can we share our ministry and our community more fully with the world around us in 2019? Where do you see seeds of God’s work being planted at All Saints’?

In the parable of the unjust judge, the logic of the parable depends on a rhetorical device that’s called “lesser to greater” commonly used in the ancient world.  A paraphrase of verse 7 might be, “If an unjust judge can grant justice in response to badgering, how much more will God grant justice to those who cry out day and night? Jesus uses the unjust judge as a kind of cartoon figure to make the point that God is the opposite: God is the most just judge, who has infinite compassion for us.

The parable focusses on the widow’s persistence.  Widows were poor in Jesus’ world; and Jesus mentions them several times in the Gospels:  think of the widow’s mite, and when he raises a widow’s son back to life.  He has compassion for widows, and, I think, admires their persistence.

Luke writes that Jesus told this parable to the disciples to teach them about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.

I also think he’s teaching us about hope.  Hope is more than a wish or a dream.  I’m more and more convinced that hope takes persistence, and that God meets us in our struggle to be persistent.

In the Jeremiah reading God is persistent in initiating a new covenant with God’s people.  In the Timothy reading, Paul encourages the church to be persistent in their ministry.  These are both ribbons of hope that run through the scriptures, and our relationship with God. 

A persistent hope requires setting goals and planning for the future.  Our stewardship of the church today is a sign of persistent hope for the future of the parish.  Today, for example, we have the Diocesan Planned Giving officer here with us to talk about planned giving. From a parish financial perspective, we are fortunate to have an endowment and a rectory in the midst of the San Francisco economy. We can build on that strong foundation of hope with God’s help.

Yesterday, I realized that I started at All Saints’ the same week that our son and daughter-in-law became engaged. After all the spreadsheets and emails exchanged between our two families, wrangling with the guest list, the invitations were sent and then so many people came in from around the country. It took persistence and hope to put the wedding together.  There was a ceremony and a banquet, and we all witnessed a promise of love, and hope.

Here in our interim time, I have great hope in the future of All Saints’. The Good News is that Jesus persistently love us, and is here with us. He has set a banquet for us, and we are all his guests at the table.   Come, all are invited to the banquet celebrating God’s promise, love, and hope.