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The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is a well-known Jewish theologian and philosopher.  Trained as a scholar in Germany, raised in an intensely pious Chasidic community in Warsaw, his plan was to be a Rabbi serving a small community in Poland.

God had other ideas in mind.

Rabbi Heschel and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were brought together by a mutual love of the Bible, most especially the Prophets.

He joined Dr. King on the march to Selma.  It reminded him of the message of the prophets whose primary concern was social justice, and of his Hasidic ancestors for whom compassion for those who are suffering defined what it meant to be a religious person.

I was reminded of Rabbi Heschel as I read today’s parable and prepared to write this sermon – compassion for the suffering of other people defines a religious person.

He and the widow in today’s Gospel seem well prepared to answer the question Jesus confronts us with at the end of this passage.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I’m not sure how I would answer, are you?

If Jesus came today, he would sometimes find me struggling with faith.

It’s all too easy to despair, to respond with skepticism.

If we look at our world like Prophets yearning for social justice or as religious people seeking compassion for the suffering of others, what do we see?

  • Poverty and – economic inequality rates remain high; wealth disparities rising faster than inequality in income.
  • Some 19 million adults living in households with insufficient food, 11.9 million behind on rent.
  • The United States continuing to report the highest criminal incarceration rates, nearly 2 million people held in state and federal prisons.
  • Blacks remaining vastly overrepresented in jails and prisons.
  • No dismantling of the mass incarceration system and no widespread systemic reform.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities continuing among the number of youths incarcerated. Black youth more than four times, Latinx youth 1.3 times, tribal youth more than 3 times as likely to be incarcerated as white youth.
  • Drug overdose deaths reaching the highest ever recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic associated with unemployment, alcohol poisoning, and suicide, mostly related to economic insecurity, and mental health challenges.
  • The expulsion of more than 750,000 migrants at our borders, disproportionately targeting Black, indigenous, Latinx people. Migrants seeking sanctuary bussed to other Cities without coordination of their care and satisfaction of their needs.
  • Lawmakers introducing legislation defining voting rights, woman’s reproductive health care, the rights of transgender people, especially transgender children.

Oh, we can go on and on…… climate concerns, senseless war, lack of access to health care, gun violence on our streets and in our schools, the problems seem so pervasive.

How many of us knock persistently at God’s door each day and feel it’s to no avail?

Sometimes our trust grows weary, wondering if there will be an answer.

It’s not at all surprising that it so easy for us to lose heart, so easy to become immobilized.

…Then there’s this Gospel.


Today’s Gospel first provides a parable that first addresses not losing heart with prayer and ends with a provocative question.

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

It’s a question that seems to leap across Luke’s scripture…from Jesus in this Gospel’s present moment into His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.

And it appears to leap right into our future, our “Moving Forward in Grace.”

Perhaps a sign of faith will be our willingness to remain relentless with our prayer, as was the widow who persisted against all odds in her fight for justice.

Yet it is not prayer alone, is it? Imagine the vulnerable Widow being told, “So sorry, but our thoughts and our prayers are with you.”

How often do we roll our eyes, sigh, or get angry when we hear politicians respond with, “Our prayers and our thoughts are with you?”

This parable emphasizes the inseparable connection between prayer and action; and invites us to think about prayer more comprehensively, as dynamic, /active,/and relational.


Understanding prayer in this way opens us to live our faith and to see the world as Jesus did.

Theologian Marcus Borg clarifies it in this way.

Jesus points us to an alternative culture which seeks to make the world more compassionate.

It is the drive to build a compassionate world that moved Jesus to touch lepers, to heal, to see ostracized people, as “beloved children of God,” to risk his own life for the sake of others.

These are actions of divine grace.

The word Jesus uses most often to describe this divine grace is compassionate.

The pastoral ministry of the Church, our “Moving Forward in Grace”, must enliven divine grace.

We must be willing… to touch, /to heal, /to see, /to risk, /to respond with compassion to the suffering in our community – our City, our Nation, and our World.

We must be like Jesus, bearers of divine grace, people of compassion.

There’s plenty we can do.

  • Let’s begin by recommitting to our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human person, /believe in our own worth /and treat others with great respect.
  • Find ways to promote the common good.
  • Tackle social justice issues in our own backyard.
  • Get involved in civic issues. Remaining silent isn’t an option when profoundly human, ethical, religious issues are at stake.
  • Vote responsibly, support candidates through volunteer efforts or donations, and speak out on those matters that affect the lives of the most vulnerable and powerless.
  • Recognize and counter the violence that comes in many forms; Oppression of the poor, deprivation of rights, exploitation, neglect, abuse of the aged, the helpless, harm done to God’s Creation.

Keeping our prayers alive with action, /not just good intentions, or petitions, /incarnates our faith here on earth, it builds the reign of God.


When Rabbi Heschel returned from Selma, he wrote, “The march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer.  Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs.  Even without words, our march was worship.  I felt my legs were praying.”

It all reminds me of these centering words attributed to Teresa of Avila who we commemorated yesterday:

“Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which to look for Christ’s compassion in the world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. 

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. 

Christ has no body on earth but yours.”

When the Son of Man comes will he look at us and find this same faith in our lives?

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