Luke 18: 1-8
“Going to the Mountain Top”
Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Today, I'd like to talk about persistence, determination, and miracles. As some of you know, when I was about seven years old, I decided that I wanted to learn how to play the violin. I found someone who had a violin that they no longer wanted, and who needed a used bicycle for one of their kids. So, I traded my first bicycle for my first violin. You know, the early years of learning how to play any instrument can be downright obnoxious sounding to the rest of the family. There are the squeaks of the clarinets and saxophones, the missed high notes of the trumpets and wolfy sounds of the trombonists. Then there is my favorite, the drum set--the young drummer who has decided to be a drummer on shear will-power alone--the kid who wants to skip practicing and go right to hard rock performance mode. My parents were so glad when I could actually play a tune, any tune. At first, it was almost like fingernails on a chalkboard. Through all of the horrible sounds that a young violinist can make, my parents were still proud of me for keeping at it, for being determined and persistent. Persistence and determination helped me in my quest to learn the violin. And judging from the way my parents reacted, we, as parents, are all proud of those moments, when a cringe and a smile intersect.
In speaking more about persistence, determination and miracles, I'd also like to talk this morning about Laura Hatch, the 17-year-old girl who survived a horrible car crash several years ago in Washington state, a tumble down a 200-foot ravine and no food or water for 8 days. I believe that she is alive today because of a miracle. Sha Nohr, the person who found Laura, had never met Laura Hatch. But having had a dream, she thought, "I have to go look, I can't live with myself if I don't." Sha Nohr's search for Laura Hatch, began with a picture of Sha's daughter Bethann, with Laura. The night before her dream, Sha's daughter was very upset -- it had been 8 days since Laura disappeared. Sha had emailed friends asking them to pray, and then she went to bed. Sha says, "I just kept having this dream about this one intersection." Sha thought it was crazy and chalked the dream up to being worried about her own daughter. How often do we think that there, but for the grace of God, go I. But the dream was persistent and kept coming back. Sha said, "The dream was this little rabbit, like the one in Alice in Wonderland and it kept saying, 'keep going, keep going, keep going.' When I was growing up practicing my violin, it was the little choo-choo that could. "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." So, on Sunday morning, Sha Nohr knew she had to go looking for Laura. She and her daughter parked above a steep ravine in Redmond, Washington. They kept looking but saw nothing. Sha was ready to give up, but her daughter said something to her that she had heard in her dream. "Just keep going, keep going." Sha hadn't told her daughter about that part of the dream. So, Sha kept going. Then, she noticed where a patch of trees was sheared off and went for a closer look.
Sha says that "When I walked around the trees there was the car, my heart just started beating, I screamed up to Bethann, 'Call 911! This is the car!" Laura Hatch was alive, and the yelling woke her up. Sha Nohr's persistence and her determination to walk through her dream to its conclusion had created a miracle. Laura Hatch's life was saved. In retrospect, Sha said, “It was second only to when they brought her off the hill and her mom and dad were with her: that moment was more like the moment when your children are born, just breathless, the miracle moment that you can't explain." On the following Monday, Laura's doctor said she
was improving, but remained in serious condition.
This is a story about a miracle that actually happened in the here and now. In the parable of the persistent widow, there is this judge, Jesus says, who has neither decency nor conscience, a corrupt official interested only in his own advantage. A widow appears in his courtroom. She is poor and powerless, somebody not noticed by the movers and shakers in her town. She has no money to bribe this crooked judge; she cannot afford a lawyer to speak up for her. She, being widowed, has lost all standing in her community. So, you know what she does? She speaks up for herself! GRANT ME JUSTICE AGAINST MY OPPONENT, she shouts! When this does not bring her immediate results, she remains undaunted. She keeps returning to that courtroom and refuses to be silent. GRANT ME JUSTICE AGAINST MY OPPONENT! She is determined and persistent. I think that she also has a certain degree of faith to trust that the judge will eventually hear her. And eventually, her persistence is rewarded by the judge. The point that Jesus is making is that we must work persistently for God's unshakable justice. The persistent widow badgers the unjust judge until he gives in. The verb "wear out" can be literally translated from the Greek as to "strike under the eye," or to "give a black eye to someone." The judge's disregard for the law of justice does not alter the law. His admission that he doesn't "fear God or care about people" reveals his awareness that there is a God to fear, that there are people to care about, and that there is a code of justice to rule and be ruled by.
We are privileged to participate in this redemptive story of the persistent widow, but this is not all that Jesus intends for us to hear. Jesus' closing question, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on this Earth?" is meant to jump start us into action. We are to preach the gospel in season or out, to stay engaged with the world in a determined, persistent way. We may not always get it right the first time, but the results of our work, praise God, are not in our hands. God works in mysterious ways.
In the Gospel two weeks ago of Luke 17:5-10, the disciples of Jesus pray to have their faith increased, but they don't seem to understand what faith is, so Jesus gives them the parable of the mustard seed. Two weeks ago, I spoke about learning to understand faith in terms of forgiveness, duty, and the willingness to serve, following a Master who both forgives and serves. Today, it's about determination and persistence. In this week's passage, Jesus urges his disciples to pray without ceasing, giving them the example of the widow and the unjust judge. But Jesus ends with a question, "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Well, we have seen the faith of Sha Nohr, a woman whose faith in a vision she got from the resurrected God of her belief saved the life of Laura Hatch. It is a here and now miracle for all of us who want to see God showing up in life. The miracle of Laurie Hatch is a miracle for each one of us, too. Our eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. God showed up in the miracle of surprise, saving Laura, and in the process, reminding us, that we are saved, too. If there is anyone here who hasn't seen God lately, right here and now is a reminder that God is alive and well, waiting to save us in the same way that Laura Hatch was saved: by a miracle, the miracle of God in the form of the Risen Jesus Christ. In claiming the Risen Christ, we, like Sha Nohr, have been to the mountaintop.
Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who made a career out of persistence and determination, said the night before he was assassinated..."Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And God's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Persistence and determination in our faith, in the miracle of Jesus Christ, will get each of us to the Promised Land. Come! Let us go to the Mountain Top.
Rev. Jan Ekstedt MDiv.