Today we celebrate this woman, a widow, who keeps pursuing a callous judge until she gets justice against her opponent. You’ve got to love her persistence. A character in a story Jesus tells about the need to pray always and not to lose heart, she’s an example to us to persist in seeking justice, for herself, for others, for this world. Her example is Jesus calling us to persist in prayer and work for justice ourselves, for others, for all creation, and not to lose heart.
Today we celebrate and gather support for the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, its coordinator Kim, the Board, partner organizations, and member participants and volunteers who persist, and many who pray, working to alleviate food insecurity, create supportive community, and bring about justice with those on limited incomes in our neighbourhood. The Kitchen is an example of what persistence in work and prayer together can accomplish, significantly impacting people’s lives, their health and wellbeing. Through access to more nutritious food, learning to grow food, learning economical and sustainable ways to cook and preserve food, in a supportive community with others, the Kitchen persists in seeking food justice for all people in our neighbourhood and region. The Kitchen is calling all of us to pray and work together out of the abundance that the earth provides towards God’s vision of everyone having enough nutritious food to eat in community together, and not to lose heart.
Today we are on the eve of a federal election. Would we use the word celebrate? Should we? Many who have never had this right or lost the right to vote in free and fair elections for good governance, would and do celebrate the opportunity to participate in an election. An election offers many stories of persistence, positive and negative, much of it to influence our vote, and so much of what happens in elections and government can tempt us to be cynical and lose heart. But what if like the woman in Jesus’ story, we resist, we insist, our persistent work and prayer is that an election and government is about issues of justice: for those who are poor to have enough food, shelter, safety; for religious, racial, queer minorities to have equal protection, freedom and opportunity; for gender equity; for indigenous neighbours and communities to be free from colonialism and prejudice and share equally in support and self determination; for climate justice and protection of the earth, its air, lands and waters, and all creatures, especially for the sake and survival of those who come after us; for a more compassionate society that cares for the vulnerable, in the measure of the Bible, the widow, the orphan and the stranger, and we would add those who struggle with mental and physical illness, those differently abled, the addicted, the very young and elders, the isolated, oppressed, and victims of violence; and for peace!, peace and justice in this and every land, for every person of this world, lasting, loving, deep justice and peace for all creation. Can we resist cynicism and despair and instead believe and pray and persist and resist and insist and even celebrate this election and government will be about these concerns of compassion and justice and peace for all people and all creation? Pray and persist and vote and not lose heart.
I recently finished reading a book, Making Peace with the Land by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba. (InterVarsity, 2012) It is a collection of essays by the two authors who study and work in areas of theology and ecology, sustainable agriculture and community. They describe examples of alternative communities persisting in prayer and ways of connectedness to the land and food, to all creation and one another, like the Anathoth Community Garden named after the plot of land Jeremiah purchased in exile as a future hope that serves to feed everyone in the local community. Or the Land Institute that works to develop an agriculture that “nourishes rather than depletes the land.” Its mission reads: “When people, land, and community are as one, all three members prosper; when they relate not as members but as competing interests, all three are exploited. By consulting Nature as the source and measure of that membership, The Land institute seeks to develop an agriculture that will save the soil from being lost or poisoned while promoting a community life at once prosperous and enduring;” Or the Casa da Videira community in Curitiba, Brazil, that describes itself as a “cooperative of families that have decided to create a vibrant, sustainable place in which to live a balanced, relationally-focused life, caring for God’s creation and inspiring people around them,” or what the author describes as “abundant kingdom homesteading.” Movements like Transition Towns that started in England are growing elsewhere with small towns weaning themselves off fossil fuels and supporting more sustainable life and local economies together. Or an interdenominational Christian organization, ECHO, with its mission “to network with community leaders in developing countries to seek hunger solutions for families growing food under difficult conditions,” researching solutions to those “difficult conditions” on its global 12-acre farm with 6 distinct ecosystems and 580 varieties of edible vegetables, shrubs and trees that they distribute all over the world.
All of these examples are about persistence and prayer, resisting destructive patterns of food and community and depletion of the earth as inevitable and necessary, and insisting on food and creation and community justice and peace together. Both authors link what we do in worship at the table in Eucharist/Holy Communion together with what happens at every table, and food and community for every person and all creation on earth. Wirzba writes: It is tempting to confine eucharistic eating to a ritual realm. When this happens, the table around which Christians gather stays in a sanctuary. This is a serious error. The life and ministry of Jesus is not a pious idea. It is an economic revolution that has multiple practical effects, such that the tables in our kitchens and the dining tables in restaurants and cafeterias become places of eucharistic eating….To eat in such a way that we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us means that we will give ourselves – our attention, our skills, our energy and our possessions – to others so that we all flourish. Eucharistic table manners result in sacrificial forms of living in which meeting the needs of others is the defining concern. (p.124-125) Our acts of worship together here, at table, in word and sacrament, are part of, and forming us in persistence in prayer, seeking justice and peace together, and that we not lose heart.
There are many other stories of people’s persistence, resistance, insistence on justice that are known to us, including our own, and they are all honoured and affirmed today by this story Jesus tells of the widow who keeps coming and will not give up, and finally receives justice.
Today we celebrate those who Affirm their Baptism and join this community as a place of belonging and welcome, that receiving the gifts of God’s grace in Christ and by God’s Spirit we join Jesus in the invitation and calling to persist in prayer and work for justice and peace in our lives and the lives of others, in our communities, individually and together, in this world, today and always, and that we never, ever, lose heart. In all our relations, let it be so. Amen.