Blogging toward Sunday

October 15, 2007

Last year I attended a prayer vigil in downtown Jackson on the night of
a scheduled execution. A hard rain was falling. I recognized a couple
of people as fellow clergy and a couple of others as consistent
advocates for justice in our small state. It was just a small crowd
composed of those who have been praying and working against capital
punishment for years.

The service called for some readings
followed by a lengthy period of silence before the scheduled hour,
followed by the tolling of the bells. Silence is never easy for me, so
I was relieved when the bells began ringing, but the bells kept on
ringing—they came in sets of three, followed by silence, then more
bells. Before long I became antsy, wondering when they would quit. Were
they ringing the age of the victim or the age of the man being
executed? Apparently not; there were only the three rings followed by
silence followed by ringing for what seemed an eternity.

In Luke
17 both the Pharisees and the disciples show signs of impatience for
the coming kingdom. They seem to want it to go ahead and get here. The
Pharisees ask when it will come, and the disciples want to know where
to find it, but Jesus assures them only that it will not come before he
suffers and is rejected. First comes the passion, and he teaches us
that there is no shortcut to the end. We must be prepared for suffering
and rejection also. We must be prepared for the long, costly
transformation which must occur within us and all around us before his
kingdom will be fully realized. It’s not going to be easy, he insisted,
and then he told them about this persistent widow.

As Luke makes
plain, this is a parable for the long haul. It calls for our daily,
persistent prayer for the justice of his kingdom: we are to keep our
eyes on the prize and not grow weary.

My mostly white church
shares my own discomfort with long, silent periods of prayer. We like
to know when our worship is going to end. We prefer something between
59 and 61 minutes, but the main thing is a definite end.

Yet
every Sunday I drive home past one particular black church, and every
Sunday the congregants are still in there praying long after our church
has finished. I wonder about the restlessness of typical white worship.
Is there a connection between our impatience and our sense that the
kingdom is already here for us? Why keep pounding on the doors, begging
for justice, when for us the world is pretty much justified?

This
is a parable for widows, for the vulnerable and the poor. This is a
parable for those who are enduring the passion which must come before
the kingdom can come in its fullness. This is for those who know that
there’s a long way to go before this world is made right, and it’s not
going to make as much sense for those who are content already with the
way things are.

This is also a parable about worship. Some in
our congregation get frustrated when our worship seems boring and we do
not stir up enough emotion, but since when is worship a time for us to
feel good? If this parable is our guide, worship is best understood as
part of the church’s long and persistent prayer for God’s kingdom to
come on earth as it is in heaven.