Luke 18:1-8

The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

18 Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b]And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The story of the persistent widow reminds us of the importance to always pray and to not lose heart.  Actually, the word for prayer in this text can also be translated as “plead”.    It’s also important to remember that our prayers, as incomplete as they often are, as imperfect and filled will all sorts of different wants and needs…are still purposeful and are heard.

I can remember a time when I was a summer missionary during college in Rehoboth Beach, DE.  It was a tough assignment, I got to spend 2 months on the beach, in a resort area. 

And, the organization that I was working with was great, but they didn’t have much of a plan or structure.  So, that left me with a lot of time…which was good and bad.  It led me to a deep time of questioning.  One night, I remember being on part of the boardwalk there, there was not anyone else around and I remember pleading to God to make sense of life and if God was really there, and if God was, did God care…then, I remembered this verse from Hebrews that says that, in Christ, we have a sympathetic priest who has experienced with us all things.  God was with me in my prayers, my pleadings that night.  

The context for this story is within a series of stories on faith and prayer.  Jesus is addressing his disciples who may have been feeling a bit disheartened.  Wondering if things were going to change, when would this movement of theirs take off?  When would life with Jesus begin to make sense again?  Sound familiar?  Many of us may wonder similar things….when will my life change, when will our church be something more, and what is that more, when will we experience growth and change?  

Jesus encourages them and goes into this story about a marginalized widow.  As we’ve talked about before, widows were vulnerable in the first century, they were alone usually, and they didn’t have many advocates.  This widow took it upon herself to go to a judge for justice.  Even today, widows all over the world, are subject to all sorts of injustice.  In India a couple of years ago, I was struck by how many folks were marginalized in a wealthy country where the income disparity was so obvious and how affected those without advocates like this picture of an Indian woman.  But, not only in India and other parts of the world, but even here in the states as I’ve experienced with folks preying on my mom’s loss of my dad over a year ago.  

In our Gospel lesson, something had happened to this widow and she wanted to plead her case.  She didn’t have someone there for her, her husband had died and there is no mention of children.  But, she had some moxie to demand justice.  The judge in this story is said to not have a fear of God or love for community.  He was comfortable, privileged, isolated.  However, in his favor, he was impartial!  He didn’t have any ties to folks.

So, this woman comes before him, he refuses to hear her case or grant her justice.  Yet, she persists, she doesn’t give up and continues to plead for justice.  Eventually, he gets tired of her bothering her, even makes a remark about her persistence being a strength, she might even beat him up!  Somehow it seems that this woman may have even won a bit of respect from the judge.  

He eventually gives in and grants her justice.

Jesus goes on to say that if this unjust judge who doesn’t love community or fear God gives justice to the widow, how much more will God do the same, a God who lives in community with Godself and with us?  

This story is about faith.  Faith is persistence born out of commitment.  It doesn’t make sense all of the time, but faith molds us and faith leads us to growth….and faith will give us the desires of our heart.  Those desires are always deeper than what we may actually pray for…and they always lead to a deeper growth.

Now, this passage also affirms that we do have injustices in our lives and in our world.  If we look around, we see a world filled with division, war, injustices all around.  How can we not see the affects of gun violence, of racism, of corruption, of war?  

In our own lives, when we are able to look deeply at ourselves….when we see things in our lives that need remedying or have deep desires, how do we respond?  Do we lose heart, or do we persist, plead to God, and grow in faith?  

As we approach this fall, we see things die, become dormant.  Oftentimes, we may feel that way about our church…but, there is still beauty in the fall and in the winter…and, we have a promise that there is a spring, that new life will rise up out of the 

I could say it’s similar in my story of coming to Fleming Road UCC.  I knew that I’d end up at Fleming Road UCC deep down after meeting with folks here and hearing about your church’s profile.  God’s faithfulness and persistence gave, and gives, me a deep sense of trust and belief…that builds up a good sense of agency within me to go where God leads.

Friends, I know that many of you have demonstrated amazing faith.  I see it in this church.  You refuse to give up on it…often you want to I’d imagine.  You maybe even lose heart or go back and forth in some wavering faith.  

I can tell you that in your life, and in your church, persistence and pleading to God will pay off.  Keep on pleading before God the deeper desires of your heart for your relationships, your life, and your church.  

I can tell you that this church will grow, I know it will.  I don’t exactly know what that will look like, but I know that I am pleading for this church to be all that God intends for it to be, and I know many of you are as well!  

When God looks at us, may we ask the question that Jesus asks at the end of this passage, will God find faith?  I believe that God will!  Find time to get on your knees or in a quiet place, maybe with others, and plead to God for your own spiritual growth and for this church!  


Luke 17:11-19

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their dis- tance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As I was thinking of this past week’s lectionary, I was thinking about what it means to be well.

I know that I like to exercise, I also know my need to be around deep friends that believe in me and I in them, and I try to do self-care as I also practice others care. But, what does it mean to be well? I think sometimes, we have to be led into the deeper parts of who we are…and sometimes that means confronting ourselves and seeking out others who may be different from us that can give us perspective.

St. Francis of Assisi, the great Catholic medieval monk did just that. He walked away from wealth and prestige, fell in love with simplicity, and lived among those that were marginalized.

Lepers, those with this horrible disfiguring disease that were considered outcasts, especially taught St. Francis some things about life and wellness.

Richard Rohr has been writing about St. Francis in this past week’s devotionals, here’s a quote from St. Francis:

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord . . . led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and then I left the world. —Francis of Assisi

Augustine Thompson, a Dominican friar, writes:

This encounter with lepers, not the act of stripping off his clothing before the bishop, would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. . . . Wherever the lep- rosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. . . . It was a dramatic personal reorientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. As Francis showed mercy to these outcasts, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, not as refuse to be fled from in horror, his perceptions changed. What be- fore was ugly and repulsive now caused him delight and joy, not only spiritually, but also viscerally and physically.

Francis’s aesthetic sense, so central to his personality, had been transformed, even in- verted. The startled veteran sensed himself, by God’s grace and no power of his own, re- made into a different man. Just as suddenly, the sins which had been tormenting him seemed to melt away, and Francis experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. Not long after this encounter, later accounts tell us, perhaps in allegory, that Francis was walking down a road and met one of these same lepers. He embraced the man in his arms and kissed him. Francis’s spiritual nightmare was over; he had found peace.

Jesus also understood that embracing those on the margins would lead to wellness within one’s self and be a blessing for others.

Jesus, in our passage, is on a journey towards Jerusalem still…he passes through a region and there are some men who meet him. They have leprosy, which could be interpreted not only as leprosy, but some other skin disease. Because of their ailment, they could not be a full part of the community, they were outside the village, marginalized. So, from a distance, they call out to Jesus. They recognize that Jesus is someone who has a standing in society, they call him Master. They ask him for pity…they could be asking for a hand- out, a healing, or simply some kind of connection.

Jesus replies, from a distance, go and show yourselves to the priests…this was customary…priests didn’t have healing power, but if someone is healed, they have to prove it to the priests, and the priests go through a process of purification and then declare folks to be able to be in community again, restored.

As the ten are going, they are healed along the way. One, only one, praised God and went back to find Jesus. When he found him, he recognized that Jesus had healed him, and fell at this knees, bestowing honor and deep gratitude towards Jesus.

And, the kicker, for the first time in this story, the healed man who returns is identified as a foreigner, and, even more, a Samaritan. Jesus had crossed cultural boundaries, had healed and restored a foreigner to community…showing immense compassion and love for this person.

Jesus goes on to ask, “where are the other 9”…they are assumed to be Jewish folk, part of Jesus’ tribe, folks that should have known better and were shown the same affection as the Samaritan by Jesus, but they didn’t return…maybe they got distracted, or didn’t want to travel back, or wanted to get on with the process of being restored…they were, after all, doing what Jesus had asked them to do. Not bad folks…but, the Samaritan responded to the healing with gratitude.

So, Jesus then heals him even more, not just the physical healing, but uses a different word for healing in the last verse from verse 15…in the last verse Jesus uses “sozo”. Which means wellness or well being. Jesus not only takes away the physical disease, but gives this man peace, wholeness, or wellness. He cleanses him on the outside and the inside..the whole person.

In other words, this man’s gratitude opens him up the fullness of God’s Presence, the fullness of the good news of the Kingdom of God, release from what is keeping him back on the inside, what voices or fears or anxieties that have prevented him from living, from having you, from knowing that someone truly believes in him.

Friends, so many things about this past year have been magnificent in and through our church…our community has been blessed by your actions, you serve them well in conversation and in welcoming through events and by simply being you! Now, we have the awesome privilege of continuing to welcome our community, but also going to them and showing them that they can be well also, that they can be loved…and it starts with us knowing that God believes in us, which enables us to be believe in others and to demonstrate to them God’s love as Jesus did…and in so doing, bringing wellness to our lives through gratitude, and bring wellness in the lives of others. That’s good news.


Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and plant- ed in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

A simple definition of faith is as follows: PP

strong belief or trust in someone or something
belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs a system of religious beliefs

The apostles are asking Jesus to give them faith, but Jesus is turning it around, as he often does, saying essentially that they have faith already…but, that it’s not rooted in a belief system, but in something much more. It’s rooted in trust and commitment. In other words, we don’t have proof that Jesus is the son of God, or that Jesus is represents all of humanity. Yet, we commit to God that we don’t have all of the answers, that God is a mystery, and that this God indwelled in Jesus and this Jesus embodied what it means to be human, and was human…and, somehow, this Jesus, after being killed and rising from the dead, encompasses all of humanity. This commitment leads to trust in the flow of God’s presence in and around us, and in others…causing our faith to increase.

Jesus’s disciples simply need to start with a small kernel of faith, a mustard seed, an inkling of an idea of God’s experience with us. I’m not a gardener, but I know quite a few of them…they will tell you that even the tiniest seeds can grow into something huge.

Jesus is telling his disciples that if you can start with even a small amount of faith, you can see amazing things happen, things that we could hardly imagine happening in our lives.

Allowing that faith to grow, nurturing it with encouragement, grace, humility, love, and even obedience and accountability in community with others are the gardeners tools to cultivate a mature faith over time.

But, again, that seed needs to be planted with commitment, curiosity, and knowing that God believes in us…if God believes in us, then we can begin to believe in this God I’d imagine.

The second part of our story talks about a slave and their master. This is not a commentary on slavery, nor is it accepting it. It’s just using something that was common in the 1st century as an illustration. And, it wasn’t the type of slavery that we had in America, this was more of a relationship type of thing. It was still wrong, any time you feel like you can own someone is wrong, or put a barrier to equitable relationship. The writer of this passage is saying that masters and slaves have a type of relationship that can be understood in the context of those days and time.

We also have to remember, especially in this day and time, that scripture is on a trajectory towards equality and inclusion. The writers 2000 years ago are attempting to articulate a beauty of relationship, of awareness, and even progressive cultural attitudes using the context that they live.

In our time and day, we have to follow that trajectory of scripture towards radically inclu- sive relational love bound in community with one another. We also have to be willing to speak out against racism, sexism…and sorts of “isms” as we work towards be reconciling and prophetic voices…not only within our communities, which is where it starts, but to those who want to be in leadership roles in our country and world.

God wants us to live in deep faith, the deep faith that God demonstrates to us and shows us. Fear and anxiety can be detriments to that faith. 

Henri Nouwen says this:

Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that oth- er people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait, we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear.

Faith allows us to overcome fear…even a small amount of faith, but as we take risks be- cause of God’s faith in us and our faith in God, we will find that we can overcome fear, have imagination, and change the world as we build bridges with one another, not walls.

Friends, I’m not sure where you are today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for our church…but, I do know that it is a great future if we want to work towards it. And I know from working with churches and faith communities across the world, and even in our own church, that we often live in a place of anxiety over what we don’t have. We live in scarcity. Yet, faith with imagination can move us towards a place of abundance. When we look around, we can see the richness of friendship, of relationship, we can see that we live in a place filled with potential for listening and deepening a sense of community. We can have faith that is mysterious and keeps us curious and moves us towards the blessing of connecting with others in a nonjudgmental, non transactional way…a way of true love the is transformational…that can cause us to see church in a new way…non in who’s not here or here on a Sunday am, but in ways that we can bless our neighbor- hood…and in so doing, change the world! God’s faith in us gives us courage to do just that…may it be so!


Luke 16:19-31
The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

How many times do you drive by or walk by a homeless person and wonder about their life? What’s their background? What are they thinking? How did they get to this place in life? We all have those kinds of thoughts and we all develop certain ideas or stereo- types in order to categorize and somehow reconcile with ourselves that we may or may not have to react to them.

Yet, they are humans, they are our brothers and sisters. I’m reminded of that every time I drive by someone asking for money, or, occasionally, when folks come by our church.

Now, there are ways we can help them beyond simple handouts. There are some resources in our city that can help. But, they best thing we can do, and I try to remind myself of this, is to look folks in the eyes, to connect with them, not dismiss them so quickly. And, listen as best as I can.

Now, I know there are a lot of stories, and having worked with homeless folks as a Social Work major and in several projects over the years, I’ve heard many of the same stories. Yet, these are still people that God values.

In our gospel story, there is a homeless man, a beggar, Lazarus. He was crippled and left at the gate of a wealthy man’s house to beg every day. It’s interesting to note that Lazarus is named, but the wealthy man is not. The author of this story is saying that Jesus thinks that this poor man is important and known by God. The wealthy man is extremely rich…richer than most, had banquets daily, wore purple, which was a mark of wealth back in the day, and he obviously liked to wear very expense clothes.

Lazarus was so down the social ladder and in dire straights, that even dogs came to lick his sores…not to bring him comfort, but in this story, to add insult to injury. He was helpless.

The beggar dies, as does the wealthy man. In Hades, the afterlife as depicted in this story. The wealthy man is in torment….he sees that Lazarus is there, and he’s with Abraham, the founder of Israel. He asks for Abraham to comfort him…and, even in his death, still looked past Lazarus…and addressed Abraham, because he was important in his mind.

He asks for pity, for simply a drop of water. Yet Abraham says no, and asks him to remember that Lazarus was with his lifetime and he never reached out to help Lazarus. And that now Lazarus is comforted, and Abraham is not.

So, the wealthy man is still clueless, and asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn him…still thinking highly of himself, and not Lazarus.

Abraham again replies no, they’ve had Moses and the prophets, that’s enough.

They need to listen to what they’ve been taught…and, even if someone comes back from the dead, even then they won’t listen.

This man, the wealthy man, was probably a decent person in his life, he just didn’t listen, didn’t have time or need to live “awake” to the realities right outside of his door. I was reminded of this last week in a conversation with a friend of mine who is an aide to the mayor of Cincinnati. In the development world, there are folks who are good people, but they are so used to moving ahead, that they don’t think about the folks around them….and, because of that, they don’t listen and that causes problems down the road…

The wealthy man was comfortable. But, even though he had heard the prophets, knew the stories, didn’t move to action in his life of being friends with the poor or trying to comfort them on include them.

In Hades, the afterlife, it’s important to know that God’s presence is still there, it’s everywhere. As it says in Psalm 139, there’s nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence.

CS Lewis talks about this in the Great Divorce, a wonderful fictional book I’d encourage everyone to read. Folks when they die, ride a bus to heaven…yet, many of them settle for hell, a small crack in heaven that they make bigger…they can ride the bus back into heaven…yes, they could have a second chance in hell even, by why would they change if they lived their lives a certain way, it’s harder in hell…so, they stay there…and maybe that is hell, being stuck in a certain way of living or understanding that keeps us from ex- periencing the wide expanse of God’s grace and joy in life with God and others in deep relational community.

The wealthy man is tormented by the heat, but Lazarus, who is there also, yet, he’s not tormented, on the contrary, he’s feeling the warmth of God’s love. He spent his life in poverty and crippled, yet not complaining and experienced God’s grace in humility.

Friends, we have the gift of the life we’ve been given. We can love those around us, everyone, as best we can. We must though ask God to wake us towards others around us. If we want to experience spiritual growth, which is ultimately an understanding of God’s radically inclusive and graceful love for us and others that moves us towards being the humans that God created us to be, then we must be willing to be present with those we share space with, whenever we share space with them…loving them where they are.

This parable, like many in Luke that we’ve read, reminds us that we have barriers in our world that can cause relational disconnect or fragmented lives. Barriers like wealth inequality that prevents us from seeing the other. It’s not wrong to be wealthy, but the way of Jesus and the scriptural trajectory leads us towards a better understanding that we can’t let having money or not having money prevent us from sharing life with each other, and that we are called to work towards hospitality and caring for folks.

Let’s ask ourselves how we can see beyond the safety of the walls we’ve built around us to those right outside those walls…and go to them, be with them, and remove whatever separates us from ourselves, others, and God.