Sermon: Still Hoping

Pastor Eric Anderson - a middle-aged white man wearing yellow and black aloha shirt, a green patterned stole, and a white orchid lei.

October 20, 2019
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18:1-8

by Eric Anderson

This is one of those stories from the Bible where a sensible approach seems to be to put up a big sign that says, “This Is A Story.” It is intended as a commentary on real life, and it may reflect some realities of real life, but it is not about real people. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. Also, no animals were harmed in the composition of this story.

Jesus worked pretty hard to make the story sound made-up. He described the judge as someone who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” In my imagination, I can see his original hearers starting to think about judges they’d known. Which one could this be?

Since they were the poor and relatively powerless, people whose encounters with authority rarely go very well, I imagine that they came up with a number of candidates, fairly or no.

I imagine that you can come up with some people in authority you’ve heard about who seem to have no fear of God or respect for other human beings if you think long enough.

But there’s a moment in the story when the judge simply does not act like a flesh and blood three-dimensional person, but like a cartoon caricature. 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.” He described himself in the same way that the narrator, Jesus, had described him. Real people don’t do that. Real people explain their actions as somehow consistent with a greater moral principle.

For example, the Turkish operation in Syria has been described as creating a “safe zone.” That sounds relatively innocuous. Creating a safe zone, however, means asserting control over a strip of land within another country. When you do that with military force, there’s a word for that: it’s called invasion. If you maintain that control by force, there’s a word for that, too: occupation.

Calling it a “safe zone” creates a comforting justification for the ugly reality. I pass over the irony that creating a “safe zone” means that nobody within that area is, in fact, safe.

Our unjust judges, officials, national leaders, and presidents justify their unjust actions to the world, to their constituents, and even to themselves. They rarely have the self-knowledge and courage to look at themselves and admit that they do not fear God or have respect for people.

The unjust judge is not a real person. And, Jesus says, the unjust judge is not like God.

I’ll say that again: the unjust judge is not like God. “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” asked Jesus. “Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Or so we hope.

So we hope. In days of questionable justice, in days of divided community, in days of unpredictable and unresponsive leadership, so we hope that God will quickly grant justice to those who cry for it.


It’s not the word Jesus used. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” It isn’t the word Luke used, either, introducing the parable “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Hope is the word that bubbled forth for me, however. It’s the gap in our lives that I think this story tries to fill.


The apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” I agree that love is greatest. Paul had a great deal to say about the value of faith. Notice that the third of these is hope. Though he wrote less about hope than about faith and love, for Paul it was the third leg that supported Christianity. It was an essential pillar of the Way of Jesus.

How are we to have hope?

We usually speak of “finding hope,” as if it were discoverable. Karyn Hall used the phrase “Finding Hope” as the title of her Psychology Today article in 2015, writing, “Unfortunately, this painful despair and resignation set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have no hope, no belief in therapy or that any action you take will make any difference, then that may well be the outcome. Change is very difficult, has multiple ups and downs, and requires motivation and commitment.”

To find hope, she offered some suggestions: finding a clear path, identifying role models, doing the things you know you can do, practicing kindness, embracing your faith, practicing mindfulness. These steps can and do reinforce a sense of hope. But I don’t think they’re ways to find it.

I think we find hope by deciding that we have it.

It’s the common feature of Paul’s triad of faith, hope, and love. The love that Paul described so poetically in First Corinthians 13 is not the love of romance, all feelings and emotion. It is the love of practice, of giving, of decision. The faith Paul urged throughout his letters was a choice, a choice of a belief system and a challenging way of life. He rarely offered proofs of belief; he declared the inspiration and summons of its message. Likewise with hope: He described it in his letter to the Romans as arising from character – that internal fortitude of deciding who we are.

We find hope by deciding that we have it.

I wish that were easy.

I find it much easier to give you reasons to abandon hope rather than to assure you of its imminent fulfillment. I will join the cheerful and awkward march this coming Saturday called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.” It’s a walk of hope, hope that people – mostly men – will stop sexually assaulting other people – mostly women. I wear black every Thursday to express the same hope. The sad truth is, I anticipate wearing black on Thursdays for the rest of my life. I expect that the money raised this weekend for counseling services will have to be used not just for those already suffering but for new sufferers.

Nevertheless, I will walk in hope.

Yesterday I was part of a small group that erected a Peace Pole at Kuhio Kalanianaole Park. “Let Peace Prevail on Earth,” it declares. We raised it with Turkish troops in Syria, where civil war still kills people. According to Wikipedia, there are four major wars, seven wars, and twenty-six minor conflicts currently defying the prevalence of peace on Earth.

Nevertheless, I helped to raise that pole in hope.

I will choose hope, because despair is too high a price to pay for “realism.” I will choose hope, because despair leaves unacceptable things as they are. I will choose hope, because only in hope can I approach my God with a heart open for blessing.

I will choose hope.

Brittany Wilson writes at Working Preacher, “Luke maintains that we are to act like the widow. We are not to wait quietly for Jesus’ return and accept our fates in an oppression-ridden world. We are instead to resist injustice with the resolve and constancy of the widow. As Jesus explains elsewhere (Luke 11:1-13), prayer is not a passive activity but one that actively seeks God and pursues God’s will. Like the widow, we are to persevere in the faith, crying out to God day and night. This is what persistent prayer looks like.”

Rachel Hackenberg’s poem “Remember” is published at


Though our teeth are set on edge, O God,
let us never forget your name.

Though the night is long with wrestling, O God,
let us never forget your blessing.

Though the sun and moon strike us, O God,
let us never forget your help.

Though the litany of lies grows, O God,
let us never forget we belong to you.

Though justice is slow and faith weary, O God,
let us never lose heart or voice.

Though time is impatient, O God,
let us never forget your fullness.

Though we are plucked up and broken down, O God,
let us never neglect your promise within us.

I will have hope, hope for the fish in the sea, and the stability of an unstable cliff.

I will have hope that the sun will rise, and the moon will glow.

I will have hope in you, and I will have hope in your hope in me.

Most of all, I will have hope in the name, the blessing, the help, the guardianship, the hear, the fullness, and the promises of God.

I will have hope.

I will hope that you will do the same.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Although the text above has been somewhat revised to match the sermon as preached, we cannot call it “identical.” Let’s call it, “close.”

The photo of Pastor Eric Anderson (a self-portrait) shows him wearing the lei presented him on October 20 in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month. His eyes still glisten with grateful tears.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on October 20, 2019

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