A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., October 17, 2010.
I borrowed the title of the sermon today from the 1995 movie that Mel Gibson directed and starred in, Braveheart. This movie tells the story of Scotland’s fight for independence from England in the 13th and 14th centuries.
One of the most riveting scenes in the movie occurred when William Wallace, the leader of the Freedom Fighters, refused to ask for mercy while being tortured and just before he was beheaded. Instead, he mustered the last ounce of strength he had and shouted, “Freedom!” This was Wallace’s final attempt to encourage his followers to fight on.
It worked. Nine years later, Wallace’s followers prevailed and Scotland won its independence. Because he never lost heart, in spite of all the challenges, obstacles and adversities he faced, they did not, and Scotland became a free country.
It appears that Jesus’ disciples were losing heart and he sensed it. They needed to be encouraged to remain faithful and determined in the midst of all the challenges they were facing, so Jesus told them this parable that Luke preserved for us.
It is a rather humorous and light-hearted parable, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. A defenseless widow appealed to a heartless and indifferent judge for justice. His lack of response did not discourage or deter her. She continued to “bother” him, as the judge finally admitted, until he decided to give her what she wanted. Actually, he said that he was afraid she would attack him, giving him a black-eye if he did not favorably respond to her.
What was Jesus’ point? Go back to the reason he told the parable. “Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
“Not lose heart…” This story was meant to encourage his disciples to remain faithful in the midst of stiff challenges. Don’t give up, even against great odds. Don’t let go of a dream, at least not without a fight.
Is this a message you need to hear? Evidently, Luke felt like his readers needed to hear it. The first generation of Jesus followers were struggling with their own set of problems in a world that was hostile to their message and them. What were they to do?
Was it time to give up and walk away from their commitment to follow Jesus? No, not according to Luke. It was time to pray and persevere, not cave in to despair. Luke knew that implicit in discipleship was the expectation of a life-long commitment. Disciples must finish what they start, just as Jesus did.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith?” I’m sure this question put the decision Luke’s readers needed to make in perspective. If they did not remain faithful, who would? If they gave up, who else would? Their decision had broad ramifications.
What are you about to give up on? Is it a dream that you have nurtured and nourished for years? Is it your fight to overcome an addiction or the hope that someone you love will do so? Are you about to give up on finding a job or believing that your finances will improve? Are you about to decide that your marriage is not going to get better or you will never find a mate?
Why haven’t you already given up? What keeps you going? Is it that you don’t want to be labeled a quitter or disappoint others? Do you have too much invested to walk away and you cannot bring it upon yourself to take a shovel to the cemetery of broken dreams and start digging?
In Dr. Peter Rhea Jones’ commentary on the parables, he tells the story of friends who were debating whether it is more challenging to begin a journey or to complete it. One felt that the initial steps were the hardest while another believed that the final stage of a journey is the most trying because you are exhausted.
Someone suggested the middle of a long journey may be the hardest. You can no longer hear the cheers of those who saw you off and sent you on your journey or the twinkling lights of the upcoming city.
“This can be true in the middle part of life, in the middle of a marriage, in the middle of an addict’s battle for recovery or the halfway point in grief,” writes Jones.
Are you in the middle of a journey at this time? Are you losing heart? What do you need to keep traveling? There are many things you need to do, I’m sure, but none more important than praying. At least this is what Jesus told his disciples.
I am confident you know the most frequently asked question about this parable. Is God like an insensitive and indifferent judge who must be threatened before he responds to our needs? Of course, He is not.
I’m sure you can see that Jesus was not comparing God to this judge, but drawing a contrast to him. If an unjust judge is willing to grant a widow’s request merely because she is a pest, how much more is a loving and responsible God willing to respond to his children’s needs?
When you pray, Jesus reminded his disciples, you are not praying to a God who begrudgingly listens or reluctantly responds to your needs, but one who eagerly waits to hear from you. So, pray at all times.
Evidently, Jesus felt that God had something to offer to those who had grown weary. He believed that God had a special place in his heart for those who were struggling, like this widow, and was confident God would respond to pleas for help. So, he encouraged his disciples “to pray always and not lose heart.”
Have you noticed the role that prayer played in the survival of the thirty-three Chilean miners? I’m not necessarily talking about their rescue, but their survival. For sixty-nine days, they were buried alive, the first seventeen of those were without any contact with the world above.
How were they able to remain calm and not lose heart for sixty-nine long, dark days? One by one they talked about their spiritual life and the difference it made in their ordeal.
“There are not thirty-three of us buried in this mine, but thirty-four. God has never left us down here,” wrote Jimmy Sanchez Lagues to his wife before his rescue.
“Here, I learned to pray,” said Ricardo Villaroel, who confessed he was not religious prior to the accident.
One of the most meaningful quotes that I read was this. “Faith is the last thing that is lost,” wrote Victor Zamara Bugueno.
I pray it is the last thing you will lose, too.