[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/10-17-10.MP3] There was a recent movie called Dan in Real Life; not one I’d recommend, frankly, but the movie poster paints a vivid picture of “real life”. Dan looks like he hasn’t slept in days: unshaven, hair a mess, bags under his eyes the size of monster truck tires, and where a pillow should be is a stack of pancakes.
Real life is the “real world” we warn our high school and college students about, letting them know that those sheltered days will come to an abrupt end. “Real life” often stands in opposition to our dreams, when they come crashing hard into reality. Real life is how we define the challenges that face us day in and day out, the reality checks that seem to confront us everywhere we turn. “Real life”, for the most part, isn’t something we look forward to.
This week we were fortunate enough to get a break from “real life”, watching the news, following the mining rescue in Chile. It was one of those powerful, life-affirming, positive stories in a time where it seems like we don’t get too many of those. It was one of those moments where we bond with complete strangers. I caught some of the coverage while in line at the bank. It was impossible not to celebrate the live footage coming across the bank lobby’s TV screen. And right as one of the miners arrived at the surface in the little rescue capsule, someone pulled up to the bank’s drive-thru window, and we all heard the sound of that pneumatic tube safely delivering a deposit slip inside just as the miner was deposited above ground. Not sure what to make of that, but it made the moment.
What a moment of pure, unbridled optimism! The incredible efforts made to bring these men from death back to life; the reports of how their faith in Christ gave them hope; church bells ringing across the nation, signaling the resurrection of these men; their pact to each other never to work again, sharing equally in the benefits of book and movie deals, of lawsuit awards from the mining company…It is one of those “triumphs of the human spirit” kind of stories.
Real life rarely feels like that. Instead, it more often ends up more like the parable Jesus tells in our lesson. He is encouraging his disciples to pray diligently and to hold onto hope. And as he does, he offers up the story of a widow. She had the misfortune of her case coming before a corrupt judge, who cares neither for the law of God nor the law of society. He dismisses her case, so she brings it again. He dismisses it again, and she brings it back. The story repeats over and over again, until the judge final relents. It is only through her persistence, we learn, that she gets the fair hearing that she should have gotten to begin with. It’s not because the judge has had a Grinch-like conversion of the heart. Instead, it’s because he’s so annoyed with her behavior that he just wants her to go away. Settling her case is, simply, the easiest and fastest way to do that.
It’s an unusual parable for Jesus, because it doesn’t offer us a very compelling moral lesson to take away. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If it’s not fair, complain over and over again. The only way to get justice is to annoy the judge. How would those work for a children’s sermon? “If your parents say no, just keep asking them over and over until they get annoyed enough and you’ll get your way!”
This is a “real life” story. Even though we’d like to think that “good guys finish first”, this parable paints a more accurate picture of the way the world works. Not even Jesus is immune from the reality of real life.
Very little is. Even our “feel good” international story this week of those Chilean miners was tempered by the intervention of reality. There is, of course, the very serious investigation of the mining company, which seems to have cut corners and ignored the safety of their workers. Even our heroes in the story, the noble, suffering miners themselves, don’t escape real life. In those first eleven days, before they knew that anyone was even looking for them, they had descended into misery and fighting. They had joked about cannibalism, trapped as they were. And after they knew their rescue was coming, after they had all committed or re-committed their lives to Jesus, one of them made the bold decision to invite both his wife and his mistress to meet him at the surface. They’ve promised this utopian future to each other, but I’m sure many of us cynically wonder how long this promise will last when real world and real money enter the picture. And then, as though we needed to remember that these rescue stories are the exception, just three days later news came of a mine explosion in China, killing 26 and trapping another 11. “Real life” is the pits.
We each know that in our own way. We have struggles in relationships with spouses, with siblings, with parents, with children. We have experienced betrayal by those whom we thought we could trust. We stick it out in jobs not because we enjoy them, but because the alternative is simply too frightening. Illnesses arrive unexpected. Death shows up unwanted. Real life has this way of trapping us at times in places that feel like they will never see the light of day.
And being a Christian doesn’t mean that this stuff stops happening. As a wise friend once said, being a Christian doesn’t plant a “no trespassing” sign on your life. The Christian life is not the cure for real life. There is no antidote for its poison. Not even Jesus was able to avoid the pains of crucifixion. His faith in God and intimate knowledge of God didn’t buy him a “get out of nails free” card. He knew quite literally what it means to be trapped down in the pit.
But here’s the thing: death doesn’t have the final word. The grave was sealed, yes, but the tomb was left empty! Jesus died, yes, but lived again and still lives! There is no resurrection without crucifixion; and crucifixion means little without resurrection.
The truth is that real life will continue to show up at our door step. We will have bad days. The seas will be rough. What we need is to know that we can weather those storms. Even when we feel like we are being buried alive, we need to know that light can still find a way in.
And that’s where prayer enters the picture. What Jesus teaches us in the parable is that the God whom we proclaim and worship and serve is nothing like the unjust judge! God doesn’t only respond to the squeaky wheel; God doesn’t answer prayers because we’ve gotten on God’s nerves. God considers us, Jesus says, “chosen ones”. We are God’s beloved children! Of course God desires justice for us!
We often feel trapped by real life – trapped by what we have done, by what others have done to us, trapped by sheer accident and circumstance. But God never stops looking for us. God spares no expense to set us free. It is God who, like those Chilean rescuers, bores a hole in that rock, opening a channel of prayer that becomes our lifeline. We let God know when we are hungry, praying earnestly for our daily bread. And we listen, too, hearing God’s voice calling from the other side, providing not only what we need, but letting us know what life looks like on God’s side of the avalanche.
Let us not lose heart. Instead, when confronted with harsh reality, let us pray without ceasing. We may be trapped for the moment, but it will not last an eternity. Our rescue is sure! Thanks be to God! Amen.