Our Daily Bread
I hate to make blanket statements…but I’ll go ahead anyways…all of us have had a moment in our lives when God was silent. Or felt at a distance…or not at all. Moments when we’ve felt lost in the problem of the moment, overburdened by powerless or loss or grief or fear, that it seems like God is indifferent, or more painfully so, somehow opposed to our wellbeing.
It’s certainly part of our human condition – part of our scriptural tradition – just flip through the book of Psalms and the cry comes out How long…must we wait O God…for an answer, for a sign, for some indication of presence. There have been moments both in my work in the ministry, and in my own life, when I have prayed these words, because there are moments that break our hearts.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart
I pray and lose heart…in the face of overwhelming situations, I pray…I pray for those situations that seem hopeless, where I pray for God to be in those moments, for God to reveal God’s self, I pray…I’ve sat with families whose children have died…I’ve prayed, and I’ve lost heart, because my timeline and God’s timeline seem so far apart. I wanted things fixed right away. I wanted healing and wholeness for those I worry about on my schedule. And when those easy answers didn’t come, I started to wonder: am I listening to God for what I want to hear, or for what God is saying? Does God still speak in the silence?
Maybe it’s just a part of how our minds work: something good happens, we assume that God has rewarded that person’s prayer. Conversely the opposite seems even more true – that when bad things happen, God somehow must be mad at them. Silence, and that’s just God ignoring you. Because you didn’t come to church enough. Or put enough into the offering plate. Once you pray enough, whine enough, squeaky wheel gets the grease enough, God will relent, God will grant justice, God will reward you. We can read this scripture and easily pull out this message, but it’s certainly not a message of hope. I’d even venture to say that this notion of God is dangerous. I do not believe God has a divine tally sheet tracking the number of prayers, petitions, facebook posts or forwards, making sure we hit that “right” amount before responding.
It would be naïve (and wrong) to think I can control God. Barbara Brown Taylor says that
[only an idol always answers. The God who keeps silence, even when God’s own flesh and blood is begging for a word, is the God beyond anyone’s control.”
This is why this passage shows up in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus isn’t comparing God to an unjust judge, to show us how similar they are. Jesus is saying that God is the opposite – the judge is corrupt. The judge plays favourites. The judge dismisses. The judge determines who will get him further in life and bends the rules for them, but when a widow comes along, there’s nothing she can offer him, so he plays deaf to her cries.
This is not God.
This judge is all that God isn’t.
God listens and responds – God hears and commiserates – God judges with righteousness and mercy – both the powerful and powerless alike.
The widow embodies powerlessness. When you hear description of widows in scripture, it’s like a key word, a word evokes vulnerability, a neglected or forgotten aspect of society. As still today women’s presence and power and testimony is maligned or undermined, this widow relentlessly hounds this judge, risking what little reputation she has, seeking justice from [one] who neither feared God nor had respect for people. She is the voice of women caught in the socio-political dynamics of FGM. She is the voice of women and girls exploited by sex traffickers. She is the voice of women dismissed by ‘just locker room talk.’ She is the voice of a mother in Reception House or Anselma house, crying for food.
This insistent voice pleads for another way, to a God who listens, loves, and responds in ways that we cannot expect.
When I first started in the ministry, I served a rural church in Manitoba. There I was involved with the food bank and yearly Christmas hampers. There was good support in the town for these social network programs but I tell you, it wasn’t everyone, and I could almost count like clockwork the conversation with one or two townspeople that would question the purpose of it all.
Why do we have these programs?
They need to help themselves.
They just have to pull up their bootstraps, or get a job.
Why feed them and not everyone?
Why feed anyone at all (natural selection and all that)?
(Ask a stupid question, I’d always think to myself… but I tried to respond and calmly as I could) Well, they’re hungry and they wanted food. It’s as simple as that.
God makes us the answer to another person’s prayer. The judge has this opportunity and allows it to pass him by. Out west, when that prayer was wondering where one’s next meal was coming from, we could be the answer to that prayer, so why wouldn’t we?
Why do we have lunches downstairs on the 3rd Sunday of the month? Because people gotta eat! It might bring us together around table, give us a chance to connect at a deeper level, it may represent Christ’s teaching of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger, or…it may just be to eat. It is a reminder of what we share. Hunger. Hunger which rattles our bones and stomachs in the middle of sermons, and wakes us up at night. Or a more philosophical hunger, that is a hunger for change, for justice, which shakes us to our cores and keeps us up at night. Gathering around table, reminding us of our shared hungers, calls us to a new way, where all might be fed and cared for. It reminds me about a powerful bit of wisdom – that
Sometimes I want to ask God why God allows poverty, famine, and injustice when [something could be done about it], but I’m afraid God might just ask me the same question.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tied so closely to our Canadian Thanksgiving, tied to our having lunch today, is World Food Sunday, a yearly observance meant to not just remind us of our abundance, but to cry out for justice so that all may eat and thrive. It’s a reminder that we can be the answer to someone’s prayers, someone’s cry for justice? It was in my reading for World Food Sunday a few years ago that I came across this book entitled Hungry Planet by photographer Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. These photos are from this book and serve as a dramatic reminder to me how much disparity there is between our cultures, though we share basic hungers.
Where is God in those moments when $1.23 feeds a family in Chad, Africa, for an entire week, and in Norway, it costs $700/week. Did God play favourites with our ancestors to make sure we would be safe and well fed today, and ignore cries for justice from others? How do we pray and not lose hope in the face of these injustices?
What if there’s yet one more way to hear this scripture?
What if this widow is God? What if she speaks with divine passion and conviction, pleading again and again to be heard, in a time when we neither respect the divine nor each other? She calls again and again, pleading for another way. She calls again and again for justice upon this earth? She calls us to share our resources. She calls us to feed one another. She calls us to recognize human-created imbalances and restrictions. She calls us to care for one another.
This voice is unrelenting…and we give thanks for it, because so often we cannot hear it. This is the persistence of the divine with us. This is the steadfastness of God who doesn’t leave us to our own devices, our own hard-heartedness, our own problematic lives. This is God who calls for another way, who showed us a new way through Jesus. Jesus pointed out the widows who were forgotten. He healed those who were pushed to the fringes and overlooked. He taught of God’s mercy and love in world that demanded sacrifice before anyone, God included, would take notice. Jesus embodied this widow’s passion as he flipped the tables in the temple and drew the anger of those in power. And like the widow, Jesus could not be silenced. In the moments of the cross, Jesus still cried out. And on the other side of death, Jesus called out,
Feed my lambs…take care of my sheep…feed my sheep…
For the unrelenting voice of the divine, we give thanks.
 This service has as its background of the principles of The Seven Principles of Food Sovereignty. These are: 1. Focus on Food for People, 2. Value Food Providers, 3. Localize Food Systems, 4. Put Control Locally, 5. Build Knowledge and Skills 6. Work with Nature, 7. Recognize That Food Is Sacred
 Psalm 13, Habakkuk, Psalm 35, Revelation 6, Psalm 6, etc …
 BBT, When God is Silent, p80.