So here we are in a month of talking about gratitude . . .
But when I look around the world, there are a lot of things that are just
plain wrong; things that should be changed. There are injustices and evils that
are committed far too frequently. Certainly there are many things that we do
not and honestly should not give thanks for – we don’t give thanks that people
die in mass shootings, we don’t give thanks that children die from
malnutrition, we don’t give thanks for racism or sexism. Instead, we try to
change those situations.
At least for a while, often while we are young and idealistic, we believe
that we can change the world. But often as we get older, we look at the world
and we say, “Nothing ever seems to change.” So it can be easy to around the
world and all of the problems and want to give up.
If day after day, month after month we are treated unfairly – it can be
easy to quit. One black woman said to a group I was with recently that, she set
all of her passwords on her work computer to things that reminded her of her
children, not because she wanted to have happy memories, but because if she
wanted to keep her job so that the kids could eat and have a home, she had to remind
herself to just put up with people who were disrespectful of her simply because
of her race, or those who treated her as less intelligent than her coworkers,
even though she has a master’s degree. Her passwords were to remind her to just
let it go, give in, not say anything, let the racism win, so her kids could eat.
Sad commentary isn’t it? When we are being treated unfairly especially over a
long period of time, it is so easy to want to give up.
Or sometimes life is just so difficult.
Operation Christmas child tells the story of Lejla living in a poor family
in war torn Bosnia. On a frosty morning in Bosnia, “Lejla's mother woke her,
had her dress, and put an old pair of shoes on her feet. The toes of the shoes
were ripped open. Her father had tried to close them up with steel wire but the
leather was so rotten it wouldn't hold together. Lejla's mother wrapped her
feet in bags and sent her out into the arctic chill.’
“Lejla may have been walking toward the school five miles away, but she had
no intention of showing up there. She was on the brink of giving up. To prove
it, she purposely detoured into a landmine field where just the day before her
best friend had been killed and another friend had lost his leg in an
explosion. Maybe if she walked through the same field she could end her
miserable life. She had no reason to live. With no coat to keep her warm, maybe
she would even die from the frigid temperatures, she thought. She was tired of
being cold, weary of hunger pains, and afraid of the future. She knew that
within two years her parents would give her away in marriage, according to
tradition—it happened to all girls once they reached the eighth grade.
"The horror was so real," she said, "that I felt my soul being
ripped from me."’
“After forty-five minutes of wandering through the landmine field with no
explosion, she headed toward Sniper Alley with the certainty it promised; one
hundred percent guarantee of being shot to death. She slipped under the
barricade and waited for a powerful boom to end her misery, but it didn't
When poverty is oppressive, when our future looks bleak, because change seems
impossible, we can want to give up.
But Jesus tells us a different story. Luke 18:1-8
Jesus was telling them a parable
about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a
certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In
that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in
this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to
himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice
because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming
here and embarrassing me.” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge
says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and
night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice
quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
Although the parable is a teaching about prayer – it addresses how we pray
about those things that are unjust, those things that are wrong with the world.
Jesus reminds us that we cannot give up, that being faithful in serving God
means striving always for what is good and right – so he lifts up the example
of the woman in the parable. She has a problem, it is unfair, and the judge
doesn’t care. The judge doesn’t fear God or respect people. But the woman
doesn’t give up. She keeps coming, she keeps bothering him. In the end, he
gives her justice because he knows she won’t stop coming to him and
Jesus then reminds us that God cares about justice. God cares about what is
good, it is part of who God is, just as God is grace-filled and loving, God is
also just. So we should not give up on praying for justice. Eugene Cho says, “All
of this matters because we are not just talking about ideas. We are not just
hypothesizing about a “what if” scenario. This matters because justice involves
people and their lives and their value before God. When justice happens to the
least of these, God celebrates.”
Let me finish the story of Lejla
“I found myself walking towards the school, disappointed that I had
survived Sniper Alley. As I approached,
I saw some kids holding boxes and wondered where they had gotten them. We had
nothing new; even primitive items were scarce. As I got closer, I noticed how
bright and beautiful the boxes were. One of the boys said, "There are
people inside giving these away. You can get one too."
Why do I need a box? Lejla thought. I don't have anything to put in it.
It's pretty, but it won't do me any good.” When I walked inside, I saw an older
gentleman sitting on the steps. He jumped up and grabbed a box from the top of
the pile and headed toward me. But I didn't want any interaction with him; I
wanted to be left alone. I was bitter and hateful. To make matters worse, the
man had a big smile on his face and gently said, "I want you to have
I took it so he would go away quickly, but to my surprise the box was not
empty. I took the box and ran as fast as
I could until I found a solitary corner and slumped to the floor, cradling the
box in my lap. My heart was racing and
my emotions were fragile. Do I dare hope
for what might be inside? After all,
this is a shoebox. I looked down at my
frozen feet, and then with great apprehension, lifted the lid. Inside was a
pair of brand new sneakers and they were my size!’
“For some time I sat and cried while lifting the lid and then closing it.
As I drew the sneakers out of the box, my hands bumped into other things. The
shoes that fit perfectly were enough, but there was more! I pulled out a twelve-pack of pencils. My
entire class of fifty-eight students had been sharing a nub of one pencil all
year long, and now I had 12 of my very own! A notebook was there to replace the
one I had used for three years, with hardly scribble space left. Then I
discovered erasers that smelled like strawberries—the first smell of anything
pleasant that I could remember. We had grown accustomed to the smell of gun
powder and decaying bodies. I found a tube of toothpaste, I opened and tasted
it. The flavor was so delicious that I nearly ate it all. Energized by the
thrill, I gathered my new belongings and ran home as fast as I could.”
Lejla’s life was changed because Christians cared. One person packed a box,
others shipped them, another handed them out. They saw the need in the world
and decided to do something about it.
If we sincerely want to see change,
if we want to see fairness and justice, we cannot give up. And we have to
be personally committed to it. The woman in the bible passage kept going and pleading.
And part of the reason was that it was personal to her. Here’s the thing,
here’s where it gets personal – because up to now this has all been about the
idea of changing the world, now we get to the actual doing it part. And we have
to follow through or as Eugene Cho says, we are more in love with the idea of
changing the world than actually changing it.
Where do you see injustice, where do you see unfairness? Where is it
personal to you? So personal that you are unwilling to give up? Often it is
from something you personally experienced, or a close family member
experienced. Let Jesus’ words inspire you to act, to pester, to achieve change
Look at where persistence had made a difference. Legal slavery ended in the
United States. Women earned the right to vote. Malaria deaths are decreasing at
an amazing rate. This is where gratitude helps us to keep moving forward. By
reminding ourselves that change has happened, by giving thanks for the miracles
that God has worked in the past that have brought our world to where it is
today, we motivate ourselves to keep working for the kingdom of God.
We remind ourselves change does happen. Sometimes very, very slowly, even
too slowly. But other times it leaps ahead in great bounds astounding us with
God’s presence. So look at that area where you want to see change, and keep
working at it. Don’t give up. Don’t just be in love with the idea of change,
but actually set about working for what is good and what is right. Cry out for
As Jesus says, Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out
to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give
them justice quickly. But we must remain faithful advocates, constant voices,
and busy hands for that to happen.
Operation Christmas Child – no reference, sent to me by Esther Jones.