"Look at Me"#90-07
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 16, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Listen (5-10mb) Download (35-70mb) Reflections
Text: Luke 18:1-8
The other day we were at a playground. Friends from out of town were visiting, and we took them to this playground so that their kids could expend some energy and run around a bit before another long day in the car. While we were there, I was talking with the father of the family, my friend, Eric. We hadn't seen each other for a while, and so we were trying to catch up. But just about every other sentence, we were interrupted by his youngest daughter, Hazel, seven-year-old Hazel, or "Crazy Hazy" as they sometimes call her. Crazy Hazy is hanging from the top bar shouting, "Hey, Daddy, look at me!" She's swinging on a rope shouting, "Daddy, Daddy, look at me!" She's climbing up a wall. "Hey, Daddy, look at me!" Eric and I could barely get a word in edgewise.
Now I'm familiar with how this goes. My youngest son, Jude, he has a similar petition that he repeats often when he's doing something dramatic. It's not, "Look at me," but "Hey, Dad, watch this." And whether the difference between those two expressions, "Look at me" or "Watch this," has more to do with the differences between boys and girls or just the differences between these two in particular. I'm not sure. But I am sure of this. Whether it's expressed as "Look at me" or "Watch this," boys and girls thrive under the watchful favor of a father and a mother. And where a father or a mother is absent, then father and mother figures are needed. And this may be more true of adults than we appreciate. Like seven-year-old Hazy, I suppose we're all a little crazy for some attention.
Now, if you're a parent or a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, you know how crazy demanding an intention-craving child can be. Maybe you just look over at her, swinging from the top bar, and give her a perfunctory "Hey, that's great." And then you go back to whatever had your attention before. Or maybe you don't even look up when you say it, but even a child knows when you're not giving them your full attention. That day at the playground if Hazel sensed that her dad was not looking at her with sufficient seriousness, she would just repeat the petition over and over again with increasing intensity. "Daddy, look at me!"
Even a child knows the truth of the old adage, "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil." Because no one likes listening to a squeaking wheel, so you'll fork over some oil to make the painful assault on your eardrums go away. Or maybe you give a squeaky kid a device of some sort, something to distract them from craving your attention. But a digital distraction only masks the pain. Because what she needs is you—your watchful favor.
There is a throbbing question inside every child's heart, inside every human heart, young and old. "Do you see me?" "Do I matter to you?" is what she's asking. "Am I important to you?" is what he wants to know. The ancient Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, once told a story about a woman who was asking these kinds of questions and fighting for answers. It's a fictitious story, that Jesus told, but it's true to life. It's a parable that points to a deeper truth about human's deepest needs, your needs, my needs. It's a parable about a widow, a woman on the margin of her society, easily overlooked, because in the story setting, the ancient Middle East, there are no retirement accounts or health insurance companies or assisted living facilities. So a widow is especially vulnerable, like an orphan. She has to depend on the people in her community to support her. But this widow in Jesus' story doesn't have a supportive community. She doesn't have people for whom she matters. What she does have is an enemy. An adversary, someone who's harming her, taking advantage of her. So she brings her case to the local judge, hoping that she might matter to him. And when she finds out that she doesn't, she does the only thing left that she can do. She becomes the squeaky wheel, the irritating child who cannot be ignored.
Now, Jesus told this story for His followers. I'm one of them and I want to share it with you. And if you're open to it, see what Jesus shows you, by way of a contrast, how you matter to the God who created you. The story's recorded in the ancient biography of Jesus called the Gospel according to Luke 18. It starts like this. Jesus is walking along with His followers, with His disciples, and He starts to tell them a parable to show them that they should always pray and not lose heart.
He said, "There was a certain judge in a certain city who did not fear God and did not respect people. And in that city, there was a widow who kept coming to the judge and kept saying to him, 'Give me justice. Give me justice against my adversary.' And for a time, the judge was not willing. But after a while, the judge said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God and I do not respect people, yet because this widow keeps giving me grief, I will give her justice so that she does not beat me down by her continual coming.'"
And the Lord said, Jesus said, "Listen, you all listen to what the unjust judge is saying. And will not God give justice to His chosen ones who are calling out to Him day and night? Will He long delay over them? I tell you, He will do justice for them. He will do it swiftly, decisively. But when the Son of Man comes, will He find this faith on the earth?"
Okay, let's review. In Jesus' story there are three characters, an enemy, a widow, and the judge. Though we never see him or hear from him the enemy in the story has a major role. He's the problem. Maybe he's stealing from the widow, maybe abusing her, harming her in some way, so she goes to the local judge to plead for justice. "Help me. Protect me. Rescue me. Look at me," she says. But the judge isn't listening. He doesn't care. He's in a comfortable house, cushy job, privileged life. And this is the conflict in the story. The tension is not over the enemy, but over the judge. The enemy is acting as expected. He's a thug; he's a bully. What do you expect? But the judge is the real disappointment. See, we can tolerate a world with creeps and criminals, but what we cannot stand, what we cannot bear is someone who has the power and the position to help us, but doesn't care to use it. And that's why this widow in the story keeps coming, haranguing, nagging, jumping on his back and pummeling him with her fists so that he will step up and do his job.
But hold on. In Jesus' story, the judge is supposed to remind us of God. Not God's character, but God's status, God's position as God. God ultimately is the One we go to for justice because all other power in the universe is merely riding piggyback on God's power. Only God is in the position to truly give us justice. And even though Jesus says this unjust judge in the story is nothing like God in terms of character, Jesus is sensitive to the fact that sometimes our life experience says otherwise.
I experienced this, several years ago when I was serving as a pastor and pleading with God about a middle school boy who had cancer. I'll call him Steven. I visited with Steven and his parents in the local children's hospital several times over the course of a year. Again and again, we went to God in prayer on Steven's behalf, asking God to heal him, to bless the doctors and the nurses, to take the cancer away, to restore him to full health. And there was a season when God gave us what we asked for. That summer Steven's cancer went into remission, and we praised God for His goodness and His mercy.
At the start of Steven's eighth-grade year, his dad sends me a text. He said they were heading back into the hospital. He said they were scared. Again, we brought it all to God. Steven died just before the end of his eighth-grade year. His mother and father asked me to officiate the memorial service for him. The service was held in a large, rented hall across the street from the public school he had attended so that the teachers, the staff, and the students who knew him could attend the service, and during the service, I shared this story from Jesus about the widow, the judge, and the enemy, and how the story points to the truth of our situation in the world. Because we have an enemy. You and I have an enemy in this world. We have an adversary. In the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament in the Bible the word "adversary" is Satan [pronounced: sä-tᵊn]. It's where we get the English word, Satan. Satan is the adversary. He is a powerful, spiritual being, once good creature of God who rebelled against God and is even now at work to deceive the whole human race. And Satan's strategy turns on the power of suggestion.
And when over 100 middle school students have gathered to mourn their dead friend, Satan's suggestions strangle the lungs like smog: "Does God really care about any of you? Do you think that you matter to Him? That you're important to Him?" The adversary suggests this false picture of God to demoralize us, to make us lose faith, to give up hope, to live as if God is aloof and uncaring, as though God doesn't exist. But the adversary is not the Creator. Satan cannot change the way things are, but only our perception of them.
God is still faithful. Jesus came to show us, and you and I were created to relate to Him, not like a plaintiff suing for justice in the court of a corrupt judge, not like an irritating child desperate for the attention of a distracted parent, but like a beloved daughter, like a son, confident under the watchful favor of the Father. Satan can distract us, but he can't keep the questions from coming. Even when a cloud of doubt and a haze of distrust chokes our breath, these widowed questions, these orphaned petitions, are still with us. "Do you see me? Am I important to you? Do I matter?"
People may stop asking them of God, but they don't stop asking them. They look at their classmates and colleagues and competitors and ask them, "Do you see me?" They look at social media profiles and ask them, "Am I important?" They look in the mirror and wonder, "Do I matter to anyone?" And it's looking for these answers from anyone and everyone other than our Creator, that's the source of our deepest pain. God, the Father, will give us justice against the adversary one day. God will put the world right again one day. God will restore the health of His creation, but He doesn't want to leave you hanging. So right now, before He comes with justice for the universe, He meets you. He meets your deepest need first. He comes to you with His Word, with Jesus. "I see you," He says. "You matter to Me."
The first time I visited Steven in the hospital, I read in one of the reports about Jesus recorded in the Gospel according to Luke 7. Now Luke, the author of this book, was so taken by these accounts of Jesus that he took it upon himself to interview eyewitnesses and write down an orderly account of the events surrounding this one-of-a-kind construction worker from Nazareth. Luke's report has come down to us in the Bible. And the part that I read for Steven that day was the report of how Jesus once interrupted a funeral.
A young man had died. He was the only son of a poor widow. He was supposed to care for her in her old age, and now he was dead, and she was alone. But Jesus sees her. Moved with compassion, He walks up to her in the middle of the funeral, and He says, "Do not weep." And then He goes over and puts His hand on the open casket. The pallbearer stands still. Jesus speaks again, not to the widow this time, not to the pallbearers, not to the guy officiating the service. He speaks to the dead man. He says, "Young man, I say to you, arise." "Arise," Jesus says, and the dead man rose. He sits up in his casket and starts talking. Jesus gives him back to his mother.
Jesus sent me into the hospital that day to share this report about Him with Steven and his parents as they faced the first of many waves of cancer and chemotherapy. And Jesus sent me to speak to you today. I asked Steven a question that day and I'm asking the same of you now. Will you trust Him? Will you trust Jesus? Because no matter what happens in the future, even if you suffer, even if you die, Jesus promises to make you come alive again when He returns as Judge so that you can live with God forever. So, will you trust Him?
Steven said, "Yes." How about you? God is trustworthy because the character of the judge in the story is nothing like the character of the true judge. God's trustworthiness was decisively demonstrated in the life of Jesus, even when there was a moment in Jesus' life when God's justice seemed slow in coming. It happened like this. Jesus' teaching exposed the insecurity of powerful people in His community. They were looking for love and respect in all the wrong places, and Jesus called them out for it. And they hated Him for it. They schemed to have Him killed, hung to die on a cross. The night before it happened, Jesus prays to His father, asking God, if He were willing, He would rescue Him, spare Him from this suffering. But God left Him hanging. And in that moment, Jesus took all of your orphaned questions and mine, He took them all on His back, so that we would never need to bear them alone, and He died with them. And if the story ended there, we should all go back to looking for love in all the wrong places. But it didn't. God stepped in just like He said He would. He raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus lives. You and I still have an enemy, for now. We still have a judge. But in Jesus we have a Judge whom we can trust. We have a watchful Father who will step in and save His children.
Who are God's children, God's chosen ones? Jesus says they are the ones crying out to God day and night. They are crazy persistent, like the widow. Even more they are loved like Hazel. Hazel's family stopped to visit us in St. Louis on their way down to Florida for a vacation at the beach. Later, I spoke to her dad, Eric, about the trip. He said there was a moment when Hazel was following her older siblings out into the ocean, into the waves. And the waves, as they do, kept coming and crashing, knocking Hazel off her feet. And in that moment away from the playground where things were not in her control, she wasn't saying, "Hey, Daddy, look at me." All she could see was the next wave closing in.
You and I call out to God, but that's not what makes us chosen. It's God who chooses. And in Jesus, in His Word, in Baptism, He puts you on His back and says, "Look at Me. Watch this." Hazel's dad hung back in the waves and watched for a while, knowing his beloved daughter's sometimes crazy sense of independence. In a panic she turns in the water and sees him there. "Do you want a piggyback?" he asked. "Yes," she answered.
So how about you? Why don't you pray with me? Dear Father, save Your people, bless Your heritage, and carry us forever. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for October 16, 2022
Title: Look at Me
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And we're back once again with Dr. Michael Ziegler, thinking about what we heard in today's message when Jesus asks that question, "Will the faith be found?" I've always taken it to mean that the church would be all but extinguished in the world by the time Jesus returns, believers few and far between. I've always taken it to mean that the church would be all but extinguished in the world by the time Jesus returns, believers few and far between. Is he talking about diminishing market share here or the faithful getting fewer and fewer as the days go on?
Mike Zeigler: So, it's not general faith or generic faith like optimistic thinking or positive thinking. It's specific, the faith, this faith in Jesus. But even more specifically, this faith that was demonstrated in the widow who wouldn't give up, who kept on going and coming, even beating the judge down, that's the kind of faith Jesus is looking for. The faith of a little girl who keeps saying to her dad, "Look at me! Look at me!"
There are warnings in the New Testament that the faith will come under extreme pressure towards the end, but also throughout all times in various seasons. So Jesus, for example, in Matthew 24:12, He warns that a time will come when "lawlessness will increase, and the love of many will grow cold." St. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4, says something similar. He says that "In latter times, some will depart from the faith, the faith, by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons." There's a real threat to preserving the faith, and we should always remember that it can only take a generation for the church to be snuffed out in a particular place. But at the same time, we have Jesus' promise in places like Matthew 16:18, where He says that He's the One who builds the church and that the faith will never become extinct.
Mark Eischer: We should hear that sense of urgency in Jesus' question.
Mike Zeigler: We should because it's a serious question. Is this kind of scrappy, resilient faith, is it going to be around when Jesus returns? But I don't think we should hear it as a negative prediction or a negative pronouncement that the Lord is making. I think maybe it's something like a coach who, at halftime, is trying to rally his team to victory. The coach might say something like, "Okay, team, you played really well in the first half, but am I going to see that same level of intensity, that same level of play in the next half? What are you going to show me, team? What are you going to show me?"
I think that's how Jesus is putting it. "Will the Son of Man find faith, this faith, when He comes on the earth?" So it's language not meant to discourage us, but rather to take into account of the difficulties. It's a tough second half we have ahead of us still, but also to encourage us to not give up.
Mark Eischer: In the end, this sermon is both, look at me and look to me.
Mike Zeigler: Right.
Mark Eischer: The first is something we say. The second phrase is God speaking.
Mike Zeigler: Exactly. I want that phrase to have a double meaning. So the first, as you said, is expressed by us to God, by His children who need His loving attention. And without His attention, we wither away. We lose our ground in this world. And even when we are assured of His love and His care and His protection, we still cry out to Him urgently, desperately. This is modeled for us all throughout the Psalms.
So, a couple of examples, think of Psalm 13, the prayer goes, "Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God." Or Psalm 25 says, "Consider my affliction and my trouble." Those are just various ways of pleading with God. "Look at me. Look on me." And then, on the other side of the meaning of the phrase, you hear a parent perhaps calm an anxious child by getting down on their level, making eye contact, and saying, "Look at me," or "Find my eyes; look to me." And that establishes this bond of trust between a parent and a child that lets the child know, "Hey, I'm still here. I care for you. I see you."
Mark Eischer: I especially like what we've said here about Jesus speaking to us as a coach speaks to his team. He's not frustrated or giving up, discouraged, but He's encouraging us, "Keep it going." And He gives us His spirit with which to do it.
Mike Zeigler: Yes, amen. He is rallying His disciples in this time when they know they're going to be facing terrible trials in the next generation. The Romans are going to come and destroy Jerusalem, destroy and burn the temple. He's preparing them for this season of trial and suffering. But in a bigger sense, He's preparing all disciples in all times for our own times of trial and suffering. But not to kick us down but to lift us up.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Come, My Soul, with Every Care" From O Lord, Open My Lips by the Children's Choirs of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne (© 1995 St. Paul's Lutheran Church)
"I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)