BIBLE READING:†† Luke 18:1-8

SERMON - The Hound of Heaven

The guiding principle you could take away from our lesson for today could be íthe squeaky wheel always gets the grease.í In other words, persistence pays off so nag and complain and cry out day and night. If a self-centred and unjust judge gives in to such things, how much more will our caring and just God give his chosen ones the help they need? So, donít lose heart! Donít give up! God will help you; not because youíre only an annoying squeaky wheel in his ear, but because God loves you, God never gives up in caring for you; God never stops seeking to send justice and peace into your life. You see the problem isnít that God gets tired of caring and is weary to help us, the problem is that we stop being open to the constant, persistent, and pursuing help God wants to give us.

We can see this better by turning this parable upside down. You know, if you look at the two characters in this parable, Jesus has them representing the opposite of who we typically identify them with. Take the widow, for instance. Most of the time in the Bible God is the only one who identifies with widows. When the rest of the world treats widows as if they were invisible and donít count for much of anything, God is the one who takes note of them; God is the one who lifts them up; God is the one who voices their plight and challenges the rest of us to care for them.

Now, consider the unjust judge in this story, who neither feared God nor had respect for people. Doesnít that do a better job describing us and how we are generally looking out for ourselves and thinking most about our own best interest? Doesnít his stubbornness and arrogance fit better into our own personality traits than into Godís?

So, letís turn this parable upside down and, instead, see this as a story about how God, like that persistent widow, keeps bothering us, the unfair and self-centred judge. And God keeps nagging us and pursuing us, wearing us down until we finally give in and take God seriously. You see, eventually, when it comes to God we canít take it anymore. Eventually, we give up and we give God a chance to guide us into doing the right thing.

Doesnít this kind of an interpretation to this parable fit better with the way things really are between God and us? I think so. And if this is the case, than the lesson it has to teach us about prayer is that prayer, at its best, is not so much about us nagging God with our little complaints about whatís right and whatís fair. Instead it is about giving up our preoccupation with ourselves, and allowing this persistent God to enter our lives and letting him change these selfish, self-destructive lives we are living.

Perhaps the best phrase that literature has ever coined to describe this quality in God is calling God ďthe hound of heaven.Ē The title comes from a poem written by the English poet Francis Thompson.

Francis was born in 1859 into a respectable Catholic family. His dad was a doctor who wanted him to become a priest. Francis tried but failed miserably and he was kicked out of college with a letter informing his parents that the priesthood was not the holy will of God for Francis. From there he spent six years haphazardly studying to be a doctor, like his father, and could never pass the medical exams. Somewhere along the way he became addicted to opium and fell into the alluring artistic culture that thrived on the drug. It was here, in his mid-20ís that Thompson began to pursue his yet unspoken ambition to be a poet.

By the age of 28, completely destitute and living on the streets, Thompson sent a package containing an essay and some poems to the editor of a minor Catholic literary magazine, Mr. Wilfred Meynell, along with this cover letter:

Dear Sir,

In enclosing the accompanying article for your inspection, I must ask pardon for the soiled state of the manuscript. It is due, not to slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances under which it has been written. ... I enclose a stamped envelope for a reply regarding your judgement of its worthlessness as quite final.  Apologising very sincerely for my intrusion on your valuable time, I remain,

Yours with little hope, Francis Thompson

Needless to say, Meynell read his letter and glanced at the material Thompson had sent him, threw it on his desk, and quickly forgot about it for the next three months. When he finally got around to reading Thompsonís works, he wanted to publish them but he could no longer find him. So, Meynell decided to publish them anyway in the hopes that Thompson would see it and claim authorship of his work.

His strategy worked; one day Thompson, ragged and penniless, showed up in Meynellís office and it became a turning point in Francis Thompsonís life. The editor and his wife, Alice, took him into their home, nursed him back to health, and spent four years helping him overcome his addiction to opium. It was during these years of withdrawal that he wrote this poem, ďThe Hound of HeavenĒ, the only one of his workís that is still read today. Thompson died at the young age 48 from a combination of tuberculosis and opium poisoning.

 

The first stanza of this poem is the most quoted portion of this rather long verse:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled him, down the labyrinth ways Of my own mind;

and in the midst of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up visited hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chamsed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat -- and the Voice beat More instant than the Feet --

ďAll things betray thee, who betrayest Me.Ē  

Acknowledgement: Jeff Franko