If you had to say who God’s favourite people are, or as we like to say in religious talk ‘his chosen ones’, I think you could do worse than suggest that God really likes widows. And I know that widows aren’t necessarily old, but most widows are. So, you could say, that God loves older women. They – or even perhaps we – are singled out for special favour. Which is just as well – because a lot of the time older women (and sometimes older men too) can feel that they come at the bottom of the heap in this world. So this is good news – for those who feel left behind by a world that loves youth and beauty and fertility and couples and all of that – that God loves old women who are past it.
There’s lots of evidence in the Bible. I know, and I expect you know, that the Bible tells us that widows are to be treated with honour and compassion. The Psalmist describes God as ‘a defender of widows’. Jesus condemned those who ill treated widows. Saint Paul had a well worked out plan for how the church was to care for widows.
But the Gospel reading for today suggests that God has more in mind for older women than that they are to be the objects of the church’s care. They are God’s favourites for other reasons than that. God loves older women for some of the reasons the rest of the world actually finds us annoying. God loves old women when they are bothering people in power. God loves them when they are making a fuss about something that’s wrong. God loves them when they are raising their voices. God loves older women when they won’t lose heart, but keep on keeping on. God loves those who are a bother. And this gives me hope.
I have so often heard aspiring ministers speak disparagingly about churches that only amount to – and they always put it like this – six old ladies and a dog. It’s always a dog for some reason. And it’s always six old ladies… It’s always the tag for the church they don’t want to go to. But how is it that anyone is allowed to get away with this? Why are six old ladies to be despised, whereas presumably a church of six strapping young men, or three loved up straight couples with children would be an exciting mission opportunity. What’s wrong with old ladies? I used to chide students and say to them, ‘Don’t sneer at old women. I am hoping to be one one day..’ I can remember too having students on placement with me and I would encourage them to talk to everyone – every single person. And I would ask them if they could find out which of the older women on the back row had once been a missionary, and which one had just published a book, and which one was constantly writing to the Home Office about the asylum laws. Never, never underestimate old women.
Jesus clearly knew what old women are really like. He told this story about a judge – a terrible corrupt judge who thought he could get away with anything and who had no respect for anyone, not even for God. I don’t expect someone like that was a very good or wise judge. No doubt all sorts of people had tried to get him moved on, sacked or early retired, but life was too comfortable and the salary too attractive and he wasn’t for budging. I imagine he was the kind of person who wasn’t bothered at all by polite and reasonable letters making requests, by gentle enquiries or courteous presentations. He brushed people off like flies. But, finally, one day, this old woman just wouldn’t give up and kept on at him to give her justice against her opponent, until finally he gave in. I think I can recognise this kind of woman – and three cheers to her. She had no status, no obvious power – just sheer determination and persistence. That was all. But that was all she needed to defeat a judge. She was what people sometimes call old women – indefatigable…
We all know women like this. Most of our churches, most of the churches throughout the world even, depend on them. But it’s not only churches. Look at Extinction Rebellion. The media like to show us the ones that look a bit ‘crusty’ and hippie like. But many of those actually taking to the streets are grandmas, women the age of some of you, widows, old women. And with their grey hair or their coloured hair, with their cardigans or their Prada, they are bothering people in the name of saving the planet.
And when Jesus said, ‘And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’, who do you think he was imagining? Who was God thinking might be spending a lot of time in prayer, crying out to God? I’ll bet he had in mind older women, the kind of women who persist in praying, women who stick with the church years and years after everyone else, the old women who turn up, make the tea and sweep the room. And their friends too – older men and younger people, I know. But today, let’s hear it for the older women, for women like this one in the parable.
Sometimes, often, I hear older people say to me ‘I don’t want to be a bother’. You don’t want to burden their familes. You don’t want to be a bother to care workers. You don’t even sometimes want to be a bother to the church! But look what happens in this story. The widow is ‘bothering’ the judge – but her bothering gets justice, gets something done, gets the world changed. And even God welcomes the bothering of prayer, so that the world could be different. God says – in this parable – go on, be a bother, a bother to the ones who are cruel and unjust and who don’t care. The world needs those who will take the time and give themselves enough to bother and be a bother.. and God loves them.
Sometimes people look at our church and they see a small congregation, with more than an average number of older women. And be honest, sometimes we look at ourselves and see that too. It’s not unreasonable that we might wish to have some more men, some younger people, some children, a community of all ages. But, none of that should ever tempt us to think that an older woman who comes through our door is of less value than a younger man or a child. And none of that should ever tempt us to think that we have to apologise for being a place where those who are older find a welcome.
As I minister to this congregation, I learn more and more about what it means to get older in this world. And I can see that in many ways it’s so very hard. It’s physically demanding – and some of you are absolute heros because of what you put up with! It’s mentally demanding too – as anxieties increase, forgetfulness comes and troubling thoughts haunt us. And it’s spiritually challenging… as we learn to let go of the power we once had and as we prepare for the many letting goes that await us. But there is also so much potential wisdom and peace that can come. There is that kind of ‘not caring anymore about what people think’ that can set us free to bother the world as it should be bothered. And above all there is that sense that ‘this is me’ – and the assurance that God loves the ‘me’ that you are.
I reckon that God has chosen all of us – but old women are among his favourites. This congregation may be older people – and where is the dog? But we are no less valuable for that. And who knows, we might even change the world yet! Amen.