Rev. Andrew Cunnington
20th October 2013
Standing in the Dock More Than I Would Wish

We were the boys from Junior Business Studies Year 1 . Group B. We were not a bad set of lads, it was just that when we should have been revising for O levels our minds were full of football, pop music and girls and at age 16 we found ourselves on a course for those who hadn’t a clue what they wanted to do with their lives.

As part of Junior Business Studies we did something called “General Principles of English Law” and in order to spark some interest in the subject, our hard pressed Tutor would take us to sit in the gallery of Worthing Magistrates Court and there to observe the comings and goings of poor souls who had fallen behind with rent, got caught for a speeding fine or were accused of starting a fight in the amusement arcade at the end of the pier.

Sometimes we would draw a stern look from the Court Usher as we sniggered at the cases or tried to pass packets of crisps between us without too much of a crunch.

My overriding memory of those visits was to thank God that I was not in the dock. I was not in any serious trouble and would not be facing the wrath of the magistrate.

Things have moved on, I ended up with A level law don’t you know! But more seriously things have moved on for I now don’t have a place in the public gallery any more because these days I find the dock is the place for me.

I am summoned there almost daily by my own uncertainty about what I get right and what I get wrong.

When we think about this morning’s funny gospel reading we have to remember that the judicial system in Jesus’ day was not like now. There were no barristers or solicitors piling up their fees for some well chosen advice, there was just you with your grievance, your opponent, and the judge.

He would be a bit like a football referee, trying to sort out a brawl on the pitch and deciding to whom the red card should be shown.

Such power must have bred pomposity and I think that the judge Jesus spoke of here was probably a real figure known for his uncaring, please yourself manner.

Here was someone as far away from the character of God as you could get. He did not care about who was right and who was wrong. He was not bothered about other people’s predicaments, and he had no room for faith in a higher being. He wanted a quiet life actually and so it was the widow “continually in his ear” as we would say, who badgered him towards justice.

But Jesus is saying, look, if someone like that can be persuaded to do the right thing , how much more will God do what is right for you. For God is justice in person, God embodies a passionate love that always wants what’s best for his people.

The people in Jesus’ day then, were like litigants awaiting a verdict and the question was simply this, were they right to be throwing in their lot with Jesus when the religious authorities were ruling against him?

And Jesus is saying the time is coming when you will know that you have been faithful.

We do not know if Luke intends that time to be seen in terms of the resurrection, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost or what is called the Parousia, the final day of Christ’s return.

Whatever the timeline is meant to be, the encouragement is to stay faithful even though no one seems to hear you, listen to you or even acknowledge you. Stay faithful even though it means you swim against the tide of opinion and trend.

If you decide to be a follower of Jesus in these days, you can no longer sit yourself down on the public benches at the back of the court as I used to do, but rather you will find yourself coming voluntarily to the dock at the front of the court, because you will come to see that at every twist and turn in your life, you are accountable for your actions in terms of your faith, and if you are like me you will not always be sure if you are innocent or guilty.

My words. My actions. My priorities. Driven by Gospel stuff, or the world’s stuff. Driven by my own desire to promote myself or to promote God. The struggle to be faithful is real whoever we are.

But because of the cross of Christ, we can take our guilty conscience time and time again and climb into the dock with it and know that whether we have been right or wrong in our decisions, he sees to our heart and sets it beating in accordance with his love and grace.

Today we baptise little Kevin into the faith of Christ. He becomes an inheritor with us in this life of struggling to do what is right.

Baptism marks him out as it once did us, through the oil on his forehead, the water in his face, to the candle in his hand, we are saying for Kevin, you go forth from this moment branded as a follower of Jesus, and you live under… not the harsh judgement we might mete out on one another, but the compassionate judgement of the unconditional love of God.

LUKE 18:1-8