Sermon Pentecost 22 –
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s reading from Genesis and the parable from Luke have something important to teach us about our relationship with God.
Both stories teach us to be persistent, not passive. Jacob was persistent. He wrestled with God all night long. The widow was persistent. She pestered the unfair judge until he gave her justice.
We all know Christians who tell us to sit back and passively accept whatever happens, because it must be God’s will. They say things like, “It was meant to be.” “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Don’t worry, God is in charge.”
If you have said any or all of those things at one time or another, I do not mean to offend you. The trouble is, all of them contain some measure of truth, but not the whole truth.
Ultimately, God is in charge. Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
Yes, God is ultimately in charge. But, God has given us all free will in this life. We can all choose to do good, or we can choose to do evil. This means that in this world the good guys aren’t always in charge. The good guys don’t always win.
There will be unfair judges. There will be unfair rulers in the government. There will be people who do not fear God or respect other people and they will be in positions of power. They will not act with justice toward all. This is the result of human sin. It is not God’s will.
The kind of passive attitude expressed in those cliches teaches people they should just willingly accept whatever happens to them. It encourages a victim mentality. It encourages people to believe that God wanted them to suffer.
I cannot imagine telling someone who lost their family in a war that God won’t give them more than they can handle or that it was God’s will. That is not the kind of God I want to believe in. That is certainly not the God who sent the Son to suffer and die for us. It is not the God who came to give us abundant life.
None of those cliches make anyone feel better either. Once when I did not get a call to a job that I wanted, someone used the “God closes a door, opens a window” one on me. I can tell you that I did not appreciate it. Even though I understand that the person probably did not know what to say to me. I am sure they figured it would be good to go with something that sounded religious.
The ideas that everything that happens for a reason, and that reason is God’s will, can lead people to passively wait for the Holy Spirit to work, and forget that God uses our hands do God’s work.
Here is a story to illustrate what I mean:
Once upon a time there was a big flood. The flood was so bad that a man had to climb on the balcony of his house to get out of the water. A neighbor came by in a boat and offered to take him to safety. He declined the offer and said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
The water was getting higher and higher. Another boat came by, but he told them the same thing. By then he had to stand on the roof and hold onto the chimney, but still he said, “God will save me.” A helicopter flew over and dropped a rope ladder down for him, but he refused again, saying, “God will save me.”
The man drowned and the angels came and took him to heaven. When he arrived, he was very upset and asked God why God hadn’t come and saved him. God said, “What do you mean, I sent two boats and a helicopter!”
God does not call us to sit by passively and tell everyone that whatever happens is God’s will. God does not want a one-sided relationship. God expects us to be active participants.
Sometimes we are even called to wrestle with God all night long. Jacob had one of those nights. He was worried because his brother Esau was heading that way with an army to meet him.
Jacob had reason to worry. He had stolen his brother’s inheritance and birthright. He had tricked their father into giving him the blessing that belonged to Esau. He ran away from home after he did that, to save his own skin. Now he was heading back, several years later, hoping for a reconciliation.
Jacob wrestled with God all night. That also means God was wrestling with Jacob all night. God didn’t let go of Jacob either. Sometimes our relationship with God needs to be like Jacob’s. We might think we shouldn’t argue with God or we shouldn’t challenge God. That is not what this story teaches us though.
It teaches us – Be persistent and wrestle with God. Don’t give up on the relationship. Demand the blessing.
It can be difficult to be persistent. It takes a lot of energy as well as patience. It can be disheartening. Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unfair judge so that the disciples will not lose heart.
It sure is easy to lose heart, to become depressed and feel hopeless. Today, Jesus reminds us that persistent prayer is the answer to hopelessness. He reminds us that prayer isn’t just a one time a week or one time a day thing.
Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God. For any relationship to thrive, the communication must be intentional and continuing. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Persistence is the key.
This is not to say that if you just keep on praying for whatever you want, God will get tired of hearing you and finally give in. Prayer is not like a bunch of whiny kids begging their father for candy.
Jesus tells us that God answers prayers for justice. God’s justice will ultimately prevail. When we pray for justice, we ask that God will use our hands and bring justice sooner rather than later.
Jacob wrestled with God all night and refused to let go until he received the blessing. God gave him the blessing and changed his name from Jacob, the name he was given at birth, because he grabbed his twin brother’s heel. God changed his name to Israel, meaning “he perseveres with God.”
The people we inherit our faith from, call themselves the children of Israel. The children of Israel define themselves by their refusal to let go of God. They are willing to wrestle, to be changed, even be injured in the fight, because they know the blessing is worth it.
God is not looking for wimpy followers. God wants us to be a people who persist and wrestle with God, even if it takes all night to get the blessing. It is in the struggle that Jacob sees the face of God.
That blessing of seeing God face to face changes us. It redefines our relationship with God and it makes it possible for us to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. This story of Jacob ends as he is named Israel and limps away with the blessing into the sunshine.
Do not lose heart. Be persistent in prayer. Be open to being changed. Wrestle until you see God’s face and get the blessing. Amen.