Sermon – 10-20-19 – Proper 24 – Cycle C
Scripture – Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Sermon Title – “A Blessing for Persistence”
Kicking a football again and again until it goes just where it is supposed to go. Hitting the golf ball endlessly until we achieve a hole-in-one. Practicing the organ until the organist finds extreme satisfaction with the experience. Welcoming students into the classroom day-after-day, honing the skill of dispensing knowledge so that the classroom becomes an eager learning space with happy, well-balanced students. Practicing the art and science of medical expertise and genuine care. Reading the Bible until it is no longer tedious but becomes an addiction as God leads and the Holy Spirit inspires.
All persistence. Never giving up. Or giving up but coming back for more. Quitting smoking. Quitting an alcohol habit or a drug habit. Asking forgiveness. Wrestling with a relationship. Wrestling with God! What do I mean? God values persistence. Sometimes it is a real challenge to prove to God that we are capable of persisting, of sticking with something until we can’t continue and then coming back to try again.
The funny thing is that we can’t persist without God’s help. We think we are proving our ability while all the while it is proving our faith. Just trying to make sense of the Hebrew scripture takes persistence. But all the while it is God who is working with our minds and hearts to wade through verse after verse, chapter after chapter, episode after episode until all the gruesomeness shapes itself into meaning; until we get the bigger picture. It is a life-time of absorbing and molding, not by ourselves, but by being the project of the Holy Spirit.
It may be difficult to detect the Holy Spirit in our New Testament Gospel. A woman wants justice and pleads and pleads, never giving up. Finally the judge grants mercy. He does not believe in God, he is not granting the woman’s request as deserved justice, but simply because he cannot stand her nagging anymore – her persistence. He needs to stop the effect on himself. Therefore, he grants her whatever she is seeking. In this story, Jesus is questioning the amount of faith we have. Is our faith enough to keep our persistence fueled?
Meet Jacob or re-meet Jacob. Twin brother of Esau. Sons of Isaac who is son of Abraham. All is not well with Jacob and Esau. Here again is another example of the shrewd action being rewarded. Shrewd – meaning watching for opportunity and using it for mostly selfish advantage. We have been meeting these shrewd people in our scripture lessons in recent months. We read along expecting punishment for these people. Instead, God praises this attitude, this practice, this way of being.
Today Jacob manages to be alone. Wait. Jacob does not manage it, God arranges it. No caravan of servants and wives and children. No caravan of animals. No caravan of supplies and equipment. These parts of Jacob’s life are sent ahead, away. Jacob is alone. A person alone with God.
God has a purpose for this time of aloneness. A man comes to wrestle with Jacob. The scripture says “a man.” As it happens, this man is not human, but “a divine adversary.” In the end, God himself is revealed as the adversary. The point is that Jacob does not give up. All night Jacob does not give up. At one point the other wrestler, this divine adversary, attempts to be free by striking Jacob’s hip so that it is put out of joint, but still Jacob keeps resisting.
This is not the only time Jacob has resisted. He resisted his father, Isaac. He resisted his brother, Esau. He resisted his father-in-law, Laban. Now he is resisting God. Let’s substitute the word “tricked” for resisted. Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, at his mother’s instruction. He tricked his brother, Esau. He tricked his father-in-law, Laban. Can we say that Jacob is tricking God? Well, strangely enough, Jacob is the one who is persisting in this wrestling match with God in the form of a man. This wrestler wants to be free; he wants to stop this hours-long contest. But, God is also helping Jacob to continue.
Once again, God is baffling us. Once again we are confronted with God’s actions which do not make sense to the human mind. Once again we feel like walking away from this God whose actions and words we do not understand.
In our own lives, what is puzzling us about God? Is someone not being healed? Is a relationship becoming sour? Is a certain career eluding us? Are we living from one big bill to the next big bill and it seems that persistence is not “paying off.” Where is God? Why has he abandoned us? Even, we wonder why God seems to be wrestling with us.
Now is when we really need to look at the hills. We read together that our help comes from God, not the hills. Let’s question that thought. Going alone to a place where nature is still intact, breathe in the raw, clean nature. Breathe out the torment of our souls. Breathe in the sky. Breathe out the pollution in our minds. Breathe in the Spirit of God. This Spirit of God is everywhere.
Let us remove ourselves. temporarily probably, from the wrestling position with God. Let God wrestle with someone else for awhile as we listen to music that speaks of the gentleness, the positiveness that is God through the Holy Spirit. We don’t worship a clear, running, babbling brook but the Holy Spirit is present in that brook. We don’t worship birds as they appear at our window or soar through the sky, but the Holy Spirit is tuning our souls to accept surrender as we notice the naturalness of the soaring and the gentlenss and the trust in that robin or that sparrow that appears when we least expect.
You know the song we sing, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” Does that resonate with God watching over our going out and our coming in? Think of Jacob and this God-man wrestling all night matched to the words from Psalm 121, “Behold the keeper of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Let us place our bodies on our beds, our heads on the pillow and give all the anxiety to God. Let us be peaceful in the trust that God is watching over us. Invite his presence into every cell in our bodies. Let slumber settle over us like a chiffon scarf or a curly cloud. The Lord will preserve you from all evil and will keep your life. The Lord will watch over you. This Creator of the earth, this Creator of heaven. This awesome presence is everywhere! Let us not resist but accept. Amen