Sermon :: October 16, 2016
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
If there was ever a moment when I felt that the lectionary readings almost perfectly captured the plight of our cultural landscape, this is it. As Christians, and people living in community, I think we can all identify with Jacob’s wrestling in Genesis, with the Psalmist throwing up his hands and crying out to God for protection and guidance, with the struggle Timothy is experiencing between saying and doing the right thing versus the popular thing, and the widow’s constant calling for justice in Luke. I’m not sure what kind of crystal ball or soothsayer they were using in 1992 to choose these texts for this week in this season of our political, cultural, and religious landscape, but I would like to find out what it was. I’d like to invest in some stocks with they’re help.
I could, realistically, preach a sermon or two on each of these readings, so I hope you’re ready to sit for a while. (I wouldn’t do that to you) In an effort to not keep you here all morning, I would like to speak briefly about a few things that seem to be especially relevant in our culture and context in light of our readings for today. If you’ve been paying any attention to our political landscape lately, you see a lot of wrestling. You see a lot of finger pointing, interrupting, a lot of false claims and a lot of controversial ideas. It appears that our country is doing a lot of wrestling, and it frightens me a bit. It probably shouldn’t, but it does because through all of the sideways glances, pointing fingers, clenched jaws, and hurtful comments, it seems we aren’t really sure who or what we are truly wrestling with. In Jacob’s account, we never really find out who or what Jacob is wrestling. It says “a man wrestled with him”, but we never find out why, we never find out who. Jacob appears to believe that he’s just wrestled with God.
It seems that the only thing we can agree on is that things are not the way that they ought to be in our world. We see the violence around the world. The aftermath of storms and disease. We see the oppression and marginalization of people who are deemed “the other”. We are privy to so many of the intimate details of corruption and greed. We see that the hard work of justice and peace and love are often left behind for the easy answers of fear and war and hatred. And we often see and feel these things without acknowledging our own place in their presence.
It’s easy to, like Jacob so often seemed to do in his life, feel slighted and cheated and oppressed despite having our own part in what has happened. It’s also easy to find someone to blame and wrestle them instead of tackling the larger problems. It’s easy to blame a politician’s policies for causing injustice. It’s much harder to actually work for justice. It’s easy to “wrangle over words” (to quote our 2 Timothy reading from last Sunday) than it is wrestle with the systems of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and any other “ism” that divides instead of unites. It’s much easier to wrestle, vilify, and blame a person instead of wrestling with systems that we have often played into, benefitted from, and cannot quite see our way out of.
Often, when we decide to take on these issues, we can feel like the widow in our gospel reading. Pounding on doors with prayer, with advocacy, with sermons, with Bible study, and with anything else that we might have at our disposal. It seems like the cause is lost, it can feel like we’re simply more noise in an already noisy stream of attack ads, arguments, and the social media echo chamber.
In times like this, brother and sisters, we have to remember that God is not that judge, sitting back, annoyed at the constant badgering of someone he does not care about. God is not some distant deity, looking down at the world as it is and wondering what happens next or dismaying about how it all got out of control. Instead, we believe that God is in the midst of the struggle. God is seen in the eyes of scared children. God is experienced in the hands of rescue workers. God is experienced in the sharing of peace and the practicing of love, even and especially with those whom we disagree with. God is wrestling with the sin of the world, God is recreating the world, God is bringing all things together, and we get a chance to play at part in it.
And how can we be sure that this is true? How can we trust the we’re not shouting into the wind and banging on locked doors that lead nowhere? Because we see on the cross the proof that God’s been wrestling on our behalf the whole time. We see in Jesus, the Word made flesh, a man who knows our struggles, has felt the sting of pain, the bitterness of grief, the joys of friendship, and the glory of God. He knows the feeling of abandonment and betrayal and he knows the cry of the oppressed. And, with a love that drove him to cross, he showed us that God will and does have the last word, that love and grace and forgiveness and mercy wins the victory over hatred and contempt and fear and injustice.
Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we forget that we don’t wrestle alone against the social ills that we see. But that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten. In verse 7 of our gospel, our translation offers a good take on the Greek, but it’s not the only way. Another translation, used by the King James Bible and a few other contemporary translations, is not “Will he delay long in helping them?” but instead something along the lines of, “won’t he bear patiently with them?” God is bearing patiently. God is bearing patiently with our wrestling. God is bearing patiently with you. God loves you and, like a loving parent, is patient with us and is staking place with those who are struggling.
As we wrestle with how to vote, how to act, how to speak, how to lead, how to address injustice and speak up for those who are voiceless, this is the promise we cling to. It’s the promise that we hear in confession and forgiveness. It’s the promise we taste in the bread and wine of communion. It’s the promise we feel in the waters of baptism, in the sharing of peace, in being sent out into the world.
After Jacob’s wrestling match, he receives a new name. And so do you. You are a child of God. God is with you. In the midst of political arguments, God is with you. In the midst of wrestling with the Word of God and the works of humanity, God is with you. In the struggling and the laughing and the fretting and the wondering, God is with you. Just as God is with those who hear you, those who don’t hear you, those who don’t want to hear you, and those who can’t hear you, God is with you.
Sometimes, there are no easy answers. You all know that. But we hope and pray that the wrestling becomes easier, knowing that Christ’s death put an end to death and Christ’s life grants life to all. God is with you. Amen.