Sunday, October 16, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Genesis 32:22-31 & Luke 18:1-18
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob spoke these words as he wrestled all night with the mysterious man. Many think it was an angel or one of God’s messengers. Jacob said it was God. “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” Wrestling or battling another person is tough enough; battling the divine is even harder. Jacob knew all about fighting people. His name meant “holder of the heel” for when he was born it was said he came out holding on to his brother Esau’s heel. It seemed he was fighting right from the moment of his birth. And he continued to fight. He fought for what he wanted, most of the time through lies and deceit. He would cheat his older brother Esau out of the blessing from his father. And now he was fighting to get a blessing from the divine, whether or not it hurt or not. To Jacob, that blessing was worth everything. And so he wouldn’t let go. He kept on wresting until he got that blessing.
The widow in our gospel story shows that same kind of persistence. She needed justice. As a widow in that society she had no one to care for her, no sons to provide for her, no family to support her, and no one to advocate to the judge on her behalf. But she needed justice an so like Jacob she wrestled – she fought with the judge until she received her justice, her blessing. And this judge was a hard opponent. Judges were required by the law to take care of widows, but he didn’t fear God and he didn’t respect people. But this widow – like Jacob – was persistent and she was not going to let the judge go until she received her justice, her blessing.
When was the last time you wrestled with God? Sometimes praying is wrestling with God, especially during times when we are faced with challenging situations. We may doubt whether God even hears our prayers and rather than give up, Jesus says we need to “pray always and not lose heart” just like the examples of Jacob and the widow. They were desperate and needed justice and blessing in order to live. Jesus is telling us that when we face desperate times, when our hearts are broken, when we are in the midst of despair, when we don’t know where to turn next, we need to pray – to wrestle with God – until we receive that blessing we so desperately need.
We may pray or wrestle with God when we are trying to find the will to go on after the death of our spouse, or maybe the death of our child, or when someone we loved so dearly dies. During these times are hearts are literally broken and we wrestle with God for meaning. We may wrestle with God in prayer when we or someone we love is diagnosed with a terminal disease, or when we’re dealing with an illness that doesn’t seem to be getting better, or a relationship that has wounded us. We wrestle with God over losing jobs, or friends, or dreams. And these Scripture texts are telling us that we are to keep on wrestling, to keep on praying and not let go until we receive the blessings we need to live. Jesus says to keep on praying and not lose heart.
Jesus wants us to know that if an unjust judge will finally give in to giving in to this widow’s needs, how much more will God – who is a just and compassionate judge – give to all God’s people who call on him for help. God is a just judge. God throughout history has always cared for God’s beloved people. He brought the Israelites out of slavery into the promised land. God led them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God gave us the ten commandments as a gift and guide for our lives. God send Jesus who suffered and died and rose again when we were lost to sin and death to bring us back to a right relationship with god. God sent the Holy Spirit to call us back to Christ and to comfort, guide, and empower us always. God has never abandoned us and God never will. Like Jacob and the widow, God is also relentless and will not let us go.
Yet in the process of praying, we may not get what we want, but we will always receive a blessing. It just may not be the one we thought we would get. The most powerful part of prayer is that it changes us. Prayer opens our hearts. In order to do that, we often need to let things go. We may need to wrestle with God to let go of past hurts, to let go of being judgmental, to let go of our anger, to let go of perfectionism, to let go of our need to be in control, to let go of always having to be right, to let go of our fear, to let go…..and to trust in God. Trusting in God opens our hearts and allows us to see and feel and accept God’s blessings. And in return we can then be blessings to others. There is so much hostility and hatred in our world right now, so much suffering and pain. People are praying for justice. They are praying for peace. God is calling us as Jesus’ disciples to be the instruments through which God answers other’s prayers. We are called to let God’s priorities of compassion and love be our priorities.
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The good news is that God has already blessed us through the precious gift of Jesus Christ. He is our greatest blessing, our greatest treasure and he will never let us go. As we leave here today let us not let go of him. And let us bless and glorify God by praying always, staying close to Jesus, showing love and compassion to others, and being a blessing for each other. Amen.