Sunday, 16 October 2016

Twenty-first Sunday After Trinity

Three stories of struggle.

The first is a story of a man coming home. He has been away from home for many years. He ran away from home, because he had dishonoured his family and his brother intended to kill him. And tomorrow, they will come face-to-face again. Imagine what Jacob must be wrestling with, on the inside. He sends everyone else ahead of him, so he can face the darkness alone. But God comes and wrestles with him, all night long, until daybreak. Many years before, on the first night of his flight to safety, God had made a promise to Jacob. A promise never to leave him alone and, one day, to bring him back home (Genesis 28:10-22). God was not going to let Jacob give him the slip now.

The second story is a parable Jesus told, about a widow struggling for justice. The judge in this story is a caricature of the most ungodly person you could imagine, someone who openly disregards the greatest instruction, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5)
and also, ‘You shall not render an unjust judgement … with justice you shall judge your neighbour … you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’ (Leviticus 19:15-18)
and again, ‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ (Deuteronomy 27:19).

The appointment of such a man to a position over others is in every imaginable way bad news for anyone of integrity. But if even someone who has removed himself so far from God, and placed himself so far above other people, will eventually do what is right – albeit out of self-interest – then we can be sure that God – who is loving and just – will grant justice, however long he must wrestle, with us, against unjust actions.

Moreover, it is through such struggle – to live out a society marked by love, expressed by justice; to live such a life even against the flow – that faith is kept alive.

And finally, a letter, from Paul to Timothy, full of encouragement to keep struggling: continue … be persistent … endure …

What have you been struggling with this week? For some of us, it has been mental health issues [World Mental Health Day, 10 October]. For others, the inequality faced on a daily basis by girls and women in the world [International Day Of The Girl Child, 11 October; and the US Presidential election campaign]. For some, it has been the pursuit of a place of refuge. For yet others, the journey deeper into growing old, where loss overtakes gain and past overshadows future, and yet even in this strange new land God may be found faithful. For some it has been the demands of work; or the emptying nest; or the uncertainty of our immediate future; or the madness of the world … or any combination of the above. You are not alone.

One of the things Paul tells Timothy is that God breathes life into scripture, to create a wrestling-partner for us: for humans, whom God fashioned from clay and breathed his life into. Here we stand, today, facing this struggle or that: all of which are very real; but none of which are new. And God has given us a wrestling-partner, full of experience, full of records of our ancestors who struggled before us. Full of parables: did you know the word ‘parable,’ describing a story thrown into the mix of our everyday lives, means ‘to throw down beside’? That sounds like a wrestling move to me. And coaches, too, like Jesus and Paul, and others. Teaching us, challenging us, correcting us, training us; with the goal of our being shaped for a life of working for good in the world.

When I go for a run, there are times when I think, ‘Why am I doing this? It hurts too much. Is it worth it?’ In a similar way, sometimes the things we read in scripture knock the wind out of us, pin us to the ground in a painful hold. And at such times we get to cry out, with Jacob, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ There must be a blessing here, however hard it is to see right now. Please, bless me, or else there is just death, not a dying to myself in order to find life in its fullness. Oh, and my limp? My scars? They are my testimony to God’s faithfulness and healing in the past.

What have you been struggling with this week? You are not alone. Today we come together, whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, because God intends to bless the world through us, and will not let us go.

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