22nd Sunday after Pentecost
WELCA Quilt Dedication Sunday
October 16, 2016
Jacob was in trouble again. On his way back to his homeland, he was destined to confront his brother Easu, whom he had cheated out of his birthright and blessing. Jacob had been cheated plenty in his time away; cheated by his uncle Laban, who had switched wives on Jacob at the last minute – giving him the faithful, fertile, plain Leah for a wife instead of the desired Rachel. He had worked seven years without pay for Laban, and now would have to work another seven to have his beloved. It’s possible that Jacob wouldn’t have had to cheat to gain the blessing and birthright, as it seemed that God intended Jacob’s son, Judah, to be the son through whom the promised Messiah was to come, but cheating seemed to be the way Jacob’s family did things. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Jacob had just trusted that God would figure it out.
On his earlier flight from his brother’s wrath, Jacob slept alone in the desert, and God could easily have struck him down and let Esau have the birthright back. But instead God gave him a vision of angels walking up and down a ladder from the open heavens right down to the very spot where Jacob slept with a stone for a pillow. God promised, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15) This morning we hear the other end of the story. Fearing that his final showdown with Esau would mean bloodshed, Jacob had sent his wives and children ahead and slept alone as he had when he fled years before. It must have been quite a night – all his cheating and conniving behavior finally catching up to him, wrestling with his fear and his conscience and with God’s own self. Even though his enemy is powerful, Jacob is persistent, using every last strength to fight back. With his hip dislocated through his struggles, Jacob hangs on. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob is sure that he wrestles with God, and sure enough, his name is changed “this one who strives with God”, and he gains the blessing and forgiveness for which he begs. When he meets Esau, he is greeted with tears and blessing, free at last to go on his way to build his own home in the land the Lord had promised. His wounded hip would always be the outer sign of his time of accounting and finally blessing.
The last few weeks have made me love the church fathers for their choices of stories to preach, because the stories we’ve heard have been the very stories I needed to hear in these stressful and frightening days. The current time is a little bit parallel to this time when Jesus and his disciples are on their journey to Jerusalem. Things are getting tense. Jesus knows the time is short and what’s coming in the days ahead. He will die and they will be on their own. You can imagine his worry for them, and his need to be sure that they know without question that God is good and still with them, and that everything they have learned from him will go on to change the world. And so we have these stories of the last few weeks, assuring them that the faith they have will be enough, if they just have the courage to trust God and do what they have been trained to do. We have the story of the Samaritan, the one who expected the least to be healed because he was so hated and abused. He recognized his taboo-breaking treatment and threw himself down at Jesus’ feet in gratitude. And today we have two examples of God’s willingness to bless, to give beyond what we deserve or ask for, simply because God is loving. Jesus teaches us to pray always and not to lose heart. Not to lose heart because things are out of control, or scaring us to death, or because we’ve already asked and what we long for doesn’t seem to be happening.
Remember that a parable is a story – it is not an allegory in which each character in the story stands for someone or something else. So the unjust judge is not meant to be a model of God, who doesn’t want to be bothered, but will pay attention to us if we just beat on God’s door often enough. Jesus says that even someone who doesn’t care will heed the request for what’s necessary if the person asking is persistent. So how much more would someone who loves you want to give you what you need. “So when I come back, will I find that you trust what I’ve said?” Jesus asks. God is always looking to right the wrongs of systems that oppress, to end the suffering of health that fails, accompany the refugees and outcasts in a new place. And often it is God’s people that God uses to answer their prayers. When we ask for God to act, our prayers are often answered in each other. When we feel compelled to act, we are often the answer to another’s prayer. Increase our faith, the disciples asked, and Jesus told them to trust that what they had was enough and to just go for it. Ask for God’s blessing, ask for the world to change, don’t be discouraged, just keep asking, he tells us today. And don’t forget to be grateful, to notice the beauty and wonder around you as you see your dreams and your dreams for the world come true. Jesus came to make us free, free of the sin that makes us grudging and self-centered, free of the ‘have to,’ that makes us afraid we are not good enough, free of the coldness of heart that makes us insensitive to the pain of the world. We are already blessed. We are already enough. Amen.