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10/16/2022 Sermon

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Our two scriptures today met at the intersection of prayer and persistence. I would love to hear your reactions. peace. Pastor TJ Genesis 32:22-31 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Luke 18:1-8 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Our ancient scriptures remind us that humans were not then, and are not now, perfect beings.

Our scripture reminds us of the truth of our history – it is not swept under the rug – but wrestled with from generation to generation. Jacob, later called Israel, was running away from one messy situation into what could prove to be another. Jacob was in the proverbial “from the fire into the frying pan” situation.

Who was Jacob wrestling with that night? A human? An angel? God? Was it all a dream?

The important point for me is that he was no longer turning away or denying his past, he was facing it; wrestling with it.

This scripture is a reminder to wrestle with our perceptions of the world, with others, with God. From the wrestling match we can emerge with new perspectives, new understandings, new hope, and new ways forward.

What are we wrestling with today? There are so many issues of peace and justice vying for our time and attention. Indigenous Peoples rights and reparations. The inherent dignity and worth of Black lives, Brown lives, all marginalized lives. Housing insecurity and food insecurity. Reproductive justice.

Ideally, wrestling with these issues produces growth, progress, improvement.

As we hear in the Gospel of Luke, justice does not come easily. The widow persists, day after day, seeking a remedy for the injustice heaped upon her. The judge finally relents not because he believed in fairness or justice, but to be rid of the annoyance of her presence; and reading between the lines, to be rid of the negative attention cast upon him due to his inaction.

Damon Garcia, on the website enfleshed: Liturgy that Matters, writes, “This parable of an unjust judge being worn down by a widow’s persistent agitation reminds me of the persistent agitation and activism that has granted us justice. It would be negligent to assume that each major policy that has given us a little more freedom was given to us because of our political leaders’ kindness and compassion for us. Often, we’ve gained more just policies because politicians were worn down and fearful of the people’s persistent agitation. A recent example is President Biden’s recent student loan forgiveness plan to cancel up to $10,000 in debt for borrowers who earn less than $125,000 per year. This debt relief plan is great news, despite it being a very small amount of the total Jubilee we’re fighting for. But we must exalt the long and difficult work from debt relief activists that has led to this partial relief. Journalist Jeet Heer’s article on this story for The Nation, boldly opens with, ‘[Biden] didn’t deliver student debt relief out of the goodness of his heart—but in response to a long, well-organized campaign.’ Heer goes on to compare the decision with Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act. Similarly, Roosevelt didn’t provide senior citizens with social security out of the goodness of his heart. He initially ran on solving the problems of the Great Depression with the National Industry Recovery Act, ‘a corporatist alliance of government, capital, and labor unions.’ The Social Security Act was a result of grassroots activists pushing for the much more radical Townsend Plan, which promised to give every senior citizen $200 a month, regardless of past earnings. The Social Security Act ultimately provided only $35 a month to workers whose earnings averaged $100 a month for 40 years.”

Persistence pays off. We must remain persistent in our efforts to bring justice to those in need.

Many of us have heard this parable interpreted with ourselves as the one seeking justice; as the widow. And God as the judge. We see ourselves as the ones wronged; the ones in need of reparations.

A more progressive reading of this parable, given our status as a mostly white, mostly privileged congregation asks, what if we are the unjust judge, and God is the widow?

God is persistently pleading with us for justice for widows and orphans and the resident aliens among us. How do we respond? How will we respond? When will we answer God’s prayer, God’s plea for peace on earth and goodwill to all?

Will we join with St Andrew Lutheran in “adopting” a family from Ukraine? Do we spend our time, money, and energy ensuring that others have adequate housing and food enough for each day? Are we working to keep democracy vibrant and voting fair and free?

We must persist in inching justice forward. How? Luke frames this parable through the lens of prayer. Persist in prayer he tells us. As one of you pointed out to me this summer, prayer doesn’t necessarily change God, but prayer, especially persistent prayer, can change us.

Whether we are like Jacob wrestling with our own personal past failures or whether we are like the newly named Israel wrestling with the sins of an entire country’s forebears, wrestle we must.

Pray. Do not lose heart. Persist in wrestling for justice. Pray in any way you know how. With heart and soul, with hands and feet, with voice and volition.

May we all be changed by our prayers. May we change the world with our prayers.

Rev. TJ Mack – October 16, 2022

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