Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacobs on October 16, 2016, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. The lessons are Luke 18:1-8 and Genesis 32:22-31.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Character and words do matter. They matter in presidential candidates, they matter in our everyday lives with others, and they matter very much in the Bible. Today I want to focus on two of our scripture lessons, Luke 18 (our gospel) and Genesis 32 (our first lesson) and see what we can learn about character and words.
I invite you to take out your bulletin and look closely at the cover illustration. We see two people and they are the main characters in our gospel lesson. The woman is on the left, who is persistent in wanting to be treated fairly. The judge is on the right, and he is presented as having little to no interest in helping this woman.
As Jesus presents this parable, he tells us that this woman is a widow and she keeps coming to this powerful man for help. Widows in biblical times were especially vulnerable because it was a man’s world. It was men who owned property, it was men who held important political offices, it was men who could be in the synagogue and lead worship, and it was men who could speak up in a court of law. This widow seems to have had no relatives or friends to speak up for her and so she is going it all alone. We aren’t given the particulars of what she is seeking, only that she is asking for justice against her opponent.
Here is what Jesus tells us about the judge: He neither feared God not had any respect for people. He only relented when the widow’s persistence in coming to him started to make him look bad. Here is what he says, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this woman keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
Then the most important part of our lesson is the point that Jesus gives. Let me put it in my own words. God is nothing like that uncaring judge. It is God’s character to be loving and fair and just. God’s word can be trusted always. That judge only responded in order to get the widow off his back and to make sure he continued to look good in the eyes of the public. God, on the other hand, loves us and wants the very best for us. It matters greatly to God when we pray and lay out our heartfelt needs and concerns. We are commended to pray often, because prayer is the best way for us to stay in touch with the One who loves us so much. And God will respond, not on our timeline but on God’s timeline, at the right time.
Timing is very important for us human beings. We want things to happen now. Jesus parable really lifts us the idea of persistence in prayer and trusting God in all things. C.S. Lewis wrote some profound thoughts about feeling abandoned and left alone after the death of his wife:
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when you need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no light in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was a strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (A Grief Observed, pp. 2-3).
C.S. Lewis felt abandoned by God, but somehow he persisted in praying and believing, trusting and relying on God. Eventually, he came to be at peace with God and with the loss of his wife. Not pleased, but at peace. And eventually he could say about prayer, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I am helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”
Our first lesson was about Jacob and his persistence. For me the most amazing thing is that this man had a fight with God, seemingly won the fight, and was commended by God for doing it. As the story it told, Jacob is on his way back home to make up with his brother Esau. Of course Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and then left the area for most of his life. During the journey, one night, Jacob wrestles with a man until daybreak. At daybreak the man says Jacob must let him go. Jacob says he will only let him go if the man blesses him. The man asks “what is your name?” And he says “Jacob”. The man said “you will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
So we learn, this was no man only, but God who came to earth in human form. He divested himself so much of his divine power that his earthly body really did lose that wrestling match. As He knew he would. But the real power of this story is in the words he used in blessing Jacob and changing his name to Israel. Jacob’s character as a man was not so good, and honestly he didn’t change much after that blessing. But God had a greater purpose in mind and I think it was really blessing the people who would come after him.
It is most amazing for me as a New Testament Christian to look back upon the story of Jacob and his wrestling with the man and realize that this is a hint of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, meaning that God took on human flesh, became a man, and lived here on earth.
Yes, friends in Christ, character and words do matter. We are called today to believe and trust in our maker and redeemer, and do everything we can to conform our lives to the example they have set.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts in our minds be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen!