I'm off to a 3-day meeting: so this had to be done early. I'm sure I will want to come back to it before Sunday - but these are my thoughts thus far:
One of the problems with listening to any Bible readings is that our minds can be so full of other issues. I wonder what’s bothering you as you sit there listening this morning. Perhaps you’ve been worrying about a member of the family – an elderly relative with health problems, or a younger one in financial difficulty; perhaps you’re worried about your own health, or fearful of the future in some other way. Perhaps you’ve confided in someone else or maybe you’re the only ones who knows what it is that you’re bothered about.
With all this potential for distraction going on in our minds and in our live, who are we meant to listen to the Bible? And what can it possibly have to say to us, even if we do manage to still our internal storms for long enough to let the Bible speak to us.
Perhaps as you listened to the readings some sort of image of the events came into your mind. I remember the story of Jacob wrestling with a stranger from a children’s Bible I used to have - it showed 2 bearded men in long gowns standing ankle-deep in water as sun begins to rise. Maybe that doesn’t make you feel any more confident that the story is relevant to your life.
But let’s put the story in context: Jacob has been extremely sneaky – he’s been out of land of his birth since tricking his brother, Esau & fleeing for his life. The years have been good to Jacob: he now has wives, children, huge flocks of sheep, goats, camels, donkeys & cattle - and he is planning to return home. But he is still frightened of his cheated big brother – so he sends groups of animals ahead, telling the people driving them to tell Esau they are a gift from Jacob.
Finally Jacob brings up the rear - but just as he is about to cross final river and enter his homeland he meets... Who or what? Perhaps Jacob is facing his own resistance, fears, guilt personified - is he fighting with his past? in his mind fighting with Esau? fighting with God?
We, clearly, are not wanderers in the desert skulking back home to a murderous brother - but the idea of apprehension, of wrestling with demons inside ourselves if not with angels, may be familiar to us.
Jacob is convinced that in his struggle God is with him - he names the place where he wrestles, ‘Peniel’ - the face of God. Jacob is left limping by his encounter with the stranger, but he feels sure that God has been with him in the struggle.
The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable is also struggling with a stronger force - verbally rather than physically. The story needs to be read carefully: Jesus is NOT saying that to get a blessing out of God we have to nag & harass. Point of the story is to compare the judge with God - to lay this example alongside Jesus’ teaching about God. If an unjust judge will give justice to a widow, even though she has no legal rights, because she plagues the life out of him, how much more will God, who wants to bless people, bless those who are persistent in prayer, says Jesus.
Whatever we have come to church carrying in our minds and hearts, we are not here to batter on God’s door and demand help, or to wrestle with God to wring a blessing out of him.
We are here to pause form all the wrestling and to remember that God’s blessing is with us : even when life feels incredibly tough.
Whatever challenges we face we have here the knowledge that God is with us - not in some namby pamby way, but wrestling, struggling, sweating & grunting. We are here to worship the God who is not aloof and unconcerned but here on the ground in Jesus, struggling with us, dying despite us, defeating death for us. And that same God offers us bread and wine as a sign of that presence which is with us always.
In this communion meal we are offered a blessing from the God who is always waiting to hear, rather than being a despot who bolts the door to us & responds to us only when battered into submission.
So in the midst of the difficulties of life, what does God offer today?
1. Knowledge of his strong presence when things are tough.
There is a lovely phrase in the prayer book, which talks of a God who is ‘ever more ready to hear than we are to pray’. God is there in all our struggles.
2. Promise of a place in the household of God - here is a sign for all of us that the arms of God are waiting for us each time we want to return. The arms of God will not wrestle & rebuff, they are not arms folded in arrogance and reproach - they are arms which enfold and embrace - the arms of the God Jesus called ‘Father’.
A final thought – it could be that in the parable of the widow and the judge we, the church, are the judge & Jesus Christ is the widow – pleading for us to listen, to respond to the voice of love, whatever problems are assailing us. So may we all know God’ love and blessing with us today and forever. Amen.