Sermon Bures Oct 20th ‘19 (Trinity 18)
Jacob wrestles with God
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives,
his two female servants and his eleven sons
and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
23 After he had sent them across the stream,
he sent over all his possessions.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him,
he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip
so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob,’ he answered.
28 Then the man said,
‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a]
because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying,
‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c]
and he was limping because of his hip.
The parable of the persistent widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable
to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
2 He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge
who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.
3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea,
“Grant me justice against my adversary.”
4 ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself,
“Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,
5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
I will see that she gets justice,
so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.
7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones,
who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
SERMON “Keep Calm and Carry On”
Both the readings today are about struggle,
Jacob struggles with an unknown man (actually God) all night
for a reason that is never made clear to him;
and the persistent widow fought on… and on… for justice
from a judge who really didn’t care.
In the end things were resolved in both stories
because somehow or other God was involved.
And to some extent we all struggle with those twin problems:
One spiritual… and the other practical
our trouble wrestling with our own faith
and our struggles with injustice and the actions of other people.
All of us here this morning would say that we are Christians
but I wonder what that means to each of us?
It could mean that we come to church on Sundays,
it could be that we read our Bibles and pray every day.
It could mean that we are completely transformed people,
bathed in the love of God … and in a wonderful, spiritual cloud of holiness.
I wish for myself that the latter was true,
but of course for nearly all of us, well…
we have to live life in the real world with all the ups and downs
and the reality of our emotions and the small
irritations and annoyances of each day,
we have to cope with all the ordinariness …or darkness …
or messiness …or sadness… of everyday life.
You may remember a few years ago
there was a vogue for mugs and cushions and so on…
with the old wartime imperative to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
Well I haven’t seen one of those for ages.
All that has fallen out of fashion…
as though it’s just too much to ask
because now we seem to be doing the opposite…
stressing and panicking away like mad!
For the past three years or so, we have been witnesses
to considerable struggle going on in the outside world,
that (depending on our attitude) ….
has either affected us a great deal… or maybe hardly at all.
Reportedly people are becoming anxious and depressed and sleepless
and seeking counselling because of the President of the US…
or Brexit … (it’s now called Brex-austion apparently!)
or the environment… or … what’s your poison? (fill in the blank!).
We all have things that are “sent to try us” (as we say)
and how we deal with them now,
and how we will deal with them in the future
is litmus paper as to how much our Christianity
has been allowed to impact on the sort of people we are
and the way that we behave in any particular situation.
We don’t have to do anything seemingly that significant to make a difference, sometimes it’s just small acts of kindness that create welcome change.
Last week Steve was talking about
the story of Naaman being healed of Leprosy.
In that whole story… it was only a small intervention …
from an un-named servant girl, that made all the difference.
Her words of concern and kindness, reversed a horrible situation
and changed the course of history.
It wasn’t huge… it wasn’t a grand gesture… it’s barely mentioned…
and yet it was key to all that happened afterwards.
Saying or doing the right thing, in the right way…
at the right moment can change so much.
And we can all do that.
I was staying with non-Christian friends recently who confided in me
that they can no longer discuss politics AT ALL in their family
because it quickly becomes a boiling row,
full of resentment, anger and bitterness….
Such a sad situation.
Sometimes feelings get expressed too strongly
and it closes down the possibility of good communication in the future.
Victor Frankl, who was a survivor of Auschwitz, said this:
“Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing:
The last of the human freedoms –
to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.
And that’s what I really want to say today,
we can’t change how we feel … But we can change how we react.
You must all know that feeling when you come across a person….
or a situation …when suddenly you feel snagged
(like walking past a thorn bush or a bramble),
straight away you have to stop and un-snag yourself __
from the thing that’s got itself tangled around you…
only then can you walk on unhindered and get on with your life.
The experience of being snagged by a toxic situation or person…
has affected three people known to me in the past 3-4 months
(people all very dear to me)
and all have had their mental health badly affected.
None of us is immune… and I think we do all need
to stop occasionally and untangle our thoughts and emotions
from that difficult … or even toxic… person… or idea… or event…
free ourselves and be able to stride out again …
without worrying about it anymore.
And as Frankl says… this really can be a matter of choice and an act of will.
We can adjust our way of thinking
by giving the situation a different interpretation
and once we have chosen to act in this more life-affirming, fruitful way …
Consider this … it takes no more effort to be thankful and happy every day…
than to be resentful and miserable. A person can choose.
You can choose.
You may say “yes, but how?”
and of course that is always a difficult question to answer
but… for me, thinking of how much God has given us to be grateful for
seems to be the best starting point.
It’s also helpful to remember we aren’t perfect
and it’s important, as Christians, to be able to see
that our life isn’t always about “getting things right”.
That’s pagan stuff, and we don’t need to burden ourselves
with that weight of expectation.
Freedom lies is coping creatively with our im-perfections,
refusing to be discouraged by them and instead seeing
that God can work with us… and through us …by His grace
despite all our personal muddles.
Real peace… and joy… and freedom… come from that realisation!
One of the reasons that I’m talking about this today
Is that as a nation we have become so polarised in our political beliefs …
People now find it really difficult to listen to the other side,
to people whose views they can’t – or won’t – share;
it’s as though they come at the world with their fists up, ready for a fight,
determined to make their point, no matter what,
and try to completely avoid listening to any other point of view __
that might just ruffle their feathers.
In the future (the quite near future possibly)
there is going to have to be a rapprochement,
a coming back together of couples… of families … of whole communities
where the disagreement has become too much to manage.
Many of us will have to come to terms with a truth
that doesn’t necessarily suit us, and move on…
As Christians we might have to be the voice of reason in the world.
We have a tradition of in the Christian Church
of knowing how to disagree well, of reconciliation,
of fostering a culture of good will,
of knowing how to mount a charm offensive,
of upping the ante on Kindness … no matter what is coming at us.
We are people who can respond with gentleness and respect
in the face of adversity and conflict… and even aggression.
The fractures in society created by Brexit (for example)
are altogether more tribal and emotional than we might have imagined
in Britain today… in what we thought was a tolerant society.
In the church we might have something to contribute
by resisting becoming yet more echo-chambers
by refusing to become “siloes” or simply assemblies of the like-minded.
The truth is that divisions in society are not healed by economic arguments
nor even by political process.
They are healed by the simple fact – of one person speaking with another.
What will be needed is a deeper recognition of our common humanity,
our capacity to grieve, to rage, to feel left out …
and also, thank God, our capacity to co-operate,
to want the best for someone else,
to behave sacrificially and to be prepared to be mugged in the process.
Just listening to the other’s point of view with attention and respect
can break down a barrier that for some reason, has become important to them.
Jesus washed the disciple’s feet
and met resistance to begin with at the very idea…
but he persisted and made clear his determination
to be of service to all of us.
He allowed himself to be struck and mocked __
and spat on by the Roman soldiers;
He stood still… and in silence in the face of violence and persecution.
The way forward for hope for us, is to take one small step
closer to Jesus in each encounter, in each conversation, in each act of humility because the potential for peace and reconciliation is amazing.
It shouldn’t be too much of a struggle to do these relatively small things…
Because the blessings will come thick and fast.
Jacob continued to wrestle with God all night at the ford of Jabok
and only stopped when he received a blessing.
The persistent widow begged and pleaded
until she was blessed with a positive answer
and received the justice she craved.
People who are prepared to gently carry on towards a goal
with persistence and tolerance and kindness are eventually rewarded.
Jesus reassures us in the reading:
“Surely God bring about justice for his chosen ones
He won’t keep putting them off.
I tell you, he will see that they get justice quickly”.
So let’s choose to be cheerful and not be slaves to our negative feelings.
Because how we deal with situations
is a good indication of how much our Christianity
has impacted on who we are… and how we behave.
Jesus asks us:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
Let’s pray so, but that depends on us… you and me and others like us…
who value his words… and his sacrifice…and all the grace he shows us.
After a wedding the other day this strange thought came to me,
I was walking on the confetti left strewn on the path of the church
and thought how beautiful it is that people do that for their friends.
It occurred to me that God loves us like that:
with generosity and rejoicing,
he strews our path with flower petals …
but so much of the time we don’t notice them there…
and we just kick them aside and walk on
unaware of what he has done … to honour us…
Let’s acknowledge Him with every fibre of our being…
And allow Him change us in the process. Amen