The Old Testament Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31
The same night Jacob 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, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
The New Testament Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
The Gospel Reading: Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples 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 opponent.’ 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?”
Aches and Pains
As this long and glorious season of Pentecost comes to a close, we find ourselves anticipating the secular season of Thanksgiving. I never have a problem finding something to give thinks for, since October is my birthday month, and a month later, I still live! Thank you, God!
One of the things I observe in my second-half-of-life-birthdays, are the many changes that come around. Ironically, the core of who I am still feels the same, yet changes appear inescapable. The most obvious and disconcerting change in my life these days lies hidden deep inside my closet: Shoes. No longer are there any four-inch spike heels perched jauntily on the shoe shelf! No shiny black leather boots balanced on high skinny heels. No strappy high heel sunshine yellow sandals. No spike heels of any kind or color! It took a while. Each pair went with tears; tears only made worse when I started giving away the clothes that went with them. You see, not only does gravity work its dastardly deeds on the human body compelling a critical re-appraisal of clothes you once wore with a flare; now your shoes force you to change your entire wardrobe. First, the cute little pencil skirts and business suits went missing. The cocktail dresses that topped off those strappy spike heels were the next to go; all GONE. Now I am left with flat-heel shoes and long, flowing skirts.
Have you noticed that you don’t eat and sleep the same way you did when you were 25? Remember when you could eat four large slices of pizza and sleep all night? Not anymore. If you ate four large slices of pizza tonight, you would be up all night, not wrestling with God, like Jacob did in our Old Testament reading, but wrestling with heartburn and acid reflux!
And speaking of sleep, most would describe typical sleep as something more akin to Jacob’s restless vision than sleeping like a rock! Then there are the aches and pains. Muscles, bones, and joints change over the years. Most of us have at least one hip joint in common with Jacob’s sore and swollen hip after a night of wrestling with God.
Another thing I have noticed is how my name keeps changing, not just married names that we pick up and drop over a lifetime. I am talking about what we are actually called. When you’re a kid, it’s your first name or a nickname or a variation unique to your family; ‘Lindy ,’ not the Linda your teacher would use. Then titles get added, Ms., Mrs., Dr., Mr. Then you take on new names like Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandmother, Grandfather, ~ names that mark us by context, relationship, and generation.
Our Old Testament reading today gives us an allegory for aging and a perspective on change in our life in faith. In Genesis, we see Jacob on his journey back home. He comes to a river. He sends on his wives, servants, employees, possessions, all of his earthly accomplishments, all of his earthly gain, all of his professional and business pursuits. All go to the other side of the river and Jacob is left to spend the night alone.
He doesn’t sleep well. God comes to him in the form of a man and they wrestle through the night. There’s not a lot of conversation. It’s a guy thing. It’s a fight, a struggle. At the end of the night, Jacob refuses to let go of his opponent, demanding, ‘I want your blessing.’ And God gives it to him.
In the morning light, with God’s blessing, Jacob’s life was changed. He had a new name and a new position in life. He was to become a messenger of God, and would be named Israel, patriarch, forefather of King David and God’s own son. And he had a limp.
Like Jacob, we are on a journey home, a life journey that takes us ultimately to our home in the arms of Jesus. In the meantime we work to build a place for ourselves on earth, a community, a family, a way of life and vocation, a legacy. Then something happens to bring us face to face with our mortality. It may be a dramatic moment like Jacob’s, or an illness, a disability, or the loss of a loved one. It may be gradual, like having another birthday that compels us to consider the subtle and not so subtle changes of aging. Whatever it is, when it happens it is a long and lonely night when we stand naked, unprotected by the status and accoutrements of life. We are exposed before Him. We stand alone in our struggle with God, to learn who we are to become and the message we are to carry. Morning will come and we will go into the day with God’s blessing even if we are limping on our way. That’s what happened to Jacob and that is what happens to us.
I have to admit that I like the “Jacob walking with a limp” touch. I find it reassuring. Jacob did not walk away from his night of struggle unscathed. God’s blessing did not transform him into a new and perfect creation. No, God sent him back to his community marked by the struggle, limping and sore. I can relate to that. When we are lucky enough to get this old, most of us walk with a limp. Obviously, God does not need us young, fit, and strong to do his work. He takes us as we are.
Take Paul for example. He was one of God’s most prolific messengers. He limped through beatings and imprisonments, while starting churches from Rome to Ephesus, and writing a host of letters we study even to this day. For example, in his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded his young protégé who it was who prepared him to be God’s messenger: his mother and grandmother. Timothy knew the sacred writings because of them. They taught him the word and the importance of proclaiming God’s message with persistence. Paul urged Timothy to follow their model, to convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching just like they did with him. To Paul’s way of thinking, these two women were messengers of God. Even Timothy’s grandmother did not get off the hook because she was a woman or because of her age. Timothy’s grandmother was God’s messenger and her message immortalized Timothy.
How did she do it at her age, with the long years of life slowing her down? How do we do it when we have struggled with life’s changes and grieved its losses; when we have tossed and turned through sleepless nights, wrestling with God; when we get up in the morning, sore and limping? We have only to look to today’s gospel for the answer. Jesus, the ultimate Messenger tells us to pray always, never losing heart. What do you pray for? Freedom from the aches and pains? Jesus suggests otherwise. He tells us instead to pray for faith. If we pray always and never lose heart, he will provide the faith we need to sustain us as his messengers. After all, we are praying to a good and loving father, not a corrupt uncaring judge, for goodness sake!
The good and caring Father does have expectations, however. At the end times whether it’s your end time or my end time, or the end time of the planet, God expects to return here to find faith, – faith in you, faith in me, and ultimately, faith in the people who have received his message through us. We know the message; we have heard and read the sacred writings all our life. We carry a long and uniquely individual history and perspective that only a lifetime can generate. It didn’t come without a litany of achievements and failures, without gains and losses; without aches and pains. Some might call our message an offering of scripture made relevant by the wisdom, patience and persistence of age.
I don’t know what your message you will sound like. I don’t know your style or vocabulary or even your ever changing wardrobe. That’s up to God and you. God gives you the long life, the message, and the people who need you and what your message. Then he gives you the faith to spread the message, to convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience, just as he did Timothy’s grandmother. And finally, there is one more thing that he gives you. He gives you a new name. What will yours be? Man of Faith, Woman of God, Elder of the Church? Daughter of the King? Are you up for that?
If you have your doubts, remember the gift. When we walk out into the morning, we may still have a limp, but we will walk cloaked in faith; carried in faith; and supported in faith. God has provided us with the message and a world who needs it, “for the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
Obviously God is needing teachers like us. As a group, we long ago stopped caring about what suits the desires of others. Some might call that stubborn. I call it the surety that faith brings when we have seen the face of God, and still live. We won’t be wandering away from the truth to myths, not with this swollen hip! There is not enough time or energy for that. Just give us the truth and we will carry it to those whose ears are not itching for something entertaining or distracting, but are seeking to be immortalized.
Wow, I like the sound of that! Amen
We pray: Dearest Lord, as I am called by a new name to a new mission, I lift up my eyes to the hills from which my help will come. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Amen!