Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sunday 20 October 2013, Genesis 32:22-32, Luke 18:1-8, Bruce

(A sermon for a Zone at Liquid Church)

Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
Our opening hymn this morning is a powerful reminder of God’s grandeur, power, holiness and might.  And yet – Jesus told us to call God our Father.  He lived a life of trust in his Father, and encouraged us to do the same.  Luke tells us the story of the Prodigal Father, who lavishes love on his wasteful and disrespectful son, and gives us many examples of Jesus consistently in prayer and telling us to do the same.
Our gospel reading today is a parable that might at first seem strange.  Can God really be compared to an unjust judge?  I would say no. 
The judge in ancient Israel had absolute power.  He could do what he liked.  There was no jury or court of appeal.  The widow seems to have had no family to speak for her or help her.  She is powerless and helpless.  It is an uneven contest which she is bound to lose.  Except for one thing.  She is shameless and tireless in calling for her wrongs to be put right.  She pursues the judge relentlessly.  In the end the judge gives in.  He does not turn over a new leaf, or become a better human being and more just judge.  He is just worn down by the widow going on and on and on.
Can God really be compared to an unjust judge?  I would say no.  Jesus had earlier talked about earthly fathers being asked for a fish and handing over a snake, or being asked for an egg and giving a scorpion. (Luke 11:11)  His point there was that if an imperfect human father might do try to do his best, then we can count on our heavenly Father always to answer prayer.  His point here is that we should always pray and never give up.  Even if our situation seems hopeless, we should carry on and on.  God is on our side; it is just that sometimes we cannot see it.  Sometimes we seem to be surrounded by trials and difficulties that grind us down.
Why then do we not get easy, instant answers to our prayers?
First, creation is in a fearful mess, where good and evil fight each other in heaven and in this world.  It took the death of Jesus to win the victory and the aftershocks of that conflict are still being played out in real time.  When we announce Jesus to you as the light and hope of the world, we are not commending a philosophy or way of life for you to consider and debate, and adopt if it takes your fancy.  This is a battle of life and death and we are all caught up in it.  Jesus told this story to remind us to “Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done.”
Second, we are in a fearful mess.  When we come to faith in Jesus, we become part of the new creation, children of our heavenly father and members of the family.  We still have a lifetime of habits and worldview that fill our minds and colour our thoughts.  Look at the life of Jacob.  His name means “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, cheat”.  As a young man he stole the blessing – the birthright and moral authority to inherit all his father Isaac’s wealth.  It wall went wrong and he had to flee.  He has been an exile and has got rich, apparently by tricking his uncle Laban, and he is on the move again.
In this mysterious story, Jacob has a fight.  Is it with a man or an angel?  It is unclear but at the end Jacob announces that he has seen God.  They wrestle each other to a draw, but Jacob will not let go.  “Bless me!”  “I have fought and manoeuvred and tricked all my life but I know that I am missing that true birthright, that true blessing which will make me whole.”  If you read back over Jacob’s life, he has never really encountered God for himself before; it has always been the God of his father and grandfather, it has never been personal to him.  The struggle seems to have been needed to bring Jacob to the place where he could really Encounter God for himself, and start to grow in him.
God is looking for justice and mercy to be all over his creation, and he looks to each one of us to keep seeking him in prayer, for his name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  We should continue to seek him to provide all our needs and to keep us from the time of trial and to deliver us from the evil one.  One day we will be in the New Jerusalem, in the presence of the immortal invisible one.  Until then we are called to pray at all times and for all people.  Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done.
Discussion Starters
1.     Both Jacob and the widow seem to have reached a point of desperation.  What does this suggest to you about the nature of prayer?
2.     How comfortable are you with the idea that struggle and persistence are an essential part of faith?
3.     How do these stories help you when thinking about God and your relationship with him?

4.     Is there a prayer or concern that continues to bother you, which you could share so that others can join with you in prayer?
See also:

Seecern that continues to bother you, which you could share so that others can join with you in prayer?

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