2022-10-16 Pentecost 19
Struggle and persistence is the name of the game today in our Scripture readings. Last Sunday it was all about struggling and persisting to fit into our pants after the big Thanksgiving turkey meal! But like anything in life, our faith has a component of struggle and being persistent to it. It’s like watching a baby learn to crawl or to walk. You remember those days or are possibly living them right now! Can you imagine if you went up to a toddler-in-training and said “Ah, just sit down! Don’t try to move anymore, you’ve fallen over 20 times!” Would the baby ever learn to crawl? Would she ever learn to walk?! No way! It’s that persistence in the struggle that matters.
Several years ago in our backyard in Oxbow there was a loud racket and commotion. I went out to see what was going on and there were these three crows. It became obvious that there was a young crow and her mom and dad. The baby couldn’t fly, despite being full fledged and was hopping around the yard all the while the parents were crowing loudly from nearby trees. I picked up a broom handle and the young crow perched on it. As I raised the stick up in the air the baby crow started to flap her wings to keep her balance and the parents went nuts! They were yapping and crowing all the more to show her encouragement, just like any human parent would cheer on their child! It was unbelievable to see. I put her up on a branch of a nearby tree hoping that she would be persistent in her struggle to take to the air.
Persistence. It is the butterfly that the ugly caterpillar of stubbornness can become! It’s having an image in your mind of an outcome or goal that you want for yourself. And then, keeping at that goal no matter what. Can you imagine what our world would be like if famous inventors like Leonardo Da Vinci or Sir Isaac Newton or Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie or Rudolf Diesel or the Wright Brothers or Alan Turing or Linus Torvalds or Steve Jobs would have just thrown in the towel? It’s too hard! It’s an impossible challenge! Might as well go home and eat Doritos and watch Seinfeld reruns! Persistence! Without it the 50lbs overweight guy stays 50lbs overweight dieting all the while. It’s nothing but excuses, indecision, waffling and ultimately, a defeatist approach to life.
It becomes clear from the Scriptures today that God values persistence. He illustrates it to us in both the Old Testament reading of Jacob struggling with God and also in the Gospel reading with Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. For Jacob, despite all of his sins and shortfalls, he had persistence. He wrestled with God all night long by the Jabbok river. He wouldn’t give up and struggled all the more. But then, God cheated Jacob the cheater and knocked his hip out of socket! “Then He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). It’s an odd text at face value. Jacob is wrasslin’ with God and won’t let up. God cripples Him but still brings forth a blessing. This whole story is a type for us. If we, like Jacob, struggle with God in life, He will bring forth blessing. What does that even mean?! It’s not like we’re going to hop into the WWE ring and square off with God the Almighty. But rather the struggle in the Christian life comes in sanctification, repentance and prayer.
Do you remember way back to the National Hockey League strike of 2004?! They cancelled the whole season. I remember this because TSN and the sports channels on TV we’re starving for content! They had to resort to broadcasting darts and bowling and Texas Hold’em Poker games! They even had to put Steeplechase on the air during prime time! What’s Steeplechase, you might ask?! Well, you get a gaggle of Jack Russell Terriers and you let them all chase after a furry lure on a retractable rope. They have to jump over a bunch of obstacles and the first dog to make it through the little doggy door at the end of the race wins! But talk about tenacious! Those little dogs fly down that field like lightning! Nothing in the world is going to hinder them from getting that lure, no matter what! Tenacity. Persistence. Struggle.
We see the same thing with our Lord’s parable. “And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming’” (LK 18:3-5). In Jesus’ parable this widow not only had the hurdle of being a widowed female with few rights in the culture of her day, she also faced a terrible judge. He didn’t have any fear of God, nor did he care what other people thought about him. He was probably a Gentile judge designated by the Roman authorities. Judgeships were sold and bought, and a judge could make a good living from the bribes that were common. Our widow had no money to bribe this wicked judge, so her only recourse was to come before him repeatedly crying, “Grant me justice against my adversary! Grant me justice against my adversary!” He dismissed her claim, but she kept coming back, constantly nagging him for justice. He must have thought, “Oh, no, not HER again!” In verse 5, he admits she bothered him. The word translated “bothering” literally means to “poke in the eye.” He was upset because she was constantly in his face. This constant nagging and persistence finally paid off and he ruled in her favour.
Jesus ends His parable with a rhetorical question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(LK 18:8). Will He find a people who are persistent in the struggle to put away sin and embrace repentance? Will He find a people who persistently come to His house and seek Him in prayer? Will He find a people who are steeped in His Word and Sacraments? Will He find faith? Or will He find a bunch of quitters?!
It’s important to note that even the best of people get knocked down in life, but what sets them apart from the quitters is that they get right back up. Life is full of adversarial people who will tackle you. It is chock full of hurdles and roadblocks that will try to dissuade you in your faith in Christ. The poor widow in Jesus’ parable had been knocked flat–but she refused to stay down. She got up and persistently made her request to the judge. She embodied a tenacious persistence in her struggle. This is what the Lord is looking for from us too.
Persistence! Struggle! Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel. If you’ve got health issues, seek the Lord. If you’ve got financial problems, take them to Jesus. If you’ve got struggles in the family, take them to the Lord in prayer. Persist with the Lord just like Jacob did on the shore of the Jabbok river. Don’t give up. When Jesus our Lord was carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem, what kept Him going? In the midst of the heinous struggle and passion, what kept Him moving forward? It was His goal and mission: to seek and save us. To do the impossible. To die on the cross for the sins of the world and also rise. 3 Days later. The empty tomb was the goal. All of us together forever in His heavenly home. That’s what kept Him moving. There was only one way. The way of the cross. The way was forward. Look at your own life. You know what’s vexing you. You know what is before you. With God’s help, be persistent. In the footsteps of Christ our Lord, keep on struggling. Keep on pursuing your goals. Keep on pursuing our Lord and His Kingdom. For we lift our eyes up and see exactly where our help comes from. The Lord who keeps you neither slumbers nor sleeps. Struggle and persistence with the Lord. It’s the name of the game today and always. Amen!