19th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Know doubt that everyone here can attest to the struggles in their lives. We all have them. Some people struggle more than others while to some people it just seems like their struggles are more difficult.
Yet if one were to travel to any country, city or village in this great wide world, they would see their neighbor wrestling with troubles. These struggles may be common to our understanding or unfamiliar.
Whether we understand our neighbor’s struggles or not, we can certainly relate to the energy taken from oneself and the heartache labors of this life inflict on a person. These exertions are not only physical or psychological, but also spiritual. Our faith is constantly being tested and attacked by the evils of this world.
For Jacob, his struggles in life came before he was even born. He was in the womb with his brother Esau wrestling. In Genesis chapter 25 it is written about Rebekah’s struggle:
But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
And the Lord said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. [Ge 25:22–26a]
It seems that Jacob wished to be born first.
As Jacob grew, his struggles in life also grew. He usurped the birthright from his older brother Esau, which cause a conflict between them.
So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” [Ge 27:41]
Jacob had struggles in his married life. He wished to marry Rachel and was tricked into marrying Leah, her sister, first and then later Rachel as well. The women’s father, Laban, kept Jacob working for him until he agreed to divide his stock with Jacob, but the sons of Laban were offended by the wealth Jacob took from Laban and so Jacob fled. Yet through these struggles, God did not abandon Jacob
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” [Ge 31:3]
Jacob’s struggle with his father-in-law ended with a covenant of peace between them and Jacob was to then meet his brother Esau. It was during the night when Jacob was to have another struggle, but this time it was with God. During this night, Jacob wrestled with God to the point of his hip being displaced, yet Jacob would not let go of his opponent.
Jacob would not let go until he received a blessing, which God gave to him and with it a new name – Israel:
Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” [Ge 32:28]
Think of your own struggles with God. Think of how you wrestle with your own faith. They may be small scuffles but many, or they may be large battles but few. Either way, no one living in this world can escape this struggle.
To some it may be constant or a debilitating illness. To others it may be the never ending fight to pay the bills and to keep your head above water. And still to some, it may be a relationship that is hurting because of a transgression by one or both parties. It may seem that the love has gone from your relationship between you and your friend, family member or neighbor and that there is no hope for reconciliation. You may ask yourself, ‘What is to become of me? I see conflict with my brother, but where is God in my struggle?’
Jacob wondered the same thing in his time of distress and the Lord answered:
“Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” [Ge 31:3]
This is all fine and good for Jacob. We know how his story ends. He is given the new name of Israel and his descendents become heirs to the kingdom of God. But what about our story? How does our story end? Right now, we may only see the turmoil and strife in our lives. How are we to trust God with our struggles today? Let us look at our Gospel reading and hear how Jesus recommends we hold our faith.
Jesus tells us a parable of the Persistent Widow. The widow keeps harassing the judge to give her justice. We don’t know what her story is about. We are only told about the judge’s qualities; he neither cares for God or people. In the end, our Lord says,
“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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” [Lk 18:7-8a]
This is the main point of the parable. Not the continuous annoying pleas of the widow, but the faith in God as our judge who will give us prompt and righteous judgment. Our God is a just God of all things and not of this world alone.
We are to come to our Father in heaven with all of our daily needs, this is true, and we are to be in consistent conversation with our Lord and maker through prayer. We are to uphold Him as the one true God and to put our reliance, hope and faith in Him, because ‘God in His holy habitation. Is a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows.’ as it is stated in Ps 68:5. Yet in the same vein, we are not to think that pestering prayer for worldly things that do not serve us or Him is the proper goal of our asking.
God knows our every weakness and fear. God knows our every desire and need. He knows that we are sinful to the point of being lost forever, and He knows how we are to be saved. Like the parent who cares for their child, God gave us what we need.
God loves us so much:
‘...that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ [Jn 3:16-17]
This is how God blessed us then, and continues to bless us now. Christ’s saving work of taking our sins to the cross, to be crucified to death, to be buried and to three days later, rise again in order to cleanse us from all sin and to free us from death was not a single, momentary act in time. This salvation is an ongoing blessing that daily restores us to righteousness and to the family of God.
Just as Jacob struggled with God, we too, struggle with God. And just as Jacob was blessed by God to be His chosen people, we too are blessed into his Holy house.
It is not just Christians who wrestle with the world but all those who have not yet heard of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. God does not save His grace for Christians alone. God works His will in and for all creation. Much of the time our focus may be only on our own struggles, but God works through His people for the good of our neighbors as well.
We can see God’s work through our neighbor’s struggles when we band together to help those who have been hit by war, persecution, and natural disaster. We see God’s work through our church when the women of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League gather together items like blankets and school supplies and baby clothes to give to those who struggle with daily needs.
When the LWML started in 1942, they had no money to reach out to their neighbors. They started donating clothes and needful items and also… pennies! By banding together, they all became part of their neighbor’s struggles in their homes, towns and even countries. They collected what they had in order to be a witness of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to those in need.
Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy summed up the work of the LWML this way:
What a model they [LWML] are for Christian discipleship! If our congregations are the soul of the LCMS; if our pastors, workers, and missionaries are the beautiful feet of the LCMS; if our seminaries and universities are the mind of the LCMS; if Lutheran Hour Ministries is the voice of the LCMS; then the LWML is the heart of the LCMS.
We cling to Christ through our Holy Baptism. We receive the blessing of our Father through Holy Communion. By the body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are blessed by God and given a new name: The forgiven one. The righteous one. My chosen one. This is the sign of our persistence in faith.
I believe everyone here would agree that there is another name which shows the sign of persistence in faith, and that name is the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.