Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
The same night he 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. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Then Jesus told them 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?”
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
Along with some others from St Ninian's this week, I went to Largs on Wednesday evening to hear Brian McLaren talk about his new book.
Brian is one of the great spiritual writers of our time - able to put his finger on many Spiritual truths in which we need to hear the voice of God.
Just one of the themes he talked about was the violence we find throughout the threads of the Old Testament - and especially the stories of a violent, vengeful God.
He spoke of how we need to transform that message of violence into a message of love.
How our world is crying out for a God who is not remote and angry but intimately involved with Creation, making a difference to the everyday.
I was fortunate enough, as I was growing up to be told the stories of the Old Testament as stories of mystery and adventure, of intrigue and love.
I can remember being excited, through the week, waiting for the next episode to be revealed at Sunday School, waiting to hear how things turned out for the characters in the various stories.
Characters like Abraham and Isaac, like Joseph and David, like Samuel and Saul, like Jonah and Jeremiah. All of their stories were brought to life for me week by week by folks who knew the power of story telling.
And so, even with stories of deceit and violence, and war and intrigue, I always knew that, in the end, the love of God would weave its way in and around the drama and the justice of God would prevail
And, in the years that I've studied those texts, in depth, for myself, I'm still assured, that underlying all the many horrific stories, is a God who wants to connect in love with all people, to bring about justice.
In our Old Testament reading today, we read an episode of the Jacob- Esau drama.
Jacob, who, with the help of his mother, cheated his elder brother out of his birthright - and then went on the run.
In the text today, we find him about to be reunited with his brother.
Of course he is nervous.
He doesn't know whether his brother is out for revenge.
And so Jacob does everything he can to protect himself and his loved ones.
He sends gifts ahead.
He places distance between his family and Esau's people.
He plans his escape route, just in case it all goes badly.
And, he stays up all night, wrestling with God.
But this story makes me sad.
Because, even though Jacob has encountered God.
Even though God even changes his name, from Jacob to Israel, and gives him a blessing.
And even though Esau, his brother is not out for revenge but for reconciliation, still Jacob (or Israel) persists in his way of deceit.
Reading on in the story, even once he receives his brothers forgiveness, Jacob lies to his brother about where he is going and takes his family and all his worldly goods off in a different direction. And yet, Jacob is the one who goes on to be known as father of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Weaving in and out of the lies and deceit and bloodshed is the slender thread of the love and patience, the forgiveness and faithfulness of God.
A God worth wrestling with in all that keeps us awake at night.
I spent the week before last, wrestling, alongside other ministers, with Spiritual Discipline.
Ensuring that we are firmly rooted in God so that we can be equipped and sustained for all the challenges of serving God today.
One of my favourite spiritual disciplines is the examen.
A time to take some quiet and look back on the day - and see where God was at work.
A time to discern, not only where we saw God, but listen to what God was trying to tell us in the events of the day.
Often, that, for me, is a wrestling with God, looking, not just for blessing, but for signs of God who dances with us through all the rhythms of life.
As I approached our second reading this week, the parable that Jesus told of the persistent woman and the unjust judge, I approached it like the Examen - and looked to see the signs of God in the story Jesus told.
Then Jesus told them a parable....
Jesus, as he told parables, embedded truth, embedded hard lessons in a story.
A story with layers that are ours to discover.
Where is God in this story?
And how does God speak to us through the story?
What I saw as I wrestled with the text this week, was not, perhaps, the most obvious sign of God- in the unjust Judge who is persuaded by persistence.
I simply don't see God as unjust.
God's will- for good - for all God's children does not, thankfully, depend on our persistence.
Though we have gifted prayer partners here, whose efforts really do make a difference, the God to whom we pray doesn't need persuaded to show love - it's ours for the asking.
But where I saw God in this story that Jesus told, was in the persistent widow.
Who never gave up, who was there morning and night, crying out for justice.
I saw God in that woman who, day in, day out, confronted injustice and cried out for change.
And I thought of all the places we see that same picture of God today:
In Aleppo and Syria, in Sarajevo and Somalia, in the United States and the U.K., in Calais and in Samos.
In all the places where people cry out for justice.
God is right there, crying with them.
Crying out for change.
Crying out for peace.
Crying out for love,
Crying out to us who are complicit in withholding justice.
As I drove home from a meeting yesterday, I heard a couple of snippets of the First Minsters speech at the Party Conference.
She was talking about the rising number of displaced people being, not a crisis of migration but a humanitarian crisis.
And talking about the important I word today as being "Inclusion".
Whatever your party politics, those are the kind of passionate and compassionate words we need to be hearing from our politicians today.
But not just words - action too.
You and I are being prevailed upon by God - to stop being ruled by fear, to take a stand, to make a difference, to see justice upheld - to see love win the day.
And that brings me back to Brian McLaren.
Brian was encouraging us to challenge the injustice that is in our world today, to speak up when we see oppression and lies taking hold.
But to speak and to act in love.
Not with aggression.
Not with pride or self righteousness.
But with love.
In our daily contacts, face to face and in social media, we can join God in persistently calling out all that diminishes those whom God calls beloved.
And we can do so in love.
For the glory of God.