Proper 24; Pent+22– Year C October 16, 2016
Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA
Genesis 32:22-31; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
In my life, God has often been much like a squirmy toddler in my care. As hard as I have worked to keep God with me, on my lap, behaving well, more often than not, it has felt like God required constant shifting, constant negotiating, sliding off my lap and crawling away, or disappearing in the second or two I took my eyes off of God.
Perhaps those of you in the children’s area can relate.
And just like the sweat and exhaustion-inducing wrestling with my own toddler, my wrestling with God has often left me wondering if it was supposed to be this hard. It has made me question and doubt myself. “Is it this hard for everyone, or am I uniquely unprepared for the task in front of me?”
Unlike my squirmy child, who was only doing what he knew to do, my wrestling with God seems unnatural, seems counter to what I believe about God.
If God loves me as much as I am told God does, why does God make it so hard to hold on? Why does God wrestle at all? Why doesn’t God just sit calmly in my lap, attentive to my needs, reminding me every moment just how glad God is to be in my lap?
The story from Genesis of Jacob wrestling with God has always caught my attention and my imagination.
In Jacob’s wrestling I see my own. But in Jacob’s wrestling I see his determination to not let go, revealing my own preference not to have to wrestle at all.
And in that difference I see the hope and the good news in Jacob’s story, I see the hope and good news in our own.
The difference is not letting go. Not letting go until there is blessing. Not letting go until the night has passed, the new day has begun and we can move into that new day broken and yet, somehow, newly whole.
My habit, and I suspect I share this with many of you, my habit when things get hard is to wonder where God has gone. When I feel hopeless, where has God gone, when I feel overwhelmed, where has God gone, when I feel lost or unsure or scared, where has God gone? When public discourse hits new lows, wars rage, hunger ravages and violence consumes, where has God gone?
In these moments I sometimes feel as though God has somehow squirmed out of my grasp, off my lap and disappeared into the chaos.
Jacob isn’t so quick to let go. When the darkness falls and the struggle begins, Jacob holds on. When the struggle seems endless, Jacob tightens his grip. When he is broken by the struggle and his hip is out of place, Jacob squeezes God tighter.
Jacob holds on, and holds tighter until he is blessed, until day breaks, until he is free to limp into his new life.
It is unclear to me whether Jacob held on until daybreak came, or daybreak came because Jacob held on.
In the Gospel, Luke makes the rare move of interpreting the parable for us, telling us that the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow is “about [his followers] need to pray always and not lose heart.”
Hold on, Jesus says. Make demands on God. Keep demanding until those demands are met.
There was every reason for the widow to give up. She had no power, she held no place in society. She had been told no over and over and over again. She had every reason to loosen her grip and let go.
So did Jacob, and so do we.
Whenever life is not going as it seems to me it should be, I can feel the toddler God in my lap begin to squirm.
Sometimes it feels like God is kicking and screaming for me to let go and I am more than happy to oblige.
And sometimes, over the kicking and screaming, or maybe it is through the kicking and screaming, I hear God’s voice telling me to “hold on”. “Don’t let go.” And sometimes I do hold on. And sometimes day breaks.
I find myself these days saying, more than almost anything else, “hold on”. Things seem scary and unsure and the public discourse is at a low few of us could ever have imagined. Hold on. Demand that God remain with you, with us, through this struggle.
Maybe you are feeling lost, or unsure or in a nighttime of your life. Hold on. Demand that God remain with you until your daybreak.
Holding on is hard work, but letting go is to abandon hope, and hope is what we have. Hope is everything.
Holding on means rejecting cynicism and apathy. Holding on means waiting for daybreak, knowing that daybreak WILL come. If we hold on. If we hope. If we refuse to let go or give up, daybreak will come.
But it requires that we somehow stand in the midst of the struggle and demand that God be present, demand that God IS present in the struggle.
Because we have been taught to believe that God’s love means that life should always be good and happy and that we will always be prosperous, we have also learned that struggle and despair, fear and loss must mean that God has abandoned us.
Without even realizing it, we begin to let go. We begin to give up. And, before we know it, we find ourselves wondering just where God has gone. When was it God squirmed off our lap and out of our sight?
But God hasn’t gone anywhere. God is right there, in front of us, longing for us to reach out, grab tight and hold on.
It won’t always be easy. We rarely get through the struggles in life without being broken in some way.
Sometimes it means a loss from which we will never completely heal. Sometimes it means letting go of the fiction that we are perfect, or that we can do it alone, or that we have struggled at all.
Like a scene out of a Hollywood film, at the end of this scene from Genesis, the light breaks over the horizon and Jacob limps into his new life.
And that’s the hope. That’s our hope. To see the day win over the night once more as we limp into our new lives. Not perfect, but blessed. Broken, but yet whole.
When you feel like letting go, hold on.
When God feels distant, demand God be present.
When the long night seems endless, grab on. Hold tight. Daybreak is coming.
© 2016 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .