Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost LUKE 18:1-8

When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, he told this parable to prepare his disciples for whatever may come. He would be taken and killed.  He wanted to prepare them and us with the certainty that God is not only hearing our cry, but he will bring help. The parable says we ought always to pray and not lose heart.  Jesus says God isn’t like the judge in the story.  Instead, God is with us now. 

His Kingdom is among us, hidden and obscure. In every age, God’s hour is approaching.  God’s purposes will be done. Jesus will fulfill his mission.  No scorn of the religious people can make him waver from carrying on what he has started.

Those who follow Jesus must take God seriously in spite of outward appearances that suggest failure. Jesus says we should have no doubt about God’s success. That is the final certainty that God will do what he plans to do.  Our concern should be the question:  When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?  And in the time between Christ’s physical departure and his coming again in clouds of glory, his followers have a basic question.  Can we count on God?

“There are difficult days ahead,” Jesus is saying, “and I know that you will wonder in those days before I return, whether God can be counted on. “The good news is you ought always to pray and not lose heart. There is no bad news from God for his family.”Let us suppose, then, that we try to make his instruction to pray and not lose heart, a kind of banner that we carry into any circumstance or situation.  Which, of course, is easier said than done.

After all, it is difficult to pray, and more difficult not to lose heart, especially when we are in the midst of a situation that threatens to devour and destroy us. When I was a college administrator, I belonged to an organization of public relations people whose occupational hazard was to operate at all times under a near-crisis situation.

A large part of what we did day-by-day was to respond to sudden needs or demands. What had to be done at all, usually had to be done right now or at least the next day…Everything that came along usually needed attention right now or at least by the next day. At one of our annual conventions, a time-management expert explained that we should be organized so we could do our work.

We had an answer for him: namely that when you are standing in alligators up to your eyeballs, it is difficult to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp.

All of us have alligators, or devils, that are threatening to undo us, to devour us, and needing instant attention. Is God with us then? Do we have any assurance that God is listening, even as Jesus says we should always pray and not lose heart?  Is God merciful? The story of two brothers might be helpful.  One of them deceived their father so badly that even though he got what he wanted, he couldn’t enjoy it so he left home.  He got married, became a wheeler-dealer of sorts, eventually made a fortune, not exactly by cheating his father-in-law, but at least he kept a separate set of books to his own advantage.

But the way he had cheated his brother stuck in his craw, and he knew he ought to face the music. He wanted to go home, but his brother whom he had cheated out of his rightful inheritance was still there.  Now he was afraid; he knew something was bound to happen. The long road is coming to an end.   He arranges to be left alone for the night, so he can decide what to do about his brother.  He is restless; then Jake discovers he is really wrestling with God.  He discovers presence of God is more real than it has been in years.  By the brook Jabok through the long night, he comes to grips with God.  All his shrewdness is of no value.  All his excuses about why he has not been morally organized before now are of no account.

All his protests that he has been too busy, too involved with other matters, too tired, too o overworked, too victimized by his other circumstances — all these are dismissed because God has overtaken him and he will not be put off any longer. He can do only one thing, and that is to hold on to divine reality. He tells God, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  The blessing was one of changing his name from Jacob to Israel, which means, “to keep on with God.”

Because he has finally wrestled with God, he is a new man who crosses the brook to meet his brother. He no longer moves with his old self-confident swagger, because there is a limp, a weakness, a blemish.   Now the self-confidence he once had, has been transformed into confidence in God.  When morning breaks, a new man with a new name and a new outlook is ready for the future.

Jacob has met God, and becomes Israel, now a prince with spiritual power far beyond any power he could ever have without God’s help. But God initiated the encounter when Jacob was at his lowest because God is the one who keeps on coming to his people. He is the God who is determined to get our attention. He will confront us.  Lots of people go through life avoiding confrontation with God.  Some people think their quarrel is with other people, friends, relatives, certainly our enemies.

Or the quarrel may seem to be with circumstances — the way life has treated me, what rotten luck I’ve had, what a miserable mess my life has become. But think about it.

The bottom line of the quarrel is really with God and with our disappointment in him for not telling us his name in every circumstance. That is, who are we really struggling with? What is the name of the power that we are locked in combat with?

More often than not, I suggest we’re wrestling with God — not believing that God always loves us, perhaps not even knowing who God is. What happens after the confrontation may be altogether different than what we thought it would be, if we finally face God.

Jacob became a different man. Not only did he look at God differently; he looked at his fellowman differently. He had met God who does not let go, God who wrestles with his own people until he overcomes.

He saw God face to face and it was not nearly as difficult as he thought it would be. He had been afraid to face God, knowing his guilt, but imagine his surprise when he discovered that God’s true purpose was to bless him.

In our extremity, afraid of both God and man, we discover the God who blesses when we thought he would destroy. Jesus said we should always pray and not lose heart. God will never despise us.  To make his point, he told of a judge who seemingly could not be influenced by God or man.

But the widow would not give up in seeking a judgment. Finally the judge gave her what she wanted, not because she was right or because he was persuaded, but he finally got tired of seeing her every day.  He is tired of her perpetual nagging and wants to be left in peace.

The moral of the story is that if an inconsiderate judge finally gave relief to get rid of her, then how much more will a merciful God be ready to hear from people he loves.

God listens to the cry of his people with unwearied patience. After all, we are the people of God baptized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his son and our Lord.

He who created us was moved with compassion to send Jesus Christ to redeem and save us. Yes, tribulations will come.  Jesus knew his disciples would become unpopular for their preaching and teaching, and their conflict with authority would bring them to persecution, injustice, denunciation, trial, martyrdom, and for some, even the final failure of faith.

So the real question is not about God. He can be counted on.  The real question is about us.  Can we be counted on? Who can endure to the end?  When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Are we being responsive to the God whose son became one of us?  Jesus is saying in this parable, “have no anxiety in the face of difficulties or persecution. You are God’s elect.  He will hear your cry with a far different ear than that of the unjust judge.   God can be counted on.

But you are among the family of the faithful? Reaping time is coming. Maybe it’s time we wrestle with God.  Perhaps we shall discover not his vengeance but our failures, which he has already overcome in the work of Jesus Christ.

Let us discover God. No, he has discovered us mammy times over when we were unaware of his loving presence. .  For in a terrifying love that cripples us to get our attention and consequently to save us from ourselves,

              because he is the God who will not let go.