Archive for the ‘Luke 18:1-8’ Category

“Wrestling with God”

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

21st Sunday after Pentecost C, October 17, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Would you agree with me that living out our Christian faith is a battle?  Sometimes when stuff happens, when life happens, it can seem as if we are actually wrestling with God.  The truth is, bad things happen in this world all the time!  Yes, there are plenty of good things too; happy endings so to speak.  Why just look at the miraculous rescue of those 33 miners in Chile.  Do you think their families are praising God for their blessings?  Sure they are, but there is one family member in Chile who might think that God is punishing her.  I am talking about the wife of the one cheating miner who discovered that her husband’s mistress would be there to meet him when he was lifted out of the dark pit of despair and into the joyful and thankful world.  How joyful and thankful do you think that wife was?

In hard times and tragedy, we might be tempted to ask ourselves something like this: “What’s wrong with my faith in God?  Maybe I don’t love Him enough.  Maybe He’s punishing me?  If God loves me as much as the Bible and the preacher say, then why is my life so hard?  Have you ever thought like this?  I think we all have had these thoughts.   At some time in life we have mistakenly learned to associate God’s grace and love with living the “easy” life; a life without struggle and pain.  And when struggle and pain come into our lives, when things don’t seem to be going our way; when our faith in God doesn’t reward us with the American dream, we begin to question whether our faith in God is sufficient, as if we are being punished for little faith.  We may even begin to wonder whether our God is the real God!  This dear friends is one way we wrestle with God!

The truth is, bad things do happen to Christians, even strong, faithful, and hardworking ones.  Sometimes we look at all of our faithful service as some magical force field that should protect us from the bad things that happen in life.  I have heard more than once, a faithful Christian parent say to me when their child gets in trouble or turns away from their faith, “I don’t understand why this is happening pastor.  I am a good parent.  I raised my child in the church, I taught them to pray, I read the Bible to them; I taught them by example through my giving of my time, talent, and money, and now this is happening!  Why?”  But friends, this is the wrong way to think about God’s love and grace.  It isn’t what you do or don’t do that brings you peace with God, instead it is what He has done and is doing for you that brings you these things.

In our Old Testament reading this morning [Genesis 32:22-30] we join Jacob wrestling with a strange man who he latter discovers to be God Himself.  Oh they wrestled all night long!  Finally the sun began to shine and the God-man said to Jacob, “Let me go (man), for (its morning already).  But Jacob said, (I’m not letting lose) unless you bless me!”  You see, even Jacob thought like we do sometimes.  He figured that since He fought with God all night long there had to be a reward in it for Him.  Now why would God bless a deceitful man like Jacob?  Yes, I said deceitful.  He was called a liar at birth.  His very name means deceitful.  Think back now… how did Jacob get the blessing of His father Isaac?  He got it by deceiving his father and pretending to be Esau, his older brother.  And yet God was still with him; He still loved him!  And God told him to leave the country of his father Abraham and go out into parts unknown, to a strange country, where God would bless him.  And God did bless him!  He gave him a beautiful family and made him rich beyond belief.  He had more things than he knew what to do with.  He had angels attending to him and God Himself speaking to him in dreams.  And when it was time to go back to the land of his father and come to terms with his brother, the same brother he stole the birthright from, he fell back to his deceitful ways.  He sent all of this things and his family ahead of him as a gift to his brother Esau, hoping to spare his own life.  He was avoiding the time of reckoning that he knew he had to face; he was trying to avoid the struggle that waited for him on the other side of the river.

And now, he was left alone.  Stripped of all of his stuff and all of his family.  He must have felt that he had lost everything as he sat there alone on the bank of the river.  But he wasn’t alone; God was with Him; God proved this to Him by coming to him in a struggle.  And as Jacob and the God-man wrestled, God proved to Him that He was still with Him and He that still loved him, even though he didn’t deserve that love.  God’s blessing of love became apparent to Jacob after hours of struggle and a dislocated hip, but it came nonetheless.  And during a break in the wrestling action, God asked Jacob a simple question: “What is your name?”  And in a moment of honesty, Jacob answers, “(I am) Jacob (the deceiver).  And in answer to that confession of sin, God pronounced the absolution with these Words: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, (which means) you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.”

This morning friends, God is asking each of us, “Who are you?”  And like Jacob, we must answer, “I am a deceiver; I am a sinner in need of a savior!”    Just as Jacob was left stripped of all of his earthly riches, we too must be striped of anything the world calls good, and we must turn to God alone and receive only what He gives to us.  And what does He give us?  He gives us the absolution; He gives us forgiveness of sins and salvation.  This gift of salvation doesn’t find its source not in our efforts but in the will and heart of God and the work of His only Son, the God-man Jesus Christ, who died for you!

How can we know this is true?  Well, we must have faith that God is for us!  Ok, but believe me when I tell you that all of the other religions will claim the same thing.  Let’s look at this truth in a more familiar context.

Many people love to quote that salvation and God’s blessings come when we have faith, and they’re right.  They like to point out that God’s love is simply a gift that we neither earned nor deserved, and that’s also right!  But they forget that this faith doesn’t come naturally but supernaturally.  They forget that it isn’t something that you just inherit from your parents, if that were the case, then only children raised in a Christian home would become Christians.  No, there must be something more if we are to truly be able to have and hold onto our faith in God!  And there is something more.  It’s not just something it is the only thing that gives you faith, grace, and Jesus; it is of course the Holy Word of God!

In our epistle reading [2 Timothy 3:14-4:5], St. Paul is in the middle of perhaps the greatest struggle of his life.  He is rotting away in a Roman prison, and soon his life will be ended by execution.  At the bottom of a dark, wet, and smelly pit he is still rejoicing in his blessing of grace and love from God.  There in a place where others would find only despair and fear Paul has found joy and hope, and he wants his young assistant Timothy to be assured of that same joy and hope that he has.  Yes his hope is in God’s grace and Jesus Christ.  Yes, he had great faith that God would complete the work of grace and faith within Him, but how did He know about God’s grace and how did he receive faith?  Through God’s Holy Word; through the Holy Scriptures!  Listen to what he tells Timothy: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”  Where did Timothy learn about God’s love and grace; how did he receive faith to believe that Jesus was HIS savior?  It wasn’t something his mother or grandmother gave to him; instead it was God’s own Word that taught him these truths.  It was God’s Word alone and the presence of the Holy Spirit that was able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ!

All scripture is breathed out by God through the wind of the Holy Spirit, and able to create faith.  It is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  This breathing of the Holy Spirit is direct and its personal.  Children can and do receive the Word of God from their parents, neighbors do receive a testimony and witness from a Christian neighbor, but faithful parents and faithful neighbors always lead others to the source, the living Word of God!

But what makes the Christian Bible the true Word of God?  In this question is another way we struggle or wrestle with God!  And during the struggle we discover that it’s God Himself who makes the Word the true Word.  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches you that this Holy Book is like no other.  It is only through this Word alone that the entire world is taught that they are a lost in sin with no hope of salvation outside of God’s grace that is theirs through Jesus Christ.  Through each and every Word of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, God Spirit speaks life through direct inspiration into every sinful heart.  But each of us must read it for ourselves, and as we read we will discover through the work of the Holy Spirit that this Word alone is indeed profitable for teaching, refuting error, and restoring anyone lost in sin!  By the very faith produced by God’s Word, the true child of God believes that “All Scripture is God-breathed.  “No prophecy of Scripture comes from a sinful person’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!”

Yes friends, we thank God that through His Holy Word, we have been taught about our Savior Jesus; we have been shown His work, His death upon the cross, and because of that work we are saved by grace through faith in that Word.  But as I stated earlier, this belief in grace can sometimes trick us into thinking that a graceful life means an easy life.  There are some within Christ’s church who think that to be saved by faith is to be delivered from not just suffering and sickness, but also deliverance into wealth and prosperity.  These unfortunate Christians are told to name and claim their blessing from God!  And when the blessings don’t come down as they desire, they are left to wonder what is wrong with their faith.

But this wasn’t the life that our Lord had in mind when he called his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.  He made it clear that His disciples who are saved by His death and resurrection aren’t to live a life of glory now, but instead we are to follow Him and expect suffering as we carry our own cross!

In our gospel reading today [Luke 18:1-8], Jesus is encouraging us not to loose heart.  He wants us to remain faithful.  How do we remain faithful?  By staying in God’s Holy Word and by praying that God will keep us safe!  Keep asking God to protect you from the evil in this world and don’t grow weary of asking.  Even though sometimes you may feel like you’re alone in your walk of faith, even though you may feel that God is not with you, remember that He is always there with you in your struggle.  He has never left nor forsaken you!  Listen to your Savior assure you in these Words: “(Won’t) God give justice to (you His chosen child), (you) who cry (out) to Him day and night?  Will he delay long over (you)?”  Jesus says, “(No) I tell you, he will give justice to you speedily.”   

Jesus ends our gospel lesson with a question, and it is one that each of us must ask ourselves this morning:  “When the Son of Man comes, (that is Jesus), will He find faith on earth?”  That is when you take your last breath on this sinful earth will you open your eyes in heaven?  Will you still have faith the size of a mustard seed that assures you of God’s love and salvation?  If you stay in God’s means of grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments you will.

Dear friends, let me encourage you to struggle against this sinful world.  Fight your doubts and fears.  By faith, grab ahold of God’s grace through Jesus Christ!  How can you do this?  By staying in God’s Word!  Yes I know it’s hard to find time to read the Word, but that’s part of the struggle, part of the wrestling with God.  But when you open His book and begin to read, you will discover along with Jacob that God has always been with you.  And when you see this truth you will also be strengthened to believe that He will never, ever leave you!   So stay in the Word dear friends, stay in the Word.  I ask this very thing for me and you, in Jesus name…. AMEN!