Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 24 (27), Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
October 20, 2019
Lessons: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people do not lose heart; instead, they pray and praise and practice through the lens of an audacious and tenacious faith.
Key Scripture: And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? Luke 18:7
“It’s a hard knock life for us,” sings Annie and her orphan friends in the beloved musical of the same name. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent some time singing along and commiserating with Annie. Granted, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that as a white, cisgender female I enjoy privilege and have abundance at my fingertips. Even so, illness, life circumstances, and the consequences of poor choice have brought me to my knees more than once. I pray, I rely on God, I keep pressing onward; so far life continues, and I am grateful. Yet I wonder whether I’ve truly claimed and lived out an audacious and tenacious faith.
In his devotional book New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp writes these cautionary words:
Pay attention also to what happens to your relationship with God as your dreams gobble up more of the turf of your heart. God is no longer the thing that motivates you and gives you courage and hope. God is no longer your source of sturdy joy. The glory of God is no longer the thing that you’re living for. Awe of God is no longer the reason you do everything you do. Sadly, God has been reduced to a delivery system; your Savior has become Neiman Marcus Jesus. If he delivers, you’ll worship and serve him, but if he fails to deliver, you will question his goodness and love…”
We are far removed from first century Palestine and the disciples’ daily walk with Jesus. It is easy to become discouraged, distracted, and distanced in our deep relationship with our Creator. So many voices clamor for our attention, so much pain and suffering, so many multiple priorities pull us in different directions. Some people seek a faith that gives them comfort and a hedge against the cruelties of the world. Others seek a faith that can be turned on and off depending on the need and the situation. Still other folks have given up on faith altogether, finding the Body of Christ (i.e. The Church) to be a huge let down and an unsafe place to be themselves as God’s beloved. Yes, complacency, comfort at the expense of others, and nostalgia for the “way things used to be” are no friends to authentic faith.
Jesus knew what was in store for his beloved tribe—including us—and this week’s parable can serve as a “pep-talk” for troubled times. The character of the widow provides a model for persistent prayer and discipleship. She definitely stands in possession of an audacious and tenacious faith, one that allows her to stand in front of her roadblock (the judge who lacks respect for people and God) and keep on believing and persisting. She will not let go of her purpose and passion for justice. Nothing will detract or distract her. This is the life of discipleship that Jesus wants for us, a life that is plugged in to the divine power source, that energizes and cultivates deep roots of faith and relational prayer, and that has staying power. Jesus wonders aloud if he will find this kind of faith on earth when he returns.
Will he? What do you think? Are you ready to adopt the strategy of the widow in your prayers and discipleship? Are you ready to have a deeper and stronger relationship with God? Imagine the power of an audacious and tenacious faith and then multiply it by the number of people in your congregation. What if everyone determined to follow the example of the widow in this week’s gospel lesson? What if the entire church was persistent enough to wrestle with God, like Jacob in the lesson from Genesis, and not let go without a blessing? Imagine the kind of witness, power, and action that would be sent from worship into the world. Imagine how many individual lives could be changed with an all-in faith and persistent prayer life. Now imagine the walls that stand before you, the judges that stand in your way all crumbling into dust while justice spreads its wings and wisdom.
Yes, it may be a hard knock life, but Jesus points the way and shows us how it’s done. That audacious and tenacious faith is yours to take hold of, is yours for the blessing, is yours for the healing of this whole world. My friends, do not lose heart, but pray always—believing and trusting that God is with you and loves you dearly.
Have you ever explored your congregation’s “prayer DNA”? What is the history of prayer in the congregation? How do congregants feel about prayer? Do they believe it works? Are they uncertain of how and when to pray? Do they have fears about praying in the assembly? Why not invite some congregants to share their varied experiences with prayer this Sunday in worship using a modified version of the vocational interview. Instead of asking questions about their faith in their vocation, ask specific questions about how their prayer life and vocation mesh and how prayer informs their faith.
Try to do something different with the prayers of the people/intercessory prayer today. How might you capture some of the tenacity and audacity of the persistent widow in your congregational prayer life?
How about using Psalm 121 to talk about the nature of God and how God interacts with humankind? Invite youth to think about where their help comes from. Do they, as the psalmist of long ago, look to God for daily help and provision? How do they hear and experience verse eight: “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”?
This week’s focus verse is Genesis 32:26– Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
Recount for the children a brief summary of Jacob’s story and how he got to this place by the River Jabbok where we assume the score will be settled between trickster Jacob and his elder twin Esau. Yet before this reckoning in the morning, God comes to Jacob and wrestles with him throughout the night. In fact, God dislocates Jacob’s hip so that he limps. Even so, Jacob still knows how much he needs a blessing from this divine sparring partner, and Jacob refuses to stop wrestling until God blesses him. And the blessing does come.
Ask the children: “Have you ever wanted something badly enough to wrestle for it? (Some may say yes). Would you wrestle all night and not give up?”
Remind the children that with God we don’t have to wrestle all night, but we do need to be in relationship and conversation. That means we pray with the full belief that God hears and answers our prayers. Answers may not be clear in our expected time frame, and the answer may not be what we expect, but God always delivers on God’s promise to be with us. Always! The story of Jacob wrestling with God reminds us of this fact and encourages us to be tenacious (persistent) and audacious (putting our whole heart and mind and even body into our prayers). No need to dislocate your hip and walk with a limp—just stay in close contact with God who loves you so very much.
Finish with a simple prayer AND a blessing for each child.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
It’s so easy to become discouraged and to give up when life becomes difficult. This week’s lessons remind us to cultivate and claim an audacious and tenacious faith. It’s good stewardship to do so!
Stewardship at Home
This week ponder ways in which you might incorporate more audacity and tenacity in your faith and prayer life. How and when have you settled for a “comfortable” faith that doesn’t require you to move your feet, embrace change, and work in certainty of the in-breaking of God’s reign here and now? What issues and prayer concerns weigh heavily on your heart? What can you learn from Jesus’ parable and Jacob’s story this week? How does the psalmist reveal the nature of God for you? Are you encouraged? More determined to strengthen your faith and persist with your prayers?
Who can you think of as a model for persistence and audacious faith? You may not always find that person engaged in vocational church work, as audacious faith and persistence can show up in unsuspected places. I am reminded, for example, of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Senator Elizabeth Warren and the saying “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Justice Ginsberg’s Jewish faith has certainly and quietly informed her work and decisions. Sen. Warren, a Methodist, recently said that “my faith animates all that I do.” Who can you identify as one whose life and witness reflect an audacious and tenacious faith?
What one concern might you begin to champion, lifting it in fervent prayer, using not only your words but also your heart, feet, hands, voice, and resources?
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/10/pester-pester-pester/
2010 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/10/why-persistence-matters/
Images: Ben Schumin; John Ragel; and Hirsch, Stefan, 1899-1964. Justice as Protector, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN., Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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