Strives With Men
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
1 And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, Peter Paul Rubens (1624)
There is no one so great or mighty that he can avoid the misery that will rise up against him when he resists and strives against God"
Once there was a little boy who lived in the country. The family had to use an outhouse, and the little boy hated it. He hated it because it was his responsibility to look after it. It was so hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter and had a terrible stench. It sat on the bank of the creek and the boy was determined. One day he would push that old thing right into the creek.
Well, one day after a spring rain, the creek was swollen so the little boy decided today was the day to push the outhouse over. He found a large stick, propped it underneath and gave a shove. Finally, the outhouse toppled into the creek and floated away. That night his dad told him they were going to the woodshed after supper. Knowing that meant a spanking, the little boy asked, "Why?" The dad replied, "Someone pushed the outhouse into the creek today. It was you, wasn't it son?"The boy answered, "Yes". Then he thought a moment and said, "Dad, I read in school today that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and didn't get into trouble because he told the truth." The dad replied, "That's right, son. But George Washington's father wasn't IN the cherry tree."
The truth is, we strive more against ourselves than we do against God. We are so determined with pushing away our responsibilities. We think we know what it will take to free us. If in a financial rut we think, perhaps, a thousand dollars will help us get out. If our family member is in an ambulance we think, perhaps, its a matter of stopping the bleeding. If a homeless man is hungry we think, perhaps, giving him some food will fix his problems. We associate freedom with our choice to do what we want to do. But freedom doesn't come so easily. It is achieved through a struggle, when our choices are exhausted. When we will ourselves over to God's divine love and mercy, asking him to bail us out, to plug the holes, to fill the emptiness, great things happen. Our freedom is not associated with what is wanted. Our freedom is associated with what is necessary. Who knows? Maybe the person who wants a thousand dollars is being called to move away from home in order to build a new one. Maybe the person who wanted his loved one to be saved is being called to share their faith in the hospital in order for a physician or a nurse to be saved. Maybe the person who wanted to feed the homeless man is being called to simply cross over the boundary between the haves and the have-nots. How many times have we learned that God is not distant from our desires but rather inside the places that cause us so much of our struggles? The places we find that are too hot with confrontation? Too cold with fear? Too much of a stench by our pride? Are we so quick to push away our struggles into the creek that we don't see God is in the midst of them?
We have a beautiful story about two brothers this morning. In the book of Genesis it is the story of Esau and his twin, Jacob. I'll tell it to you but I must go back two generations. There was Abraham, who had Ishmael and Isaac as his sons. And there was Isaac, who had Esau and Jacob as his. While his wife, Rebekah, was giving birth, the bible says the two boys wrestled in the mother's womb. Esau was delivered first, red-headed and lots of it, all over. Grabbing on to his brother's heel was Jacob. As was the custom, the first born son received the father's blessing. He was entitled to the land, cattle and everything, once he died. Esau was more of the manly-man, agile with the bow and arrow. Jacob was more refined, agile in the kitchen and workshop.
One day the two boys were in the wilderness together. Esau had been hunting all day and couldn't find any game. He comes back to the campsite and smells something good. Jacob is stirring a big pot of soup. "Let me have some brother", Esau asked. "Sure", said Jacob, "but first you have to give me your birthright". "Are you kidding" replies Esau. "Nope", says Jacob. "When the day comes, you have to let father bless me". "Alright, alright, whatever. Just give me something to eat". Perhaps that's how it went. The day finally came when Isaac was very sick. He summoned for his son to come to his bedside in order to give him his blessing; But Jacob was encouraged by his mother to get there first. Isaac's eyesight was not very good and so they glued goat hair up and down Jacob's arms and his face, posing to be a burly Esau. When Isaac laid his hands upon him he said, "Who are you my son", to which Jacob replied, "It is Esau, your first born". When he left his father's tent Esau was coming down the road. Seeing him, he fled and had a long time to ponder his choice. He felt that receiving his father's blessing would be the answer to his problems but he ran when it got too hot. He decided to live away from home for several years hoping it would solve his problems but he cried when it got too cold away from family. Finally, after all these years his family and flock multiplied. He is still dreading the confrontation with his twin brother waiting for him at a distance in Canaan with four hundred of his men. He is still pensive with fear believing Esau will kill him and take everything. Yet he is still loathing with the stench of his pride somehow believing he deserves to have the birthright; Esau lost it fair enough over a bowl of soup.
"Vindicate me, against my adversary", is the persistent cry of Jacob in this story. We find him at the edge of the creek, pushing everything he has towards his problem, but the struggle is within. God grabs hold of him until Jacob says "give me your blessing". It was the father's blessing that he struggled to obtained; to find favor in his sight. "Vindicate me, against my adversary", is the persistent cry of the widow in our gospel. She has been carrying the responsibility far too long for something she cannot control any further. Out of her persistence she is set free from her adversary by the ruling of the unrighteous judge, who frankly could care less, because he was not fearful of man nor God. But by her sheer determination, coming back time after time, striving to make her case known before the judge, he reversed all previous rulings and set her free.
Perhaps what was needed was the process so that her freedom was that more joyful. Some of you may relate to Jacob and others the Widow. Your struggles will never end, until you can touch the Father admitting truthfully who you are. Don't falsify the account. Don't push away yours fears and confrontations, but take with you the blessing of God found only in his Son. He alone is great and mighty. Let him give you the blessing of life. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, strives for you to know Him.
 John Calvin, Sermon 161, Thursday, March 26, 1556.
 Genesis 25:19-30
 Luke 18:1-8