Creekside Church
Sermon of October 20, 2019

"Holding On"
Luke 18:1-8

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! I’m glad we’re meeting in the Gathering Area this morning -- partly because there aren’t any chairs in the Worship Center, and I suspect that it would be uncomfortable for some of you to sit on the floor for an hour or so, and perhaps impossible for some of you to get up afterward. I’ll be happy to have that carpet cleaned -- and this one on the Gathering Area -- but mostly I’m happy we’re in the Gathering Area today because it allows us to experience worship differently. You aren’t sitting in the same places where I’m accustomed to seeing you, and you may be around or across the table from someone whom you don’t typically get to share a hymnal or a smile with on the usual Sunday morning. It usually takes something as big as a Fish Fry to shake us out of our ordinary routines, but I think it gives us a little different perspective, and a fine opportunity to mix it up a little.

Betty read our text from Luke, chapter 18, but that isn’t the only passage I’ll be referring too today. If you were fortunate enough to be here last week to hear Tim Morphew speak, you’ll know that in the Revised Common Lectionary -- the three-year cycle of suggested scriptures for each week of the year, that each week has four readings: generally a text and a psalm from the Old Testament, and a gospel passage and epistle from the New Testament. Sometimes the relationship between these is not very apparent, and sometimes it’s pretty self-evident. This is one of those weeks when the connection is obvious and pretty interesting.

We’ve been hearing some of Jesus’ parables from the gospel of Luke over the past few weeks. This one from Luke 18 comes with a little preface, because Jesus has been telling his disciples about the coming of the kingdom, and that it’s going to get rough. So Jesus tells them a parable about the need to pray always and not lose heart. If you recall from a couple weeks ago, a parable is a story from which we can learn, not necessarily a report of something which actually happened. It’s about a judge -- a person of power and authority who job it is to be sure that justice is done. You might assume that the judge is the character we associate with God, the Righteous Judge. Only Jesus tells us immediately that this judge neither fears God nor respects people. In other words, this judge is bad news. We can assume he represents the Jewish community, but he doesn’t hold the values which hold the community together: he may not be a criminal, but he’s worse as far as any Jew is concerned -- he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t have compassion for other people.

There was a widow -- a woman who was powerless because she had no husband to advocate for her -- who came to this judge demanding justice. You can imagine how that went; this judge probably ignored her, and then told her to stop bothering him, and then told her to get out. Only she wouldn’t. She kept coming to him to plead her case and demand justice. And finally, this judge got so tired of her he said, “Even though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone [which is basically saying Even though I am a rotten person] I’m going to do the right thing just so this woman will leave me alone.” Jesus does not commend the unjust judge, but he says, imagine what it is like when you petition God, the Righteous Judge, who actually cares about you and wants what is best for you.

The Old Testament text is from Genesis 32, and it is just a small portion of the big family saga of Isaac and his twin sons: Jacob, the clever one and Esau the hairy one. Jacob has been on the run first from his father-in-law, whom he outwitted, and then from his brother, whom he cheated. Jacob is spending a night alone before a show-down with Esau, and a man comes and wrestles with him until daybreak. We this man sees that he can’t beat Jacob, he strikes him and dislocates Jacob’s hip. I’m pretty sure that’s not a legal wrestling move, but there were officials present , and it was too dark to see, anyway. But even with a dislocated hip, Jacob refuses to let go. The man says to Jacob, “Let me go, it’s almost daybreak!” and Jacob says, “Not until you give me a blessing.” The man asks Jacob his name, and then gives him the new name Israel. Then Jacob asks the man’s name, and he replies “Why do you ask?” and gives Israel a blessing. Jacob believes he was face to face with God and lived to tell about it.

Now obviously there’s way more going on in this story than we have time to delve into in detail this morning. Both the widow in Jesus’ parable and especially Jacob in this story from Genesis show a lot of chutzpah which is Yiddish for shameless audacity, brazen effrontery, or just having a lot of nerve. Widows, because they had so little power, were supposed to have special protection under Jewish law, but this widow knew -- because apparently he made no secret of it -- that the judge she was petitioning didn’t fear God or care about people. We are not even told if her complaint was justified, only that she went to the judge and would NOT take “No” for an answer. That takes some guts.

Jacob wrestled with an anonymous man for an entire night and chose to walk with a limp for the rest of his life in order to demand a blessing. We are not told in Genesis 32 what that blessing was -- only that Jacob (now Israel) received it. I don’t know when it dawned on Jacob -- no pun intended -- that the person he was wrestling was no ordinary man. He was certainly willing to hold on for dear life. These stories made me wonder: what would I be willing to hold on to and not let go?

[Slide 1] Wrestling One of these wrestlers is named Cody -- not Cody Vance who had a wrestling career at Memorial, Cody Wysocki from Purdue I know there are people here who have a LOT more experience with this sport than I do. This photo gives a little sense of what it means to physically hold on and grapple with something. If you or someone you love has experienced a health crisis through accident or illness, getting through that experience -- and perhaps negotiating the medical system -- might feel a bit like this. Most family disagreements that I know of don’t degenerate into actual wrestling matches, but the dynamic of trying to hold on to one another, trying to prevail, and pleading for blessing are often all there. It can be exhausting. Sometimes we have to decide whether it is more important to hold on or walk away the winner and lose something we will never get back.

[Slide 2] Protestor I recently read a book called Beneath the Tamarind Tree which profiled four of the kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria and their families. It was heartbreaking to hear what the girls went through, but maybe even worse to imagine life for their parents. Not only because of the uncertainty about their daughters, but because the Nigerian government first ignored the story, then dismissed their claims as politically motivated. After months of demanding answers about their daughters, families were told that if they didn’t stop bothering their elected officials, their daughters would never be returned to them. Of course families kept looking and kept hoping. If one of my daughters was kidnapped, or a child had been taken from me crossing the border, or my son had been shot by police; I would keep demanding justice even if I didn’t think that people in power cared. I would do that if it were my child. It’s harder to know what I owe to other people’s children, especially people whom I don’t know. How do I advocate for justice for groups which I am not a part of? If I believe that everyone’s life matters, how do I live into that belief? What are the things which are so important that I would hold on whatever the cost?

[Slide 3] Frayed knot Sometimes holding on feels like this. Like you are hanging by a thread and you don’t know what the next days or hours might be like. If you feel like this is someplace you’ve been, or if your life feels like this now, God bless you. It takes courage to face life when it looks like this, and determination to keep holding on. But I believe this is a sacred place. When we are holding on for dear life we are in a place where we encounter God, and that place changes us. It is the place where Jesus sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsamane and asked for the cup of suffering to pass from him, but told God his Father, not my will, but yours. Or, to put it another way, if this is what you want for me God, I will keep holding on and trust that you will bless me when I get through this long night. Jacob limped for the rest of his life; Jesus went to his death on a cross. Holding on will change us. There may be a lot of darkness before the sun rises.

[Slide 4] I want to end with this slide, because not every experience of holding on is a grip of life or death -- at least, it doesn’t have to be. The parable from Luke about the widow and the unjust judge is about prayer. If every time you pray is life or death, either you have a really dramatic life, or you should consider praying more often. Holding on to God does not need to be a solitary exercise. We regularly share concerns for ourselves and for others because the prayers of our community is part of what gives us the strength to hold on. Sometimes other people hold on for us when we are too weak or too tired or too discouraged to hold on alone. When we cultivate a practice of praying for one another and all God’s people, we support one another in times of sorrow, and rejoice in times of joy. Sometimes that happens simultaneously.

We have an opportunity this morning, because we are seated around these tables, to hold one another in prayer. As you are comfortable and able to do so, I invite you to take the hand, or hold the wrist, or lay a hand on the shoulder of the person sitting next to you or across the table from you. I’ll give you a moment to figure that out, and then I will offer prayer before we sing our closing hymn.

God, we thank you for these circles of prayer: sisters and brothers who have gathered here because we care for one another, and because we love Jesus Christ. Teach us to pray as your Son did, with compassion and confidence, with boldness and belief. Grant us the chutzpah to hold on to what is good and to demand justice for those who have been wronged. If there is anyone here this morning who feels like they are at the end of their rope, in these moments of silence, we pray that you would give them courage and hope. God, we hold on to you because we believe in your promises of blessing to those who trust in your faithfulness. You alone are God, and we put our future in your hands. Guide and protect those on either side as we pray for one another in Jesus name. Amen.


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