Worship Service for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship this 19th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on October 16, 2022! We are glad that you are taking the time to join us!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. All the words that you need to know will also be on your screen, and the sermon is on this page below the worship video. You can follow along in whatever way is most comfortable.

For a fuller worship experience online, you may have a candle burning nearby to remind you of the presence of the Spirit in your space and with all of us, and the candle can be extinguished at the end of the service at the same time as the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you want to participate in communion you are welcome to have something small to eat and drink for the appropriate time, as signalled to you during worship.

May God’s persistent presence and blessing be apparent to you, this day and always!

O God, speak to us.  By the power of your Spirit, equip us as your messengers and proclaimers of your life-altering, world-changing, blessing filled Word and promises, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You ever have one of those days when pretty much nothing goes your way?  I have, more than once, in fact.  Come to think of it, I had about 7 of them just this past week. ..

But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Those days where you might have woken up on the wrong side of the bed or can’t seem to get your hair right, or you just have nothing to wear.  Those days when something unexpected happened that completely throws you off, or traffic was extremely bad and caused you to be late, or your bus didn’t come on time and started a chain reaction of missed busses.  Those days where you were too distracted by all the things going on in your life, or a particular task ended up taking way more time than anticipated, or you were just too tired from too little sleep and all your productivity got tossed out the window.  Whatever it was, I think we can all say that we’ve experienced these horrible, no good, very bad days.

And often when these days happen, and I know for some they happen more often than they don’t, we feel bad.  Not just bad because the situation is bad, but also bad for ourselves, because we don’t like being caught up in these days.  We don’t like feeling bad, or sad, or even mad.  We don’t like to be victim of our circumstances, or subject to other people’s mistakes or poor judgement, or even trapped by the follies of the world.  We don’t like it when we aren’t in control.

Perhaps that is the core of these bad days.  Something happens that is out of our control, and then we put it on ourselves to maybe fix it, solve it, or at very least get it back under control.  Because when we have control over the situation, then things should go better, right?  When we have a handle on things and we’re able to call the shots, then things would probably run smoother, won’t they?  When we are the ones who can accurately look at and assess the matter at hand, then things will just get done in the way that is most beneficial to all… at least from our perspective.

Because like it or not, we’re always the protagonist of our stories, we are always the ones who deserve more justice, we are the ones worthy of blessing.  At least that is how we see things, this is the lens that helps us understand the world, this is the paradigm through which we interpret life.

This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, but I think we’re all just wired to do this from the day that we’re born and we cry out for sustenance, attention, and love.  And as we grow older we continue to cry out for the things that we want, need, and have to have because we’ve been so good and we deserve it.  Even as adults, we might not cry out overtly but we might complain, whether it be verbally or written on a slip for a complaint box or a post on an internet review site.  We might put into motion different situations that will get us the recognition that we’ve earned.  We might even wrestle with God and demand a blessing.

That’s what Jacob did in our first reading for today.  Or at least, that is what he understood to have happened.  As the story goes, Jacob is just chilling by this stream and starts to wrestle a stranger.  If this isn’t odd enough, the stranger dislocates Jacob’s leg in an unsuccessful attempt to get Jacob off his back.  These two guys didn’t even know each other’s names but they wrestled each other all night.  I don’t know if any of you have ever watched a wrestling match like on WWE or whatever, but they usually don’t turn out like this one did. 

But in the end, Jacob got what he wanted, a blessing from God.  He also got a name change which he wasn’t really looking for, but hey it stuck anyway.  Stuck on him like a limp on a bum hip.

Jacob sought after this blessing so hard that he wrestled a stranger all night for it.  We might not engage in physical violence like this, but we might metaphorically wrestle like this to get what we think we deserve.  We might fight and work the system to get the justice that is rightfully ours.  We might persist for the blessings that are due to us.

That’s what we should do, according to Jesus, right?  In his parable that we get today, Jesus tells us to say persistent in our prayers so we can change God’s mind to bless us.  Or, that’s what it sounds like at first glance.  But upon closer inspection we see that Jesus actually says that God isn’t like this judge who openly admits has no fear of God for respect for anyone, but will grant justice and blessing after only a little bit of persistence.

So still, we have to be persistent.  We have to work hard to earn what we deserve.  We have to control God’s mind through our nagging and whining until we get what we want.  It might be faster than with the unjust judge, but the process is the same.

Or it’s the same if we take that interpretation of this story, that is.  Because if I’m honest with you, that doesn’t sound right to me.  I don’t think we are to be the ones that decide who and how God blesses.  I don’t think we’re the ones that get to determine when justice is served.  I don’t think we get to have that kind of control over life and life’s situations. 

I mean we can try, but I don’t think we’d be successful.

Rather, I think what Jesus is telling us here is that we needn’t be as persistent as the widow because God isn’t as hard-hearted as the judge.  We don’t have to wrestle all night and limp away like Jacob-turned-Israel did, because God has already promised to be our help and our guide, not our opponent and adversary.  We don’t have to grasp for control in order to have a good life full of blessings and justice because God, full of grace and mercy, gives that to us anyway.

We just might not see it, or feel it, or recognise it.

But that isn’t on God, you see, that’s on us.  In our times of trouble, hardship, on those horrible, no good, very bad days, it’s easy for us to play the victim and say that our life sucks and nothing good ever happens to us.  On any normal day, it’s easy to point out all the ways that life has yet failed us again and talk about how hard it is for us.  Throughout our lives it’s easy to complain and complain because we don’t have control over our situations.

So I think Jesus here in this parable is speaking to that.  At the time this gospel was written, Luke was speaking to people who have been waiting for the coming Christ for like 70 some odd years.  They were beginning to think that Jesus wasn’t coming.  They were starting to feel like they were abandoned.  Discouragement was setting in and they were losing heart.

Luke then reminds them of the story of Jesus and how he specifically tells them not to lose heart, even after 70 years of waiting.  Instead, pray persistently.  Not to expedite God’s actions or to take control of the situation, mind you, but rather to soften their hearts to turn their eyes away from the hardships and the bad days and onto God and God’s grace and blessing already given.  The persistent prayer that Jesus asks of his followers isn’t for them to get what they want but for their eyes to be opened to what God is already doing.  Jesus asks them not to lose heart not because their day is coming and all their wants and desires would be met, but because their heart is in God’s hands and by God’s love and care, they will be changed from within, understanding and seeing God more in the world, and finally feeling and seeing how God never left them from even before they were born.

And so it is with us.  We too, can find encouragement in the reassurance of Jesus.  We can find hope in knowing that God is always with us, blessing us and granting us the justice that allows us to see others in need in and around our community.  We can not lose heart in our persistent prayers that open our eyes and ears to all that God continues to do in our lives and in the world, showing us that even on our worst days, we are God’s beloved, welcomed into God’s kingdom, and saved by God’s unending grace.

So as we continue through this time after Pentecost, may our faith be strengthened and our prayers be persistent, that our hearts might continue growing in God’s grace and love and we see all that God does in us, through us, and even in spite of us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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