Sermon; Proper 24C; Gen. 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8
Last week Dcn. Sue and I spent Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon at clergy conference. It was held in Ocean City this year and, thankfully, we had some great weather and free time to spend on the beach. Also, thankfully, I returned uninjured. Those two things were probably the highlight of the conference. One of the things that often happens at clergy conference is speakers are brought in to discuss a particular topic. This year we heard a few presentations from the College of Congregational Development (CCD). This is a program developed in the Diocese of Olympia to help with congregational vitality. The presentations were primarily an overview of how the CCD looks at addressing change and conflict.
And, as so often happens, when you hear something in one context, it suddenly shows up in another context. Like a word you've never heard before, but then it pops up seemingly everywhere. That seems to be the case here.
One of the first things the CCD presenters addressed was change. We all know that change is constant. Over time, all things change. One way to determine if an organism is alive and growing is to look at its rate of change. This doesn't necessarily mean that fast growth, or fast change, is always best or healthy. Cancer, for instance, is a group of fast-growing cells, but they are certainly not healthy. Change is constant, but constant change may not be ideal.
That said, they introduced a formula for change to us. It's not so much a mathematical formula as much as it is a logic statement. And it goes like this:
Change can occur when Dissatisfaction, Vision, and First Steps are greater than Resistance. For those wanting to write it out, it looks like this: C = D x V x FS > R
And when looking at this formula, it's important to remember that Dissatisfaction is a neutral term that can be either positive or negative.
So why am I bringing this up? Because today we have two very different, yet similar, lessons. The story from Genesis is, in a nutshell, that famous story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel, receiving a life-changing injury, a new name, and gaining a blessing. The story from Luke is the parable of the persistent widow who finally wore down the unjust judge in order to gain justice. These two different stories are similar in that they deal with change – what the CCD presenters spent time on.
As I said, the story from Genesis is one of the more famous stories from that book. For those who don't remember, Jacob has spent his life playing the trickster. He tricked his father to give him the family blessing over Esau. He tricked Laban while he was herding the flocks. And now he is on the verge of meeting his brother for the first time in years, and rightfully worried that Esau is out for revenge.
Maybe it's now that Jacob wants to change. Maybe it's now that he has become dissatisfied with how he acts and how he is perceived by others. Maybe it's now he has a vision of a new, restored life with family and God.
Jacob wrestles with these things throughout the night, much like we wrestle with changes in our own life. This encounter ultimately changes Jacob. He is blessed, yes, but he is also injured and changed forever. With this change, new possibilities are opened up. But with this change, things will never be as they were.
The gospel lesson is another story of change. The widow was dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. She had a vision for justice. And her first steps were to continually make her voice heard. The judge was the main source of resistance. Eventually he became dissatisfied with the widow and had a vision of being left alone. A change was made.
In the parable, this process is only a few verses long. In reality it takes much longer. Prayer does not cause change overnight. Change can be a long process. Sometimes it takes the persistence of the widow to make that change.
These two lessons have something to say to us today, especially in our relationship with God. Right now we all live and swim in our own personal spiritual relationship with God. This isn't a bad thing, but, like fish in water, we may not even be aware of our spiritual surroundings.
There are a few things for us to consider as we look at these two stories. First, do you have a vision? Like Jacob had a vision to “be better,” and the widow had a vision for justice, what is your spiritual vision? What do you want your spiritual life to look like?
Second, are you satisfied with your current spiritual life? Would your vision for a deeper level of spirituality cause you to be dissatisfied with how things are now?
Third, what first steps might you take to achieve your vision? Can you find time to pray in the morning, at noon, or at night? Would you be willing and/or able to attend an Evening Prayer service? Bible study? The list is endless, but a First Step is necessary.
And finally, if you want to make a change, know that this won't be easy. Like Jacob, you will have to spend time wrestling with an unknown adversary in your quest to get closer to God. You may come out with a limp. And you will be changed. Like the widow, this will take determination and perseverance. And, even though not stated in the parable, that constant and persistent effort changed her so that she was finally able to receive what was given. Likewise, God may also change you through your persistence.
These two stories are about change; and specifically, about a change in our relationship with God. As we look to deepen our relationship with God, we need to ask ourselves this question, “Are we willing to do the hard work of being changed by God, or is the desire to remain the same too much resistance to overcome?”