Pastoral ponderings . . .

As a congregation, we’re beginning the conversations about our future. We’re only now beginning to process and try to understand the 2.5 year traumatic experience of the pandemic together. What has changed forever for you? We have lost many beloved members of our congregation. We are different now than how we were before. Mount Tabor has stories of resilience; of resurrection from death to new life. What new narrative do we have as a result of what we have learned in the pandemic? Where is God calling us from here? These are the questions we are beginning to wrestle with.

Stories of wrestling with God and questions abound in Scripture. A widow seeking justice has no recourse but to appear before a judge who “neither fears God nor has respect for his fellow human beings” in one of Jesus’ parables.

Jacob, the younger son of Isaac, is hours away from coming face to face with Esau, his oldest brother. Jacob is sure Esau is coming to get his revenge. Jacob had pretended to be Esau, and tricked their father Isaac into giving him the family inheritance, leaving nothing for the hard-working Esau. Jacob is wrestling with his deepest fears. Wrestling with a guilty conscience. He knows the day of reckoning is coming, and it must mean “justice for Esau.”

The widow is wrestling her fears as well: will she find justice from such a morally bankrupt judge? It’s a hopeless situation. Shouldn’t she just give up?

Jacob wrestles all night. He doesn’t run from the riverbank. He doesn’t give up or give in, even though his day of reckoning is getting closer every hour. He’s staying in the struggle. He’s wrestling with God, even as he waits for daybreak.

The widow in Jesus’ parable never gives up either. She has an opponent too. Every. Single. Day. But she just keeps on showing up: “Give me justice,” she keeps saying to the unjust judge.

Jacob and the widow are persistent and, I think, resilient. And against all odds, they both experience change: Justice is finally granted to the widow. And Jacob himself is changed. But he’s no longer the same person he was. He walks with a limp now, and a new name: “the one who wrestles with God.”

In both stories, it seems to me, wrestling with God is a characteristic of a life of faith. Faith and doubt go hand in hand. “Both/And” all the way, as Lutherans say!

The widow must have doubts, don’t you imagine? Every single day she gets the same message: she’s not worth the judge’s time of day. She’s disrespected and shamed by the patriarchy every single day. She must have doubts that the outcome will ever change. She’s a woman of faith and, I think, she has doubts; very reasonable doubts. And I think she’s got to be wrestling with God every single day: “Are you there God?” “Don’t you see me?” “Aren’t you listening?”

But this persistent, resilient widow keeps going back to the Judge’s court, seeking his decision in her favor. I believe her faith tradition has made her the way she is: she’s like the wind, and rain and snow that over eons, hollows out the great arches of southern Utah.

So I wonder: “What are we as a congregation struggling with today?” “What are you wrestling with today?”All of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, often question whether God is real, listening, and going to do anything to change what we hope will be change for the better.

Faith and doubt go hand in hand in the Lutheran tradition. I think faith without doubt is certainty. And certainty is the foundation of fanaticism. I remember the words of the centurion to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jacob had no idea what the outcome was going to be that morning when he finally got up, limping, helpless, and weak. He didn’t know what his brother Esau would do to him. He could have laid there beside the river, or limped off in another direction. The widow could have stayed in bed that morning. And said “What’s the use?”

But both of them were people formed by faith. Both of them had a vision of something greater than themselves. A vision of a new day coming. A day when justice will break through when they least expected it.

The vision we are bold to share through faith in Christ is the vision of a new day. The vision of a new creation, breaking into our lives, into our world, when we least expect it. It’s our hope and prayer at the round table every Sunday morning. Because we know how good that justice can be. We find glimpses of it in joints that begin moving again, in bones that heal, in strength restored in our bodies, in lives that are rescued, and species that are spared.

We trust it’s out there. All evidence to the contrary. In our theology as Lutherans, we say it’s coming toward us. The new creation we long for, that God’s bringing, is something that isn’t yet, but it’s coming.

It’s God’s vision in the new creation of Christ’s resurrection that keeps us wrestling with our doubts and fears. Wrestling with God and each other because we are so invested in the goodness of renewed creation.

That’s a vision that can keep calling us, even keep us awake at night, like it did Jacob. And, God willing, keep us showing up in our daily lives to live God’s love in the world! -- Pastor David