So here we are, Jacob's been 'on the lam' for some twenty years and is coming home and wondering whether Esau, the brother he's cheated out of everything that matters, is holding a grudge. So he sends a message to say he is coming only to get the reply, "Esau says he's coming - and he's got four hundred men with him." Now this doesn't sound like Esau has forgiven and forgotten so Joseph divides up his possessions so that if things kick off he can escape with some of his stuff and family members and then he has a chat with God, after all - that's the reason he has come back home, because God said that if he did he would prosper, Don't look likely with four hundred men of their way, does it?
So there he is, everyone's packed off in case there's trouble when this man appears and they wrestle (contend) with each other until dawn when the man (whom Jacob later says is God Himself) says it's time to pack it in. But Jacob tells the man that he won't let go unless he gets a blessing - and he not only gets the blessing (eventually) but a new name: Israel (one who contends) and the place is called 'Peniel' (face or vision of God).
But let's not forget the limp - we can't contend with God without bearing some mark - something for others to see and something to make sure we don't forget the encounter. Here we have a man who assumes all is lost and he is desperate - but he's also been obedient and gone back home as God told Him. Where are your desperate places today? Where do you need to meet God and contend - are you will to persevere and battle as Jacob did - for regardless of the man's dodgy character there is also a perseverance and engaging with God that I am sure few of us have.
Or do we? Isn't this what the Gospel passage is about? Contending and persisting?
We have a woman who wants justice; deliverance from her situation; but the judge is unmoved by her cries. He doesn't care about her or God and yet, because she persists she ends up getting justice. This is a key passage for all of us because so often we lose heart and give up asking - but this woman, like Jacob, persists! This is how we should be praying - this is about praying, believing and persistence: Isn't that what we have in the Jacob story?
Persistence isn't about God not hearing or responding but is about us taking the issue seriously - for if we really think something is important it will be to the forefront of our mind and will feature large - and that means we pray for it in a committed and engaged way.
Oddly perhaps, persistence is not the sign of blind faith that some assume it to be - for it is faith that there is someone to hear the petition, faith that acknowledges that the need can (and will) be met, and this demands something more that a 'cat's lick and a promise,' (as my Mum used to say when there had been no consistency or true engagement with the issue before us).
And this takes us into our 2 Timothy reading. Now will we find a consistent theme here or will it be something else?
Well, no shocks here for this is about Timothy persevering; "Continuing with what he has learned and become convinced of." He is told to look to the Scriptures because in these are the key to salvation and persistent study of them bring wisdom, teaching, correcting and cautioning others and teaching us to become righteous, that is 'like God and pleasing to Him." Are we persistent when it comes to taking up our Bibles and applying all Paul says of it to ourselves and others?
Having faith in Jesus, the Christ, we persevere, preaching Him 'in and out of season' - we are to persevere in our task of making the Christ known in our own lives and in the lives of others; avoiding those who tickle our ears with their distractions. We are to persist, even though the journey is long and the opposition often long and hard against us.
So today, what is your need?
Where do you put your faith, and how do you contend when difficulty comes?
How are you persevering?
The Collect (that prayer which 'collects up' all our thoughts and helps us to focus, is a bit of a help here:
Almighty God, in whose service lies perfect freedom: teach us to obey you with loving hearts and steadfast wills; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”
When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Post Communion Prayer
Father of light, in whom is no change or shadow of turning, you give us every good and perfect gift and have brought us to birth by your word of truth: may we be a living sign of that kingdom where your whole creation will be made perfect in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
AND DON'T FORGET THIS IMPORTANT POINT