Weary Pilgrims in Exhausting Times

Photo by howling red on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Dear Working Preacher,

It’s been a long while since I’ve had the chance to write to you (I’ve taken on a new role at the seminary, which has redirected my attention). Thus, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to thank you for the work you do.

So thank you!

Thank you for the work you do to preach the gospel in a world driven mad by law. Driven mad by a devotion to trying to save itself through the law. And usually not God’s law. It is being driven mad by all sort of human perspectives on the law. It seems every interest group or identity community has its own small perspective on truth, which it seems is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In that world, thanks for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

September and October are the hardest time of year for Working Preachers in my context. And I know many Working Preachers who are exhausted right now, as mid-October looms. The lectionary lessons for this week offer an incredible embarrassment of riches for how you might live in this exhausting time.

Thematic (Complementary) First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31

The fantastic tale of Jacob wresting with God. See Rachel Wrenn’s great commentary on our website. She writes that the story of wrestling with God may be “the best description of the life of faith in the entire Bible.” This week, dear Working Preacher, you might need to take some time to wrestle with God. And how does one wrestle with God? The psalms provide a model—complain to God, lament, cry out, trust God, sing God’s praises. That’s how the best Working Preachers wrestle.

Semi-continuous First Reading: Jeremiah 31:27-34

The reading contains the famous line about sour grapes and then the crucial promise of the new covenant. As Steed Davidson writes on the website, the passage imagines “a God that no longer looks like the angry deity set upon punishment and destruction.” Working Preacher, do not let your teeth be set on edge by the sour grapes your parents and grandparents chewed. Look to God for the promise of new life and promise of the new covenant.

Psalm 121

There are few psalms more beloved than Psalm 121. And there are few psalm scholars I love more than Bill Bellinger. The psalm was originally for those making pilgrimage. And what better metaphor is there for the life of faith than pilgrimage. I love that old song, “I am a Pilgrim and a Stranger.” For those of us who are traveling through a wearisome land, Bellinger writes: “YHWH is the one who is the sufficient source of help and protection for all pilgrims.” Working Preacher, as your travel this wearisome time of year, drink from the sustaining and sufficient source of help.

Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5

This passage from 2 Timothy contains gorgeous exhortations for the faith: “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,” “you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” “proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable,” “endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” Attending to what the passage says about the Scriptures, Karl Jacobson writes, “This is theology at work. All scripture is a means by which God can breathe and faith and hope and love and forgiveness and resurrection, into people.” I attended an ordination last Saturday. I was reminded that at ordination (in my tradition) preachers promise to be consistent in their study of scripture and use of the means of grace. Sometimes, for me, it is good just to read scripture for a while—not to study it in order to preach it, not to prepare a lesson for class, not to read secondary literature about it, but just to read it. Because the scriptures are a means of grace.

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

Well, the Gospel is a scary passage, because in his parable, Jesus tells a story about a foreign widow. Wow! A quadruple trigger passage: a woman, a widowed woman, a foreign-widowed woman, a foreign-widowed woman who pesters. And she pesters a corrupt judge. And guess what: she is the model of faith. So, we might ask Jesus (according to Luke), are we to be like the woman and “pray always and not lose heart”? Why? So that “the Son of Man will find faith on earth” when he returns.

There is a lot here this week for you, Working Preacher. It is a wearisome time of year. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to do what the texts say. This week, I’ll pause in my weary pilgrimage to wrestle with God, pray, sing, read scripture, lament, complain, and trust in the new creation and covenant.

Thanks for what you do, Working Preacher.

In Christ,

Rolf Jacobson

Hand raised in worship against orange background

Trauma-Informed Worship workshop

October 22 | 10a-noon (Central)

Ensuring that worship is safe for everyone requires more than just a checklist. We have to shift how we think about hospitality, healing, our own pain, as well as our worship spaces and practices. This workshop will give you a start in becoming a more trauma-informed leader and community.