There are moments in life that define everything we need to know about somebody (e.g., the woman who drops the cake). What we need to know about Jacob: Can I pin this stranger? Jacob tussles in the womb Jacob grabs his brothers hill. He steals the birthright. He steals the blessing. He gets swindled by Laban, and swindles him back. He flees Laban's family, and returns home.
Finally, he wrestles with the stranger. Is it possible that this whole time, his true struggle has been with somebody else? He asks, "who are you?" Instead his new name is "wrestles with God" (Israel) which becomes the name of the people of God get. We are Israel.
We have rules about being religious. #1 Don't be a jerk, #2 Know a lot of stuff, #3 Follow the rules. The perfect sport is ballroom dancing; just let yourself be swept along. Just follow Jesus lead. The problem is the life of faith isn't like that. It's more like wrestling. I emerge from Bible study more like a kid in a sandbox than a ballroom dancer.
Jacob offends piety, but he's not alone; Abraham bargains with God. Moses argues with God over the Israelites. The Syrophoenecian woman argues with Jesus. These are God's friends in the Bible. These wrestlers are the Saints. We are not "Masters of Divinity" or the certain or the right or the submissive. We are those who wrestle with God.
This is our sacred calling. To struggle and wrestle and argue. It's not book knowledge; it's senses of knowledge. This is "knowing" God. No ahead of time that when you wrestle with God, you're not going to win. Jacob never gets a name. You can't pin god down. Nobody gets God's name. If you think you have God pinned down, your God is probably an idol. What does God mean by "you have overcome." He doesn't win; in fact he comes out injured for life. He carriers a limp from his encounter. The only way he overcomes is if"overcoming" means not letting go. Victory in the Bible is to wrestle with God and then when everything fails, just refusing to let go. That's Biblical faith.
Some of you may feel disillusioned; you thought it was going to be a waltz. Maybe you feel like a spiritual failure. Maybe you are angry at life or God. Maybe your faith needs a metaphor; those who wrestle with God. It's holy and faithful to go to the mats with God and to beg for blessing. Maybe you've spent a lot time theorizing about God; there are things you can't learn by reading; you have to be a participant. If you come day and have pinned God down, then it's not God. Let go of it. If you are struggling with a brother or sister, perhaps they are not the one you are wrestling with. If you come limping from wrestling with God, there's nothing you need to do. Just lie in the dust and cling to God's ankle.
The mystery of the faith is that the scars of Jesus struggle become the marks of victory. We are invited to become one of those who wrestled with God and have overcome by refusing to let go.
- Jacob: Hero or numbskull? What about him is heroic?
- What is it about the wrestlers that God seems to love?
- Are you comfortable wrestling with God?
- Does society see us as "The people who wrestle with God?" Why or why not?
- What does "not letting go" look like?
- Did you identify with any particular group at the end of Meghan's sermon?