In a Wrestling Match, Who Wins?

Kenora                                  St. Alban’s

Proper / Ordinary / Lectionary 18 – Pentecost + 9

Year A

2 August 2020

Genesis 32:22-31

Psalm 17:1-7, 16

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

God beyond all seeing and knowing, we meet you in the night of change and crisis and wrestle with you in darkness and doubt. Give us the will and spirit to live faithfully and to love as we are loved, through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

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How do we wrestle with God? Do we wrestle with God?

Do we, consciously or unconsciously, contend with God in our daily lives, in the decisions that we make, the choices of where to go? what to do? how to live? how to feed ourselves, or our families?

These are all questions of discernment that we’re able to apply to our lives, and to the direction of our lives, that we all engage in, in our own way, every day.

I had the opportunity to watch “The Princess and the Frog,” recently and this idea of wrestling with the divine comes up there, as well, although Disney wouldn’t put it like that, I’m sure.

In “the Princess and the Frog,” we see two people from different aspects of society, both struggling to achieve what they feel are their dreams, their personal goals, and their hearts desire, and in that striving, it takes the feeling of absolute and utter failure, it takes the feeling of disaster for them to take their eyes off of the goal they’ve always set before them to see the relationship that has the ability to not only get them to that goal, but to change the outlook of what is actually success, when they, in fact, arrive at that goal.

We can see this in the reading from Genesis for today, as well. And what we are able to see is that God is still working to fulfill the promises made to Abraham, that his offspring will number more than the stars in the sky.

Genesis tells us: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Gen 12:1-3)

Abraham had one son, by Sarah: Isaac. Isaac had twins with his wife, Rebekah: Esau and Jacob, and now things get sticky. Sibling rivalry, and parental favour step in and take up roles in the story.

In these children, we see one who would be, today, seen as ‘bookish’ or perhaps the terms ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ would apply to this the younger child. The other we would definitely identify him as ‘sports minded’ and ‘outdoorsy’, by today’s standards.

Along the way, we see Esau giving up his birthright to his little brother in exchange for a bowl of stew.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” … 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way.“ (Gen 25:29-34)

In addition, we see their parents not staying on the sidelines, as Rebekah supports Jacob, while Isaac promotes Esau. It reaches its height as Rebekah aids Jacob in stealing Isaac’s blessing that would go to Esau, as the firstborn, because Isaac, in his old age, has vision problems.

And out of all of this we see resentment, and animosity grow between the two as only siblings and twins can generate.

We see resentment, and feelings of betrayal, so Jacob goes away, and in his time away he gets married, and fathers a family.

So, how does all of this, how does today’s passage from Genesis show Jacob’s discernment in and for his life? So far, in his youth and early adulthood he’s done what others have told him, and presumably those others have prayed for God’s direction in their actions, and in their advice.

In his time away, we see that he’s married, he’s had a successful life, living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban, and yet what remains from his past is the guilt and remorse that he’s carried at cheating his brother of his birthright, and their father’s blessing.

We see his fear at the idea of returning home, as well, and he’s had years to think about this, but that sense of fear comes to a head as he returns to the lands promised to Abraham and his descendants, and so he hesitates. He sends his family on ahead as he hesitates to return to what is in essence ‘home’.

So, what does Jacob expect?

Well, I don’t think its actually wrestling with the divine, although he’s been doing a lot of that in his mind, and in his heart.

2The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Gen 32:22-24)

And what is the outcome? What does he come away from the encounter with? Is it clarity? Is it direction? Is it a way to make amends with his brother?

Rather he comes way with a limp, a reputation, and a new name.

25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”” (Gen 32:25-28)

And although he’s marked by the limp for the rest of his life, he is also encouraged for the remainder of his journey home by the words of God, with whom he has been wrestling

He’s told: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28)

A name that today depicts a race and a nation, but then, depicted one man and, later his children carry the name forward into history.

But throughout it all, throughout every experience of his life, Jacob isn’t alone, and God isn’t complacent. Rather God is acting, always, continuously, and if we look closely, we see that God likes underdogs.

After all, Abraham was an old man, yet he received the promise of many children and an impressive legacy.

Isaac the text tells us only had two sons – twins, because Rebekah’s pregnancy was an unpleasant experience. And then there’s Esau and Jacob, who are the centre of today’s passage from Genesis, although Esau’s name never comes up.

In each of our lives, we are all striving against humans, and we strive against God, especially when we feel that things aren’t going our way.

God knows how much Jacob isn’t looking forward to returning to the lands promised to Abraham, that he left Esau to manage all on his own.

God knows absolutely everything about the lives of those who are the start of the tribe of Israel, and God knows each one of us, as well.

God knows how we, like Jacob and Esau attempt to steer the promises of God to benefit each one of us and we do it by thinking we’re in control of our lives, our choices, our destiny. Just like the characters in “The Princess and the Frog.”

Now for those who haven’t seen it, it looks at a hardworking young woman who dreams of opening her own restaurant, on the one side, and a disenfranchised prince who needs to marry wealthy, in order to maintain his party life, on the other.

And though both become frogs, because when they first kiss, she’s not a princess, and so in the standard Disney fashion, they encounter a friendly alligator and a helpful firefly, and have adventures together along the way. Throughout all of this they have adventures, together and find themselves taking their eye off of their own goals and seeing the other, and their aims and goals.

It’s not until they give up on those goals for themselves, and decide to remain frogs, together that they marry and when they kiss, again, they return to being human, because when they marry, she becomes a princess, fulfilling the classic story of the frog needing to kiss a princess.

But it’s in the depths of their own discernment, in their own wrestling with their dreams and goals, and yes, with God, that they’re able to let go of their original goals to aid the other that they both talk to the north star.

Each in their own way, they wrestle with God.

Each in our own way wrestles with God, as well.  We like Jacob, wrestles with God, but he’s not, we’re not aware of that until the end, until we look back, and see how far we’ve come.

Jacob looked at his life and saw the ways in which it didn’t go in a way that would honour God, or his family, and frankly left a bad taste in his mouth. Yet God tells him that he has wrestled with man and with God and have prevailed.

Every day we prevail when we get up, when we move forward, and when we see the aches and pains of our lives, our heartaches, our aches and our scars. We’ve all wrestled with humanity, and we’ve lived to wrestle another day.

We’ve all wrestled with God, and yet God continues to bless each one of us with love, with purpose, with those who look to us for examples of courage, and strength, even wen we don’t feel it in our lives.

After all, we’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all left situations that have scared our personal pasts. And yet God is still here, still guiding, still encouraging, still challenging us to wrestle, because tomorrow is a brand-new day with new opportunities and new blessings for all.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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