August 3, 2014 – Wrestling for the blessing

Hosea 12:2-6

The Lord has an indictment against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways, and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor; he met him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him. The Lord the God of hosts, the Lord is his name! But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.

Romans 11:25-27

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

Genesis 32:22-31

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (God-Wrestler), for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel (God’s Face), saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip.

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Pentecost 8   August 3, 2014   Hosea 12:2-6, Romans 11:25-27, Genesis 32:22-31 Wrestling for the blessing

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Even as a babe-in-the-womb – Jacob is wrestling – struggling from before birth with his twin brother Esau. Literally born wrestling, coming into the world holding-on-tight to the heel of his older-by-a-few-seconds brother. A preview of life to come…

Back when I was a babe-in-the-woods I used to watch professional wrestling on television with friends. I remember especially a wrestler called Haystack Calhoun… (whom we nick-named Straw-stack Balloon – he really was that big – I checked it on the web – 600 pounds) – and another wrestler named Killer Kowalski… And even as ten year-olds we knew tv wrestling was fake. Unreal. An art form probably, since these guys really could wrestle. They could throw all the throws, hammer the other guy with hammer-locks – cause hurt and be hurt. But what we saw on television was an act… A carefully-scripted-orchestrated dramatic presentation… Performance-art that we found strangely entertaining. But not real wrestling…

As a young man Jacob did some creative made-for-tv-drama-wrestling also. He wrestled away for himself the blessing that was supposed to be his brother Esau’s. Not even making physical contact, but he wrestled for his father’s blessing, using tactics that JR of Dallas fame might be envious of. With the help of his mother Rebekah, he dressed up as his brother Esau, fooling his elderly blind father Isaac into giving him his brother’s blessing.

Then he had to get out of town in a hurry and hide… to avoid having to really wrestle his older brother, who vowed to kill him – and probably could have with just a few quick body slams…

But trickster Jacob slips out of the ring and out of town in a hurry, and beats it on down the road… Where he soon gets married to a pair of sisters (and kind-of-sort-of also to their two maids)… And has a lot of children… and makes a fortune working for his slippery father-in-law… (who pays him back in spades for his own deceitfulness…)

Now here’s Jacob, twenty years later, coming home after two decades in exile…

On the way to meet his long-lost family and especially his older brother… Whom he has discovered is on his way to meet him with 400 friends…all heavily armed… (Talk about a serious mid-life crisis.)

This is where we hear Jacob pray for the first time… Reminding God of all the promises that God has made to him through his grandfather Abraham, his father Isaac, and to himself directly and all his family…

Then as he fords the river Jabbok later that night, Jacob is met by a mysterious Someone – who grabs him and won’t let go. And as they wrestle and wrestle the man is called first a man, then God…and later in the bible, an angel. And whoever he is, he won’t let go….

Yet… as the wrestling continues on and on through the night…. Finally it turns around to be Jacob who won’t let go… Holding on tight, now saying, I won’t let you go unless you bless me

Who is Jacob wrestling with? Is this, as some think, Jacob’s alter-ego – the dark side of himself, trying to drag him down…? Or perhaps the brighter side of himself, trying to emerge? Is this the flesh of Jacob wrestling with the Spirit? The worldly side of Jacob wrestling with the heavenly side?

Is this, as others have suggested, God himself doing tag-team wrestling? God appearing through a series of angelic incarnations… demonstrating the spectrum of Divine Reality?

God appearing first as a punishing-angel-of-discipline – reminding Jacob of his many transgressions – getting him in a holy headlock to start breaking down Jacob’s resistance to God… Next, God’s angel appearing as the God-of-the journey… Testing, testing Jacob all through the long night…(As Israel will be be tested, later, in the forty years of exodus in the wilderness…) And finally, God’s angel appearing at last as the all-loving God-of-all-blessings…as the dawn is breaking…

Whomever this angelic messenger is – this time the wrestling is for real. This time Jacob tells the truth. No acting. This time Jacob gives his real name when asked. This time Jacob gets the real blessing from God… For real.

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And the reason (of course)we keep studying this all-night wrestling match…is because Jacob prevails – wins the blessing – gets his name changed to Israel – meaning God-Wrestler.

Now his legacy lives forever. Now from now on, the people who occupy center-stage in the Bible from Genesis on are always to be known as Israel. For better and for worse, in good times and bad times, the name has stuck… God-Wrestler.

Sure, the prophets and psalmists also still call the people of Israel by the old name, Jacob sometimes. The prophet Hosea (in our reading today) recalls Jacob’s wrestling with his brother and with the angel… Reminding us that Jacob-hyphen-Israel still backslides… Still acts like the old faking-it-for-tv-wrestler-of-old… And the prophet tells us to act like Israel – not like Jacob the deceiver.

Later the apostle Paul spends three long chapters in his letter to the Romans, lamenting the fact that most of Israel still doesn’t recognize Jesus as Messiah. Yet, Paul concludes, all Israel will still be saved anyway… Because God has promised…And God’s promises are irrevocable.

Of course God is a holy God. Ungodliness still must be banished from Israel. So more wrestling will surely be required… the apostle concludes…

And likewise, if we don’t wrestle with the story… We too will miss out on the blessings…

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But why? We may be asking – why does God seem to reward low-down, lying, cheating, deceiving Jacob – with such a huge and eternal blessing?

I mean, come on, God! If you bless this guy Jacob – after all the bad stuff he’s done – aren’t you giving a free pass to every bum around – to run around doing wrong – then come back to you, expecting to be blessed – and all we have to do is hold on tight and don’t let go in a divine wrestling match?

Well – yes. God really is revealing a soft-spot in God’s heart for God-awful-sinners… And yes, sheer persistence in clinging to God is a big part of our story… And yes, it sure does seem as if God deliberately chooses not to build his starting lineup from a roster of spiritual All Stars. God presumably could find – or create – a team full of Mother Teresas and Jesus look-a-likes…

But God instead picks Joe-average Jacob to be cornerstone of Team Israel…A guy who is going to need a whole lot of forgiveness… A whole lot of holy wrestling with our holy God to be reshaped into right-relationship with God and neighbor…

Which gets us to the heart of our gospel teaching – about the necessity of spiritual struggle…

And the war within being the toughest of battles… And the battle not being given to the strong and mighty… But to those who hold on tight to God… and won’t let go…

It can be very tough job to face up to one’s worst foes. It takes Jacob a long time. It’s taken me a long time too – to face the most difficult truths – fight the necessary battles – make the necessary apologies – and try to make the proper amends always…

It’s even harder to fight with the the enemy, whom as Pogo once said, we have met – and he is us. Our own self-deceiving-self.

Jacob the deceiver wrestles all through the night with God, the angel of God, and himself… And comes away forever changed… named now God-Wrestler

And God invites us all to be people of God who wrestle with God also…

God still yearns to work holy transformation… and reveal God’s own self … in the intimacy of holy struggle…

God still yearns to let us see the face-of-God in the struggle with God… God-of-the-struggle still struggles with us to engage us in holy wrestling…To teach us that our faith is not a spectator sport.

We can watch tv preachers, we can listen to gospel singers… But we can’t script our battles ahead… Life’s not a made-for-television-drama that we can turn on and off… We can’t be Christians as mere spectators. Like Jacob, we must be entangled in sanctified wrestling with God… Till God gives the blessing…

And every struggle that comes our way… however difficult…however unsettling… Is still our opportunity to draw closer, nearer to God…

As the holy dawn of God’s eternal New Day approaches…

Every struggle a holy opportunity to grab onto God…

And hold on tight…

And don’t let go…

Till we have the blessing…The blessing of God’s pure universal love… Given freely for us… and for all… in love..

Let’s be ready…

Let’s thank God…

Let’s sing…

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