With tubs of popcorn and buckets of soda and cartons of candy, we are a people who like to lounge in our Saturday morning recliners to march behind Sargent Slaughter, fence with Junk Yard Dog, salute the American Dream Dusty Rhodes and smell what the Rock is cooking.
“Grappling with God” – Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs 8/6/14
Or, when it comes to the body slam of faith, most of us, as J. Ellsworth Kalas says, have “just enough religion to protect us from God,” to keep us out of the ring.
Genesis 32: 24-31 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, 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, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Why do the rabbis say this is the most resonate passage in the Hebrew Bible?
Because we all struggle with God, wrestle with our issues.
If God is struggling with us, then God is with us.
Our faith grows the most when we’re hurting.
Jacob is finally transformed into the person God has always intended.
National Public Radio aired the story of a father who noticed his son’s changing lifestyle: new friends, new behaviors, an unrecognizable child. So concerned, he started recording his son’s phone calls, would come home from work and listen to hours of tape. The next troubling event; the next party to get high at; the next drug resupply. After a while, the son found out about the eavesdropping and confronted his dad, ready for the next intervention. This time, it might be taking the car keys away, being grounded for a decade, military school. But dad said there would be no punishment, handing him forty tapes each ninety minutes long, asking only that he listen. Listen to the addicted adolescent, the loss of empathy, the manipulative use of everyone for his next hit.
Jacob- alone in his own darkness, with the anxiety tremors of cheating brother Esau, the nightmares of lying to uncle Laban, the flashbacks from twenty years of angling as an angles man- finally got thrown into the ring. Got a pile driver to his past, a clothesline to his lack of conscience, an elbow off the top rope to his ego.
“In the night,” Walter Brueggemann says, “the divine antagonist tends to take on the features of others with whom we struggle.” If you want to know what needs to be pinned down in your psyche, then pay close attention to what disrupts your sleep, what wakes you up in a sweaty panic.
It’s time to lace up our boots and pull down our masks and tag into the holy cage match to wrestle with our demons, to wrestle with our addictions, to wrestle with our insecurities until they all submit.
Wrestle in Hebrew means “to embrace.” To be arms and legs tangled up in a lover’s quarrel with God and all that isn’t God.
So many of us want to wear the heavy weight championship belt without ripping our tights, want to follow Jesus without carrying the cross, want the blessing without the wound. And yet, the Gospel truth is that you can either walk talk alone in the wilderness or limp with the Lord into the Promised Land.
May we all, then, be a people with our hips knocked out of socket.