Jacob’s Wrestling

Sermon by Pastor Mark Siler, 8/2/17

Sometimes it feels so simple.  We are here to receive our blessedness and to bless. One of the most powerful moments of my life took place at Marion Prison, just down the mountain.  I had been working there as a chaplain for about a year when I completed by requirements for ordination.  The men caught wind of this and decided that they wanted to have an ordination service for me in the prison chapel in addition to the one at my home church.

After a lot of spirited singing and saying kind things, they asked me to kneel down in  front so that all who wanted could come by, lay their hands on me, and bless me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bert get in line.  My heart skipped a beat.  Just a couple of days before, I had to ask Bert to take a break from the prison choir that I was coordinating because he was creating too much conflict.  He did not take it well.  Instead of blessing me, I figured he was more likely to come through the line and bless me out.  I wondered if I would be walking out of there with a limp.

When he finally stood in front of me, I felt his hands on my shoulders and with tenderness in hes eyes he said, “Chap, don’t give up on me. I am not giving up on you.” Burt and I agreed to keep wrestling, to engage the divine dance together. Like our story today, we can ask, were we wrestling each other, angels or God? I think the answer is “yes.”

While the story of Jacob’s ladder reveals a God who is always pursuing us, this story of Jacob’s wrestling reveals a God who is in the ring with us, who is tangled up in the struggle of our lives, who wants to pin us down on the holy mat until we say “uncle” and surrender to the truth of who we are: people who are a mess, people longing to be blessed, and people with the power to bless. All three are equally true.  

Apparently, the way to the blessing is through the mess.  Like Jacob, we must come to terms with the less-than-honest games that we play, the subtle and not so subtle ways that we pretend to be something that we are not and on that holy mat of truth, demand the blessing that God so desperately wants us to receive.   

But be prepared.  We will not be the same.  Our identity will change. Our pride will have a necessary limp. Humility will be our mark. We will become more like that ball of clay that the great potter longs for us to be.  We will become ready, amidst the inevitable ways that we are fully human, to keep coming back to God, ourselves and each other and say, “Don’t give up on me. I am not giving up you.” That, my friends, is a blessing.