August 3, 2014 by Ken Dale
Jacob at the Jabbock!? The story brings the memory from childhood and my early years as a Dad.? The phrase ?wanna wrestle?? comes to mind.? It was typical behavior of boyhood.? It was to engage in bodily combat with another kid but always just for fun and no one would get hurt.? In time I outgrew it, except when we had wrestling in gym class junior high school and were taught various moves.? Nothing like Haystack Calhoon or Killer Kawalski (am I dating myself??).? When I became the father of two sons one of us would pose the question ? wanna wrestle? ? and two of us, on occasion all three of us, would hit the floor ? often to their mother?s dismay.? Again ? no one got hurt.? That activity stopped before they reached high school where they both played football and each weighed well over 250 pounds.? ?Wanna wrestle?? no longer crossed these lips!
Jacob didn?t have such choice that night at the Jabbok.? No one posed any questions or warning.? Fred Buechner has written a wonderful novel titled, ?Son of Laughter? and it is the story of Jacob written in the first person.? Buechner wonderfully ?captures our scripture reading this morning with these words:? Out of the dark someone leaped at me with such force that it knocked me onto my back.? It was a man.? I could not see his face?His flesh was chill and wet as the river.? He was the god of the river?He would not let me cross without a battle?I threw him over onto his back.? His breath was hot in my face as I straddled him… Quick as a serpent he twisted loose, and I was caught between his thighs? I could not move.? ?He was pushing my face into the mud?[then] he was tugging my head up toward him.? He was breaking my neck.? He was not the god of the river.? He was Esau?He had forded the river to slay me.? Just as my neck was about to snap, I butted my head upward with the last of my strength and caught him square.? For an instant his grip loosened and I was free? We struggled in each other?s arms.? ?I knew they were not Esau?s arms.? It was not Esau.? I did not know who it was?
??????????? ?For the rest of the night we battled in the reeds?I did not know why we were fighting.? It was like fighting in a dream?He did not overpower me until the moment came to overpower me.? ?he gave a fierce downward thrust.? I felt a fierce pain? I knew I was crippled and done for.? I could do nothing but cling now.? I clung for dear life.? I clung for dear death? For the first time he spoke.
??????????? He said, ?Let me go.? ??Let me go for the day is breaking.?? ?I said, ?I will not let you go?I will not let you go unless you bless me.?
??????????? Per usual Buechner creates a powerful image with his words.? And I am struck that Jacob clings to the one he wrestles with ? and he holds on for a blessing, even in his brokenness.? It brings to mind the powerful image of Jesus hanging on the cross ? crying out to God ?why have you forsaken me??? Even though he believes or experiences that God has abandoned him, still he holds on to God – cries out to God, he loves God, for he knows his love for God is rooted in God?s love for him.
As Jacob?s story continues he receives a new name: ?Now you are Israel.? You have wrestled with God and with men.? You have prevailed.? That is the meaning of the name Israel.?
Further down the page Jacob reflects:? I remember as blessing the one glimpse I had of his face.? It was more terrible than the face of dark, or of pain, or of terror.? It was the face of light.? No words can tell of it.? Silence cannot tell of it.?? Sometimes I cannot believe that I saw it and lived but that I only dreamed I saw it.? Sometimes I believe I saw it and only dream that I live? He did not tell me his true name.? Perhaps he did not tell it because he knew I would never stop calling on it.? But I gave the place where I saw him a name.? I named it Peniel.? It means the face of God.
??????????? Can we relate to Jacob?s struggle?? Maybe not physical wrestling ? but how about spiritual?? I know for myself, and talking with people as a pastor for others, that spiritual ?wanna wrestle?? often comes the middle of the night -? in the dark and difficult times of life?s journey ? in the unexpected times.? Surely in the course of our life we have all wrestled with God as we face life?s most challenging realities.? It may be wide concerns ? terrorism, the threat of war, the reality of war, the many faces of hunger and poverty in a world of plenty, the terrible injustices in so many places.? Or times when death comes as a robber and a thief, unfairly, untimely, unexpectedly ? the downing of the Malaysian airliner or a murder suicide resulting in the loss of an entire family in Saco.? Or when we wonder why it takes so long when we wait for the blessing of death that sets loved ones free from suffering.? We wrestle with God in many instances of life.
When our prayers seemed unanswered or we lack the courage or willingness or even apparent ability to make necessary changes in our lives.? When we lack something to take that leap of faith ? and trust faith?s teaching that when we take that leap ?that we will either land on solid ground or that someone will teach us to fly.? (Patrick Overton).? We wrestle with God.
But like Jacob,? if we hold on to God, or remember that God holds on to us even when we let go of God, even in the midst of the dark and broken places of our lives ? a blessing comes ? and with that blessing comes a newness of life.? We do come out of the darkness into a marvelous light.? Perhaps we are a new person for the struggle and we live out of a deeper faith because of it.? Perhaps like Jacob we come out of the struggle limping in some way ? but still we do come out of it, and God is still with us ? that?s a promise ? God?s promise.
The question is are we willing to risk the struggle.? Are we willing to work for what we pray for?? Are we willing to risk for what we hope God to do ? for the ways we believe and understand what God calls us to do.? Maybe that is what it is to live in faith ? to live with faith.? The wrestling ? or struggle – ?is part of the journey, as unfair and challenging and difficult as it often is, but the blessing comes, and like Jacob, now Israel, we have a new identity, we are a new person ? and maybe our faith is deeper and more purposeful.? This past year has seen times of struggle for us as a church.? At the Council meeting this past week there was a unanimous decision to engage the services of a professional church consultant named Renee LiaBraaten who will work with us during the fall so that we can move forward as a church and catch a vision ? hopefully God?s vision for us as a church.? I expect it to be an exciting time for us all.
We can move out of struggle confident that God does call us, that God does have a plan for us, purposes beyond our own devising ? God does have a will and we are part of it. ?Let us pray for a blessing ? and hold on for a blessing – knowing that like Jacob, the blessing comes with a cost, and results in being marked and assigned and sent by God.
But only by the grace of God ? by faith we can explore together knowing that even in the brokenness there comes a blessing.? So may it be.