August 2, 2020, Trust The Spirit: Wrestling, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Genesis 32: 22-31
The same night Jacob 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. 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.” 29 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. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, [face of God] saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip.
Anthem - I Won’t Let Go
Listening for God in Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21 (Message, Supper for 5 thousand)
When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick. 15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” 16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” 17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said. 18-21 Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.
Let’s take a moment in silence to notice the presence of the Spirit among us - sometimes wrestling with us, sometimes feeding us, always nurturing us.
August 2nd, 2020
Trust the Spirit: Wrestling
The Spirit is always with us, even when we are struggling - with other people or with ourselves. The Spirit is always with us, encouraging, feeding us, sometimes wrestling with us….
I’ve told you before that I have funny dreams sometimes, and I’ve been noticing them a bunch lately.. Cathy can tell you. Sometimes in the morning, she says, “What were you dreaming last night? You were kicking me in your sleep!” Every now and then I remember an odd dream, but most of the time I forget. A few mornings ago, I woke up with a groan early in the morning.
There was a hand on my face and I quickly realized it was my own hand, kind of grabbing my face. That was some kind a strange dream! Whatever it was, it helped me realize that I was more anxious about our situation right now than I wanted to admit. And I know the Spirit is with me. And I know the Spirit is with us.
In our Bible study last week as we studied this passage, we considered the possibility that Jacob had a similar kind of dream. After all, the passage said “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” Was he alone or was he with a man? Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was physical wrestling. It’s mysterious. The passage concludes that Jacob wrestled with God. How do you do that? While Jacob wrestles with God, there are echoes of his impending encounter with his brother. Our nighttime divine encounters often take on the features of others with whom we struggle during the day. (Brueggemann) So some people have interpreted this mysterious story as Jacob wrestling with his brother, some with God, or some with his own internal demons.
Any way that we understand it, Jacob comes away from his dark night of the soul as a changed person. He has a new name - Israel, meaning God-wrestler. He comes away still worried and even terrified of his coming meeting with Esau, and he comes away with a limp, a physical injury that will always remind him of his face to face encounter with God.
Our whole society is in a kind of dark night of the soul right now, struggling, wrestling - an encounter with God in our way, (or our own swamp demons). I’m not sure I know all that is going on in my unconscious, what I’m wrestling with. But I’m thinking we all are doing some wrestling with ourselves. The virus and the promise - or threat - of dramatic change in our society may be creating some unsettledness in our soul. It certainly is in the wider world. Will schools open up in the fall? Will our church buildings? How bad will unemployment be? How are people going to eat? Is the wealth gap going to become an even deeper chasm?
We may well notice this wrestling in our dreams or through bad moods and depression, or through sudden desires to throw things at the TV. We may notice this wrestling in our prayer life. This is a U time for extra prayer and meditation, because our whole society is going through big changes and it is bound to cause some inner wrestling.
If you are not taking my advice and you are watching TV news, you may think that the change is out there, outside us. We can see people contending with each other on the news, physically, politically, rhetorically. With extra prayer, meditation, and inner wrestling, we prepare ourselves to be a non-anxious presence - in our families, in our community, in our church, with each other.
Pay attention to your dreams, breathe into those sore places, those discouraged thoughts, those hopeless feelings. Bring healing, encouragement and hope to yourselves and to your friends and family. We are the church. That’s what we do.
On the other hand, let me mention, this is a bad time for any real physical wrestling. I don’t think anybody here is considering getting into a wrestling match, but I have to say there are people who are promoting kinds of physical violence. We have to be prepared to speak out against violence, against destruction of property, against violent infiltrators, provocateurs, anarchists or white supremacists who are trying to provide justification for violent repression. There are people out there trying to do that right now, and we have to challenge them.
John Lewis had it right as a follower of Jesus and as an activist - Non-violence is essential not only as a moral position, but also as a strategy. We have a lot of wrestling going on in our society right now, and we need to help each other learn the discipline of non-violent wrestling for what we know is right.
Jacob wrestled with his conscience and with his God all night long before meeting up with his brother Esau, whom he had betrayed. He was afraid his meeting with Esau would turn into a physical fight. But the wrestling he did the night before with God, with the man he was alone with, that wrestling helped him prepare for a different kind of confrontation, one with more contrition and self-examination.
That wrestling got him a new name and identity. It got him a new sense of himself in the world and gave him a little bit of encouragement as he goes on to face his brother. When we do the wrestling in ourselves and with each other, we get stronger and more determined to be who we are called to be.
I love how Mark and Lydia’s song portrays this story - and shows how easily we think we are the ones holding on to God and demanding a blessing. In the end, the song shows that it is God won’t let go, God who gives the blessing, God is really faithful. Jacob/Israel also received a limp in the bargain, a limp that he would have for the rest of his life. When we wrestle with the better angels of our nature, or with our God, we may come out of it a little wounded.
We may bear a limp from our internal struggles - from admitting mistakes that we have made, people we have hurt, or things we believed, that we find out were hurtful. That wound that we carry, that learning, that limp is a badge of courage. It is an experience that leads us to a kind of wisdom. If we are not conscious of the wound, we may find ourselves having some bad dreams, but when we are conscious of it, that wound helps us realize we are allied with all the wounded of the world.
These wounded ones - the wounded parts of ourselves, the wounded of the world - these are the ones we are wrestling for. The Spirit guides us, supports us, and even wrestles with us from time to time to help us become our best, most authentic selves. It’s kind of amazing isn’t it - especially after last week’s service about disabilities, to realize that our best selves have a limp from the internal and community wrestling we do, that God is always working with us and using even our wounded-ness to connect us with each other and with God’s purpose in the world.
As we come to the table this morning - in our own places, experiencing the wounds of Christ in the bread and the wine, the wounds of Christ’s giving to us, we actualize this Spirit, we gain strength and courage for the wrestling in ourselves and in the world. Jesus multiplies bread and fish - an abundance of all we need to create a world of peace, compassion and fairness for all God’s wounded community. As John Lewis said at the close of his letter to be read on the day of his funeral: “Walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” This is God’s good news.