In the last two weeks, I’ve been working on a sermon for my preaching class. If you know anything about my life right now, you probably know I never get two weeks to work on a sermon. But this one has really been on my heart. See, we were given the task to write a 12-14 minute sermon on any Old Testament narrative. That’s it. When I first started looking at this, my mind jumped to all of the powerful, super cool women I could preach on throughout the Old Testament. Then I thought this might be the opportunity to preach on something a little more challenging or maybe less accepted by a lay congregation. But through it all, Genesis 32:22-23 kept coming back. Every time I dismissed it because I didn’t think it was cool enough or meaningful enough. Boy, was I wrong.
Genesis 32:22-32 is where Jacob wrestles. Jacob is completely alone. He meets this mysterious man who wrestles with him until daybreak. Then the man is ready to go and out of nowhere Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Then the man asks his name. Jacob responds. The man renames him Israel. Jacob asks the man’s name. The man evades the question, blesses Jacob, and Jacob limps away as the sun comes up.
There’s a lot of baggage that comes to light right there in the middle of this passage. I won’t get into the long detail of it (that’s what my 12-14 minute sermon is for). But I think the baggage is exactly the point. That’s why God put this particular text on my heart when I could’ve preached on any other story from the 39 books of the Old Testament. Because I have a lot of baggage. We all have a lot of baggage. And it tends to come up in these weird ways that are mostly terribly inconvenient. You know, those times when we’ve sent everyone we love and everything we own ahead of us on a big journey and we’re left alone.
Then we wrestle. We ask a bunch of questions or toss and turn in our sleep or maybe you physically wrestle someone. And then you get to that last question. The really big one. The one that gives insight to all of the wrestling you’ve been doing all along. For Jacob, that references back to the blessing he stole from his brother, which spurred a life of self-serving schemes. For you…well you can probably name that one for yourself.
For me, that wrestling looks like trying to balance being a pastor and a full time student. That wrestling looks like trying to be a good participant in my family when I’m so far away. That wrestling looks like discerning my place in the United Methodist Church despite the current situation. That wrestling looks like learning to be a good partner. So all of that comes down to me wrestling with what it means to live into my identity as a beloved child of God. That’s my big kicker when I have God pinned down in the dirt.
I think wrestling and doubt and questioning get a bad rap in our faith. It’s frowned upon. It’s the representation of a lack of faith. It’s traitorous. Except Jacob here declares something different. He reclaims that we have to wrestle to get to the heart of it. We have to face all of the baggage inside us and in our past – ignoring it just allows it to build up and explode at horrible times. And we have to find God in the middle of all of that. Jacob teaches us that wrestling is actually a good, healthy thing that makes us a lot stronger in the end.
Jacob limps away as the sun peeks over the horizon. This monumental experience is now with Jacob forever. Sometimes that reminder is painful as we start to slip back into our old ways and old guilt. Other times we really need a tangible representation of this important, life-altering redemption we have so graciously been given. No matter what, we have wrestled and we have found God. So as I keep wrestling and I keep finding God, I pray you can experience a taste of that same redemption.