“Wrestling with God”

Gen 32:22-32 and Luke 7:1-10  (Scripture at the bottom)

With father’s day on the horizon, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my dad these past several weeks… Strange, its been 17 years this past friday since my dad passed away and this is really the first year that I have been this deliberate in journeying through my memory bank to re-meet him. Nearly 2 decades removed, the memories of my Dad are not too incredibly vivid; but one thing in particular will always stand out- our Monday nights! Growing up, every Monday ended with something nothing short of “awesome”… Monday was guy night! I would anxiously await the sun to set all day long while trudging through the “difficult” life of an elementary schooler. I actually loved elementary school, usually didn’t want to leave, except of course on mondays… Around 5pm my Dad’s jeep would pull in the driveway to where, rain or shine, I’d have been impatiently shooting basketball for the past 2 hours. It was routine, he would greet me with a hug before sneaking in and pouring himself a rum and coke (a monday tradition of his that I didn’t understand until many years later,) before joining me at the hoop until the sunset. Sunset meant it was time to go in and turn on Monday night Raw! So Monday night Raw, for those who were sheltered during the 90’s, was a 2 hour block of what, in retrospect, could quite possibly be the most absurd and overly dramatic WWF wrestling program ever to air on television. Yes, my dad and I would sit staring at the TV cheering on every body-slam as grown men with ponytails paraded around the ring in fluorescent spandex costumes to the roar of a very “diverse” live audience. It’s interesting, as I look back now I suddenly realize why my dad’s first Monday tradition was to start drinking rum. Anyway, the best part came at the end of the show as we would partake in our own wrestling match. Looking back now, he would never let me win, though he always let me exhaust myself trying, before finally pinning me! It is an important time in a young boys life to wrestle with their father… it is a time of training and a time of formation. “More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride” says wrestling icon Dan Gable. “Some have wrestled without great skill- none have wrestled without passion.” Dan’s words are never more true than when we step into the ring with God, a time of deliberative formation in our faith lives. When we have the passion and courage to bring our doubts, questions, and struggles to the ring, we come out with a faith that was not simply passed down to us through Sunday school stories, but one strengthened and cultivated through our strife. I’d imagine the divine match to be surprisingly inline with my personal monday night tradition growing up… God at our side, possibly with a rum and coke in hand, watching, either in amusement or devastation, as creation parades around in absurd “costumes” we deem “fashion,” picking fights and antagonizing one another in this overly dramatic existence that is life on earth. Then every so often, when our ego grows to Hulk Hogan proportions, large enough that we feel we are ready to wrestle with our Father, God steps into the ring and humbles us. Humility in the ring is one possibility, but Jacob, in the Genesis passage, provides a faithful alternative… Jacob was notably “Blessed” at the end of his match for his honest and faithful persistence that was demonstrated through his wrestling with God over the challenges of life. “I will not let you go” says Jacob to his challenger, just after being struck knocking his hip out of socket… and he didn’t let him go. The identity of the challenger in this text is mysterious, identified through the word “ish” (an open Hebrew pronoun that spans both human and deity.) We often don’t know exactly who we are wrestling with, we think we are wrestling ourselves, our co-workers, our friends, (you can fill in the blank with your most recent opponent,) but in reality, we are constantly wrestling with our faith because when all else is stripped away, our faith is who we really are. Upon preliminary study of this text, I was disappointed that the first line out of the Harper’s Collins commentary read, “The Jacobean passage starts off with two conflicting verses.” Well, the commentary was right in its observation, as the passage reads: “The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream,” in the first of the two clauses Jacob went along side his family and the second he sends them. It is indeed kind of interesting, but to start off ones study wrestling with the technicalities of human translation and not the meaning that God’s word has for our lives is a great travesty (not to mention kind of a cop-out; wrestling with grammar is much easier than wrestling with meaning.) This commentary is very telling of our skeptical society… we focus on the inconsequential details: a fantastic passage can easily be ignored because the first reaction to it is one that promotes doubt. It is incredibly important to wrestle with God, to ask questions, but the first lesson is to not allow inconsequential questions to keep us from seeking answers to the deeper questions that require something of us… In our society we look at the small things pretty often, get caught up in the details instead of the message. We all do it! 3/4 of this commentary focused on this contradiction in verses, whereas only one sentence examined the monumental shift that Jacob took when blessed with the name “Israel.” I challenge you to challenge God, and do it often and passionately. Wrestle with God… The name “Israel,” which as just stated was given to Jacob, and became the name of a city we lift high as uniquely holy, literally means “STRIVE WITH GOD.” Note that Jacob was blessed because of his persistence, so with these two opening verses as an example, know that God doesn’t mean for faith to be easy or proven, thus don’t allow worldly things to squelch your divine strength of faith. You have probably had a time in your life, as did Jacob, whose hip got knocked out of socket, when you felt as though it would be better to throw in the towel, but the blessing comes through our persistence and the trust that God wrestles with us, not against us. Striving or wrestling with God isn’t about pinning the omnipotent… I sadly admit in retrospect that my dad did not see his 8 year old slightly awkward red-headed son as a challenge (as much as I would like to think that I was a devastating 75 pound force;) however, he took pride in the opportunity to teach me, strengthen me, and develop me as his son, and so it is with God. He would pick me up and throw me, not to the hard ground, but the soft couch; he would put me in an arm hold, not to break my arm, but instead to allow me to figure out for myself how to defend against it in the future; and when the match had taken its toll, he would pin me to the ground, not to break my heart, but to humble me and inspire me to train harder. As we wrestle with God throughout this life one could easily feel that it is a match to the death, that God is out to get us (the really funny thing is that we often feel like we are a match for God.) Instead, it’s God’s wrestling with us that forges the personal relationship we are called to have with our creator. So we jump forward several thousand years to the Gospel of Luke where we meet another “wrestler” in the Centurion. The centurion really fits the roll of wrestler… he was a war hero of high regard in society for his victories. Interestingly, in our passage he sent elders to speak to Jesus for him, elder’s who proclaimed his worthiness and dedication to the synagogue. Elder’s who declared him “deserving…” We all think of ourselves as deserving at some point of some thing (a raise, vacation, miracle, a break.) At first read we think the Centurion sent the elders because he saw himself as too important to go to Jesus for himself, but when face to face with Jesus, the centurion shows the opposite was true … “Lord,” he said, “do not trouble yourself, I am not worthy of having you under my roof.” A Humility you would never see in a wwf ring… The Centurion was deserving; not because of his victories in the world, but because he was humbled in the face of God. Moreso, he was humbled by his love of a dying servant, ignoring the divide of sociological class by seeing him as a friend. The centurion saw himself as short of Christ’s blessing, but his slave as worthy. He had wrestled with society’s view of servitude and ownership and come out with the loving another of God’s children, one who would normally be seen as a mere possession. Jesus, in John 15:15 states “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” We are called to wrestle with God; do so not out of ego, but out of the desire to grow stronger in faith. Furthermore, we are called to wrestle with society, with life; not being scared to go against the grain, but to form our own system of values and morality so that we can truly love our sisters and brothers in the same unconditional way Christ loved us. Both these passages close in a similar fashion, with a blessing. In Genesis Jacob was blessed with the honor of being uniquely named by God, in ancient Hebrew culture, a given name was a great blessing and carried with it a certain immortality and honor. Notice in verse 9 of Luke’s passage, preceding the blessing of the centurion and slave, that Jesus states, “not even in Israel (the name given to Jacob) have I found such faith.” So following that statement the centurion was “blessed,” his prayers being answered, and the servant, “blessed,” to be found “in Good health.” Reading this today, we think that this means that the centurion’s servant and Jacob the wrestler were made physically healthy, but that is not necessarily the case. The pew bibles say that the slave was in “good health,” but in both the KJV and the original Greek, the slave was found, “whole.” Physical health is but a piece of wholeness… (Given that I am the Pastor of a program devoted to the integration of physical and spiritual wellness I like to say that is an important piece) but never the less, it is a piece of wholeness/health. When you go to God in prayer or prayerful wrestling, focus on the ways of which God responds to the wholeness of your being. In reality, Jacob walked away blessed, whole, but with a dislocated hip! I seem to remember a verse in which Jesus asked, “is it easier for me to forgive your sins or say pick up your mat and walk?” Grace is a blessing that God gives us through Christ to forgive our sins and heal our soul, it is something beyond our ability to earn, no matter how “deserving we are in this world,” no matter how much, like the Centurion, we donated to the the synagogue (or church.) Our health on the other hand is something we need to play an active roll in, taking care of our temple so we can use it for God’s glory. The healthier we are holistically; mind, body, and spirit, the more apt we are to stay in the ring… the more able we are to deliberately cultivate our faith and also the more able we are to actively share it through everything we do. We are under exercised as a nation. Physically we look instead of play and ride instead of walk. Intellectually we google instead of think and watch instead of read, socially we text instead of talk and spiritually we far too often accept instead of seek. Our routine existence deprives us of the activity essential for healthy living. This is something we can change… this week embrace the divine trinity; God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the trinity of your wellness… exercising your mind, body, and spirit in a worshipful way.

 

Gen 32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.25When 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. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Luke 7: 1-10 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

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