This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 3, 2014.
Reading: Genesis 32:22-31
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
I wrestled for several years as an elementary aged child. I went to wrestling camp. I even traveled to a few matches.
My wrestling career came to an end one evening. I was tall for my age: a good trait for sports like basketball and football. But, in a sport like wrestling, where you’re not segregated by age, but weight, being “big for your age” is not an advantage. I’ll never forget that evening at wrestling practice. I had been paired with an older, stronger student who was in my weight class. We were practicing holds: a dozen pairs at a time. The coaches were trying to watch us all at once. The head-coach screamed, “go;” and, the sparring began. My more experienced opponent took me down in no time, putting me, literally, in a choke hold. I was having a hard time breathing. I was flailing on the mat and doing my best to scream into my opponents ear. “Let me up! Let me up! Help!”
It was loud in the room that evening. There were lots of screams and thumping from all other groups practicing. No one heard me screaming—not even my partner. He usually wore hearing aids, but because of the echoes in the gymnasium, he had turned them off. I was screaming into the ear of a deaf person. And, he was choking me.
I don’t remember passing out that evening. I do recall coaches coming over and pulling the boy off of me. I don’t remember him apologizing (after all, he was just playing the game). I do remember that it was after that night that I hung up the leotard and head gear for good. Wrestling wasn’t for me. And, it still isn’t. The stakes are too high.
I don’t like to wrestle. I’m not much of a fighter. Sure, I’m big guy. But, that’s about all I’ve got going for me. I don’t like the struggle or the pain inherent in the conflict.
I’m not a wrestler., but Jacob—my namesake, the central figure in our reading for today—he knew how to wrestle. He’d been doing it since before he was born. Genesis records that Jacob started wrestling with his brother Esau while still in his mother’s womb. It was Rebekah’s first pregnancy. And, it was terribly uncomfortable, Genesis records, “the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what [pregnancy’s] like, why did it happen to me” (Genesis25:22, Common English Bible)? The struggle continued during the birth. Rebekah gave birth to Esau first; and Jacob quickly followed on his heels, literally (see Genesis 25:26)
The scuffle continued into adulthood where Esau and Jacob fought for their father’s blessing and wealth. Through the stuff of daytime drama, Jacob uses coercion and deception to attain his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing. In fear of Esau’s revenge, Jacob flees to the land of Haran, to his uncle’s house to find a wife. It’s there that he meets his cousin…you heard me right…it’s just the way they did back then, OK. It’s in Haran, in the home of his uncle Laban, that Jacob meets Rachel, the woman who makes his dreams come true—again, literally (see Genesis 28:1-29:18). To make a long story short (and it’s a long, juicy story), Jacob tries to marry Rachel, but ends up marrying her sister Leah first. After several years of indentured servitude, Jacob is allowed to marry his other cousin Rachel. They leave Laban, but on their way out, Rachel steals some household God’s from her father. Fearing a curse, Laban pursues Jacob. After Jacob swears to kill the perpetrator (note: that’s Rachel), they finally get everything settled. Rachel lives.
Leaving Laban behind, Jacob is about to enter back into his homeland, the Promised Land, when he remembers how upset his brother was the last time they saw each other. Jacob sends scouts out to size up the size of his brother’s army, I mean family. Having heard Jacob is coming his way, Esau wastes no time and comes out to meet his brother. Jacob is terrified. Fearful of the struggle that might be, not wanting his brother to take everything he has, Jacob splits up his possessions and his family. He waits alone for Esau. And, in the dark of night, all alone, Jacob wrestles with a divine being whom we later find out is God.
Even though I’m not a wrestler, today’s Scripture lesson is one of my favorite stories in the Bible; and, here’s why…
It’s a reminder that no matter what our struggle might be, it doesn’t matter what we’re wrestling with, God is present in the midst of the struggle. When we struggle with our finances, our family, our job, our friends… It doesn’t matter whether we’re struggling with the consequences of our own decisions or the decisions of others… Whatever our struggle, God is there. Note: God doesn’t cause the struggle. It’s pretty easy to read Jacob’s story and see that he causes most of the trouble that comes his way; and yet, nevertheless God is present in the midst of the struggle; and, in those moments we, like Jacob, must take hold of God and refuse to let go.
When you’re struggling to find the means to feed your family, when you’re wrestling in your relationships, when you’re struggling to find the change to fill up your car with gas so that you can go to work, when you’re wrestling—whatever the struggle might be—God is there. Bind yourself to God and you’ll find a blessing in the midst of the struggle. Refuse to let go of God no matter how dark the night gets, no matter how lonely you might feel, no matter how difficult the struggle might be. Like Jacob, cleave to God and God will surely bless you. It’s a helpful reminder; and, that’s why this is one of my favorite Bible stories.
Gracious God, we all have our struggles. They may vary, but we’ve all wrestle whether we like to or not. Give us the strength we need to hold tightly to you in the midst of our struggles. No matter how dark it might get, bless us that the dawn of your redeeming love might break in our lives. Amen.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (ya, it’s still available online–not in print) claims that “no sport is older or more widely distributed than wrestling.”  That really should be a surprise. For as you go about your week, the road won’t be smooth, the seas won’t be calm, the skies will surely darken, there will be struggle. In the midst of the struggles that come your way, know that God is there. Hold fast to God and you will surely be blessed. And, that my friends is Good News. Amen.
 “wrestling”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 03 Aug. 2014 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/649438/wrestling>.