Jacob Wrestling with the Angel – Rembrandt
Genesis, chapters 25-50
Jacob wrestles with God
- Jacob’s story: Jacob’s story takes up 25 chapters in Genesis. (It’s a family saga, and it’s also a Biblical soap opera.)
- Today’s reading: Jacob is still traveling, and preparing to meet his brother Esau again; even after many years, he’s still afraid of what Esau may do to him and his family. (Whatever Esau chooses to do, Jacob knows he deserves it.)
- Wrestling with fear: Jacob doesn’t sleep, but wrestles all night with the unknown future that waits in the morning. (But there’s Someone else there along with the dangers – Someone who won’t let him go.)
- Wrestling with God: It turns out Jacob is meeting God again; first it was the dream of a ladder joining heaven and earth (Genesis 28); now, it’s a God who won’t let him go (Genesis 32).
We all wrestle with God
- I believe every human being wrestles with God, whether they believe in God or not. There is Something – or Someone – who calls us, accompanies us on our way through life, Someone or Something who won’t let us go.
- Andy’s story: For many years, as he struggled with mental illness, our son Andy was haunted by the kind of Christianity that pictures God as judgmental and even eternally condemning. After he died, his last journal was sent to us, and we found notes he’d written while listening to a radio sermon about Jacob.
- God never lets us go: There were pages of notes from this sermon that captivated Andy, but the bottom line was this: Jacob was a ‘schemer’– and so was Andy – but God loves them anyway, and will never let them go.
- Face to face with God: In listening to this sermon, Andy had come face to face with the loving God of Jesus.
Finding the Face of God in the Bible
- Each of our lessons today reminds us of a time when someone came face to face with God.
- Jacob wrestled with God in the desert, and learned that God was with him every step of the way. (God left his mark on Jacob, a wound he would carry for the rest of his life.) Genesis 32
- Moses wrestled not just with God, but with the people of Israel – Jacob’s descendants. (God gave Moses the Commandments, and afterwards his face shone with the intensity of the encounter.) Exodus 34
- Jesus wrestled with God’s call (not just with the devil!) in the desert;and for the rest of his life he followed the direction God had given him. (On the mountain, the disciples came face to face with God’s presence.) Luke 9
- Paul never met Jesus in the flesh, but he met him on the road to Damascus: in a blinding light, Paul came to understood he was moving in the wrong direction. Years later, Paul would write, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” Acts 9; 1 Corinthians 13
- This is the God of redeeming love that Andy finally met again at the end of his life – seen through Jacob’s story, read in the light of Jesus.
Our culture wrestles with Jesus – or at least wrestles with ideas about Jesus:
- Some ask, “Did Jesus really exist?”
- Others ask, “Was Jesus really the Son of God?
- Some say, “You must believe in Jesus (my version of Jesus) to gain eternal life.”
- Others say, “Jesus a great teacher, but his lessons were meant for a simpler world.”
- Many Christians believe Jesus is still a window into the nature of God.
- I believe that the God of Jesus Christ is a God of unending love and compassion.
What do you see when you wrestle with Jesus?
Preached at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos
August 6, 2017