I have shameful admitted that I grew up a wrestling fan and my childhood dream was to entertain people by putting on spandex tights and entering into the squared circle. (That is the ring for you non wrestling fans out there)
When ever things got serious, when a story line of a feud was over, you must end in it very dramatic fashion. It almost always ended in a Main event, - last match of the night- No DQ- no disqualification, anything goes, Cage match- revenge without outside interference. Nine out of ten times the good guy would get his revenge on the villain or bad guy. Every fans frustration that had been built up for months would come to an end in that one last match.
While this Main Event, No DQ, cage match was set something different happened. Jacob was caught in the middle. He was caught between his brother and twin Esau. Remember Esau the brother from which Jacob scamming with his mother stole his birthright. On the other side was Laban whom Jacob had pretty much had stolen his wife. And our evil villain Jacob was caught in the middle. He was going to get what was due. Caught like a deer in the headlights. Not knowing what to do, Jacob sends gifts to his brother and plans his escape route. This is so good I couldn't’t make this stuff up, drama, revenge, restitution, climatic, suspenseful and violence all about to be unleashed.
Just as Jacob starts his escape, the bell rings and the fight is on. But his opponent is not Esau or Laban, it is an angel.. It read an fighting angel, not a fighting ninja. Let me pause of a moment here. While we would like to think of angels as: dainty figures we place on cute figurines, angelic voice who sing to us or caregiver in time of need. The Bible gives us a witness that is not so dainty. In Genesis 18, three angels eat enough of forty men. In the New Testament angels routinely scare the living daylights out of people, including the toughest of Roman guards. And in this passage the angel is more than a match for rugged Jacob, a man who has proven he can hold his own in the worst of situations. Rather than picture angels as perfumed, saintly, light- on – their –feet haloed ballerina, we might do better and thinking of them as pumped up, steroids taken, nightclub bouncers, roughnecks, or where I come from rednecks. Guys with one name like Mack, Bulldog, or Bubba.
Either the case angels are God professional movers. They never leave a scene without have changed people, moving them form here to there, from one way of looking at the world to another. Your life is moving in one direction; you encounter an angel, and before you know if you are heading in a completely different way. This angel as he prepares to fight Jacob did not disappoint.
This angel brings all he has to this fight with Jacob. He has too. Jacob was on his way to success, on the fast tract to be king and nothing was going to get in his way. His birth order didn’t. Jacob’s brother didn’t. His father didn’t. His twisted uncle Laban didn’t. So far, Jacob has always grabbed or finessed his way of achieving his goals. At this point in his life he has hit his stride, and he is only going up from here. He had mapped out everything except Jacob did not plan on the encounter with the angel.
In my life I have found two spiritual truths to be true. One is when I feel down, defeated, beat up, bruised, worn out, stressed, and anxious in my spiritual life, God always without fail sends me a situation that picks me up, dust me off, and helps me back on my way. I become stronger, more focused, re energized, and useful. The second is just the opposite. When I feel it is me: I’m the one doing great things, I am the one doing great ministry, I am the one healing, helping, and achieving greatness. God sends me a situation that reminds me, that it ain’t me. It is those times of humility; God knocks me down off my high horse and reminds me that He is the one in control.
In Jacob’s case, the force was of the down to earth variety. An angel wrestles with this can do, win at all cost guy who is at the top of his game and hobbles irreversibly his winning stride. No one looks tough limping on a bad hip. By the end of the encounter, Jacob is mud-drenched, limping, and branded with a new name that could almost certain cause playground teasing: Israel, which translates :one who struggles with God or one who tries hard with God, one who strives with God.
The key to this story is not that Jacob got beat. But that Jacob did not give up. He refused to give in until he received God’s blessing. In many ways, to be part of a faith community is to choose a life of extending the history of Israel, a history struggling with God. It is to choose a life in which we raise questions, wrestle with doubts, with trust, with lifestyles, and with sacrifices called for by our love and compassion for God and another.
We here at FCC have asked that each of you spend forty days, just forty days in prayer, study, worship and service. During this time if there are not aspects of God that scare you just a little then you must have skipped some pages in the Bible. The tricking part is to trust. To trust in God whose blessings are such that they sometimes leave our hip out of socket. There will be times when the journey of faith involves wrestling with God- unanswered questions, unresolved dilemmas, unlit valleys, irreconcilable differences. I tell you this not to discourage you but to let you clearly see the reality that awaits us. In such times, the only hope we have is to cling to God. We must only cling to God because the alternative is to cling to nothing. To do nothing, hold on to the day when one person is left to turn out the lights and close the doors. “I will not let you go” says Jacob, ether from sheer panic or steel resolve we can’t be sure- “unless you bless me.”
And so the angle does. That is what we call the good news. The mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, with the power to wound but also to heal, blessed Jacob, Israel, the one who struggles with God.