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Wrestling with God

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Wrestling with God. Who here has (not) wrestled with God? Perhaps no one has wrestled with God in the same way that Jacob wrestled with God on the night he was returning to his homeland. Jacob felt his livelihood was threatened for having deceived his brother in his youth. He sent all of his family and all his possessions before him, and sent gifts to his elder brother Esau. “24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:24). He alone was in the desert wrestling…with a man who later he realizes was a divine being. The man whom Jacob wrestled recognizes that Jacob has striven with God and with humans and have prevailed: “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.” (Genesis 32:28). After being blessed, “30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”” (Genesis: 32:30). Jacob in some sense encountered God “face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 

Some commentaries believe this might have been a dream. Perhaps it was a vision? Some commentaries state that this wrestling was not (only) with God, but symbolic of the wrestling Jacob had with himself. When we wrestle with God, it is hard to tell whether we are wrestling with God, or with ourselves, our internal voice that knows what God would want, perhaps? 

What was Jacob’s circumstances? Jacob was alone, he was desperate for his safety, and uncertain of his future. Why did this wrestling match occur only on the night before he was going to confront danger, when he was absolutely vulnerable and alone? At this moment, I believe that Jacob realized his family, his fortune, everything he owned, everything he had worked for would not guarantee his safety. His life was out of his hands. And so, he sent before him everything he possessed and valued. The only thing remaining was himself, nothing else but his own body. And in such situations, when all the distractions, all of our heart’s desires are sent away before us, we realize the essentials that are in our lives. 

In our lock-down during Covid-19 pandemic, we might be able to relate to Jacob in his situation. Our work place, places of hang out, things we cherished, all of it amounts to nothing before the virus. In such a time and state, we only have the life we hold dearly, our health, our bodies, and our immediate families surrounding us. But Jacob even sent off his immediate family. He really only had himself left. Even those who might be locked-down alone have family or close friends we could reach out to, virtually even if not in person. But by sending his family before him, Jacob took the risk that he may never see any of them ever again. 

When all the sounds, noises, distractions, and things in our lives are set aside, what remains is only ourselves standing before God. We turn to God. I know I do, when I’m desperate and alone in the situation where I fear for my safety. And when we turn to God, do we have any option but to hold on to God with our dear lives? We might start out thinking we could bargain with God. But soon we realize, we have nothing to bargain with. There is no bargain offered on the table. Jacob simply asked for what he needed. He asked for a blessing. Receiving blessing would include safety and protection of himself, and a blessing for his family, i.e., fortune, longevity, happiness, all things inclusive, I would imagine. When we turn to God, and beg God for protection or for delivery from our circumstances, it’s all or nothing. You can’t pray to God, and also go seek out other gods or spirits or your ancestors. Our Lord God is one. God expects and is worthy of our worship, with all of ourselves. When we come before God, we come to God perhaps with our fists clenching hard those things we value in this life, but when we start praying to God, when we start facing who God is, we must open up our clenched fists and open our hearts to give up to God, to leave to God to bless us and to be sovereign over our lives the way God sees fit and in accordance to God’s will. 

The kind of blessing that God gives us is told for us in the Gospel of Matthew reading for this morning. The crowds came to hear Jesus speak. Instead of sending them away in the evening as the disciples were suggesting, Jesus wanted to feed the crowd of few thousands of people. “16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”” (Matthew 14:16). When the disciples replied there was only 5 loves and 2 fish, Jesus was not dismayed. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” (Matthew 14:19). Jesus blessed the food that was handed over to him. And he blessed it, and broke the loaves. The blessed loaves and fish fed the entire crowd! Not only were crowds fed to their fill, “they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:20-21). 

This is the kind of blessing we should have in mind when we pray. Because our God is one who would not send us away to fetch our own food after a day of following and listening to God’s teachings. Our God would feed us abundantly so that there would be food left over, filling up baskets. What does this mean for us in our lives? Some believe that the food was not multiplied by a miracle to feed the crowd, but seeing that some food was given up, that others who had brought their own food shared with others. Whether food miraculously multiplied or people’s hearts were miraculously moved to share their foods, the message of the story is clear. God blesses us abundantly. 

How do you come to this worship service this morning? How are you approaching God today? I mean, what are you in need of? Do you feel lonely? Are you hungry? Are you tired and feeling weary? Are you worried for jobs, health, or finances for yourself or for your close friends and family? Whatever it is, bring your concerns to God. Remember when you turn to God, that God is a God who commands us to love God with all of ourselves, body, mind, and spirit. Remember you can only have one God you worship and pray to. You can’t also have faith in other gods, spirits, or other people when you come to God and ask for help. Jacob turned to God. He wrestled with God until he received the blessings that he desperately needed and desired. How does one wrestle with God the way Jacob did but in our own lives and circumstances? We wrestle with God through coming before God, approaching God in confidence through Jesus, our high priest who knows our sufferings and is interceding on our behalf:

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

We turn to God in prayer, who sympathizes with our weaknesses, one who has been tested as we are in every respect, yet without sin. We approach with confidence, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). The answer to how to wrestle with God can only be that we face God in humility and in fear and trembling. We come to God with confidence knowing Jesus justifies our faith, that we are adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus, and that with God we are reconciled. When you are in a wrestling match, you come close to your opponent, you tug and pull, you give and take, you go all in, putting in all your weight on the opponent. In the same way, let us come to God not with part of ourselves, but going all in! Let us bring our entire, whole, complete selves to God and trust God with our safety, livelihood, and security. God loved us while we were yet sinners, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is this same God who reaches God’s arms out to us, and God will come meet us and give us abundantly, more than we need, whatever it may be that we are lacking in ourselves, in the world, and from God.  

Let us pray – God beyond all seeing and knowing, we meet you in the night of change and crisis, and wrestle with you in the darkness of doubt. Give us the will and spirit to live faithfully and love as we are loved. Amen.

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