Name: Matt O’Rear
Location: Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, IA; Theologian in Residence, Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, New York, NY
Scripture: Gensis 32:22-31 NRSV
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
To enter into Jacob’s story is to enter a life of never-ending struggles. Sounds like a familiar entry point for those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community; to enter into our story seems to be entering in a story of never-ending struggles; yet just as God surprises Jacob, God continues to surprise me. While God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but a whole company of nations, but the reality is that Jacob was a hot mess. This text is a pivotal point in his life when he is about to meet his brother, Esau, who has vowed to kill him. All of Jacob’s struggles and fears are about to be realized in one great wrestling match.
Just as Jacob wrested through the night, I find myself thinking about what I stay up at night wrestling with. What do you wrestle within the quiet of night? No matter your political affiliation, many are wrestling to engage in the current political environment while it seems like we are engaging in an odd reality show. The daily news that fills our life; news of yet another shooting that we quickly look the other way and just swallow those numb feelings we have, or people who stand at the borders seeking safety and home, or maybe it’s yet again the fight within a national church-body, the courts, or even in a family of origin, for the rights of our LGBTQIA+ community to have equal voice and place.
What are you wrestling with? Some want God to free them from an addiction that dictates their every move, some are looking to Jesus for answers, yet some are looking for the Holy Spirit to give them hope. Still, others are looking for love that makes them whole. Rest from the weariness of life. Pride of one’s sexual orientation. Understanding of their gender identity. Reconciliation for a broken relationship. Peace. Whatever it is, we all have a list of what we are wrestling with daily.
And the list goes on and on. To enter into Jacob’s story is to enter a life of never-ending struggles. To know Jacob’s story, is to know our own story, that there will be nights that we wrestle and fight for our life. God is with the faithful in spite of the faithless; God is the one who brings order into chaos and abundant life to that which is barren and might seem broken. This is the good news, the gospel in Genesis; God continues over and over again to bring life.
This is exactly the gospel of God in our text; Jacob, the hot mess, a model of faithlessness, distortion, and corruption, is now the first of Israel, the people of God. God does not abandon Jacob. God does not abandon creation. God does not abandon the people of God. God does not abandon our LGBTQIA+ community. God’s creative intention is eternal. God’s promise is a gracious gift. God’s love will continue to surprise us.
God is in the struggle. For Jacob, God doesn’t solve the problem, take away the threat, promise happiness. Engaging with God means a new identity –Jacob becomes Israel, a new identity.
Engaging with God means a change, and perhaps not the kind of change we expect. Jacob is wounded and limps the rest of this life. Many of us, myself included are deeply wounded, and often by this church we love, but the good news is we have a God is part of the fight. We have a God who is willing to wrestle with us.
The thing is when you engage and stand in the presence of the living God, suddenly what you want or need or long for is already known, heard, held, forgiven, accompanied, healed, given, saved. And you cannot remember what you were wrestling for in the first place. And the only thing really to ask is how one might remain there. In the presence of the living God, our weaknesses become our greatest strengths. Our pain becomes our capacity to understand. Giving becomes receiving and receiving becomes a gift. Ambition gives way to purpose. We choose love over power, the cross over control, shame yields to hope. And death, death actually becomes life again. And we begin to know that what we are wrestling with is not an issue or seeking an answer or a solution or even power, but a way home, a way to get back to the place where God stays, dwells, remains, abides.
Engaging with God means a change, and perhaps not the kind of change we expect. When we engage with God we are transformed. We see things differently. We find hope where there seemed to be only despair. We crave justice for those we do not even know. We find compassion for the most egregious in our midst.
To enter into Jacob’s story is to enter a life of never-ending struggles. To enter into God’s story is to enter a life of never-ending promise and blessings.
God who knows the struggles of our lives be with us as we look for you daily. When the struggles seem to overtake us, let us know look and lean on you. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again, for you have never lost me.