By Paul Koch –
I remember spending some time down at this little watering hole in Georgia having a long conversation with the bartender about the faith. She was hurting, her life seemed to be coming apart at the seams, she moved from one bad choice to another and it was all taking a toll on her. She kept telling me over and again that she was going to come to church; she was raised in the faith but had long since wandered from it. Going to church though seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. She felt an incredible amount of shame, she didn’t know what to wear, how to act, what to do or say. After listening to her go on for some time I finally stopped her and said, “Look, it doesn’t matter what you wear or who you sit next to or what you say. When you walk through those doors you will find a whole group of equally broken people and they’ve all come for the same thing.”
In fact one of the most troubling things about this job is that you become all too aware of the brokenness of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Not that I don’t want to know, I do actually, especially if I can help in some way. But I guess what is really hard is that it doesn’t seem to get much better. I mean when we gather together we bring lives riddled with hurt and uncertainty, with doubts and regrets. I see the tears in the eyes and the longing desire for healing and hope. Broken relationships, uncertain futures, life draining jobs mark the lives of God’s children.
And that’s just it, these trials and hardships mark the lives of God’s children, not just the children of the world but those who have been given the gifts of Christ. I mean we could understand better if life outside the church was the hard life and inside was the easy path. It would make more sense if we who believe, we who have faith are those with lives of triumph and victory, but that isn’t the case. And even more difficult is when people come for answers, when they want to know why such things are happening to them, why do we suffer, why do we struggle, why is it so hard to hold it all together for more than a few moments? Why is it that this life of faith is such a fight, where is God in all of this?
The struggle of faith is a reality that we not only feel and know in our own lives it is a reality we find throughout history. Even the great patriarchs of the faith struggled in their faith. And perhaps no one struggled more vividly and powerfully than Jacob. Now Jacob was a complicated believer, he was a deceiver and a liar, a sinner of great renown, and yet he was blessed by God. Remember how God had spoken to him as he headed off to find a wife. In a dream he saw a ladder extending from heaven to earth and God said,
“Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth… and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
He knew the promises of God; he treasured them and lived by them.
And we are not that much different from Jacob, you and I. We too have been given the promises of God; we too have been blessed by him. The same Word that created you that spoke you into being has also called you by name. The Word of God was washed over you heads in the waters of your baptism clothing you in the promises of Christ. You then have been richly provided for covered in the mighty blessings of the Creator of the heavens and earth. Sure you may not have seen a vision of a ladder stretching from heaven to earth with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it but you have been promised that God will not abandon you, he will not leave you; you are heirs of eternal life itself.
And yet in our text today (Genesis 32:22-32) we find Jacob shaking in his boots. He is about to meet his brother for the first times since he tricked him out of his birthright. He has sent Esau a grand gift and even presented his family to him in what amounted to a parade of people all there to appease the wrath of his brother. Jacob stays behind for the night and during the night this blessed child of God finds himself suddenly locked in a brutal struggle. All night they wrestle and fight against each other and the whole time the man who seized Jacob is silent, he says not a word and when he sees that Jacob will not let go he touches his hip socked and puts it out of joint. And still Jacob will not let go, beaten and weary and hurting he holds firm to his assailant.
Until finally he speaks, “Let me go, for the day has broken” he says. But Jacob says, “No, I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This my friends is the picture of the faith, this is what it looks like, holding on to try and get a mute God to speak a word of blessing. For it was not an enemy that attacked Jacob but God himself. For the stranger says, “Tell me your name,” and after he says, “Jacob,” then we learn the truth, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The name Israel actually means, he strives or even wrestles with God. By Faith Jacob fought, by faith he held on to a God that would not speak all throughout the night, by faith he held fast until God would bless him. By faith he prevailed.
And such is your fight of faith as well. It is a desperate battle where we cling to a God desiring him to speak, to say a Word of blessing and yet we cannot make him do it. We cannot force our God to talk; we cannot make him do anything. We are as we always have been completely at his mercy. Like Jacob we hold to a promise that has been made in our past, God said that he would not abandon him and he has made the same claim to you. But like Jacob we experience dark nights of immense struggle, we fight and we battle and we can’t seem to win. We can’t seem to be victorious and we barely hang on. We almost want to give up. In fact there is a whole world that is rooting for us to give to throw in the towel and call it quits. Faith shouldn’t be so hard, it shouldn’t be this difficult.
But then he speaks. Now he may not speak from the mouth of an angel wrestling against you all night long, but he does speak. He speaks through the ones he has sent to his children, he speaks to you right now. For we are a group of broken and sinful creatures I have been sent with a Word of blessing for you. Your fight is not in vain, for you are being refined and strengthened. Every battle is driving you back to the Word, back to the promise, back to the only source of hope and strength.
You are this day, loved. You are blessed by God. You are the ones that our Lord has called by name; you have been given the promise of the resurrection. So hear the promise – Your hurts will be healed; your tears will be dried for your sins have been atoned for. You are this day forgiven, salvation is yours, life is yours, victory in Christ alone is yours!