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A Jacob storytelling sermon

Another preaching experiment, Genesis 32:24-29, for the campus congregation, 9 November 2014.

A man stands alone by the river in the cold dark night
His household possessions have already been sent ahead
Even his wives and sons have gone ahead and he is alone now

He is alone and he is afraid
Finally he is about to cross back into his homeland
But danger is approaching once again

He has spent his whole life wrestling
Wrestling with his brother for their father’s blessing
Wrestling with his two wives
Wrestling with his uncle
He was even born wrestling, grabbing his brother’s heel

And now, it is the night before he will meet his brother Esau
Esau, from whom he stole their father’s blessing
Esau, who is now approaching with 400 men
Esau, who could take everything he has

Jacob stands in fear
He is afraid of tomorrow
Waiting across the river

Jacob is the blessed son, the bearer of the God’s promise
But Jacob is also a schemer and a trickster
‘Jacob’ means heel-grabber
‘Jacob’ means deceiver
Jacob has lived a life of deception
What kind of world has Jacob created, in which even his own brother might kill him tomorrow?

And as Jacob stands alone at the river in the night
He sees a figure approaching
A mysterious character comes towards him
The man walks right up to Jacob
And grabs him
And the two men begin to wrestle

They wrestle through the night
The stranger tries to overpower Jacob
Jacob struggles with everything he has
But they seem evenly matched
The fight goes on for hours
But neither can get the upper hand
Dawn is almost here
And still they are wrestling
Locked in each others’ arms

The stranger can tell Jacob won’t give up
So the stranger places his hand on Jacob’s hip
And Jacob cries out
He has been crippled
The struggle will leave a permanent mark
Jacob will not walk easily

Finally the stranger says
It’s nearly sunrise
I have to leave
Let me go

But now Jacob is clinging to him
He was struggling to resist
Now he is struggling to hang on
He won’t let the stranger go

I won’t let you go, he says
Unless you bless me

The stranger asks
What is your name

The heel-grabber
The deceiver

The stranger says
You have another name now
Because you have struggled with God and with people
And you have come through

But the stranger’s name?
He will not reveal it
He gives a blessing to Jacob
And then the mysterious character disappears into the night

The man of struggle
Limping now from the damage
Jacob crosses the river and prepares to meet his brother

The people of struggle
Struggle defines Israel

Struggle defines the Old Testament story
Most of the Old Testament characters are morally ambiguous
Just like us
They’re not goodies or baddies
They’re human

Struggle defines Israel
There is a struggle in each of their hearts between good and evil
And yet God has chosen to work through them
Jacob is the deceiver
And yet Jacob is God’s chosen one, the keeper of the promise

Struggle defines Israel
As Jacob’s family grows and spreads and becomes a nation
They continue to struggle with God
God has chosen them but they reject God
God guides them but they resist
God warns them but they don’t listen

And as their nation finally collapses around them they look back on their history
One long, terrible wrestling match with God and with each other
They see God’s pain
And they see God’s kindness
And they know that God has not finished with them
And they know that somehow they are still clinging to God

As you read and hear the Old Testament
Look for the struggle
Listen, in the Book of Ezekiel, as God can no longer bear to stay in Jerusalem
Listen, in the Psalms, as the people bring all their emotions to God, joy and sorrow, fear and anger
Listen, in the Book of Hosea, as God pursues Israel like a lover
Listen, in the Book of Job, as Israel argues viciously with God
Listen, in the Book of Kings, as Jerusalem is destroyed and exile begins

Listen, in the Book of Malachi, as God promises the people of Jacob that this is not the end
Return to me
And I will return to you
The sun will rise
There will be healing

Struggle defines faith
The faithful people are not passive
They are not quiet
They cry out to God
They rage against God
They blame God
They wrestle with God
But they never turn away

Like Jacob, they cling on
Desperate for blessing
Looking for God to respond one more time

Struggle defines faith
Like the faithful ones of Israel
We are called to turn towards God in every situation

Sometimes faith looks like doubt
Sometimes faith looks like grief
Sometimes faith looks like frustration and desperation and the unknown
But faith is about clinging to God
No matter what you’re feeling
And continuing to struggle

Faith is saying
There is no other way
There is no other hope
There is no other name by which we can be saved

Jesus struggled too
He sweated blood
But like Jacob he clung to God
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus turned to his Father
On the cross Jesus turned to his Father
The one time when God did not respond
Jesus clung to God when God had let go of him
So that we would not be abandoned ever again

But God had not finished with Jesus
God did not leave Jesus in the grave

Jesus is the great Israel
The one who truly wrestled
The one who has truly come through
The one who has overcome

Jesus is the great Israel
He is not only the great struggler but the great peacemaker
Jesus has won peace
At the cross everything was healed everything between God and us
Being part of Jesus means
We are no longer at odds with God
Being included in Jesus means
One day we will know complete peace between God, the world, and us
We look forward to the peace that Jesus has won

Now that we are in Jesus
His is the example that we follow
Like Jesus
Let us cling to God with everything we have
Let us not be passive
Let us not be quiet
Let us cry out to God
Let us rage against God
Let us blame God
Let us wrestle with God
But like Jesus let us not turn away
Let us cling to God with everything we have
Knowing that God will respond
God will act
God is not finished with us
There is still more to come

Image credit: Michael Cook

Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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