BibleGrace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.
I grew up as the only young granddaughter in my family.
This certainly had some advantages. I occupied a very special soft spot in my grandmother’s heart.
It also had some disadvantages-after receiving gifts from grandma, it wasn’t as fun to race around the house swinging my hair bow while my cousins zoomed their toy cars.
I figured I could play most anything that my cousins enjoyed. For the most part, we did play together and had a lot of fun. Climbing trees, playing in the sprinkler, making crafts… but there was one thing I never got into and actually scared me quite a bit: wrestling.
My cousins were a household of four boys, three older than me and one younger. They would get into fights. One way they had learned to work it out was through body to body full on angry matches. They grab each other and pull. From oldest to youngest the span between them is maybe 10 years and you can imagine that at 8 and 11, those couple years mean a lot when it comes to size and strength. So one might hold on simply to show his strength over the other, until the order of the pack was restored.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand the drive to hurt a sibling. I didn’t understand how they could be buddies again after this. I didn’t like the noise or the lack of control. I didn’t like the conflict.
Watching my girls together, I have to say that grabbing and pushing and holding and pulling are not activities that are reserved only for boys.
As we move into these texts, I want us to keep this image of wrestling in mind, and my own avoidance of it. We’re going to move into the idea of wrestling in the church, wrestling with each other, wrestling with God, and wrestling for the sake of the other.
The Genesis text drops us in to the storyline of Jacob and Esau. They were born wrestling, twins, with Jacob grabbing Esau’s heel. Jacob is the one who wrestles his brother’s birthright blessing away from him. He’s a trickster, and yet, the one whom God chooses to bless and through whom God builds the chosen nation.
We meet him tonight as he prepares to meet his brother. He’s sent his family on, hoping to keep them safe through the separation. As he lays down to sleep, and a unknown man comes and they wrestle until dawn. Pulling, pushing, grabbing on and not letting go. At the end of this tussle, Jacob is blessed, and also limping. He is named as one who wrestles with man- and with God.
The wrestling in these texts isn’t something to fear or avoid.
We have been experiencing a wrestling match in our pews.
The wrestling in our congregation leaves us limping, but also has the potential for us to clarify who we are. Wrestling involves holding on to each other- giving and taking- asserting and then giving space for the other.
Of course this image only goes so far. Aggression with a goal of forcing the other to yield isn’t what we want in the congregation. But engagement is. Coming to the mat together means being willing to test each other out- hear where we’re coming from- and allow those values to interact with our own.
I’m not advocating violence, but tenacity and interaction- holding on, being engaged, and working towards a goal.
We’re not conditioned for wrestling in the church. We want peace and welcome. We’re better prepared for sweeping things under the mat than showing up at the mat to work things out. No wonder we feel exhausted and uninterested when faced with values and strategies that push against each other!
When my girls are getting crazy with each other, I know that the laughter can easily turn to tears. It starts out with grabbing on – giggling arms holding each other in a bear hug. Then one of them lands on the other and the laughter gets wilder. Then someone smashes her head or gets an elbow to the nose and they are upset with each other. If I haven’t gotten them to calm down before, it’s with tears and blame that they come to me. And I turn them towards each other, to say sorry- it got out of hand- I love you- and I’ll play with you again.
That’s the turn we’re trying to enter here at Cross: I’m sorry- I see you’re hurting and I know I played a part in that. I love you- I’m going to hold on to you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m committed to continuing to engage with you. Jesus is the reconciler who makes it possible for us to be brought together, even after hurt. Jesus gives us the strength and the vision to keep coming together to discover how we can work together for the kingdom of God, creating a shared vision for our congregation’s future in this community.
Can we hold on and push together to discover what God has in store for us? Can we wrestle the powers of this world together, for the sake of those most in need, holding on to God’s vision for creation?
In the Luke text, a widow is wrestling with a judge. Widows had little power in her time. But here she is, holding on to her demand for justice. She will pull justice out of the one who is unjust. Through her we see a vision of Luke’s proclamation that God is turning things upside down in order to right them up- the one who has no power will grasp it, and restitution will be wrested from the powerfully unjust.
Jesus frames this parable as telling the disciples to keep praying, and not to lose heart, wondering aloud if when the Son of Man returns at the final, complete coming of the kingdom, he will find faith on earth.
Think of wrestling as holding on and prayer as holding on to God’s promise and never letting go. Jesus’ telling the disciples to wrestle- to hold on to the promise. God is making all things new. God will restore justice and raise mercy. Tears will be wiped away and violence will end. All peoples will be brought together. The kingdom will come.
Do we have the stamina to keep on – to keep holding on- to keep hoping on- connected in prayer and trusting God will fulfill God’s promises?
Jesus will pull us forward. Psalm 122 speaks hope to us who are weary: “I lift my eyes to the hill, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” We don’t look to ourselves. It’s not up to us alone to bring healing to this congregation, justice to the oppressed, or the kingdom down to earth. This is God’s work. We’re invited to join in to experience the joy of being on the edge of its coming. The One who raised Jesus from the dead is the One who promises to raise us to life. Even out of the pain of this present moment, God is birthing something new.
Hold on. Stay engaged. You may be limping today, but we will be blessed.
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