United Methodist Parish

God Wrestlers, Sunday, August 2, 2020

God Wrestlers, Sunday, August 2, 2020

Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17: 1-7,15

When I was young, there was a show that came on late Saturday afternoons on a local TV station: Wrestling from Roanoke! These were professional wrestlers who came to Roanoke to entertain crowds of people in an arena as well as on TV. They acted like they hated each other as they tossed each other around the ring but the reality was that it was mostly show. I didn’t watch it because it never appealed to me – it seemed fake. And I don’t watch professional wrestling today either!

Occasionally we’ll see clips of high school wrestling on local sports. That wrestling is about sportsmanship and rules rather than entertainment. I can’t tell you much about the rules, but what I see in it is a lot of holds, and grappling, and twisting. Each wrestler trying to get the dominant position. It is a very close-contact, body-to-body sport. Not a coronavirus-friendly sport.

So now, perhaps you have some images in your mind of wrestlers. If I asked you for images of prayer, what pictures would come to mind? Someone with folded hands? A circle of pious people holding hands, bowed heads, a candle, closed eyes? Would you look for a picture of wrestlers?

Prayer is not just the quiet time of saying prayers of intercession or thanksgiving. Prayer isn’t one-sided – we aren’t the ones who should do all the communicating. Prayer is our on-going relationship with God whom we approach through Jesus. And in times like today, it is hard to settle down for a nice quiet prayer.

We’re wrestling with our questions to God of how and why and when. “How long will you ignore our prayers?” As the psalm today says, “attend to my cry!”

Our Old Testament reading is also a story of a wrestler, Jacob. He was traveling to meet his older twin brother Esau whom he had outwitted out of his inheritance many years earlier. Jacob had sent his large entourage of family and servants and livestock ahead of him while he held back. Then Jacob wrestled all night with a “man” and neither one was the clear winner.

Richard Pervo asks: “What kind of god will get into a nighttime brawl with a mortal and come out no better than even? From the perspective of spirituality, the answer is: the kind of God we need.” (as quoted in this article)

I had to think about that for a while. What does it tell us about God that God will wrestle with us and not come out better than a draw? What does that tell us about God?

In mythology mere mortals were not wise to try to wrestle with gods. Think of Greek gods like Zeus, Apollo; Roman gods – Jupiter, Mars, Venus; or Nordic gods – Thor, god of Thunder or even the Egyptian pharaohs. Those gods would have demolished anyone who attempted to take on the god or goddess in a wrestling match. It would be ridiculous – or become the story of a mythological hero.

But we wrestle with our God – almost as a spiritual practice. Certainly we would not attempt to wrestle if what we saw was terrible and frightening. We’d let go and try to get away as quick as we could. But we don’t. We grab hold and don’t let go. We twist and turn and try to get the dominant position. We strive to get our way! To have our prayers answered the way we want, to have God conform to our demands.

Have you considered the deep meaning of Jacob’s new name of Israel? The name came about because Jacob persevered in his striving with God. I think of Jacob as God’s wrestler. He wouldn’t quit, he held tight, even though his hip was out of socket – and if you’ve had sciatic nerve pain, you can imagine the physical pain he had – yet in spite of this, he held on.

Let’s look at our lives this very day. What are you wrestling with? Are there decisions you have to make that don’t have clear answers? Ones where you may never know if you made the right decision? Are there relationships that need work, but to do so means you may have to give in or change your mind or forgive or on the other hand, stand your ground even though it is painful? Do you have to do something you really don’t want to do even though it is the right thing or it is your duty or your responsibility to do?

Perhaps you are wrestling with God. Perhaps you are feeling God’s call or nudge to do something or change something but you aren’t ready to give in. Perhaps you are mad at God about something and you want to know why it happened. Why wasn’t your prayer answered the way you wanted?

In light of things today, I hope we are wrestling with God and with spiritual issues. Where is God in the mess this world is in? Why hasn’t God answered our prayers?

Surely we have prayed for an end to the pandemic, surely God has heard us. Then why …?

Surely we have prayed, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” so why does it seem so distant? Why are we dividing and polarizing ourselves into extremes instead of learning to live together without demonizing those who are different in political outlook or skin color or religious belief? Where is your kin-dom, God?

Wrestling and getting worn out. Can we prevail? Can we hold on and stay with this very intimate, close-contact striving?

What is it that we want to hold on to, and what is it that holds on to us in spite of all our twisting and turning? What sort of God is this who delights in wrestling with us?

The point of any spiritual exercise is to strengthen our faith, deepen our relationship with God.

Look at the things we are wrestling with – such as where is God, why hasn’t this happened and why did this, why hasn’t God intervened and made everything better? Where’s the God of comfort with a pat on the back saying “everything will be OK, don’t worry I’ll take care of it”?

What if we are wrestling with things that we want to be true about the world or about ourselves or about God. What if these are opportunities to broaden and deepen our concept of God and God’s love. What if what we think and believe and love about God is only the surface; what if our faith is incomplete? How will we grow?

By striving with God. 

By wrestling and holding on and demanding a blessing. What is the blessing? What is it that could satisfy us enough that we would finally let go?

Only God’s love could keep us holding on and would hold on to us through all the wrestling. The blessing of God’s love that is present with us at all times and places, when we struggle or when we finally rest. It’s Love.

God’s Love doesn’t leave us, God’s Love holds on and strives with us, God is with us, God is for us, and as we heard last week, nothing can separate us from God’s love through Christ Jesus.

Don’t give up or loosen your hold or stop wrestling. Stay with it. We may not have the physical experience that is told in Jacob’s story of wrestling with a “man.” We may not know we’ve been wrestling until we realize we are tired and unsettled.

It wasn’t until daybreak that Jacob saw anything. He wrestled in the night – in the dark. Be like Jacob and wrestle until you see who you are wrestling with. Really see. Perhaps you will see, as if in a mirror, yourself, and perhaps the mirror will reflect something else back to you, perhaps Jesus, God’s Love incarnate.

Dawn will break and light will come in. You’ll be tired and you may limp, but you will be blessed and perhaps be given a new name. May we too be God Wrestlers.

~ Evie Doyon, August 2020