Genesis 32:22-32

In the series “Road Trips in the Bible”

By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter

As we start our new series this morning, which we have entitled “Road Trips in the Bible,” we have an opportunity to explore life and faith with some Bible characters who were on a journey with God. And since the summer is a time when some take road trips, we thought we would take some together, along with God.

Our scripture this morning is in a part of the Bible I would call, “As the Bible Turns.” Do some of you remember the soap opera called “As the World Turns?” Maybe it is still on, I have no idea. I cannot say that I watched that one, but I did have a period in college where my roommates sort of got me hooked on one of them. It’s totally their fault, I was just there, what choice did I have but to watch the drama. I am sure some of you had the same issue that you were just in the room while others were watching. 

If you read the family history of what lead up to what we heard in scripture this morning, it helps us to realize that Bible characters have all the drama, challenges, temptations, and sinfulness that we still face today. They struggle with how things are in their life, they think things are unfair, wonder where God is in the midst of all that is happening and sometimes try to solve their issues themselves, which usually makes things more complicated. 

Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob is a twin with Esau, who was born first. In the culture they grew up, the eldest son is the one who has the birthright, or the right to inherit all that the father has. Other sons have to figure out how to make it on their own or live under the authority of their older brother. 

The two boys struggled from day one and even before they were born Rebekah was concerned about how they interacted in utero and went to the Lord in prayer who told her that they would struggle throughout their life and the older one would end up serving the younger.

Esau, the older brother, was strong and strapping. He worked in the field and made his father proud. Jacob was more of a work in the house kind of kid and the apple of his mother’s eye. So, there was tension in the family with these twins and their parents. 

One day when Esau came in from working hard in the field, rather hungry and thirsty. Jacob had drink and stew cooking in the pot. Esau was feeling so hungry he asked and begged Jacob to share with him. Jacob realized the opportunity and told Esau he would only give it to him if he sold him the birthright. Esau was seeing things rather short sighted and agreed. 

A few years down the road when Isaac was old and near death, he was ready to offer Esau his blessing, which would carry him through his life. In that culture this was a very big deal. Isaac told his eldest son to go kill some game, prepare it the way he liked it and bring it to him and then he would give him his blessing.

Rebekah overheard the exchange, went and told Jacob to go get an animal from their heard, she would prepare it like she knew Isaac preferred and he would get the blessing. They even dressed Jacob up in Esau’s clothes so he would smell like Esau and put some animal hair on him so he would feel like Esau. Jacob was not sure of the plan, but eventually did as his mother instructed. He lies to his father whose eyesight is virtually gone and received Esau’s blessing. When Esau comes with the meal and he and Isaac figure out what happened, he begs his father for a blessing as well, but Isaac says he cannot give him the same blessing. Upon leaving his Isaac’s side, Esau vows that after his father dies he is going to kill Jacob. Rebekah overhears Esau saying this and tells Jacob he has to get away and go live with her brother, Laban, so that he can remain safe. He ends up marring both his daughters after he is tricked by Laban. Jacob wants to marry the younger daughter, but Laban says the younger cannot marry before the elder. There is a lot more drama that we don’t have time for which you can read this week in the chapters leading up to 32 in Genesis. 

Sometimes when we feel like our family has lots of drama and dysfunction, it is good to be reminded that God uses broken, unfaithful, people who are filled with struggle and loves all of us in spite of our failings. 

Ok, that was a rather long intro to our scripture this morning, but to understand the dynamics of this scripture, we all needed to be on the same page with those highlights of the family history.

Let’s pray …

Jacob has been away from home for at least 20 years. He left knowing that his brother hated him and wanted to kill him. He has worked for Laban for 14 years to get the wife he wanted. He was successful in farming and breeding animals. He has wives, children, servants and an abundance to reveal how well he has done. He sees the writing on the wall and is told by God that he needs to go home. He is faithful in that call, but he does it with great fear and trembling because he does not know if 20 years is enough time for his brother’s anger to subside. He sends word that he is coming and hears back that Esau is coming with 400 men and that adds to Jacobs fear and anxiety. He divides up his family and animals into two groups and sends instructions with each group to give Esau a variety of gifts to ease his anger before he gets to Jacob. He divides the family because he figuring that whichever one Esau does not encounter with the 400 men will survive and not all will be lost. He sends all of them ahead of him and he remains, by himself on the other side of the river overnight

During the night, before he knows what is happening he encounters someone who jumps him and begins a wrestling match that will last all night.  Different theologians and scholars have debated who exactly it was that Jacob wrestled in the night. But we know from what the figure and Jacob say that it’s the Divine One. It is a form of God that comes to him and wrestles. 

Jacob is about to do one of the hardest things of his life. He is going to face the one person in the world that may want him dead the moment he lays eyes on him. Whatever else Jacob fell short on personally or spiritually, he believes facing his brother will be the hardest thing he has done, until he finds himself wrestling with the Divine. Miraculously, Jacob is able to keep up with God, he keeps up with him head for head and toe to toe. Oh and lets think about this for a moment, Jacob would not have been able to wrestle with God unless God was engaging Jacob. Right! Think about this, we can’t just say to God, “get on down here, ‘cause we gotta have it out.” God comes to engage Jacob.

When I have had a day when I have been less than my best, when Christ has not been reflected in my actions and I know there is something I need to do to make things right. You better believe there is some wrestling that happens overnight or before I do what I know I need to do that will include humbling and apologizing and generally saying, I messed up. When we are lying in bed and there are not as many things to distract us from dealing with ourselves and our actions, and God is telling us this is what you need to do to make amends, there is wrestling, struggle and heartache.

The conversation that we hear is three fold, the first two are initiated by the Divine, and the third is Jacob making a request. What does he ask for, the one thing that got him in trouble in the first place, that got him where he is in the struggle. He asks for a blessing. There is no way for him to steal it his time, but he hangs on with all his might, in spite of the fact that his hip is displaced, he wrestles until he receives the one thing he wants from this Divine visitor. The Blessing. 

Why is that blessing so important to him? What does it mean for him to receive a blessing from his father and from The Divine?

Rev. Fredrick Buechner says this about the blessing for this story: For (Isaac), a blessing is the speaking of a word of great power; it is the conveying of something of the very energy and vitality of his soul to the one he blesses; and this final blessing of his firstborn son is to be the most powerful of all, so much so that once it is given it can never be taken back. And here even for us something of this remains true: we also know that words spoken in deep love or deep hate set things in motion within the human heart that can never be reversed. [“A Word of Great Power,” http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2017/9/5/a-word-of-great-power, 09/05/2017. Accessed 07/12/2019.]

“Words spoken in deep love or deep hate set things in motion within the human heart that can never be reversed.”

– Rev. Frederick Buechner

Sometimes in our faith journey we hang on for dear life as we see Jacob doing as he wrestles with God. And we hope and pray we receive a blessing as we hang on to all of life that is swirling around us. Some of us may not want to know, admit, nor be reminded: sometimes it is in the struggle where God is and where we find God’s blessings.

Jo Dee Messina is a country music artist who released her first album in the 90’s with songs that included “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” “Lesson in Leavin,’” and “Even God Must Get the Blues.” In 2017 she was diagnosed with cancer, her marriage dissolved and she was left with raising her two kids. Unable to tour with her health issues she was having financial issues. This is how she describes her life.

“If you’ve walked my life in the last five years, it has not been a typical life. Not a lot of it goes out in press, which is great, because a lot of it’s painful, and a lot of it’s hurtful, and a lot of it’s scary,” Messina shared recently with PopCulture.com and other media. “About five years ago, Jesus Christ walked onto my front porch and argued with me all day long. As real as I’m sitting in this seat, Jesus came to my front porch and he’s like, ‘She’s mine.’

“I know the stories,” Messina explained. “I know the Christmas and Easter. He was born on Christmas, died on Easter. You know what I mean? But I didn’t know him. Just having that intimate relationship with God, and I’ll sit here right in front of you and tell you he loves you more than you ever even imagine. We all feel like that we are not lovable, that we’ve screwed up beyond repair, and we’re not worth it, and we’re broken, we’re fat, we’re ugly, we’re this, we’re that, we’re too old, or too young, and he made the very spirit that’s in us.”

“I spent my entire career, my entire life glorifying myself. It’s time for him. He gets the glory from this point on. When you are going through a hard time in your family situation and you are diagnosed with cancer, and you don’t know what’s going to lie around that corner, and you have the arms of Jesus there, holding you. You never want to walk away from it.” [Gayle Thompson, “Jo Dee Messina Relies on Faith amidst Cancer Battle and Raising Sons as a Single Mom,” PopCulture.com, 06/14/2019, https://popculture.com/country-music/2019/06/14/jo-dee-messina-relies-faith-cancer-battle-raising-sons-single-mom/. Accessed 07/12/2019.]

I have referred to the one that Jacob struggled as the Divine, but I wonder if it is the Divine one within him. Jacob is about to face his biggest challenge, face his brother who knows his less than better self. Knows not just who he presents himself as, but the one he is deep down, the good, the bad and the very ugly – birthright stealing, blessing robbing, gutless brother of his. Jacob wrestles with God within him who said its time to go back and face the music. It is time to face the one who shared the womb, who knows you better than anyone, it’s time for this to be our last wrestle over what you did to him and to yourself. 

Jacob walks away changed. His limp is not the only evidence of that. He is confident of God’s presence, he is ready to be humbled and to seek forgiveness. He is prepared to face whatever his brother has for him because he knows it is the right thing to do. 

Just at Jacob crosses the river and limps into an uncertain future, his ears ringing and filled with a blessing that he held onto for dear life, some disciples were on the road to Emmaus after the rabbi who they thought was to be the messiah was crucified and in the grave. They happen upon a stranger who walks with them, taught them from scripture and they invite him to stay and have dinner with them. The guest takes the place of the host and offers a blessing for their food and his words begin to ring in their ears with familiar phrases from their master, the one who had been teaching them for three years and suddenly their eyes are open and they realized they had been blessed by the presence of the one they had been mourning. Their sorrow turns into joy and they rush back to the other disciples into an uncertain future, their ears ringing with the words of “this is my body given for you, this is my blood offered to you.” They run back for dear life to share the good news that they don’t have to struggle or wrestle anymore because Jesus is alive and has blessed them with his presence. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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