Sunday, August 31, 2014

Finding God


Genesis 12:1-2; Exodus 1:8



 

All summer we have been immersed in the Book of Genesis. Some of you have wondered if we will ever find our way back to the New Testament while others have expressed joy at discovering new ways of looking at ancient stories. The other 95% want to know when Roy and his sock puppet are coming back.

The Book of Genesis was one of the last Old Testament Books written. The first 11 chapters are a theological prologue which includes stories of creation, sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and recreation. In chapter 12 we are introduced to the family of Abraham, a pre-historic representation of the trials and triumphs of the people of Israel. Compiled during the exile in Babylon, these stories addressed the questions of a people in captivity.

 Who is God? Where is God? Are we the people of God? 

I love these stories. Every time I reread them they fit comfortably into my never ending and always revolving faith journey. The stories of the family of Abraham are the stories of God’s people, a never ending journey sandwiched between light and darkness with that hopeful promise that the light will be restored.  The legacy of Abraham begins with a promise and it ends with a loss of memory. In Egypt, Israel begins to have that memory restored.

Let’s review.

The call of Abraham is not to be confused with a mid-life crisis. Abraham did not wake up one morning desiring a convertible and a new wardrobe. He had already tried Viagra and it didn’t work. Abraham awoke with the conviction that God is always out in front of us working on the next new thing. He and Sarah belonged to a church that turned fear and suspicion into doctrinal statements.  Abraham took a leap of faith and discovered God never intended the human experiment to be bound by strident walls of mortar or dogma. God is out there, waiting for us to catch up.

But even pioneers occasionally stumble. Abraham and Sarah built a new home, started a little business and eventually had a family. Everything God promised had come true. Then God comes to Abraham with a final examination of his understanding of God’s intentions.  “Abraham, I need for you to sacrifice your son.” Abraham balked. “God you stand for life. How could I kill my child? I can’t find anywhere in the good book where it says child sacrifice is a good thing?”

God said, “Have you checked the Book of Leviticus?”

Abraham responded, “No I haven’t. Is it there?

God responded, “That is where people usually go when they want to limit my boundless love for all my children.” 

An uncertain Abraham scratched his head and then made arrangements to climb the mountain. He laid the wood, bound his son and placed Isaac on the altar. But before Abraham could lift the knife, a disappointed God substituted a ram. God released Isaac, and then said, “Abraham, be careful what you read, even in my holy book. Sometimes my way of love and life are overridden by the fears and prejudices of well meaning but misguided folks.” A confused Abraham stumbled down the mountain followed by a grateful son who had experienced a valuable lesson concerning his God. “Thou I walk through the valley of death, God is with me.”

Enter Jacob. When folks carelessly lament the recklessness and waywardness this generation, I remind them of Jacob. Was Jacob self-serving? Was Jacob thoughtless? Was Jacob scheming? Was Jacob misunderstood? Perhaps all of the above and yet when Jacob fled his home, his culture and presumably his God, guess who met him in the middle of the wilderness.  Guess who reminded him of the covenant first made with Abraham. Guess who comes after us even when we might not be willing to come after ourselves.

But how quickly we forget. Like most of us who have trotted down the aisle singing, “Just as I am”, by the next week-end Jacob was back to his old ways. Trusting his schemes and dreams rather than God’s promises, Jacob took a fourteen year detour that eventually left him alone once again, back in the darkness, and down by the river with no idea of what tomorrow might bring.

Was it a stranger, or an angel, or was it God that collided with Jacob leaving him lame but healthy. Does it really matter? Finally able to stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life Jacob, the wounded healer waded through the water of his own discontent to meet the brother he never knew. And God made the introductions.

Finally there was Joseph. He had the audacious vitality of his father but the consciousness of his grandfather. The combination would serve him well. In the beginning Joseph probably thought he was a god, but quickly learned differently while sitting in a hole in the middle of nowhere. Just like God would be forever attached to him, Joseph would always be attached to his brothers no matter how great the desire for separation. From one prison to another Joseph clawed his way through life, always believing he was never meant to be a slave. Then one day God’s light purged the darkness and Joseph had power and fame thrust upon him. He could have claimed to have been be a son of pharaoh. Instead he remained a son of Abraham, a son of light, a son of forgiveness, a son of reconciliation, and a son of God.

And that is where the story could have ended. Joseph died, but worse than that the storytellers died. Generations past and children begin to ask their parent’s burning questions such as, “How did we get here? Have we always been slaves in Egypt?” The parents had no answers because the stories of the children of Abraham had been forgotten.

Stephanie Paulsell claims, “We need places to pray as if someone were listening. We need places to study as if we might learn something worth etching on our hearts. We need a place to join others in service and love in order that we might always believe the world can be transformed.”

The book of Genesis displays glimpses of the nature of God. We witness the One who goes ahead, urging us to follow even it means giving up those things which offers a different security. We witness the One who stands against time honored traditions, especially when those traditions divide rather than unite us. We witness the One who embraces both the outcast and the renegade, joining their struggle and blessing them with a new identity. We witness the One who is in the pit, in the prison and even in the seat of power. But the distinguishing mark of this Holy Sovereign is mercy and forgiveness.

From the beginning God is creative, God is enterprising, and God is distinguished as one who stands over against culture. God is embraced as one who walks with the rich and the poor, the accepted and the rejected, and offers salvation to both. God converts death into life through an everlasting openness to spiritual transformation.

But what happens when pharaoh forgets Joseph? What happens when the stories are no longer told? What happens when the places where together we pray and study and do ministry no longer exist? What happens when it is no longer convenient to worship the One who goes before us and stands behind us and is always within us?   (STOP)

Well, as promised, next week I plan to begin to preach form the Gospel of Matthew.  But if you want to know how those slaves in Egypt responded, I suggest you look up Exodus 2:23-24. In fact, while you are at it, read the whole Book of Exodus. Call me if you have questions. I will be happy to discuss those questions with you. If enough folks are interested, maybe we will do Exodus next summer.

To God be the Glory.  Amen.

 

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Forgiveness

Genesis 45:1-15

My six year old grandson had spent the better part of the afternoon being tortured by his three year old brother. You know the ground rules. Andy is older and expected to show mercy and compassion toward his younger sibling.  We forget forgiveness is not a trait easily understood by children. By 6:00 Austin has worn out everyone to the point his mothers declared, “Austin if you don’t finish your dinner you will not go out with grand mommy to get ice cream.” Andy immediately saw this as an opportunity for revenge. “No, don’t leave him home. Make him go to the ice cream store and watch us eat it.” Obviously Andy is not quite ready to imitate the classic story on forgiveness found in the 45th chapter of Genesis. Joseph had the motive to destroy his brothers.  Joseph had the power to destroy his brothers.  Joseph had the opportunity to destroy his brothers.  But Joseph believed that God’s way is purer and holier than our way.
 
An amazing transition took place from the tragic moment the son’s of Jacob put Joseph into the pit until the redemptive moment they unknowingly stood before their brother in the court of Pharaoh.  I am trying to think what I would have done if my sisters had arranged for me to be hauled away as a slave to a foreign land and then by an amazing turn of events, I was given the power to determine if they would live or die.  Maybe I am different from the rest of you.  Maybe when someone treats you poorly you don’t dream about the ways you will take revenge.  Maybe you fully ascribe to the notion that God wants us to forgive as God has forgiven us.  Or maybe, like me, you salivate at the opportunity to take a huge bite out of the person who caused you harm.


Imagine being Joseph, all dressed up in the uniform of the Egyptian court and seeing eleven dusty, travel worn men begging for food.  At first Joseph must have thought, “We only have enough food for Egyptians.  How am I supposed to feed these foreigners?”  But then Joseph’s eyes were opened and he recognized the strangers as his brothers.  Both as a boy and an adult the dreamer had dreamed of this moment    What would you have done?  Would you have forgiven them on the spot?  Would you have revealed yourself and then thrown them empty handed out the door?  Would you have played with their emotions? Certainly it was only right that the brothers be punished for their sins.  But Joseph also knew it was only right that his family be restored and his father receives the greatest news of all, “Your son you thought dead is alive.”


There is nothing easy about forgiveness.  In fact if forgiveness were easy, I am not sure how useful forgiveness would be.  In a very challenging book edited by Dorothy Bass called Practicing our Faith, L. Gregory Jones pulls no punches when he begins a chapter with these words.  “The notion of forgiveness conjures up many painful images in our mind.   The wounds are raw and while we yearn for relationships to be restored, we often believe the person who harmed us is not willing to truly repent.  And even if they do, can we honestly forgive them?  We believe in the power of forgiveness, yet we wonder if it can actually happen.  On paper, forgiveness is great.  The problem comes when we take it off paper and try to make it part of our actual relationships with one another.”


Forgiveness is tough.  Who among us has not faced a situation where someone has acted inappropriately toward us or worse yet, towards a member of our family?  To hear Jesus suggest we forgive as he has forgiven us might be theologically sound but it is downright na├»ve in the real world.  No wonder we keep forgiveness as a hole card to only be played as an act of desperation.  Living as Christ would have us live is much too difficult.  And yet, if we claim Christ, we must continue to try.


Why is forgiveness so vital to God? Because not only is God the very embodiment of forgiveness, God also understands when we are hurt, or disappointed or wounded, bitterness gnaws at the center of our very being.  We not only lose focus, we lose purpose as anger, resentment, and even revenge becomes our primary motivation for existence.  At some point what was done to us becomes secondary to what we are now doing to ourselves.


Of all the movies in which John Wayne starred, I would argue the greatest was The Searchers.  It received no academy awards, yet this film, directed by John Ford has become an American classic. There was nothing heroic to be found in Wayne’s character. Ethan Edwards was returning from the Civil War to the home of his brother who lived in Texas.  Shortly after his arrival his brother, sister in law and nephew are killed in a Comanche attack.  Ethan’s two nieces are abducted.  A search begins for the two girls, a search that lasted five years.  Throughout the odyssey, the hate that Ethan develops becomes so vehement that when he finally rescues his surviving niece, he wants to kill her because she is has become the wife of the Comanche chief.  Ethan allows his niece to live, but will no longer recognize her as human.  He returned to the desert and lived alone with all the hate that defined him.


Isn’t that what our inability to forgive does?  Hate is such a powerful emotion. It controls our thoughts, directs our actions and allows us to behave in an unacceptable fashion which we would never condone if it were someone else.  But when it is our hurt, when it is our pain, when it is our desire for revenge, it is amazing what we will justify.  Eventually, the fire that fuels our anger leads us to the wilderness of our own eternal discontent.  That is not how God intended for us to live.


A basic belief of the Christian faith is, “We loved because God first loved us.  Amidst all the self-righteousness that has steadily worked against God’s good creation we must never forget that God has always been about the business of reconciling humanity.  Such is the power of forgiveness.  We all know there is nothing easy about forgiving someone.  I imagine Joseph would have loved to have identified himself and then thrown his brothers out of the palace empty handed.  It would have felt so good for a moment…. or a day…. until he realized that he was no better than his brothers and his actions would have killed his father a second time.


One thing you can be sure of is we are going to disappoint folks and folks are going to disappoint us. If we want to live in community, I suspect we will need to learn to forgive.  In fact, I might be so bold to suggest that the capacity for forgiveness is the first step toward being a viable community.


No one said it was easy. Reluctantly, perhaps painfully, we venture forth, either on our own or at the invitation of another to attempt this beautiful and somewhat awkward dance called forgiveness.   First, we must become willing to truthfully and patiently talk about the conflict.  Next we must acknowledge the existence of anger and bitterness but also admit a heartfelt desire to move past both.  Then, acknowledging we are all God’s children, we must attempt to summon up concern for the well being of the other party.  Only when we recognize our own complicity in the conflict, can we make a commitment to change whatever caused or continues to cause our conflict.  Finally we are ready to express our yearning for reconciliation.  I believe it is this yearning for reconciliation that ultimately identifies us as a people defined by God’s grace.

  
Two images should always burn a hole in our soul when our relationship with another has gone sideways.  The first is Ethan Edwards, turning his back on the homecoming of his long lost niece.  The second is Joseph, being reunited with a father who thought he was dead.  Ethan heads into the wilderness where he will live with his bitterness.   Joseph welcomes his family, where reunited they start a new beginning. 


Which will you choose as your life long companion: the wilderness or the community of faith?   One offers the certainty of isolation; the other promises hope for tomorrow.
      
To God be the glory.  Amen

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Finding our way out of the Pit


Genesis 37
 
        The Apostle Paul wrote, “In everything, God works for good for those who love God, and are called according to God’s purpose. To those God predestined, God also called.  Those God called, God justified; those God justified, God also glorified.”
        Such is the story of Joseph.
        Joseph was the 11th of 12 children.  But that didn’t matter. Joseph was the first child born to Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel and her offspring more than any of his other wives and children.  Perhaps this wasn’t fair, but it was the truth.  From birth, Joseph was treated like royalty and, as the text reveals, Joseph was not only favored by his father, but by God.
        Joseph was a dreamer.   It is one thing to sit around and idly daydream the day away.  Joseph dreamed of the future.  He imagined one day he would rule not only his family but he would have the power of a king.  Being the 11th in a household of 12 boys Joseph’s imagination and dreams were barely tolerated by his older brothers.   Joseph dreamed all of his brothers would bow down to him.  Joseph’s brothers schemed about how they could get rid of this meddlesome half-brother.  Complicating the issue, Jacob did not discourage the boy.  Much to the dismay of his brothers, Jacob dressed Joseph in royal clothing,
        At some point the older brothers had enough of the preferential treatment.  They decided enough was enough and their lives would be much easier without the presence of Joseph.  They lured Joseph away from the house, bound him with ropes and tossed him into a pit.  They took the royal coat, ripped it apart and dipped it in blood.  Then they discussed the fate of their sibling. Some of the brothers wanted to kill Joseph.  Cooler heads prevailed and eventually they gave him to a slaver on his way to Egypt.  With Joseph headed toward Egypt, the brothers returned home and presented the blood stained cloak to their grief stricken father.  This one act set in motion the eventual transformation of Jacob’s family as free men in Canaan to slaves in Egypt.  But that is another story.
        This is a classic tale of the power of a dream, the killing of a dream and the resurrection of a dream.  Dreamers are hardly ordinary folks.  Dreamers often get in the way of us common folks.  Most of the time our lives are pretty much set in stone or to be more exact, lived according to our calendars.  We can look at our calendars and figure exactly where we will be at 2:00, three days from now.  That is the way we need to operate to be productive.  If I’m at work, I need to have my day lined up so I can be prepared for each visit or meeting.  If I’m at home, Deb and I coordinate our calendars in order that chaos doesn’t rule the day.  Dreamers can make mincemeat of a calendar. Dreamers imagine another path, a different direction.  This may or not be fruitful; it may or may not be successful; but to quote  Thoreau, “If a man does not keep pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”
        There can be no doubt that Joseph marched to a different beat.  I wonder when he realized that this drummer was more than his own imagination.  I wonder when Joseph realized he was on marching orders from God.  I wonder if he had any idea where his dreams would take both him and his family.
        There is a danger to marching to a different beat.  Ever see a marching band parade down the street in three/four time.  You waltz to three/four, not march.  To the best of my knowledge Sousa never wrote a march in three/four.  Like wise, I doubt Strauss wrote a waltz in six/eight.  Maybe that was the problem, Joseph waltzed in three/four and his brothers marched in six/eight.  Regardless, the whimsical thoughts of Joseph could not be tolerated.  They were different, threatening, even embarrassing.  New ideas and old traditions usually mix like oil and water.  One had to be eliminated and in this case there was certainly strength in numbers.  Truth is, if you hear the dream, and the dream makes you nervous, than it is always safer to eliminate the dream before it has a chance to become reality.  That made real good sense to the older brothers of Joseph.
        The decision was made that the dream had to be eliminated. But as many of us have discovered, dreams die hard.  Dreams are the stuff from which resurrections evolve.  The dream the brothers killed would eventually resurface in what woukld become their greatest nightmare.  Like a cat with nine lives, Joseph would not die.  Through the pit, through escapades with Potipher’s wife, through time in an Egyptian jail and finally as the chief advisor to Pharaoh, Joseph continued to dream a vision he believed God had placed in his heart.
        It would have been so easy for Joseph to play the role of the subservient brother.  As 11 of 12 he could have easily fallen in line and waited his turn.  But he didn’t.  Somehow, even as a child, Joseph believed God had plans for him.
        It would have been so easy for Joseph, when placed in that pit, to have begged for his life.  He could have made all kind of promises to his brothers, but he didn’t.  He might ave been afraid, but never enough to beg for his life.
        It would have been so easy for Joseph to have celebrated his freedom once he reached Egypt.  He could have rejoiced at having his life restored and sworn off paying attention to any more dreams.  But he didn’t.  Once he was given authority in Egypt, Joseph continued to dream of the possibilities this new adventure might bring to him.
        Dreaming is easy.  Believing in dreams is the hard part.  The poet William Yeats said, “Responsibility begins with dreams.”  Perhaps dreams got Joseph into the pit, but his belief in those dreams allowed him to rise from the pit and begin a life that evolved beyond his greatest imagination.
           Do you have dreams?  Of course you do.  Some of our dreams are a bit absurd.  All my adult life I have dreamed of owning a Porsche 911.  It doesn’t have to be new as long as it is black.  Now what kind of dream is that?   Three words quickly come to mind: immature, self-serving, and impossible.  I know it will never happen.  Well I know Deb says it will never happen.    Some dreams are no longer possible.  They have been made obsolete by time.  For years I dreamed of being the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.  That should have died years ago. I am not even sure I can still throw the ball across the infield. The dream would be dead except last week Boston traded all its stars and is starting over from scratch. Perhaps I should send them my number.
        Some dreams never fade.  Some folks never stop dreaming about possibilities for their children.  Some folks never stop dreaming about starting a new vocation, or discovering a new talent, or traveling to some exotic place.   And some folks, like Joseph, never stop dreaming about how they can fulfill the vision God placed in their heads.
        That particular dream always comes with a price.  There are folks, like the brothers of Joseph, who will suggest that dreaming about what the kingdom of God might be is a bit presumptuous.
        They have made it habit to dig pits or create pitfalls along the way and trust me, the bigger your dreams, the bigger their holes.  Once we stumble into their pit, we have to carefully and prayerfully ask ourselves what we plan to do once we get out.  We usually have only two options.  We can lose the dream and join our captors or we can crawl out of the hole, dust ourselves off, and continue to move forward.
        I hope each of you continues to dream about what this church is and what this church can become.  I hope each of you believes that these dreams are not of your own making but are a gift of God.  I pray each of your dreams has spent a little time in the pit.  Those times of disappointment and soul searching will only serve to make your dreams stronger. 
I hope that you find the courage to share your dreams with other dreamers.  I believe God places righteous dreams into the hearts of many.  When we discover our fellow dreamers, the will to follow God’s path will become stronger. It is through the imagination of folks like you that the church finds life, and courage and reason to exist.  Dreaming of what could have been serves little purpose.  Dreaming of what can be gives us vitality.
I am challenging you to have the courage to put on your fancy coat and speak your mind. Don’t you know by now that this is the place where dreams come to life? We have the resources, we have the tools, and we have the willing bodies. Best of all no one here is interested in digging a dream ending pit out back.
So share your vision. Give the rest of us the chance to be fully engaged in God’s amazing imagination. This is the perfect time and the perfect place for dreamers to unite. This is the perfect time and the perfect place to join together and work for the good of humankind.   This is the perfect time and the perfect place to show off your fancy coat and your Godly dreams.  A wise person once said only silence and fear can effectively kill a dream. So dream, dream of what is good, dream of what is righteous, dream of what is noble, dream of the possibility of recreating God’s heaven right here in this holy place. Once that is done, I can only imagine what else is possible.
To God be the glory,  Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Midnight at the Oasis


Genesis 32:22-31

 

       We have all had one of those moments when a choice, or a decision, lay before us.  We lose sleep, we worry, we procrastinate, but the deadline, a deadline that could forever change our lives, gets closer and closer.  As children we made decisions about picking friends. Later we picked colleges, occupations, spouses, not necessarily in that order.  I suspect all of us have looked back and explored how those choices shaped our lives.  As adults, we understand all too well the radical nature of life changing decisions. We weigh all the options, hopefully we pray, but most of all we wrestle with our soul in a never ending battle of trying to make the right choice.  And sometimes, at midnight, we go down to the river, wondering who or what might greet us with the morning light.

       Such was the dilemma of Jacob.  During the past weeks we have come to recognize Jacob as a scoundrel, liar and cheat. Those were his best qualities.  He worked hard to manipulate life to suit his purposes, but this did not excuse him from his inevitable appointment with the river.  Jacob was no role model.  He is not the first person who comes to mind when we think of a biblical character we might emulate.  And yet, like it or not, I imagine there is a little of Jacob in each of us.   Unlike his grandfather Abraham, Jacob was no hero.  He lived life running away from his problems.  He fled Esau and Laban without even saying good-bye.  What was there to say?  He stole the birthright from Esau.  He stole two daughters and the family jewels from Laban.  If anything, Jacob was the anti-hero. 

Unlike his father Isaac, Jacob was no poet.  Isaac defined his life by that ghastly incident in the mountains with his father.  When Abraham lifted the knife to slay his son, Isaac saw his past, and his future written before his eyes.  Isaac won Rebekah with his words and blessed Jacob with his vision.  But Jacob, the man who saw a ladder descend from the heavens, never spoke of his dream in poetry or song.  Jacob saved his words to manipulate, to placate, to exaggerate in order to control the moment regardless of the lasting consequences.  Jacob was no poet, for poets speak the truth.  Jacob was just a liar, molding his desires, his appetites, regardless of the damage done to the innocent.  Jacob could not see the future, therefore tomorrow became his greatest enemy.  His fear of the unknown drove Jacob to finally confront his destiny and his God.

Jacob had been away from home for nearly fifteen years.  His mother and father had died and Jacob had skipped both funerals.  His brother did not relinquish responsibility of the land.  Under Esau the herds had grown and the land had flourished.  But despite all Esau’s labor, Jacob still owned the birthright. Legally the land still belonged to the younger brother who had fled in the night.  Esau could not turn his back on his father’s dream.  Jacob knew all of this.  Jacob knew Esau had cultivated what was technically his.  What Jacob could not know was how Esau would react once the prodigal returned home.  In the light of day, Jacob figured there was no way he could manipulate his brother a second time.  In the light of day, Jacob anticipated that Esau would respond the way he would respond; selfishly and self-servingly. Esau had to be waiting on the other side of the river with nothing but revenge on his mind.   

But at night, another voice entered the consciousness of the manipulator.  At night, Jacob encountered the God of Beth-el.  At night, Jacob had seen a ladder descending from the clouds.  At night, Jacob was reminded that God would remain with him, regardless.  So at night, Jacob went down to the river.

The tough thing about making a decision is usually not the final decision.  More times than not we already know what we are suppose to do.  Choosing between right and wrong is not   all that difficult. It is the complicating factors which confuse our minds.  Doing the right thing is not always advantageous. Doing what is right often works against our best interest.  Living a life where our self interests are set aside for the sake of a loved one, or a beloved community, might require sacrifice on our part.  Jacob was no hero.  For an entire life, his needs, his desires, his wishes, always superseded the needs, the desires and the wishes of his community.  Jacob had learned to manipulate everyone, but God.  And now it was night.  Jacob had no place to run, no place to hide.  Standing by the river, on the edge of his destiny, Jacob encountered a stranger. 

Was it an angel?  Was it God?  Perhaps it was the deepest side of his psyche harboring all his doubts.  Perhaps Jacob was attacked by an inner voice that said, “I am nothing, I am unworthy of my blessing, I am unworthy to continue the covenant established with my grandfather Abraham.”  Perhaps Jacob engaged in a battle between the one destined to be a dreamer and the manipulative fugitive who was always prone to run away.   After all it has often been said our truest victories are the ones we achieve over ourselves.  Perhaps Jacob was forced to confront himself and found there was no place left to run.

As tempting as it would be to draw these conclusions, the text suggests Jacob encountered more than just his own psyche.   We all know sometimes the choices between lawful or unlawful, or even between right and wrong, can be manipulated to serve our own purposes.  Sometimes we must ask ourselves, what is Godly and what is ungodly?  This conversation moves us beyond our conventional answers and challenges us to explore life as seen through the imagination of God.  No where in Jacob’s limited psyche did he imagine that Esau might be waiting across the river with forgiveness in his heart.  We constantly find ourselves limited in our choices by that narrow scope of what WE believe to be possible.  Jacob had no idea what would happen when he encountered God.  Few of us do.  But for the first time in his life, Jacob did not run away.

Was he ready to repent?  Was he hoping God would bail him out?  Was he curious?   Probably Jacob was all of the above.  When our last resort is to be bold enough to wrestle with God, we are no different than Jacob. Tormented and confused, searching for a miracle, we stagger toward the river. Then, like Jacob, the miracle we discover is hardly what we expected.

                                                                                                      What Jacob encountered was not a solution but rather a presence.  Jacob went to the river and discovered God was already there waiting for him.  Why should that surprise us?  The covenant God made with Abraham, and Jacob, and us, was and still is, I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS. 

Oh Jacob fought with God, for he had fought God all his life.  But isn’t it better to fight God than to be without God. 

Oh Jacob struggled with God, for he struggled with God from the beginning. But isn’t it better to struggle with God than be alone.

Beyond the battle, beyond the struggle, something Holy transpired. Jacob discovered the very essence of God.  This dishonest man confronted Absolute Truth.   This frightened man discovered a Holy Refuge.  This insufferable man encountered an Unimaginable Love that never disappoints.  Inspired by everything he had never been, the next morning Jacob crossed the river. But he did not cross it by himself. 

God was with Jacob as God is always with us.   That is what God does.  God may not celebrate the decisions we make.  But God does not desert us.  Perhaps that is God’s greatest attribute.  God, who we have come to know as is merciful, gracious, slow to anger and steadfast in love, is also the God of eternal presence. God is always there, always ready to listen, always ready to forgive, always ready to direct and always even ready to wrestle should it becomes necessary.

Therefore, like Jacob, we come to the river.

We come to cast our burdens upon the Lord.

We come to grasp what Jacob finally discovered.

God is with us, now and forevermore.

                                                                                 Amen