‘The Wrestling Match’. Genesis 32: 22-32

Before every monthly deacon’s meeting one of the deacons always shares a brief reflection and prayer before we begin discussing the various topics on our agenda.
Last November it was my turn and I shared some thoughts based on the passage in Genesis 32 which describes Jacob’s wrestling match with God and I was drawn back to that passage when considering what to say in this weekly message.
Now, before you respond with – “so basically you’re just re-using the same stuff again”, allow me to explain why I feel it’s relevant to share it with you and to put my thoughts into context.
You also may be interested to know that the deacons met as a full team last Saturday to spend the morning in prayer, reflection and discussion. This was principally focused on considering strategically, where we are as a church and what progress have we made towards our vision to be… “An extended family, where anyone and everyone is welcomed to a wide range of activities which make them feel at home, and which equip us all to live our lives for Jesus with a shared sense of unity and purpose.” …and, in what direction God may be leading us for the future.
We’ll share our outputs from those discussions in the coming weeks and we’ll invite you to contribute your thoughts and insights about what we believe are our emerging priorities for the next year or two.
Since we evolved that vision, much has changed; indeed, over the last two years change has been a fairly constant theme for all of us. Covid entirely derailed our “normal” church life to the extent that our weekly services were pre-recorded remotely and broadcast on YouTube for over a year. Similarly, our various groups and organisations had to find innovative ways to meet on-line and keep in touch during the lengthy period of physical separation.
We formed that vision statement back in the spring of last year when we were taking our first, tentative steps from lockdown to return to live worship – initially in small numbers with social distancing and mask-wearing but no congregational singing.
Gradually, we were able to reduce the social distancing, allow singing and then the removal of masks, but, just when we felt we were making some collective headway…along came the Omicron variant at the end of last year and we’re now back to mask-wearing again for the time being, whilst some of the more vulnerable members of our church family have felt the need to return once again to isolation to protect their health & well-being.
Collectively as a church we’ve had to continually review and adapt what we do and how we do it according to the prevailing circumstances in which we find ourselves and as we reflect on the entire period of the pandemic, it does rather feel like we’ve been in the midst of a long and almighty wrestling match with no clear end in sight…which brings me to the passage in Genesis.
Now, the problem for many of us is that sometimes, we know too much! We pick up our Bibles and begin to read a story or an incident and we miss the drama and the tension, and even its full meaning, because we already know the ending. The account of Jacob’s wrestling match – and its often-used sermon title “Jacob wrestles with God” is a classic example of that principle.
The truth is, in that moment, Jacob didn’t know who his adversary was. He was on his way to have a difficult meeting with his estranged twin brother, Esau. His family and possessions had already made the crossing over the brook Jabbok – and suddenly he was alone. And there, without warning, a “man” appeared and wrestled with him.
Jacob didn’t know the motive. He didn’t know who would win. He didn’t know if he would be injured. He didn’t know if he would survive this encounter. He didn’t know how long it would last, (does this situation sound familiar?), but…we know the outcome, so we don’t view the drama with any sense of partisanship or excitement
In reality, it was an epic bout which began sometime during the night, and totally exhausted and sore, they were still contending at day-break. It wasn’t a boxing match with padded gloves and mouth guards, played out under Queensberry Rules. No, this was no holds barred, intimate, full on contact wrestling.
Actually, it could have stopped earlier. Towards dawn the “man” realised that he could not prevail, so summoning up his strength, he struck a well-aimed blow to Jacob’s hip-joint. Now hampered by his injury, and beginning to realise who he was struggling with, Jacob put him in a hold and offered very unusual surrender terms - “I will not let you go unless you bless me”.
If we had space we could recall Jacob’s every struggle, starting with the time he wrestled with his twin brother in their mother’s womb. But now, years later, he limps into the morning mist, neither victorious nor defeated, yet deeply enriched by the blessing of God - and now ready, despite his failings, to play his part in God’s plan for him, namely, to pass on the covenant given to his grandfather Abraham and to become the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Wrestling with God was not the end game but the beginning of the next chapter.
We are all in an unfinished story. Thus far we have been influenced by our past, as Jacob was, and like him we have experienced faith and failure, triumph and torment…but the story is not over. Jacob would yet face struggles and adversity, but his testimony would be that through it all, he would not let go of God, and God would not let go of him.
As we continue to journey slowly towards what we hope will soon be the end of the “Covid era”, we may find ourselves limping a little and with some bruises here & there from our wrestling. However, as we face continued uncertainty about what the immediate future holds and what shape and form our church life will take, let us remember that whatever our situation, we can, like Jacob, make it through the night.
Our wrestling with God – collectively and individually will bring us closer to Him. And as we face the future, let us each, like Jacob, seek from God a blessing to go with our wounds - that He will continue to be our focus, our source of strength, our guide and our inspiration as we respond to the evolving circumstances around us and continue in our endeavours as a church to be…
“An extended family, where anyone and everyone is welcomed to a wide range of activities which make them feel at home, and which equip us all to live our lives for Jesus with a shared sense of unity and purpose.”
Now I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the story in Genesis 32:22-32.

Ken Carter

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