God Is Ringing the Bell

Message shared at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. on October 16, 2016

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, Luke 18:1-8

You can read the message below, and you can listen to it here

I remember wrestling once, perhaps twice or more, in middle school
gym class, not really knowing the rules, certainly
having little athletic skill of any sort—
but I remember how intimate it was, how my opponent,
my partner, and I touched each other a lot, really all over.
I think of this when I hear of Jacob wrestling,
wondering what it would feel like to be that close
to God, to feel God’s muscles, God’s head, hair and beard,
God’s feet and legs and hands and arms,
to smell God’s sweat, to  hear God’s grunts and groans,
even gastric retorts up close and personal.

Jacob is in such an intimate encounter—we must
remember he is on his way to what could be a life-giving
or death-dealing meeting with his estranged
brother Esau, the brother he wronged, the brother
whose forgiveness he seeks as his knees knock
and heart beats in fear–what if Esau attempts to kill him
in revenge—so it is an emotional time, Jacob
has left his herds and servants and family and he is now
alone, in the dark, and a man appears.
Is it Esau, also separated from herds, servants, family,
or is it a robber? We must remember that although
we know it is neither, Jacob did not. Have you
been in the dark, perhaps in wilderness, alone,
as I have, hearing strange noises, wondering if
someone unknown was there, or a wild beast? 
Would you be afraid? Yes? I was.

Jacob does not back away, they wrestle,
he and this unnamed man.
We do not know how long
they grasped and grunted and grimaced,
first one on top, then the other, rolling
on the hard ground, seeking the advantage,
losing it, gaining it. How many times
one was on top, then the other, we do not know,
all we know is that as rosy fingers of dawn
creep forward, he who started things
asks to be released. Did that mean Jacob had won,
or only that the other wanted to stop? Jacob had
endured that is true, yet his adversary, his partner,
struck him, at the hip socket, some translations say he “wrenched”
and others he “touched” him but whatever
the action, Jacob’s hip is dislocated and he walks on with a limp.

There is no trip to the ER or urgent care, no call
to security, only Jacob asking for a blessing from the contender
before he will release him. Jacob readily supplies his name—somehow we think
the man must have known without asking—and is told
his name is now changed, no longer Jacob (‘heel grabber” for
his long-ago animus toward Esau)
but “Israel,” “overcomer of God,
because you have wrestled with both God and mortals, and you
have prevailed.” Prevailed, meaning  Israel,
the one formerly known as Jacob, did not lose.

More, he realizes he has done as Moses did,
he has looked on the face of God
and survived, more than that he has been blessed.  
In this case, God has taken human form
to engage a flawed human named Jacob, a man God had already blessed
despite misbehaviors, a man God wants to continue
to show up and serve God, and to serve and lead God’s people.
Here’s some good news my friends:
God shows up, one way or another, because God
wants us to do the work of God.
You might think that God lost this match;
I think instead God chose to stop because once again God
had taken measure of this man Jacob, who did not let God down,
who stayed the course, who wrestled mano a mano,
and when his adversary said “Enough,”

Jacob was clear whose blessing he wanted.
God is big enough to lose, or seem to lose, and will do anything necessary
to help us stay our godly course.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled a few times
with God. Oh not hand to hand exactly, but surely mind to mind,
heart to heart; I have protested, I have tussled, I have argued,
and cursed, said “No” more times than I want to admit. And God
has let me survive, even prevail. God has asked to be released,
recognizing I think because God knew further contest
would not serve any purpose then, and has blessed me
even when I did not ask. And I know God has
blessed you even when you did not ask. Just like me.
God does it all the time.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

But here is another truth. God would like to wrestle more
with me, with you. In fact, God’s mat is all set up
and the bell ready to be rung,
waiting for me, for you, for us, to care enough,
to love enough, to doubt enough, be scared enough,
to be angry enough, be bold enough,
to go mano a mano, faced to face,  with God.
I continue to learn that God taps me
on the shoulder all the time, pokes at me,
tries to get my attention, even tackles me;
but I am expert at ignoring these
divine provocations. God does not cause
bad things to happen to us, any of us, but
I will tell you this: God enters the fray
as soon as something does, hoping we will engage.
Indeed, I know that when I get angry
and say something nasty to God,
God gets this big ole smile and just says, bring it on!
Come on, Robin, come at me! Talk to me, baby,
curse me if you want, lay a hand on me, let’s get it on,
let’s wrestle until I know you know, my beautiful, blessed child,
that I care, I love, you so much I will spend my whole night,
even days if I must, rolling around on hard, unforgiving, ground
just to get your attention, just to leave you my blessing.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Jesus knew about this, I suspect Jesus had plenty
of matches with God, in fact, I think Jesus wrestled his
way into what our ancient teachers called the Trinity.
I know he and I have had a few encounters,
along with the Holy Spirit. We have all rolled around
more than once, and often it happens when I feel certain
I know where I am going, or gotten into a rut
where I refuse to see any alternatives,
and then one of them shows up—or sometimes
I think all three of them come by, knowing I am that far
off course—and they wrestle me to the ground
and we go at it. I remember Jesus’ parable  
about the woman endlessly pressing the judge
to pay attention, to grant her enough dignity to not only hear
her plea but also grant her justice. Would that some
of his political descendants now could learn
that the righteous don’t give up, not if we
are paying attention to the divine power
at work in ourselves and that same power
that is always right at our side, on our shoulder,
whispering in our ear, grabbing our hand,
even sometimes giving us a punch in the gut.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Oh, let me be clear about something very important:
This is God who is on the move
not the God who is locked up in a book
where so many want to keep Her, or Him,
whatever name you wish to say for God,
or the God whom preachers tell you is unchanging,
stuck up in the sky in some never, never land,
that if we are really, really good, I mean extra good,
we may meet in some distant time of which only they know  the date– 
indeed the God who met Jacob, now Israel, is the same God
who later told King David he did not need a palace,
was perfectly happy to stay in the tent so he could
move around with all the beloveds, on the ground,
in the ‘hood, with folks, right beside and among them,  
enjoying the intimacy of dear friends and neighbors.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

See, I lift my eyes to the hills—and into the valleys,
and I lower them to my feet, all the places God is,
from where my help comes, help that comes
from God, the One who made and makes
heaven and earth and all in between, God
who will not let our footsteps slip, will not
wipe us out in a wrestling match, the One
who never sleeps and thus can be found on the shore
of the Yabbok River and the Potomac and the Nile
and the Yangtze and the James and the Seine,
wherever and whenever we are, Guardian
of Israel who reminds us that each of us
has a special name in God’s family roster,
God whose scrapbooks are overflowing with Polaroids
and selfies and even videos that God shows proudly
to all who will let the divine pride be expressed—
have you ever heard God say, “Look at this picture
of Robin, isn’t that just the most precious thing
you ever saw?”—God who blesses us again and again
with purpose and mission, God who shades us
when the glare of evil, indignity, inequality, greed, and hate
threaten to drown us in shame and despair,
God by our side so the ugliness does not overpower us
whether by day or night, God who guards us from harm,
who guards our lives and the lives of all, guards our leaving and our
coming back, now and forever……

Provided, my friends, we let God do it.

See, that is our power, we have the power to say no,
and if you are like me, you do it all the time,
maybe not in so many words,
but by failing to engage. God wants us. Oh God wants us,
not just to sit with God, not even to listen to God—
although listening is a very good thing and we need to do more—
but God wants us to take God seriously enough
to engage, to wrestle, to push back, to argue.
God does not so much want obedience—God is
not, never has been, a tyrant, God does not want
to trump our souls or make us grovel, God wants us
to stand up, knowing from whence our help comes,
and trusting in that help to be bold and daring
and loving and audacious, to let ourselves, our very names,
our souls, our hearts and minds, be changed,
to be changed over and over, because like Jacob we are not perfect;
when we  trust enough to face our flaws  we become willing,
despite our fears, and all the fearmongering around us,
to go on tour with God and the whole wrestling team
of angels and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, facing forward,
to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Because, in case you have forgotten, our help, our help, comes from God!

I don’t know about you, but my card is full, actually
two cards are full, my dance card, God’s one hot dancer—
but that’s another sermon—and my wrestling card.
I hope you are blessed that way, too.
Actually I know you are. So what are we waiting for?
God is ringing the bell. Let’s get it on!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s