Talk about your sibling rivalries . . . there was no love lost between Jacob and his twin brother, Esau. These two were fighting even before they were born. Rebekah, their mother, inquired of God why her pregnancy was so uncomfortable. She received the prophecy that twins were fighting in her womb and would continue to fight all their lives. At their birth the brothers came out fighting . . . Esau came out first with Jacob clinging to his heel. Needless to say the two boys fulfilled the prophecy. There was no love between them.
Of course we know that Jacob did little to help the situation. We know that he tricked his brother out of his birthright offering Esau a bowl of stew when he thought he was going to die of hunger. And, we know how--with his mother’s conniving and help--Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, into giving him the family blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Who could blame Esau for being angry with his brother . . . angry enough to threaten to kill him.
Thus it is that we find Jacob on the run. He is running for his life. Again, with his mother’s help, he runs off to his uncle’s place. There he ends up marrying Leah and Rachel . . . starts a family . . . and, eventually flies the coop once again. Only this time, he heeds the directions of the God who tells him to return to his homeland. Jacob was stuck between a rock and a hard place. With his father-in-law and brothers-in-law not really happy with him where he was, and with his brother still fuming--despite years and years since the whole blessing episode . . . Jacob takes off once again. He is returning home.
Esau gets wind of Jacob returning home and gathers an army of 400 strong to go and greet his brother. Jacob knows his brother is coming . . . he knows his brother is still angry . . . knows that he wants revenge. Thus it is that he attempts to head Esau off at the pass by sending messengers and gifts to appease his angry brother. Which brings us to where we are this morning in our scripture reading.
Jacob does not trust his brother. In order to protect his wives and children, he sends them to the other side of the river . . . away from him. And, then he waits . . . alone . . . until he encounters a man who begins to wrestle with him. The two of them wrestle through the night until daybreak. Eventually the man senses that he cannot overpower Jacob, touches his hip wrenching it. The man demands Jacob to let go, but he will not let go unless he receives a blessing. After asking Jacob his name, the man complies: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Thus blessing and covenant are bestowed upon Jacob. Jacob recognized from whom the blessing and covenant came . . . none other than God. And, as he had done earlier at Bethel, he marks and names the place . . . he called the place “Peniel”--which means “face of God”--proclaiming his reasoning: “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” But the blessing did not come without consequences . . . Jacob received a limp. “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his limp.”
I would venture to safely say that Jacob’s life was quite an adventure with quite a bit of drama. In my estimation, he bounced around trying to please everyone, keep his life, and never really knowing where he was supposed to be. It was a life filled with struggles and constant changes. A life that seems, at least to me, to be one with lots of changes . . . from one thing to another in his life. It seems to me that Jacob had been wrestling his whole life, and that this episode of wrestling with God is symbolic of it all . . . though I would say that wrestling with God was the toughest of the struggles in his life.
It is Jacob’s limp that catches my attention. It is a sure and certain mark and reminder of his struggle with God. One that will always be with him, letting him know that he “. . . saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” I imagine that for Jacob his limp became a sign of his faith. And, in what appears to be a weakness was actually a strength.
I think that too often we do not give ourselves enough credit for having survived the struggles that we have endured in our lives no matter what those struggles may have been. We’ve all had them . . . struggles with individuals, struggles with our health, struggles with our finances, struggles with moves we had to make, decisions we had to make . . . struggles with God and our faith. We have all had struggles and endured the wrestling matches that they have been . . . and, we have earned our marks . . . earned our limp. Though others may view our limp as a sign of weakness, we know that it is not.
Struggles deal with change . . . change of all sorts. It is moving from one place in our lives and in ourselves to another . . . sometimes kicking and shouting the whole way, sometimes sliding in gracefully. Yet, no matter what, we know that our struggles are epic wrestling matches. We’ve got the limp to prove it.
Since we are among fellow sojourners . . . and, because we want to be honest . . . I think that we can all admit we have had struggles with lots of things in our lives. And, I also think that we can admit that we have had struggles with God and our faith. Struggling is not something bad. It is a process . . . a process of change, growth, understanding . . . a process of switching directions . . . that is not easy. If it were easy it would not be a struggle.
Think about Jacob and his struggles. He had his struggles . . . a bad relationship with his brother . . . a deceitful one with his father . . . two marriages in order to get the woman he truly loved . . . a father-in-law who wasn’t always up and up in his relationship with Jacob . . . a God who kept pushing him to step into his destiny. Jacob had his struggles. He wrestled through them . . . and, he survived.
As we are in this sanctuary this morning, we are living proof that we, too, have survived our struggles . . . even with God.
There is nothing wrong in admitting that there are times in our lives when we struggle with God and our faith. I know for certain that we all have if we are even trying to live up to the simplest of Jesus’ teachings and examples through his life. I know that we have wrestled with God through the darkness of the night . . . through brightness of the day. That is how we grow stronger. And, guess what! Just as Jacob discovered through his epic wrestling match with God . . . God was still with him.
God was still with him.
And, Jacob was still with God . . . but, with a limp.
Life is a journey . . . and, a life of faith is a journey.
One of the things I enjoy about the area we live in is the opportunity to go hiking in the mountains. Over the years I have taken a lot of hikes . . . some of them have been fairly easy, some not so easy. And, yet, after each of those hikes that I have taken, I have to admit that I have always had a limp. My knees hurt . . . my ankles hurt . . . my legs ache. Now, it might be because I am out of shape . . . it might be because I am getting older . . . but, whatever the reason, I have never finished a hike where I wasn’t limping.
At the same time, there has never been a hike that I took that did not leave me with a sense of accomplishment . . . a sense of awe. And, for several days after any hike, my limp reminds me of that accomplishment. I survived. I survived to hike another day.
So it is with our journey of faith. We encounter those struggles which leave us sore and limping. Yet, at the same time, we are still moving . . . we are still going forward. And, we are not alone . . . God is with us. That is what we are called to do . . . we are called to walk with God, even if we have to limp. That is faith. Amen.