The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
The preacher had a fiery sermon lined up for his congregation… the topic, “SIN”… prior to the service he put on his lapel mike, and as he preached, he moved briskly about the platform.. shouting out “Sinner”.. naming the sins of his congregation.. the more worked up he got the more he jerked the mike cord as he went…. Then he moved to one side, getting wound up in the cord and nearly tripping before jerking it again. After several circles and jerks, a little girl in the third pew leaned toward her mother and whispered, "If he gets loose, will he hurt us?"
It would seem that “sin” is a favorite topic of many preachers.. how we go on and on about the evils of this, that and the other… but have you ever had that line from Shakespeare pop into your head while listening to the preacher, “The preacher doth protest too much, methinks!”… We can even add some rather famous names… Jim Bakker… Robert Tilton… Eddie Long… and the list keeps growing… but do you know the difference between these notable preachers and all the rest? These are the ones that got caught.
Why did they sin in the first place? Because like everyone else, they had their tests.. their temptations. And like us all, sometimes they passed and other times they failed epically. And so as tiresome as it may seem to congregations, it is important to preach on temptation and sin – to understand that there is a great struggle which goes on between what we are called to be – Christlike – and what we are – sinful. And we are not alone in these interior struggles.. we only need consider the events following Jesus baptism, when he went into the desert for forty days. And even though we may look at some of the great Christians.. those capital “S” saints that have gone before us – or even contemporary great Christians who simply glow with saintliness.. such as myself – we often forget they also wrestled with temptation and sin…
Although perhaps not so dramatic we all have these interior struggles. Our prayer is that we might overcome them and so grow stronger in our faith. When we fail.. we sometimes say that we can’t win.. its who we are, but I love what St. Josemaria has to say about that… “Don’t say, ‘That’s the way I am—its my character.’ Its your lack of character. Esto vir!—Be a man!”…. So from the Saints on down.. we all wrestle with the devil.. with sin… Our true character is not based on the ferocity of the attack, but instead, it is based on how good of a fight we put up.
What is interesting.. is that not only do we wrestle against the devil, but we also wrestle with God… think on our reading from Genesis today. Jacob has received his freedom by tricking Laban his father-in-law, but now he has to go and face his twin brother Esau, who he had also tricked out of his birth right, which he apparently wanted so desperately that when they were born, Esau came first, but Jacob came while grabbing his brother’s ankle as though trying to pull him back into his mother’s womb so that he could be born first. Even his name – Jacob – means “puller of heel”.. meaning, one who will deceive.
The wrestling match he has on the banks of the river is a fascinating story, but also difficult to understand, but we know that he was struggling.. wrestling with God and in the end three things that happened because of struggle… First, God changed his name from Jacob to
… second, God put his hip out of joint… and third, God blessed him… Israel
In changing his name God said you are no longer one who pulls the heel.. one who deceives.. you are now one who perseveres with God…. By putting his hip out of joint God says, “I will give you something to remember this night by”… and finally the blessing is a means of God conveying His friendship toward him.
I remember watching the movie The Kingdom of Heaven… the father Balian is a knight fighting the crusades.. he knows that he has a son, but the son is unaware, thinking that he is only a blacksmith. The movie goes on and the son learns of his father and follows him. As the father is soon to die, he calls his son in who kneels before him.. The father says to him, “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright, that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong; that is your oath.".. then the father slaps him hard across the face saying, “And that is so you don't forget it. Rise a knight.”… He changed his son from a blacksmith to a knight and gave him a slap across the face so he wouldn’t forget it… a very tender moment, but God did the same with Jacob.
And God works with us in similar ways… however, what makes wrestling with God so different from wrestling with the devil is that what God is trying to get us to become is so contrary to human nature. God says love your enemies and pray for those who hate you and human nature says kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out! Human nature says do whatever feels good and God says take up your cross and follow me… Human nature says its all about me and God says die to self…. It is a struggle this wrestling with God.. because it so often goes against everything we want…. And not only that, it might just be dangerous. God might change your name.. he might put your hip out of joint.. He just might make you someone completely different – and for some of you that’s not a bad idea!
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.. that great classic by CS Lewis demonstrates to us that this struggle with God is neither tidy nor tame, but it is worthwhile.. Two children, Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan – the Christ figure in the story. They ask if Aslan is a man. Mr. Beaver replies… "Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-- the Lion, the great Lion."… "Ooh!" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." … “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."… "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy…. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."… this story and Jacob’s remind us that God is very good.. just not altogether safe… After all.. He is the King.. He is God
So.. Yes.. it might just be dangerous to wrestle with God – he might change your name or put your hip out of joint– but it is worth it, because in the end.. there is the blessing. The blessing of God Almighty.. and that is worth life itself.
We often speak of wrestling with sin.. the demons that want to draw us from God.. to drag us into hell with them… Wrestling with the devil has for its outcome the destination of the soul.. our salvation… however, wrestling with God is not about our salvation.. it is about our transformation. It is about becoming that person God knows you can become.. and wants for you to become.. It is about becoming holy, as He is holy.
Let us pray… O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Who, by the will of the Father, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, have by Your death given life to the world, deliver us by Your Most Sacred Body and Blood from all sins and from every evil. Make us always cling to Your commandments, and never permit us to be separated from You. Who with the same God the Father and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, God, world without end. Amen.