Home » »Unlabelled » Wounds and Blessings, A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Griff Martin
Monday, October 17, 2016
Wounds and Blessings
A Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Twenty Second Sunday following Pentecost
October 16, 2016
Picture it a hot Texas afternoon football practice and you are staring down at some of the biggest guys on the team and your job is to run some of the plays they are going to see this coming Friday night… this is your job on the team bc your being hurt is not a real fear in the coach’s eyes, no game is make it or break it based on your performance. So when the coach tells you where to run the ball, you devise your own plan because where he wants you to run that ball is going to get you killed.
So I ran to the left instead of the right and the coach looked at me like an idiot and told me to try again and when I ran the other way one more time he got really angry and asked me what I was doing and when I told him running where he wanted me to run was going to get me knocked down and hurt, he replies with something pastoral and prophetic and true despite all he wanted was me to run a football play.
“If you run into the pain, it’s going to hurt a lot less than running away from it.”
It’s one of the hardest life lessons to truly learn.
This narrative begins with Jacob on the run, which is where we always find Jacob…. running. I am not really sure of the direction of his running… is he running from something or someone who he has wronged, probably ticked or cheated them, or is he running after something trying to catch another blessing? We can never quite be sure with Jacob.
His life is made up of running and movement. He comes out of the womb running and trying to catch his brother, grasping his heel. And that sets the movement for his entire life, chasing after things and grasping…. Chasing after his brother’s birthright and blessing and finally tricking his way into getting both of them and then going on the run. He stops in Haran where he finds himself two wives, two mistresses and eleven children and then things get messy with a family member there so on the run he goes once again. However this time he goes running in the wrong direction, he is headed straight for that brother whom he tricked now so many years ago.
He gets word of this and he knows his life has now reached a critical point. And that is where our passage for today picks up. Jacob is tired. He’s tired of running and hiding and fooling others and seeking and searching and trying to make it work. It’s all caught up to him and to his family.
And they stop one day in the midst of this journey, this run they are making, and they set up camp and everyone falls asleep right away. It’s been a long day of travel, a hard day because it’s exhausting to be running all the time. But Jacob can’t fall asleep because his mind can’t stop running and he realizes this place is not good for his family, he senses they are in a dangerous place and it’s not their danger. He wakes everyone up and off they go across the river to make another camp and when they all lie down there, Jacob surprises them and says “okay I am going back to the last camp… There is business there I must do..” because Jacob knows it’s time for a reckoning. It’s time to stop running.
I can picture Jacob when he gets back to that spot… he starts pacing, chanting, beating his chest, yelling out “bring it on” until it’s brought and someone attacks him from behind and it’s dark and he can’t see what’s attacking him. And the fight begins. And it’s gory, it’s clawing and grabbing and grasping and holding and pinning and kicking and punching and struggling… and it’s real and it’s not real.
And it last until daybreak when this stranger reaches over in the middle of the fight and touches Jacob’s inner thigh and wounds him deeply. The pain is real but Jacob is not letting go…. “Name me, bless me and I won’t let go until you do.”
And the stranger does name and bless him. “Jacob you are no longer Jacob but Isreal… you are no longer what you have always been but are something new because you have wrestled with God and you came through alive.” And suddenly just as the few first rays of the new day finally break out, the stranger is gone.
And Jacob gets up and walks into those first rays of sunlight and he walks with a new name and he walks with a new limp. Forever will he bear his new name and forever will he bear his wound.
This story has long fascinated us and there are volumes of material trying to point out all the brilliance that is found in the many layers of this story, to help us better read this story. But this morning my invitation is different, I don’t want us to better read the story, I want this story to better read us.
And in order to really do that maybe we need to begin by admitting that we are reading it in the wrong place. We are reading the text in the light of day and surrounded by our community who is going to hold us up and help us through. And this particular text might not be a text to be read in the safety of the daylight but in the dark of the night and alone. This might not be a solar text but a lunar text.
Simply because Jacob wrestles at night. In the dark. Alone. In no man’s land.
And if we can be totally honest this morning, it’s at night when we see how much we are like Jacob. How we have tricked and manipulated and run after meaning and run away from the things we have broken and away from the things that have broken us. It’s at night where we finally come face to face with who we truly are and it’s at night when we are invited into our very own wrestling matches.
In the day we busy ourselves so that we don’t have to think about the real questions… but when our spouse is asleep and the kids are in bed and the to do list is finished and we are too physically tired to turn one more page so we surrender to the dark… in hopes of sleep but instead we are often visited by these questions.
Who am I and does that question even matter anymore with who people think I am? What does God actually expect from me? How am I ever going to get out of this financial hole? Am I eating because I am hungry or because there is food in front of me? How in the world am I supposed to forgive so and so and then show them grace? Will my depression return? Why in the world did I ever say that awful thing and how do I fix it? Will this election ever be over and what do we do with all the sinful ugliness it has brought our in our country and even in us? How can I stop looking at those websites? Is this faith thing real? How I am doing as a parent? How can I even begin to fix my marriage? Why am I so scared of aging? Is my drinking becoming a problem? Am I working in a job and career where I want to be giving my life?
The night seems to offer endless opportunities for wrestling matches and it’s here that often our stories go another route than Jacob’s story because more often than not we don’t engage the wrestling match… instead we get up and start searching for the bottle of Tylenol PM or we numb ourselves with another Netflix show or we get up and fold the laundry or clean out the closest or we count sheep to avoid the questions. We do whatever it is that will help us to disengage from the one waiting to wrestle with us. We get up and we move to a safer place and don’t face our own reckoning.
So maybe today we need to hear the testimony of Jacob.
And I think what Jacob would tell us that running won’t ever get us anywhere, it will just wear us down and besides that you can’t run from that which you carry in your own soul no matter how hard you try (and he tried). I think if Jacob were here this morning he would tell us that this nighttime wrestling match was both his worst moment and his best moment. That it was hard as hell but that it opened up heaven. He might testify to the fact that coming face to face with God is always going to involve coming face to face with yourself and your own mess, but that is freedom. I think if Jacob could just give us a piece of advice this morning, Jacob would say: “face your nighttime wrestling and be ready to hold on until it names you and it blesses you.” And then as he limped away we might hear him quietly say, “every blessing starts with a wound.”
And if Jacob were here today he might also simply stand up and read the Gospel for us, in particular the end of the Gospel where our Jesus Christ is crucified on a cross and then there were three days that felt like nights until the Resurrection. Jacob might lead us to that story and then he might remind us that just as there is no blessing without a wound, there is also no resurrection without a cross.
And really Jacob could point us to just about any story in the Gospel because our Jesus is constantly walking straight into the places of pain and hurt and grief in order to there bring salvation. The road to God more often than not seems to begin in the places we never want to go.
The way of Jesus: Run towards that which breaks your heart. Go towards the pain.
Pain is the home of transformation. It is only in that which will break you, that you will find true life.
One of my favorite children’s books says it best… the book is about going on a bear hunt and all the things the family faces on their journey to find a bear…
“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, what a beautiful day, we’re not scared….
And then they get to tall, scary grass and a deep cold river and thick oozing mud and a big dark forest and a swirling whirling snowstorm and then a narrow gloomy cave… all which stands in the way of them and the bear….
And so their motto through each obstacle becomes “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it… we’ve got to go through it.”
Maybe we need to adopt that motto this morning.
So what is calling out to you in the nighttime? What is just waiting for you to wrestle with? Where is that place you need to have your reckoning? What have you been hiding in your life? What are you running from?
Because church, walking towards that which breaks your heart, stopping your running and turning and facing it head first, meeting your wrestler in the middle of the night…. It’s there we will find life.
Can’t go over it…. Can’t go under it… can’t go around it… Must go through it.
May we have the strength of Jacob to face our nighttime wresting match.. to go through it…. To cling for a blessing… and there to find God… To walk away limping but blessed… Having become victorious by being defeated.