Genesis 32:9-13, 22-30 and Psalm 30
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. This is the promise of the Psalm. And you’ve got love it’s hopefulness, right? You’ve got to love its symmetry. Both parts of the sentence are so well balanced. The weeping over here gets answered by joy over here. Let the morning come repair the night. Let the calm cancel out the crisis. Make things even-steven again.
Only thing is. Sometimes the weeping gets worse. Sometimes thick in the deep of the crisis, there is a turning point, but it doesn’t flip the switch back to joy. It turns things even worse.
Here you are on the worst night of your life, your mind begins playing out scenarios, making contingencies. Suddenly, the doctor comes in with more news. You can forget all those scenarios. Now all you can do is pray, even that isn’t helping. God has gone quiet. And your friends? They can’t even stay awake with you. The terror is relentless; it has got your soul in its clutches.
For the love of God, give me some piece of information that will help! On this worst night, it makes sense that this is what we want. Just give me a reasonable explanation for why this is happening. Just tell me what I’m supposed to do. Give me some measure of comfort. Of course we’re desperate for this.
When you or I come upon someone who’s in the heart of crisis, of course these are the things we want to offer. Here’s a platitude about God having a plan for your life. Here’s a Bible verse. Maybe that will help?
And it’s not that it’s wrong to want or to offer these tokens of faith. It’s not wrong. It’s just that we have more. There is something more to want than answers and instructions, and there’s something so much more that we could offer.
A few weeks ago, one of my friends shared a photo on Facebook that stopped me cold. The photo was from CNN. It featured a girl, maybe seven or eight years old, whose parents had been rounded up in the ICE raid in Mississippi. The photo shows the girl sitting on the floor of a school gym crying into her hands. In front of her on the floor is an open can of soda and a paper plate with an untouched slice of pepperoni pizza. She couldn’t eat.1My thanks to Rev. Hope Molozaiy for sharing this on Facebook. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/08/us/mississippi-ice-raids-cnnphotos/index.html
Now I don’t know her name or her story. I don’t know whether she was reunited with her parents the next day. What I know is that somebody french-braided her pigtails that morning. What I can only imagine is the terror she’s experiencing. She might be wondering whether she’ll see her parents again or how they’re being treated. What if they’re hungry right now? What if they are scared? Even if this horrible night gets resolved, even if her parents come and get her tomorrow, what if this happens again?
It was not wrong for somebody at that school to give this girl dinner, but you can see why the pizza is not helping.
It’s not wrong to proclaim that joy comes in the morning, but sometimes the weeping that lasts all night gets worse, and why isn’t God fixing this?! Who even is God…
The scripture Pauline just read begins with Jacob’s prayer. Jacob’s prayer begins when he says to God, I know who you are. O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, you promised that if I went home, you would do good unto me.
See Jacob has reason to be worried. Here he’s returning to his homeland after many years, but the angels told Jacob that Esau was coming to find him with an army of four hundred men.
Jacob and Esau are twins. They came out of the womb wrestling; Esau won and was born first. But later Jacob tricked Esau and got his birthright; he got his brother’s inheritance and his brother’s blessing from their father. Last Jacob heard, his twin brother was planning to kill him. Now after all these years, Jacob has the nerve to come back and show his face again, so it’s no wonder, Esau is not going to miss this chance. It’s no wonder, Jacob is terrified. His wives and his children are with him, and it’s really kind of his fault that they’re in danger.
You can understand why Jacob couldn’t sleep. This was the worst night, and he had already tried praying to God. So he gets up. He wakes up his wives, and his slaves, and his sleepy children. He sends them on ahead across the stream in the deep of the dark. Then, in one of the most chilling verses of the Bible, it says: “Jacob was left alone.”
I mean, what business does God have leaving Jacob alone on the worst night! Surely the LORD our God should be dispatching the angels to make a hedge of protection around him. Surely God should whoosh in with words of reassurance, but no.
If the worst thing is that Jacob was left entirely alone, the worst night gets worse. Jacob was left alone. Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And it could be the man was really Jacob’s conscience, or a manifestation of Esau, or it could be that Jacob made a correct identification when he looked at the man and realized, he was seeing the face of God.
Sunday after Sunday, we stand here in this sanctuary and demand that God come and be with us, and do we even know what we’re asking… Are we even a little bit scared that Holy Spirit will take us up on the dare and pour her power into this place? Shouldn’t we be at least a little bit scared?
Annie Dillard happens to think so. In her very strange book Teaching A Stone to Talk, she writes this: “On the whole, I don’t find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions…Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or… does no one believe a word of it?… It is madness to wear ladies’ hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares. They should lash us to our pews.”2 Dillard, Annie. Teaching A Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. page 52. Now of course she’s being dramatic, but she’s not wrong to notice: this is God we’re summoning.
No matter how well I think I know God, there is always something of God I cannot comprehend, always some side of divinity I can’t see, some essence of Holy I can’t imagine. You can spend your whole life praying only to find yourself lying awake on a tear-drenched pillow asking the dark, Why isn’t God here? Who even is God… You’re not wrong to ask.
On the worst night, Jacob is left entirely alone. Then the story turns, and God shows up, and those two wrestle until dawn. One shouts to the other, “Let me go!” “No. Not until you bless me! “Hey! What is your name?” Here they’re wrapped around each other, so we can’t tell who’s saying what, who is asking the other, Who are you?, and who is blessing whom. Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty. Blessing gets all over both of them like the sparkle of the sand. It’s a mess. It’s amazing.
Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, I’m pretty sure you know something about what it is to live through the worst night. You might have been left entirely alone. You might have seen the worst night turn worse. What I’m wondering is, what if there were a church that had something to offer people on the worst night? What if that church is us?
To begin with, we’ll need more than the tokens of our faith. Instead of platitudes that profess, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God has a plan,” what if we could offer up our own faith that confesses there is something of God I don’t know… Look, I don’t know why God is being so obnoxiously quiet right now, but I will join my prayer with yours. Here we will bring our wondering right up alongside your wondering, and we’ll summon the angels together. We won’t let them leave without the blessing. We’ll fight all night if we have to. We could do this you know.
Instead of platitudes or pizza, we have something more to offer. We could sit down beside the person who’s crying. And yeah, you’re gonna get somebody else’s tears on your shirt, but that’s okay. We know about tears, and holy are the tears. We know that weeping lingers for the night, then it usually gets worse.
After the prayer in the garden was the arrest, after the arrest came the trial and the torture. After the torture was the cross. After the cross was the silence. We know the whole story. So you better believe we know, this is not how it ends.
The worst night will get worse. But then. Then is the next day, and the whole world could change.
After wrestling all night, Jacob hobbled away with an injured hip and a brand new blessing. He looked up and saw Esau with his army coming at him to take his life. What happened next, nobody saw coming. No matter how well I think I know God, there’s always some part the Spirit I can’t see, some part of the divine I definitely don’t get. This is the part that came barreling toward Jacob.
Only forgiveness coming right at us! Only mercy in the breaking of the day. Only compassion. And what if there are people in this room who know this. What if there are people in this world who need this.
Nothing will ever be even-steven, it’s better than that. It’s joy that comes in the morning with every Hallelujah. Then world will never be the same. Thank God.