July 30, 2023
SERMON: ‘Wrestling at 3 A.M’
Rev. Jane Courtright
What I really like to do when preparing a sermon….
Is to read the scripture passage some days ahead of time.
If I simply read the text, then just let is sit in my brain,
I find that is begins to seep into my life.
The text or story becomes alive for me!
And so, some days ago, I reread this story
Of Jacob wrestling by the River Jabbok.
I could remember times in my life, just before dawn,
Struggling with decisions and issues in my own life.
And it occurred to me that I was experiencing
JUST WHAT Jacob had experienced
as he slept & wrestled during his night
beside the river Jabbok.
Now, Jacob already KNEW that God sometimes
Speaks through dreams or visions
Or WHATEVER it is that happens
During long and sleepless nights.
We heard about Jacob’s famous ‘ladder dream’
A couple of weeks ago. Remember?
It can be the same for me and you!
It’s in the dark of the night,
The business of the day over,
When such images keep us awake!!
Why is it so often…that when we face
Major decisions or conflicts in our lives,
We find it SO EASY to ignore them during the day?
Yet, somehow, in the hours just before dawn,
They stare us directly in the face –
Suddenly so clear and unavoidable!!!
I don’t know about YOU,
But I always seem to awaken at about 3 a.m.,
And am not able to go back to sleep
Until I do some wrestling with the issue at hand!
Apparently, I’m not the only one!
Through the years people have shared with me
Wrestling in the early dawn hours with issues such as
Feeling pulled between life & death, praying
in the quiet dawn hospital hours, wrestling with God.
What is the best thing to do with children who are
Giving parents great challenges in life.
Which direction to take when PARENTS are
Not able to take care of themselves.
How to handle the moral, emotional
& physical aspects of romantic relationships.
How to juggle working outside the home or
Career aspirations with family needs & wants.
What to do when a friend seems to be taking
A hurtful path in life.
How to deal with our feelings
when one we love dies.
I’m sure that YOU could add to this list
the part of YOUR life that you struggle with
in the wee hours of the morning!
Fact is, any of us who are sincere & thoughtful,
Who take life seriously, wrestle with many issues.
We sometimes find that we are trapped
Between a rock and a hard place…..
Just as Jacob found HIMSELF again trapped
Thousands of years ago!
You might remember the stories we’ve shared
Over the past summer Sundays:
A much younger Jacob swindling his Bro
Out of his birthright in a hungry moment;
Jacob fleeing from Esau (who has threatened to kill him;)
To stay with his mother’s brother Laban.
Here, to make a long story short,
Jacob works for Laban for many years,
Marries Laban’s daughters Leah & Rachel;
Has 11 sons (& likely many daughters as well;
And becomes shrewdly quite wealthy.
As we heard today, at about the time of the birth of Joseph,
Jacob begins to think about returning home.
It seems that in spite of his own faults,
And though he is STILL afraid of Esau’s temper,
Jacob wants to make peace with his brother.
So he gathers up all that he has.
In today’s story, we find Jacob
at the border of his homeland,
just HOURS away from a reunion with Esau.
On the surface, this situation may not seem so bad.
But it is at this juncture that Jacob is indeed
Caught between a ‘rock & a hard place..”
LET ME EXPLAIN….
You see, when Jacob left Laban’s land,
ONCE AGAIN, Jacob was fleeing…
Jacob didn’t tell Laban he was leaving!
AND, those flocks of goats & sheep
That Jacob took with him,
He had as I said earlier, he had cleverly,
but DECEITFULLY cheated out of Laban!
On top of all this, his wife Rachel
Had stolen many of her father’s household goods
Before they left!
(**for more juicy details of this fascinating story,
Look in Genesis, chapter 30. I also recommend
The ‘only lightly fictionalized’ novel “The Red Tent.”)
You can see why it is not possible for Jacob
To return to Laban’s household.
HE WAS LUCKY TO ESCAPE AS HE HAD!
And what stood in Jacob’s path?
Well, Jacob (still fearing Esau’s wrath)
Had sent messengers ahead to Esau
Bearing words of reconciliation & peace.
When those messengers returned shortly,
They reported that Esau was coming,
With 400 men to meet Jacob.
Imagine how terrified this news made Jacob!
AAAH! Jacob thought: “Apparently, his brother
Had NOT forgotten the clever trick Jacob played in him!”
So, Laban was behind Jacob & Esau was in front of him.
Jacob is truly caught between a rock & a hard place!
There was nothing left to do but pray.
WHICH JACOB DID!
He knelt down & this is what he said (in essence😊
“God, you yourself have said that you are the God
Of my family and all of my ancestors.
You yourself was the one who said….
Without any prompting on my part…
That I was to go home & you would look after me.
I also remember that you were the one
Who revealed yourself to me years ago,
And made me some promises.
But God, all your past favors & promises
Don’t mean much unless you can save me now
From my brother Esau! I know, I REALLY know
That he’s going to come & kill me,
Maybe even my wives and children!
& if he kills me & wipes out my children,
Then how in the world can your promises come true?
Despite the passion of his prayer,
There is no answer yet.
So, Jacob sends his family & possessions
Over the river ahead of him,
And spends this night ALONE.
Here Jacob is, RESTLESS & WORRIED….
In that time before dawn (about 3 a.m.?)….
Wrestling, struggling…needing a blessing.
Just who or what is Jacob wrestling withf?
Is it himself? His brother? God?
Or can these 3 things be one?
During the wrestling, the stranger says to Jacob,
“You think that your struggle
Has only been with other people.
But in tricking & swindling,
And stealing from those around you,
You have also stolen from God!
And so, I will not call you Jacob,
But Israel, and that is to say:
ONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH GOD.”
& so, though Jacob doesn’t become perfect
by a long shot,
he learns that life isn’t as clear cut as he once thought.
TO DO RIGHT BY GOD,
HE HAS TO DO RIGHT BY PEOPLE!
Jacob has indeed become
ONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH GOD,
Willing to deal with life’s deeper issues.
Through Jacob, you & I inherit the chance
To also become ‘STRUGGLES WITH GOD.’
Like Jacob, we won’t have all the answers
to life or solutions to our problems
ZAPPED to us during these struggles.
And when we are blessed by God as Jacob was,
It doesn’t mean our lives will be smooth sailing
Or that everything will be all right.
QUITE TO THE CONTRARY!
For Jacob, something changed that night
By the River Jabbok!
He was given a gift
Which could never be taken back!
But Jacob did not emaerge from his struggle unscathed.
The scripture says that from that time on,
He walked with a limp.
You and I also don’t emerge from the stresses
& struggles of our own lives unscathed.
We each carry our own
Spiritual, emotional & psychological limps, scars
& wounds with us into our own futures.
And those of us who HAVE wrestled
With deeply profound issues
Are not ashamed
Of the marks we bear from these struggled.
People who have struggled through pain & despair
Often find a real blessing
In their wounds, scars & limps.
As people who struggle with God,
We can develop new strength, new depth & new life.
Because as we struggle
In those early morning hours before dawn…
God’s blessing can turn
The PAIN OF THE STRUGGLE
INTO THE EMBRACE OF THE SPIRIT!!!
PRAISE GOD!!! AMEN.