Sunday, August 20, 2017
Scripture: John 1:1-5, 14, 16-18 & Genesis 32:22-32
Rev. Jill VanderWal
Facing the fear…
I spent a few days at a cabin in Twin Lakes Colorado, a fairly deserted Colorado mountain town with a population of 170 people. One night I cooked dinner then made a camp fire and made sure to put it out as the sun set. I locked up the cabin for the night. Later that night the wind picked up and the fire came back alive. My fear said, “Don’t go out into the dark woods alone”… but I had to put it out, so I went out into the dark, to face my fear.
Facing his greatest fear is where we pick back up with Jacob today in our study of Genesis. Jacob was born grabbing his twin’s heel and is named and known as the supplanter, the cheater…a hustler. He has stolen the blessing from his brother, fled to another land to live with his uncle Laban. He works for 7 years (twice) to earn his wives Leah and Rachel and while God blesses and prospers him with children and flocks, his relationship with his Uncle and now father-in-law is contentious at best. Laban always seems to shift the terms of Jacob’s compensation so Jacob decides to go back to his homeland and tries to run before Laban notices. Now this is like the circus trying to discreetly make it out of town. Jacob travels with herds of goats, donkeys, camels, cows, hundreds of sheep, two wives, two maids and 11 children.
It’s been 20 years since he ran. Jacob and his progeny are on the way back to his homeland. He has had great prosperity and he has a lot to show for his time away but this is no joyous homecoming. For Jacob this is his moment of reckoning. He has to face the past he fled. His brother is his past…and a legacy that continues to define his present reality. Jacob fears for his life at the hands of Esau. Jacob prays to God saying “I am afraid of him, he may come and kill us all.” Esau comes out to meet Jacob with 400 men. So Jacob…sends gifts of slaves and flocks ahead. Is this to show the wealth he has accumulated? Or to overwhelm his opponent with livestock? On the eve of their reunion he sends everyone on ahead of him and he stays back, to camp alone. So, the scene is set, can you feel the anxiety and suspense in the air? What will happen the next day?
It’s quiet, the embers of the fire die down, and Jacob is ready to sleep. First Jacob has to make it through one dark night. Here in the dark night our story takes an unexpected turn when an embodied being, a stranger, an angel shows up and begins to wrestle with Jacob. Now Jacob in younger years has had beautiful dreams and visions from God but this time there is no vision, no dreams just a real physical struggle. Can you relate to Jacob on this dark night?
For some the dark night is a night or a moment of crisis. For others it is a season that may seem to stretch on for years. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “in a real dark night of the soul it is always 3 am, day after day.” In the dark night we meet, and wrestle, sometimes blindly, with that which feels like it will overcome us. I wonder if we have bought into the lie that belief in God will bring safety and comfort? So when we wrestle in the darkness we think it must be not of God, for surely God is all about peace and comfort. What if God is also one who confronts, challenges and invites us to wrestle?
Frederick Buechner says in The Magnificent Defeat: “God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight—God, the beloved enemy, because, before giving us everything, God demands of us everything. Remember Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of dawn.”
There’s something sacred in the struggle. Furthermore, what we wrestle with, who we wrestle with that defines our core identity.
Jacob asks for a blessing and the being responds with a question, “What is your name?” This is the hinge of Jacob’s entire life story… “Who are you?” You have lied, claiming to be Esau and lived as a Supplanter, a hustler, a cheater. Who are you? This blessing comes after the long night …after the adversary puts out Jacob’s hip. The blessing comes in the form of an invitation to a new name and a new identity. To be the one who strived with God, the survivor. He still goes by the name Jacob which is interesting. Maybe the blessing is another option of who he can be, or how God views him.
“When it happens, do not let anyone convince you that if it were really God it would not be so scary and would not hurt. Hang on with everything that is in you, even if it hurts. Insist on a blessing to go with your wound and do not let go until you have got one. Then thank God for your life, limp and all, and tilt your way home.“ (Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine 124)
What is the promise God has for us today? Where is the invitation to hope?
After the dark night, there is dawn. For Jacob, I imagine this first light of the day was like no other…we know he emerged with a limp…or a swagger.
It is the image and first words in the Gospel of John that remind me of the first light. John 1 tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. In the words of The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
Jesus is the light, Jesus is the dawning of a new day, the first light on the horizon and an everlasting promise that light will not be overcome by darkness. In our dark night, Jesus is the first light on the horizon, in him we are called children of the light.