Wrestling with Strangers

Last week, I concluded my summer sermon series entitled, “Games We Play.”  We explored different board games throughout the years and how they truly mirrored life in many ways.  From the game of LIFE to Monopoly, we examined how those games are part of our lives and how our faith can influence each of those instances.

The final installment in the series was about the game of Twister.  The premise of Twister is the attempt to stay balanced even though you are constantly being challenged to twist your body in many different ways.  In addition, there are other players who are doing the same thing.  All of you are attempting to keep your balance, while contorting and bumping into one another.  Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to stay on your feet.  If you fall, you’re out of the game.  The last one standing wins.

How often does life twist us into knots?  Are there people with their words and deeds who turn our stomachs?  How many issues attempt to knock us off our feet?  How many situations have do we fight just to keep our balance?  How many issues?  How many relationships?  How many nights have we wrestled with darkness?

When Jacob arrives at the Jabbok in Genesis 32, we find him at his breaking point.  He has lived a life on the run.  He helped trick his father into gaining the blessing of his older brother Esau.  When fearing for his life, he fled.  Then, he met Laban and his daughters.  He fell in love with Rachel, but Laban tricked him into marrying her older sister, Leah, instead.  After finally gaining the hand of Rachel, Jacob prospers.  However, the sisters’ brothers gain a deep jealousy for their brother-in-law.

Jacob sees a vision and believes God is telling him to return home.  Yet, Jacob can only imagine he will not be welcomed by the brother he betrayed.  Esau would surely kill him, but whether out of obedience to God or out of fear for his life Jacob feels he has no choice but to return.  While on his journey home, he arrives at the Jabbok to encounter a stranger.

The stranger seems to wrap everything Jacob has done over his life into this one moment.  Just across the river awaits his bother and his four hundred men who are on their way to meet Jacob.  He believes he will surely die for his sins.  Jacob is struggling.  He is wrestling with his soul.  He is wresting with God.  What should he do?  Flee to save his life or move forward to an unknown future?  The wrestling match at the Jabbok demonstrates the depth of our struggles, which can be a blessing and a curse (Jacob’s limp).  Thus, with both, Jacob decides to move forward.  The reality of his decision hits him full force with the next sentence after this story, “Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him.”

Jacob did not die at the hand of his brother.  Instead of reaching out with hands of anger or jealousy, Esau reaches out to embrace his bother with warmth and graciousness.  The situation that had Jacob all twisted up in knots and wrestling with God gave way when his brother threw his arms around him and welcomed him home.

No matter how twisted we find ourselves.  No matter how difficult life can get.  No matter how we feel as though we are about to fall off balance.  No matter how long we wrestle with our souls and with God, as long as we are willing to take the next step with him, a gracious end awaits.  Love, forgiveness, graciousness, peace, and hope can prevail if we allow them.

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