Sunday, August 2, 2020
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
"Running or Wrestling?"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
When we left Jacob a couple of weeks ago, he was running: but it was more than just running physically from his home in Beer-sheba, and from his father whom he deceived, and his brother from whom he stole both his birthright and blessing. Jacob was also running from himself. Which, I suppose, is the same as running from God who was integrally part of his life. He found, in so doing, that he could run – but he could not hide.
His actions as a trickster and deceiver had left him with no sense of integrity or authenticity. No longer able to recognize himself in the mirror, Jacob was running from any person or source of Truth that would expose what he had become. And as a result, he was a mess.
All along the way, God kept confronting him. Interrupting his running. Attempting to get him to be still long enough in order to recognize his only true source of healing – a Divine source – that appeared in the form of a voice, a dream – an “impossible dream?” Actually a few dreams, and now an angel from God’s wrestling team. [Pause]
We pick up the story today at a point where his running from his brother had reached the level of paranoia. Hearing from his scouting team that Esau was hot on his tracks with a posse of over 400 men, Jacob tried to curry Esau’s favor by sending cattle, money, and slaves – all manner of resources as a peace offering of sorts in order that he and his family might be spared Esau’s wrath.
Frightened that the remainder of his family would be annihilated, he spilt them up into two camps. Initially, sending them out in front of him – a human shield of sorts – and he was, once again, all alone. It’s then that the running ceased, and the real wrestling began. [Pause]
Biblical scholars have speculated on many aspects of this fascinating story, but of particular interest was an understanding of who was the man Jacob wrestled with all night long? Was it Esau? Was it an angel? Was it God? Or was it merely himself – Jacob, wrestling with his own inner demons – conflicted by what he had done – no longer having the strength to run – now coming face-to-face with his dark side – his shadow – and in all honesty beginning to see his True Self – that self with which he had lost touch through lying, and deception, and running. [Pause]
I love this story for so many reasons. Primarily because honesty has long been a core value of mine. Having struggled hard, personally, to embrace my own true self, I have found that doing so is what opens to the door to the Holy Presence that dwells within us. When we are hiding from ourselves – we cannot possibly receive the blessing that God wants to give us – simply – for being ourselves. Does that make sense? Let me try to say it in a slightly different way. This is important. In fact, it may be THE most important thing of all when it comes to our spiritual journey.
You see, God loves who we are – not the façade that we may try to create to deceive others – even ourselves. God has created us – and as the bible says, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” When we try and deny that self, or hide from that self, we are essentially saying that God doesn’t love what God has created. To borrow an old cliché, “God doesn’t create junk,” but for some reason, we have adopted the notion that are not good enough as we are – and nothing could be further from the truth.
Recall the path of Jacob. God kept trying to bless him – in spite of his attempt to run as far away as he could - until finally Jacob could run no further. It was then that he confronted or wrestled with himself long enough that he realized that God’s blessing was exactly what he needed. In fact, he could not live without it. And, it was not something he could ever earn.
“I will not let you go until you bless me,” he ultimately cried as dawn was breaking. It is then that his wrestling partner renamed him. “You will no longer be called Jacob but Israel because you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”
But this blessing cost him. Jacob, aka Israel had his hip socket put out of joint at some point during the fight, and from that day on walked with a limp – a constant reminder that coming to terms with and embracing our true, authentic self – like the old “Velveteen Rabbit” usually leaves us with a few battle scars – worn and weary.
You may remember that famous line: “'You become.” Old Skin Horse reminded the Velveteen Rabbit. “It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real,” (we could sub in authentic or true) “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Israel now had a much deeper sense of understanding of himself and the world around him. When he became “Real” he knew what he had to do. With a renewed sense of integrity and renewed inner strength, he walked toward what he perceived to be his enemy – his brother – determined to apologize – seek forgiveness – and the desire to make things right with him.
When Esau saw him at a distance, he ran toward his brother, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Jacob was overwhelmed with Esau’s apparent forgiveness. Esau needed no restitution. Their restored relationship was all that mattered. To which Jacob responded in all humility, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.” Seeing the face of God was now becoming a regular occurrence in Jacob’s life.
I’m reminded of Nelson Mandela, upon being released from prison. After 27 years of incarceration – a lot of it spent in solitary confinement, he did not demand restitution. All he wanted was for Truth and Reconciliation to lead the way. Living from his authentic self he actually felt sorry for his captors – they were the ones who were truly imprisoned. He was free – from all anger or retaliation of any sort. You heard the very same things said about Congressman John Lewis the other day as he was eulogized by President Barack Obama.
When we live from our authentic self – we are grounded in holiness. It’s from that place that we receive the strength to fulfill the calling that God has placed in our being. It’s from there that we garner the strength to speak truth to power, to battle injustice on any and all fronts, and to live with hearts of compassion as we seek a life of pono – desiring nothing less than the highest good, morality, righteousness, truth, and benefit for all beings. When we live from our authentic self, nothing can overwhelm us, all fear subsides, and we embody a powerful presence that is calm, and grounded, and at peace from within. [Pause]
What Jacob had to realize was that God loved him – regardless of his flaws. God loved him and loves us for who we are – nothing more – nothing less. And, I believe, what God longs for, more than anything else, is for us to come to peace with who we are as we yield to God’s transforming grace – a blessing that will safely lead us home.