Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 10-20-19

In this sermon, based on Genesis 32:22-31, I explore the story of Jacob. Specifically we look at the brief story of his all-night divine wrestling match that results in a change in his identity to Israel.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-10-20-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

I always wanted to develop my own catch-phrase…I have yet to accomplish this feat…but I still want to…because a great catch phrase is amazing.  I’ve heard a lot of them over the years…those simple phrases that immediately key you into something specific…and if the phrase is good enough, it always works.

Think about it…I’m gonna lay down a phrase, and see if you can name the product its associated with. (Tony the Tiger) “They’re GREAAAAT!” (pause)…Frosted Flakes. See how well that works? It just sticks in our minds doesn’t it?

Now there’s another catch phrase…it’s a little bit longer…but I’ve heard it SO many times…it is utterly engrained…and the second it begins I both picture the specific person…and I know exactly what coming next.  Now if I say the name Michael Buffer…a lot of you know what’s coming next don’t you?  But don’t worry if you don’t know the name, because you’ll probably recognize the phrase.

He walks out to the middle of the venue…and begins “Are You Ready?” And the crowd cheers…then after a pause, he repeats himself, a little stronger this time “ARE YOU READY?” And the crowd goes nuts…and then he really goes for the gusto… “To the thousands in attendance…and the MILLIONS watching…around the world…Ladies and Gentlemen…LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!” (pause)

Don’t you just love that? Its exciting…and it’s the perfect opening to what comes next.  This phrase has been everywhere…its in movies and tv shows…but most commonly it happens at the beginning of sporting events…events like boxing, or MMA…and the one where it happens most frequently…and the one place where I actually heard it in person once…at the beginning of wrestling matches.

I don’t know quite why…but its perfect for this type of event…because it implies that the people involved…the opponents…they are gonna throw down…they’re going to battle…they are going to contend with each other for dominance.

And that my friends…is the perfect segue into today’s scripture lesson, the Old Testament reading of course…and the story of Jacob’s divine wrestling match…that’s our focus…but before we get into this oddball hours long, overnight main event…let’s get a little history about Jacob.

He’s one of the individuals that we tend call the Patriarchs…and that distinction starts 2 generations before Jacob with Abraham…you remember him…random dude, hanging out in Genesis…God tells him “hey, go somewhere, I’ll tell you when you get there…also, you’re gonna have tons of offspring.”  Abraham nods…years pass…he has a kid with his wife’s slave…weird I know…and then more years pass and he finally has a child of the promise in Isaac…but what’s weird is the way inheritance works in those days. The oldest son is the heir and gets everything…So Isaac should be out of luck…but God chooses him anyway.

The story sorta repeats, or at least has a lot of similarities. Isaac eventually gets married…he and his wife ALSO wait a long time for kids, but then finally have twin boys.  The first one is born all red and hairy…so they name him Esau, which is Hebrew for…anyone know? Red and hairy…keep in mind Hebrew names are usually pretty on the nose.

But when Esau is born, his twin brother is holding his heel…so when HE’s born a moment later…they name him Jacob…anyone know what it means? Yah, it literally means “He grabs the heel.” I know, Hebrew is weird but we’ll go with it.

Now Jacob…from the get-go, he’s crafty.  He cheats his brother out of his birthright…and later, when Isaac is about to die and he’s too blind to see the difference, Jacob tricks him into thinking he’s Esau, and so he gets the blessing of the heir.  Once again…God has shined a light on the younger brother…the one we wouldn’t expect…especially not this trickster.

But you know, it doesn’t stop there.  Esau is so mad at Jacob that Jacob hightails it off to his uncle Laban…promptly falls in love with Laban’s younger daughter…promises to work for him for 7 years so he can marry her…then Karma catches him ever so slightly as Laban tricks HIM into marrying his other daughter…then Jacob works another 7 years to marry the daughter he loved in the first place.

Once that’s done, he uses some sort of divine inspiration to start earning great numbers of livestock from his father in law…and even though Laban keeps changing his wages, it still works out pretty good for Jacob…but after a batch of years…he’s grown rich…he’s got 2 wives…he’s also got 2 concubines, weird but he did…he’s got a dozen sons and bunch of daughters…he’s got tons of servants…dude is doing well…

But always the fickle one, he decides to go home…pretty much running away from Laban in the process…Now Jacob remembers that Esau, his big brother…was REALLY mad at him and wanted him dead…and as they approach Esua’s land, Jacob finds out he’s on his way, along with 400 of His men…and Jacob gets scared…and he starts taking steps to outsmart his brother.

He divides his whole household into two camps…he then sends tons of bribes to his brother ahead of him…then he sends his wives and children out in front of him…all the while thinking that if Esau is out for blood, Jacob will be able to figure it out and get away.  Nice guy huh?

And yet, this is the one that God has chosen to carry on the ultimate blessing that originated with Abraham. This crafty trickster who has taken every advantage he could finagle his way into to bring him right up to this particular moment.  A moment in which he’s tried to utterly separate himself as much as possible in order to ensure his own personal safety…right down to sending his family and property across a river towards his brother…and he’s gonna the spend the night on the far side.

But as soon as night falls…Michael Buffer shows up with the divine announcement “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” and Jacob finds himself in an overnight test of wills…in what the scripture describes as wrestling match.

Now all thoughts of Professional Wrestling with its light shows and pyro technics, not to mention high flying aerial acrobatics between contenders aside…this wrestling match seems to be a little different. They aren’t try to pin each other…they aren’t going for the coveted 3 count or a tap out due to a submission hold.

It actually seems like they are scrounging around, trying to maintain a grip on one another…and it lasts all night.  To be honest, I can kinda relate…my son is every bit as big as me now…and in the rare moments when we get into a wrestling match, I’m to the point of simply trying to hold him off as long as possible because eventually I’ll get tired, he’ll get me in some sort of a choke hold and its over…I just try to last as long as possible.

Jacob and this divine being…seems to be the same thing…and somehow, they appear to be evenly matched.  It must be a pretty violent struggle, as we hear Jacob’s hip gets wrenched out of place…but as it goes on, neither can get away from the other…and as day begins to break…its time to be done and this divine being begs him to be let go.

Jacob refuses…because he wants another blessing…apparently every other blessing that he’s finagled his way into, all the tricks that he’s pulled off, or the mental battles he’s won and benefited from…those weren’t enough…and he wants this one to.

But before he gets the blessing, this divine being asks his name.  Jacob…the one who grasps the heel…the trickster…And now here’s the thing…he gets a new name…before he is blessed…there’s a change in identity…and Jacob becomes Israel. (pause)

Now, what have we already established about Hebrew names?  They mean something right?  Israel is no exception…this name means “he who contends” or “he who wrestles” And specifically…he who wrestles with God. (pause)

Now of course, Israel is also the name of the culture and the eventual kingdom that his descendants will ultimately become…and just like the man Israel who has contended with everyone including the divine…we later hear that the entire culture continues to wrestle with God in one way or another…and so this name is fitting.

But…what do we take from this whole deal?  Is it just some story? Some oddball little moment that the author decided to stick in there?  Or is there something for us to learn?  And I think there is.

Nowhere in Jacob’s story, do we hear him condemned by God because of his behavior…as we’ve already mentioned, he’s just one of the line of recipients of God’s ultimate blessing…even if he’s the unlikely choice.  And so maybe, just maybe as we hear that God GIVES him this identity as one who contends with God, maybe God is actually in favor of this type of thing.  Not the cheating…not the swindling…not the craftiness…but the actually wrestling…the contending.

And so what does that mean? (Pause) I think it means that in our encounters with the divine…wrestling…contending…questioning, seeking, wondering…battling…these are not bad things…but rather, we are encouraged to do just that.  These are not signs of weak faith. These are not indicators of issues in your spirituality…doubt, fear, questions…they are indications that you are paying attention to the reality you are a part of…and that you care enough to go to the source with it.

And you know what, you’re not alone in this…and we find this in the biggest batch of prayers that we have in our faith tradition…the psalms. The psalms are prayers and they cover the gambit. Joy, celebration, praise, questions, concerns…laments…and the laments…are the biggest batch of them. So if we find the psalms pointing out the legitimate nature of questioning God…and we find Jacob rewarded with an identity that LITERALLY means he battles with God…maybe we see that its okay when we need to do it to…and those moments happen in our lives and for some of you, I know these moments are happening right now.

But there’s one more thing we need to take note of…this encounter with the divine…this moment that results in a new identity…it leaves a mark on Jacob. And he limped for the rest of his days.

Likewise, we cannot expect to wrestle with God, in the good stuff and the hard stuff…and not be changed by it.  These divine encounters do leave their marks upon us in one way or another…but thanks be to God that they also result in a new identity…one given by the divine.

Jacob ceased to be the one who grabs the heel, and he became the one who contends with God.  And in our encounter with the divine, we are claimed as God’s beloved child…and this is made possible through the ULTIMATE divine wrestling match…when God became flesh…and took on death itself…

That encounter left its marks too…which we know because Jesus himself told his followers to put their fingers in the nail marks and their hands in his side.  Not even God can escape being marked by divine encounters…but thanks be to God…that this has all been done for us.

And so, today and every day…don’t be afraid to contend with God…God’s got broad shoulders…God’ll take it…but don’t be surprised…if you ultimately…end up changed by it.

What do you think everyone?   Let’s get ready to rumble. Amen.

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