Hold On!

Rev. Lowell E. Grisham
St. Paul’s, Fayetteville, Ark.
July 31, 2011
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13, Year A

Genesis 32:22-31 The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

***

There’s an old Atlantic Monthly story that has been popularized by the noted author and preacher John Killinger, a story about the days of cattle ranching in the West. “A little burro sometimes would be harnessed to a wild steed. Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range. They could be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs. They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back. The little burro would be seen first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world, that steed would become exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take mastery and become the leader.”

I’d like to think of that little burro as an image of God. Last week we heard Jesus use images like a mustard seed and yeast as metaphors for God’s divine presence. It does seem that God has attached the Divine Self to us and will not release us, no matter how hard we may buck and rage, convulse and wrestle.

***

We’ve been following the story of Jacob for a while. Three weeks ago we read the story of Jacob’s manipulating Esau’s birthright from him for a bowl of soup. Maybe you also remember the story of Jacob dressing in Esau’s clothing and fooling their blind father Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing of the firstborn which had been intended for Esau. After their father’s death, Jacob had to flee Esau’s deadly intention for revenge.

Last week we read that incredible story of Biblical family values as Jacob’s cousin Laban tricked Jacob into working for him another seven years by swapping his eldest daughter Leah for Rachel after the wedding.

Since last week, as the story proceeds, Jacob has turned the tables on his father-in-law, manipulating the breeding of his cattle so that Laban’s flocks diminished while Jacob’s thrived and multiplied. The situation reached a breaking point. So while Laban was off shearing sheep, Jacob stole away, taking his wives and flocks and servants. When Laban learned of it, he gathered his armed men to chase Jacob down. Had Laban not been warned in a dream, he probably would have killed Jacob. Instead, they formed an uneasy truce and went their separate ways.

***

Now Jacob is returning home, to the sc