Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

Struggling With God

Genesis 32:22-31

Have you noticed yet that Jacob's life seems to be one struggle after another? He seems constantly to be in disagreement with somebody about something.

Even before he was born he was struggling with his brother, Esau. Poor Rebecca was nearly overcome with despair while she was carrying Esau and Jacob because "the babies jostled each other within her." And then… when they were born… Jacob appeared with his hand grasping Esau's heel. He wasn't about to give up the fight!

You remember the story… about the cavalier way in which Esau treated his birthright. Apparently it meant little to him… less important even than a bowl of hot soup. Jacob must have noticed his brother's careless attitude… and perhaps it was a source of internal conflict for years before he decided to do something about it. We don't really know if he was just a shyster… a selfish person who wanted the best for himself… or if he was truly concerned about the outcome of that promise made by God to his grandfather Abraham and to his father Isaac. What if Esau received the blessing… would he take it seriously? Well, we don't really know for sure… but for whatever reason… Jacob concluded that the birthright rightly belonged to him… and he took advantage of Esau in a weak moment.

Then, of course, he faced the problem of tricking Isaac… not an easy scheme to pull off. But with his mother Rebecca's help… he actually managed to get the blessing for himself. Then… he had to run away or risk being killed by Esau… or so he though. He spent a number of years struggling with his Uncle Laban… a battle which he finally appears to have won. He got Rachael for his wife… and he got rich by devious means… leaving his uncle worse off than he had found him.

In today's story we find Jacob… worrying about his reunion with his brother Esau… all these years later. Would he be killed the next day… or has his brother forgiven him? He wasn't taking any chances… he had sent ahead a generous gift in the hope that Esau would be pacified… and would receive him graciously. Yes, Jacob's life had been filled with one struggle after another… and on that memorable night he encountered the most important struggle of all… his struggle with God.

This story… the story of Jacob's life… is a familiar one… probably you've head it many times before. It's ancient history, isn't it? Or is it? Can we identify with Jacob's struggles? I know this is a silly question… but are there struggles in your life?… do I have struggles in my life?… does this church have struggles? The truth is that struggling… and living seem to be synonymous.

Like Jacob… we all have our internal struggles… the ongoing conversation that happens in our heads… or sometimes in our gut. You know what I'm talking about. The voice that says, "do this… you know you want to"… and the other voice that says "no… you have to do this instead"… and maybe even a third voice that says, "I wish you two would go away so that I can have some peace and quite." Sometimes the conflict can be very intense… and a lot of our time and energy goes into resolving it. I've never been inside anybody else's head… but I suspect that I am not alone in this experience. We all have internal struggles with ourselves.

Like Jacob… we all have our external struggles… with friends… with co-workers… with family members. It goes on all the time doesn't it? Of course… you've been betrayed by a friend… a co-worker got the promotion you wanted… your relationship with your mother… or your son… or your wife… has taken a turn for the worse. Struggling with one another is very much a part of the human story… and part of each of our lives. When struggles end… we'll be six feet under!

I'm reminded of a popular song that asks… "Is that all there is?" Do we go through our lives having one struggle after another… and then end up six feet under? Well, that's what the world would have us believe. How many times have you heard… get it while you can! Look out for number one! Claw your way up the ladder! Keep up with the Jones! In this secular age we have come to believe that who we are… and what we make of ourselves… is entirely up to us. It's the American way… to work hard… and achieve. Only in America can by "be the best that you can be." And for far too many of us… that's all there is to life.

It is very difficult for all of us… in this secular age… to fully understand… and appreciate our relationship with God. But the truth is that there is only one struggle that really counts. Like Jacob… we each must have our own personal struggle with God… and therein lies our hope for "something more!"

What does it mean… to struggle with God? Well, I had a brief talk with God this morning… and I asked him about that… and he said, "Shirley, you know what it means… you are doing it all the time!" And you know what… He's right. Everyday I struggle to find God in my life… and I must admit… most days He's not very real to me. I am painfully aware that God's place in my life is not very clear to me… I am sure that I am not living with him the way He would like for me to. Sometimes, you know… things fall into place… and I know that God is at work in my life… but most of the time I go merrily on my way… oblivious to God's presence… and God struggles with me… to get my attention!

God struggles with each of us… with you and with me… in order to get our attention… in order to help us understand who He is… in order to give us a real experience of his presence. That's what Jacob's struggle was all about. You see… like us… Jacob knew about God… he had even had a revelation from God… but he was still operating under the delusion that he was more or less in control of his own life.

Jacob's struggle with God came when he was alone… when he had separated himself from all his earthly possessions… when he was afraid for his life. In the midst of his uncertainty God was there for him. Jacob's struggle with God left a mark on him for life… God touched his hip… and he was lame. Never again would he be able to simply take God for granted. And last… but not least… Jacob's struggle with God brought him a new awareness… that from God comes the blessing… and without it his life was meaningless.

Are you struggling with God? I hope your answer is "yes"… because that's a good sign… a sign that God is real in your life… and that He wants more of your attention. A sign that He will always be there for you… when you remember to turn to him. A sign that He has marked you for life… and that only from Him comes the blessing of a relationship that begins now and goes on throughout eternity. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on August 1, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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