Wrestling with God

Genesis 32:22-32

 
22 [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 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. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”  31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
 
 

I was asked to offer a ministry to lift up as a recipient of gifts that could be offered in honor of my ministry at Epiphany upon my departure. The one I selected is Jacob’s Porch, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at The Ohio State University. The campus pastor there is Grant Eckhart, who is a son of our congregation. Grant is doing great work in that community, and we are blessed to have him as a partner in ministry.

 

Campus ministry was an important factor in my discernment to become a pastor. When I attended THE Central Michigan University, I attended the Lutheran Chapel located in middle of the campus, right next door to the Catholic Church. I went there because a friend invited me the first Sunday we were on campus. Pastor Bob Garrels welcomed us all, realizing that many of us in the congregation were new to the Lutheran faith. So he took time to explain the pieces of the service, the Lutheran theology, and answer questions we had. The chapel provided a place to struggle and grow in faith and our relationships with God and others.

 

Some 40 years later, I am excited to see a similar ministry happening at Jacob’s Porch. I know that members of Epiphany as well as members of Prince of Peace (my future call) have been and continue to be active at Jacob’s Porch.

 

Some have asked how we might engage better with our young people, like college-aged students. I believe the best way is the same way we all need to be better engaged – to have a place where we can wrestle with our faith in a safe and healthy environment that doesn’t judge, but offers at its core the welcoming place that says whoever you are, and where ever you might be in your journey of faith, you are welcomed here. That is what I experienced at the campus chapel when I was in college. That is what I believe Jacob’s Porch has to offer to college-aged students in Columbus today. 

 

In today’s devotion, I include information gleaned from the Jacob’s Porch web site, jacobsporch.com.

 

I invite you to join me in supporting the mission and ministry of Jacob’s Porch.
 
 

Jacob was a liar and a thief.

 

He lied about who he was. At a crossroads in his life, God wrestled with Jacob all night to a standstill. He blessed Jacob calling him “God-Wrestler,” that is, “Israel.” Jacob left the encounter blessed but he also left limping.

 

This is the encounter of faith. It is holy and good, a time to be blessed. It is also a fight, a striving, a tussle. To follow God is a fight for our hearts and minds with the one who makes all things new.

 

Welcome to Jacob’s Porch. We invite you to join us in striving with God in community. May you leave blessed and may you leave limping.

 

WHAT IS IN A NAME?

 

WHY JACOB: Genesis 32: 22-32. Jacob was a liar and a thief. He was a trickster, a swindler. His name means “The Heel” because he held his brother Esau’s heel in birth but also “heeled” him in life, stealing his birthright by tricking his father. He claimed to be Esau to his father. He has fled from Esau’s wrath and now returns to confront his past. In this passage, a man approaches Jacob but unlike Abraham (see Genesis18:3), this man doesn’t bless him immediately but instead wrestles with him (24). It is a fierce battle with no seeming winner or loser. At the conclusion, the man asks Jacob his name (27).

 

This allusion to the asking of his name formerly recalls Jacob’s sin. It recalls his identity crisis. This time Jacob answers truthfully and offers his real name. The “man” blesses him by changing his name from Jacob to ISRAEL from “yassar,” to wrestle and “El”, God. His new name is yassar-el, God wrestler. Israel is the name the nation would adopt as their own. They would be known as God-wrestlers. They are defined by the struggle of this relationship rather than the ease. For instance, Jacob leaves the fight with a limp that would mark him for the rest of his days. He leaves blessed and limping. This defines the encounter of faith in God, blessed and dangerous.

 

At Jacob’s Porch, we strive to be a place that is neither simple nor delicate. We don’t see life in relationship with God as uncomplicated. When we encounter God, we will be blessed by the encounter but this does not mean it is easy. When we encounter God, we can be sure we will be blessed but we may also leave limping.

 

By sharing this truth (small “t” intended), we feel we offer a realistic view of faith. We intend to be a place that engages the wrestling match, that jumps on for the journey. We desire to be a place that does not offer the simple solution and three-step answer but rather the beautiful complication of being in Christ.

 

PORCH: Around the temple in Israel were a set of porticos, or porches. These porches are where Jesus taught, where people gathered to listen to rabbis, where people mingled from various backgrounds, where the prophets spoke out, and where fights often erupted. We are a place just like this. A place for us to mingle, listen, teach, know, fight, make up, and live together.

 

In our culture a porch is a temporary place. You don’t dwell on the porch but in the house. It hangs on the edge of the house, neither fully inside nor outside. It is a place people stop, talk, share, and move on. It is a place that faces out, not in. We are a place for people to gather for awhile and then travel back into the normal of life. It is temporary but comfortable. It’s inviting, yet asks people to go when the time is up. It is a place for easy conversation but also a place for asking the deeper questions of life and faith beyond the usual. By saying we are a porch, we are saying we are these things. We are a place where life happens, in a temporary place, where life plays itself out in all its confusion and reality as well as beauty. This is the community we strive to be at Jacob’s Porch. Welcome.
 
 

Let Us Pray

Almighty God, we give thanks to you for our ministry partners. Today we give thanks for Jacob’s Porch, for Pastor Grant Eckhart, and for those who gather to wrestle with their faith in and through this ministry. Bless us in our wrestling, that we might grow in faith toward you, and in fervent love toward one another. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
 
 

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