Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 10/21

          It wasn’t that long ago, just a couple of months, that each day up here had close to 18 hours of daylight.  The evening light lingered way past ten o’clock even pushing 11 for awhile and it was light again around five in the morning.  Now though we’re going through the long, slow crawl to winter and the diminishing daylight that occurs every year at this time.  A week ago Wednesday when the power went out in the middle of choir practice it was only about 7:30 but we couldn’t see much and it’s around 7:30 in the morning before it even starts to get light these days and we’ve got a couple more months to go before it begins to go back the other way.  The nights are long and getting longer.

          Nighttime is very normal of course, a part of every day, but it’s a different, odd time.  It can be a scary time, witness little kids who don’t want to go to bed, are afraid of the dark, who want a light left on in their room or out in the hall.  There’s things you can’t see at night and there’s things that look normal and non-threatening in the daylight that evoke fear in the shadows of darkness.  During the light of day we mostly manage and cope, take care of our duties and responsibilities; we do the best we can.  But the night is different.

          If we’re lucky, we sleep; but even then, between going to sleep and waking up again in the morning, there is that time when our guard is down.  We can’t help it.  We lose consciousness and as a result our usual techniques and modes of defense become inactive.  Forces beyond our control, real or imagined, loom larger.

          Night is different; and maybe that’s why the pivotal events in biblical faith history happened at night.  In the Old Testament, the central narrative, the story that’s told and remembered, is the Exodus, the delivery of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  It didn’t all happen at night, but that’s when it started as the people fled from Pharaoh.

          In the New Testament, the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God, happened at night.  The death of Jesus didn’t happen at night, but even more dramatically perhaps, darkness covered the land bringing night in the middle of the day.  And while the empty tomb was discovered in the light of morning, the resurrection itself happened sometime in the night. 

          Maybe we’re more open to the movement and activity of God during the darkness and vulnerability of night and sleep when our usual sources of coping and defense are down.  Don’t you wonder sometimes about your dreams and where they come from?  Sometimes you can figure it out; a dream is connected to something that happened the previous day or something that’s on your mind, something you’re anxious about.  But then there are others that you can only wonder about, if you want to think about them at all.  They might be about people you haven’t thought of in years or maybe put you in situations and places you’ve never been in.  In the Bible, such dreams, such nighttime encounters are often of God, God’s way of visiting and communicating, so maybe we should pay closer attention to our own dreams instead of being dismissive of them like Scrooge who wanted to chalk up the visit of the first ghost of Christmas to the effects of a poorly digested meal.

          Today’s first lesson is about a nighttime encounter between Jacob and “a man” with whom he wrestles until daybreak.  The Jacob story covers the better part of the last half of the book of Genesis, but you probably remember how Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, out of his inheritance, (whatever all that entailed) and that he did it not once, but twice.  You do get the idea that tricking Esau wasn’t all that hard.  I don’t think he was the sharpest knife in the drawer.  But he was big and strong and he did have a temper so Jacob knew that if he stayed around, Esau was going to kill him; so he was on the run, had been on the run for years, until the Lord told him he could go home. 

Jacob still wasn’t so sure but it was the Lord after all so he did head for home but just in case, he also sent gifts on ahead for Esau; 200 female goats and 20 male goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milch camels (which I guess are camels that give milk) and their colts, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys.   Jacob, ever the conniver, ever the schemer, wasn’t taking any chances. 

It was in the midst of this journey home that Jacob had his nighttime wrestling match with this man who we find out is God.  Jacob was preparing to meet Esau, but before that happened, he met first with God.  But this wasn’t the daytime Lord of promise and power.  This was God in the shadows, somewhat hidden and also vulnerable; because what happens?  Our expectation might be that an omnipotent all powerful God would be fully in control of this situation, that Jacob would absolutely be at his mercy.  But that’s not how the story goes. 

At best, God wrestled Jacob to a draw.  Jacob wound up with a blessing, a blessing he asked for, and he wound up with a new identity, as Israel, and he wound up with a limp, his hip socket out of joint, so that he would never forget this encounter.  Jacob was in possession of new possibilities which was what he really needed as he continued on to meet with Esau.  What he didn’t get was the full identity of this wrestler.  That was left unsettled.  There is mystery in this encounter that Jacob (and we as listeners) just have to live with.  All his questions were not answered and then the stranger was gone into the shadows of the night before the sun came up. Jacob didn’t have everything he wanted, but he had what he needed.

You hear me say lots of times that God is portrayed in many different ways in the Old Testament and this story is another example of that.  On one level this kind of vulnerability, even weakness is not what we expect from God but upon further reflection, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.  This story is one of power in weakness and weakness in power and that points to what we call theology of the cross. 

The central story of our faith is God’s power revealed in the humility and death of the cross.  Like Jacob wrestling God to a draw, the crucifixion of Jesus was not what we or anyone else would have expected from God either and because of that we too are left with some unsettledness and mystery; we don’t have all the answers about how all this works.  But as was the case with Jacob, we’ve gotten what we needed.  We know enough.  In the unlikely story of suffering and crucifixion, the depth of God’s love has been revealed; we have the message of salvation and forgiveness we need to go on.  It may be though, that like Jacob, we go on with a limp. 

In our relationship with God there sometimes is this wrestling that goes on and it doesn’t necessarily leave us unscathed.  The story of Jacob’s wrestling match is really a story of God’s grace, and it was grace that changed Jacob.  It probably wasn’t what he was planning on; he just thought he was getting ready to meet Esau again.  But the Lord knew that Jacob, now called Israel needed this encounter in order to be who the Lord wanted him to be.  Jacob may not have known why, but he needed to wrestle.   

That is probably true for us too when we wrestle with God.  We may wrestle without really knowing what we’re wrestling for.  We don’t have to wrestle to receive God’s grace, by definition it is freely given.  We might wrestle to understand it but it’s still likely that our understanding will only be partial.  What we really do is wrestle to accept God’s grace.  That acceptance should change us or to put it another way, at the end of the night of wrestling, the daytime should look different.

Morning does come after a nighttime of wrestling and as people of faith, people living in this relationship with God we don’t ever want to forget that.  Some of the pivotal moments of salvation history did happen at night, that’s true; but they don’t end there.  The night ends and morning comes, and it does look different…because God has acted. 


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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