To save you all a little bit of heartache, I'm going to post just sermons for a bit...at least until I hit 50 pounds, and then I'll post pics :)
If you’re like the rest of the world, those 33 Chilean miners buried underground for 69 days, captured at the very least your attention, if not your entire heart. After hearing all their stories, you feel like you almost know them...The beautiful ones: of babies been born in hope while their daddies sang lullabies to them from underground; the comical ones—of wives and mistresses fighting over who had rights to see their loved one first (the wife probably wanting to say more than “I love you”). As we heard more about them, those men began to symbolize for the entire world, what it meant to live...to survive in hope; what it meant to fight to stay alive. In just a few short months they’ve already become legendary...because those men actually lived through what we all sometimes feel—that overwhelming, heavy, oppressive darkness—but instead of giving in, like we all sometimes want to do...instead of letting that darkness swallow them whole, they practiced their faith, they prayed each morning, they communed with each other, and they wrestled...they wrestled with God.
Just an hour after being extracted from the mine, freed miner Mario Sepulveda said, "I was with God and I was with the Devil, they both fought me but God won.” I wonder if Mario knew that thousands of years ago, his great-great-grandfather Jacob, whispered those same words. That thousands of years ago, there too was a man who met God in the darkness of a mine...who wrestled with God...
Let me tell you a little bit about this our first fore-wrestler Jacob, a guy you should have learned about in Sunday School—someone from your own family tree; someone who makes me think our branches should be a little better pruned. Jacob, was a wrestler from before he was even born. He and his big brother Esau would play tag in their mama’s belly, constantly trying to get the upper hand on each other, and on the day they were born, he was trying as hard as he could to pull Esau back in, so that he would go first. Those early escapades led him down a slippery slope; as time went on, he lived up to his name (Jacob indeed means liar, swindler, deceiver) when he stole his brother Esau’s inheritance by lying to his dying father; he then went on to marry two sisters, one who he loved, one who he didn’t and had 13 children with them and two of their slaves; he was shrewd, building up his own flock of sheep and goats, while making sure his father-in-law got the smaller, sickly, and weaker ones.
And so finally after living dishonestly for almost two decades and after getting all that he had ever wanted—wives, money, children, livestock, he decided it was time to listen to God and head back home, to face the wrath of the brother he cheated, and to live in the land that he had inherited.
So, he cries out to God—oh God please deliver me; save me from my brother who probably wants to kill me and then I will faithfully serve you; I know I’m not worthy, but you did promise that you would watch out for me, that you would always do good for me, so let me live, and I’ll give you what I owe.
And God answers, but not in a nice—of course I’ll always love you, come on home—kind of way. Instead there’s a reprisal of his early years, and there’s an all night long drag down fight; they wrestle together, and pull each other’s hair and knock each other down. Jacob even seems to be winning at one point, and to show his power this strange being strikes him, dislocating his hip. And as dawn draws near, this man, or angel, or maybe even God, tries to get away, but Jacob grabs him and won’t let go. He pulls his hand behind his back and demands that he be blessed—demands that he be smiled upon—demands that the man in front of him looks into his eyes, sees him for all the crap that he’s done and call him his child anyway.
And the man does just that—Yes, the man says, You are blessed. And furthermore, Your name is no longer Jacob—the one who steals, and lies, and deceives, but your name is Israel—because tonight you wrestled with God, tonight you looked into God’s eyes, tonight you held on for dear life, tonight you saw God face to face and you survived.
And Jacob—Israel, for his name was the not the only thing changed. His body was too. And each time he took a step and felt the pain radiate down his leg, he remembered; he remembered the promise of God—a promise that came through a knock-down, drag-out fight; a promise that blessed him body and soul for always.
You know what though, You and me; us and Mario—we’re still in this struggle; we’re still wrestling with God each and every night. We’re still living in this world where the darkness seems oppressive and the light dim. We’re still living when we wonder if God’s face will ever be made known; or if God’s left the building a long, long time ago. We’re still living lives that simply to not reflect the grace of a God who claims to love us; and we’ve been hurt too deeply, too many times, and continuing the fight is simply too exhausting.
But, please, what we can’t do, is leave the fight. We cannot leave God alone, on our mantle in a nice, safe, neat little box. We can and pretend that the wrestling with what God wants, what God needs from us, what God desires of us is over. We cannot let go. can’t let go that easily. We have to keep wrestling; we have to keep believing that we have fight left in us—that even though we’re just a small, country church, 35 strong, we indeed have something to offer the God of the world.
We have to keep fighting, holding on to God, demanding for God to bless us, demanding that we will not let go until God looks us squarely in the eye and says “I don’t care what you’ve done, or haven’t done, you are my child; you have wrestled with me and you will live.”
The thing is we won’t walk away unscathed; we’ll develop a limp that sends fire up our bodies with every step because facing God is far from easy; but we will walk away, and having seen God, having wrestled and demanded our blessing, we will absolutely never be the same. Having seen God, we’ll will tell the story of how our name was changed…having seen God we’ll remember the words of our brother Mario—Both the devil and God fought me in there. And God won. God took me by my best hand…the hand of God and I held on to him. I never thought for one moment that God wouldn’t get me out of here.” Never…never think for one moment that after all this wrestling is over, God will not get you out of here. Because when the night ends and the morning begins, God will take you by your best hand, and you will live.