God is love. But that doesn’t mean that God is lovely all the time, or that God is easy and comfortable all the time.
God’s love can be fierce. It can be confrontational. It can be transformational. It can force us to face certain truths about ourselves, face certain truths about other people, truths about the world, about reality, about God, about life and death and eternity … to face these things, or else sign ourselves up for a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Now, comfort is one aspect of God’s love. God’s love is comforting, deeply comforting.
God shows us the face we need to see. And often times that is a comforting face. And, in the end, it is peace that God offers to all of us – deep abiding peace.
But another aspect of God’s love is discomforting – deeply discomforting. When our feeling comfort is just a way of being complacent, of avoiding what we need to be honest with ourselves about, well, we just may be made to feel uncomfortable.
And that’s not even putting it strong enough.
God’s love can be like getting tackled from behind by some stranger in the dark, and wrestling until a bone gets wrenched out of joint.
When this happens to us, we have the opportunity to meet God’s fierce faithfulness to us, by ourselves being fiercely faithful to God, despite whatever pain we may be feeling.
We hang on … we hang on, and demand – “I. will. not. let. you. go. un. till. you. bless. me.”
At the same time God is hanging on to us, saying “I. Will. Not. let. you. Go. un. Till. you. Face. Me.”
That’s what it was like for Jacob. This is a mysterious and powerful story, Jacob wrestling with some kind of angel, this intimate stranger … this wrestling match, which turns out to be the second time in his life Jacob encountered the Divine.
He walked away from that encounter with a limp … but also with a new name, and with that blessing. He was blessed with the name: Israel, which means “One-who-wrestles-with-God.”
And he was also blessed again with the assurance that he will survive, and his descendants will survive as the people “Israel” – they will live on to wrestle with God one generation after the next.
Now remember the first time Jacob encountered the divine. This was a much different kind of experience, much more pleasant. He was given the same assurance: that he’d survive and have a family and his bloodline will flourish down the generations. But his first encounter was a comforting encounter with God’s love. It was the vision that came when Jacob lay in the desert to sleep: a pathway rising up to heaven, with these angelic beings rising and falling – the breath of God flowing between heaven and earth.
Jacob was lifted out of himself, passed the boundaries of his limitation, and he received an awesome glimpse of the glory and majesty of God.
But this second time Jacob has a brush with the Divine – this is many years later – it’s not a blissful vision. It’s a night terror.
He’s down by the shore of the Jordan River at night, and someone attacks him, with their bare hands. And they wrestle for hours, until the sun begins to rise. Somehow it turns out that his struggle is a struggle with God … as well as a struggle with people… and Jacob is blessed because he hung on, he didn’t let go.
Now the big difference is that the first encounter – Jacob’s Ladder – came when Jacob was a young man, running away from his twin brother Esau, and running away from the fact that he had burned Esau real bad. He had tricked him out of his inheritance. And Esau was dead-set on vengeance. So Jacob fled across the river.
And the second encounter – the wrestling match – came many years later when Jacob was due to meet up again with Esau, to cross back over the Jordan. And he knew that he was going to be held to account to his twin brother. But he couldn’t run away from it anymore.
And as you heard in the first reading, Jacob prayed to God out of fear that Esau is going to seek vengeance. “Save me, God, from the hand of my brother.” Jacob also prayed to God out of gratitude for what he had received in his life, in those past years. “I am unworthy of all the kindness you have shown your servant.”
But he also prayed to God, to plead for the sake of his family. He basically says, “If I am to suffer Esau’s wrath, let it be only me. Let my family be spared, because you, O God have promised me that my descendants will live on.”
So there is a lot of humility here before God. But Jacob is also bold here, saying to God, please be faithful to me. I’m in your hands, so please hold on to me.
What he learns is that when God holds on to you, it can sometimes get pretty rough.
So if you’re having a rough go of it. Hang on. Because God’s hanging onto you.
Sometimes it feels like we’re wrestling with our demons, when in fact we’re wrestling with an angel.
So hang on, and be bold enough to say “I won’t let go until you bless me. See me. Hear me. Bless me.” But also be bold enough to say, “Help me, God. Keep holding onto me.” Thanks be to God.

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