Burn The House Down

Sermon Text – 01.27.2019
[Genesis 32:22-32 and Job 38:1-3, 42:1-6]
          What is the difference between wrestling someone and fighting them? One of my absolute favorite things to do as a father is to wrestle with my boys. It’s really the closest you can get to your kids, physically – just wrestling with my little guy. There is just something magnetic about Dad laying on the floor, right? Anybody else wrestle with their kids, or wrestle with their parents when they were little?  I don’t even have to be anywhere near him. I’ll be on the other side of the room, but if I lay down on the carpet – he comes running across the room full speed and just body slams on my chest. Now, let’s be clear – he’s pretty tiny still, so his body slam is pretty pathetic – it’s like getting hit in the chest with a pillow or an oversized cat or something. But why do we wrestle, why do we enjoy something that looks really violent on the outside? Half the women in here are sitting there thinking, “I have no idea why he does that, rough housing, getting the kids all riled up.” I can hear my mom in the back of my head, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. So why do we do this? In the wild babies will wrestle to learn fighting skills to help them handle the world that’s out there – like baby lion cubs or baby bears – and their parents will pretend to lose to build their confidence. So, what is the difference between wrestling someone and fighting them?  
          Today is the final sermon in the series State of the Union where we have taken a month to look at the connection between politics and piety, religion and government. It’s been a tricky topic. A lot of people recommend – don’t talk about politics in your church – it’s too difficult, it’s too sensitive, it’s too much of a hot topic in our culture today. But I’ve always thought, if something is a hot topic in our culture – if it matters out there, then we GOTTA talk about it in here. We have differences, especially in politics, but Jesus teaches us how to overcome those differences in a godly way, in the way he taught us. Today all of these pieces come together – political parties, legislation, freedom of religion, all of it comes to a head in the most difficult concept in politics and every other part of life. Today I want to talk about compromise. Compromise? No! Never! I would rather burn the house down than budge an inch on any issue ever. I know there are some people that blanch when they hear the word compromise. Literally, some would rather burn the house down. What is the difference between wrestling and fighting?  


           So to take on this issue, we are going to examine one of the strangest stories in the Old Testament, which is saying something. And we’re in chapter 32 in Genesis, centered around this character Jacob. Now, right before our scripture lesson, in the first half of the chapter – we are given a little bit of context for the story. See Jacob is the younger twin to a guy named Esau. They are twins, but Esau came first – so Esau gets the birthright. Esau gets all the stuff inherited from his dad Isaac, Abraham’s kid. Do you remember the story? Esau is this big hunter, strong and burly. Jacob is what you might call “indoorsy” – but Jacob wants the birthright. So basically Jacob swindles his brother and tricks his dad into giving HIM the birthright instead of Esau. And when that happens, Esau is furious and he threatens to kill Jacob and Jacob runs away from home terrified of his brother’s wrath. That’s another story for another day, but that’s where we are at in the beginning of the chapter. Esau and Jacob hate each other because of something that happened a long time ago and Esau is coming, and he’s got 400 men. Verse 7 [read 7-8]. So here’s Jacob’s plan. He’s like moved on with life, he’s married, got lots of stuff – but Esau is coming and Jacob is terrified. He hurt his brother, by tricking him, kind of stealing from him, sort of – and he thinks Esau is going to try and kill him. So he splits up his stuff into two parts, and think – well, if Esau attacks one group and kills everyone, at least I’ll escape with half my stuff. He’s not a fighter, this Jacob. Then he sets up these big gifts for his brother. Like 500 animals he sends to Esau. He sends them in two waves, verse 20b [read it]. I’ll pacify him with these gifts and maybe he won’t kill me.
          At this point the story of Jacob and Esau pauses, for our scripture lesson. Our scripture is like a little mini story inside the Jacob and Esau feud. So Jacob is at this river. And he sends his family across the river, and then he sends all his stuff across the river, and Jacob is all by himself. Verse 24, [read it]. I just want to point out how weird that sentence is. Some guy just starts wrestling with Jacob. Now, we find out later that this man represents God, it’s God in human form –maybe it’s an angel, but whatever – that guy represents God. But remember the bigger story, the family feud between Jacob and Esau – what would you think if you’re all alone and some random guy attacks you in the middle of the night. Esau’s here! He’s come to kill me, and I’m all by myself! So Jacob, the non-fighter, is gonna give it his all – for all he knows he’s fighting for his life. But it’s not Esau, and it’s some random guy – it’s God. Which, honestly, makes this verse even stranger. Not some random guy, but God attacked Jacob. This is the only time in the old testament, that I can come up with, that God physically shows up and attacks one of his people. And they wrestle like all night, and it’s almost dawn. Verse 25 [read 25-26]. You know that thing brothers do, where you twist the arm behind the back and go, “say uncle, say uncle.” Because getting them to say uncle means you win or something  like that? This is the weirdest “uncle” I’ve ever seen. Let me go – not until you bless me. Some guy attacks you, and you answer by pinning him down until he blesses you. Verse 27, [read 27-28]. Now that’s very significant on several levels. First, remember that Jacob had 11 sons? Later in the story he has one more son, and his name has been changed from Jacob to Israel. The 12 sons of Israel, which eventually leads to the twelve tribes of Israel, which leads to the nation of Israel. This is the birth of a nation, right here. Second, did you know that the word Israel means “struggles with God”? That was the name God decided to give to his chosen people. You are my chosen people, you are my favorite family, and I’m going to watch over you,  and I’m going to bless the entire world through you, and I’m going call you “struggles with me.” The very name of God’s chosen people, the name God gave to his chosen people, reminds us that in life we will struggle with God. Verse 30 finishes the story [read 30-31]. So in this wrestling, Jacob wins but he also loses. He gets the blessing from God, he has seen the face of God, but he walks away a changed man. He’s got a new name, and a limp – a lifelong scar, a reminder of his victory with God. 
And that’s the end of this little story, it’s very strange – but real quick we need to take a look at what happens with Jacob and Esau. To recap, Jacob stole the birthright from Esau, Esau threatens to kill Jacob, Jacob runs away – terrified, years go by, Esau is coming, Jacob wrestles God and then the showdown begins. At the very beginning of the next chapter, [read v.1-4]. It’s okay, they don’t kill each other. Instead there’s this unexpected beautiful picture of redemption, reconciliation – brothers hugging it out after years of fighting. But I want to show you something really cool that I found last week. When Jacob wrestled with God at the river, chapter 32, verse 30 he named that place Peniel, because he saw God face to face, he saw the face of God in that place. But then in chapter 33, he’s talking to Esau in verse 10, [read it]. Some people say that nobody has seen the face of God, but Jacob came close he saw something, in the dark, before daybreak right? But in this moment of brotherly healing, he compares this moment of healing to seeing the face of God. And what this shows us is that there is a connection between wrestling with God and wrestling with one another.


          The good news that I found is that God wrestles with us. Maybe not physically like with Jacob, but in our hearts sometimes we have this wrestling match with God. And think about the pieces of it, God initiated the fight. There was no argument or conversation, no rationale give, just a man shows up and they start wrestling. God initiates the wrestling, which tells me that God loves the engagement. I think I could go so far to say that God enjoys wrestling with us. That God likes working his good work in our broken hearts. God is not angry when we wrestle with him – He started it, because sometimes to come to grips with a truth we need to wrestle with it. But why? Why does God wrestle with us? Well look closely, this story is buried in the middle of the Jacob and Esau fight. Jacob is getting ready to fight Esau, he’s getting ready to confront his brother.  And that’s the moment God decided to step in and wrestle with Jacob. And Jacob fights with God, and he pins God down. Now think about that sentence. God is God, God is all powerful and way stronger than Jacob. That’s like me saying that Liam pinned me down. Or like lion cubs, or bear cubs remember that I mentioned that the parents in nature will pretend to be wounded to encourage their children. So Jacob “pins down” God, and what does he demand, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” But that doesn’t really make sense, Jacob already has the birthright, Jacob already has God’s blessing. He’s pinned him down and said I won’t let you go until you bless me, and I think in that moment God spoke in Jacob’s heart to show him what he really wanted, what he really needed was Esau’s blessing. What he really needed was to see the face of God, not partially in the dark before daybreak by the river, but in the light of day, on the face of his brother. God prepares us by wrestling with us. God knew that Jacob needed to come to this realization before he met Esau. He needed the proper motivation, the proper inspiration, before the showdown began. God wrestles with us to prepare us to wrestle with the world.   
          What is the difference between wrestling and fighting? Between brothers, between lion cubs and bear cubs, between God and man – wrestling is preparation. The goal of wrestling is to learn, to grow and to get better at something. The goal of fighting is destruction, harm, death and evil. And to take that one more step. Even if we start with fighting. We are angry with God, we hate God, we want to fight God and hurt God, attack God for whatever reason, for whatever is going on in our lives. God is so great, so big and strong and glorious that he takes our fighting and turns it into wrestling. He takes our hurting motivation and he can use it to teach us. Like an angry child screaming at his parents, punching at dad’s chest, or Mom’s leg or something – I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I don’t hate you, I need you. God wrestles with us, even when we want to fight.


          And so the application is that we should engage with God first, and then take that to the world. In every issue, in every topic and every fight – wrestle with God, walk away changed, and then you will be ready to wrestle your brother. You will realize what you really need here on earth when you get it from God first. You will recognize the face of God in your brother who hated you, if you find it first in your time wrestling with God. Whew, the bible got some truth for me today! Wrestle with God, and then take that to the world.
          So what does this have to do with politics? You can probably get there by yourself, but walk with me through this. Brothers, let’s call them – oh, I don’t know, I’ll make something up – democrats and republicans, brothers in the same home – torn apart, spend a lot of time hating each other, hunting and attacking, hating and fearing the other. They spend so much time hating one another, fear grows, and they lose sight of any common ground. Or forget politics – think about someone in your life, someone you are torn apart from – maybe it’s your husband or wife, maybe it’s your kids, co-worker, boss, high school best friend. Torn apart because someone did something wrong, unfair. And you spend so much time apart, even if you live in the same house, you spend so much time apart, you lose sight of any common ground and are convinced that you will spend forever opposed to one another. And you try to work it out, but every time something gets in the way. Compromise is impossible, cannot be done. Think about the lesson of Jacob and Esau. God could have grabbed them both by the scruff of their neck, forced them to sit at the table and hold hands and say they’re sorry – but would that have worked? No, God needed to attack Jacob, wrestle with him, show him what he needed and change who he was before progress could happen.
Maybe what you need to do first, is not fight that person, not fight the republicans, not fight the democrats, maybe what you need is to wrestle with God first. Wrestle with God first and then wrestle with the world – it prepares us, teaches us the proper method, the best way to move forward. We grow and we learn when we wrestle with God. Both of our political parties have forgotten the face of God, and it’s no wonder they struggle to find it in the face of their brother. I think the Republicans need to go down to the river and get thrown around by God. I think the Democrats need to be next in line. Look, I’m not naïve. I know my little sermon series on politics is not going to convince the big political parties to start holding hands and suddenly working together. I don’t think we’re going to get a Jacob and Esau tearful hug-fest anytime soon. But change has to start somewhere, and maybe if this one little church in the suburbs of Flint could serve as an example for how to do this politics stuff better, maybe change can start with you and me. Because I believe with all of my heart, that we will not be able to move forward without God. We will be trapped in this eternal struggle, getting nowhere until we take notes from God on how to interact, how to engage, how to learn, how to love. In everything you do, in every struggle you go through, take it to God first. Wrestle with God, and then you will be ready to wrestle with the world. Wrestle with God and you will be prepared as a man of God, as a woman of God to deal with the world in a godly way. Wrestle, don’t fight, wrestle and a solution is possible. 

             The state of our union is in jeopardy. The state of our union needs to wrestle with God, so we can learn how to wrestle with one another. They say don’t talk about politics in church, it’s too difficult, it’s too touchy of a subject. But if we don’t talk about these issues here, how can we engage in the right way out there? From political parties to legislation, freedom of religion to the terrifying idea of compromise – I am so glad we have a God who wrestles with us to prepare us to deal with all that. The State of the Union is an annual speech given by the President of the United States of America. It’s happening in two days. Are you ready? Are you ready to put your arm around your brother or sister republicans AND democrats and take on the issues of the world? Are you ready to push people to Jesus instead of to this law or that rule? Are you ready to use your freedom to seek and to save instead of to condemn? Are you ready to wrestle with God, so that you can wrestle with the world? Amen.     

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