Sermon 20 October 2013


When we pray for the departed, we ask that they may “Rest in peace”. I have to say that the older I am, the more the idea of peaceful rest becomes attractive. Most of us find life full of one problem after another. Most of the difficulties we face are irritating and could have been avoided but occasionally we face a struggle which is different. It signifies something special which we recognise as important, both for now and for our future.


The big struggles appear to be about who we are and what we should do with our life. It happens to us as individuals and as part of a community. For individuals, they can begin in childhood. We may have struggles with our family – parents or siblings if we have any. As we begin to recover from all of that, there is school and friendships. This is not without the struggle to understand and be understood.


For some of us there is some kind of struggle with the Church. If it involves our thoughts about the future, we could still struggle to understand and be understood. As we may find the parish a mixture of encouragement and disinterest, or we struggle to speak to the DDO or the Bishop. It is no surprise that College is not a struggle free zone. Always we seek to understand and be understood. Of course, I dare to say, monastic life or marriage are states of life full of lots of struggles, like everyone else.


Underneath all of these big struggles lies a fundamental contest with God. “Who are you?” we ask and the reply comes back “And what do you want from me?”. All of this is basically a struggle to discover the truth  Since God IS truth, our own struggle with him involves the surrender of all that is unreal and untrue. For the most part we live with a partial or even skewed understanding of life. God challenges us to embrace the real world and the truth about everything. This kind of struggle is one that transforms and turns us round – it is melanoia (change of heart). We learn, too, that if struggle is a kind of prayer, then prayer is not always cosy and comfy; at can be costly and demand change in us.


No wonder that we feel, in these kinds of struggles, rather like Jonah, sinking into the depth we have not visited before. We can feel deathly – yet, paradoxically, it is the offer of new life.


In today’s Old Testament lesson we hear of Jacob experiencing just such a life-changing struggle. He is alone and it is night, when he is confronted by the mysterious other. Is it a man, an angel or is it God himself? Despite all the speculation, the Jewish and Christian interpretation of this stranger in the night is that it is indeed God. God is truth and Jacob has to spend the entire night wrestling with the truth about himself and his future.


So far, Jacob’s journey has not been heroic. His name means “trickster” and, so far, he has deceived his Father, stolen his Brother’s birthright and pulled a fast one over his Father-in-law.  He posed as a successful and prosperous person but his heart is filled with guilt and fear of his Brother. Yet Jacob does not run away – he faces the mysterious stranger and begins to wrestle with the truth. The contest goes on all night but as dawn breaks he is released, blessed and given a new name. Now he is to be called Israel (one who has seen God face-to-face and lived). The outcome for Jacob is that he neither wins nor loses the fight. The most important point is that he does not run away. As we sang recently in an antiphon for Apostles “by your patient endurance you will save your lives”.


So for us, when we face one of these big struggles, we must neither pretend it will go away not go away ourselves. We must plunge into the contest, despite our fears. God will not dispense of this struggle but he will be with us at every twist and turn and if we endure we shall be blessed; given a new name and something to remember for the rest of our life. In Jacob’s case it was a limb!


It might have occurred to you that Jesus knew a lot about big struggles. He contends with misunderstanding in his family and amongst his friends, the Jewish church and, at the end, alone in the dark like Jacob, he wrestled with truth coming from his Father. Despite the terror and the tears, he surrendered to his Father’s truth, which became his own truth. This truth of God is centred on the fact that God is love and so all our struggles are learning how to receive and give love, like our Father. On the cross, the victory finally goes to love,


In Charles Wesley’s moving hymn “”Wrestling Jacob” the last verse reads

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me! I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee, Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy mercies move; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.


            Simon Holden CR