Rev. George Miller
“Thy Will and My Will Be Done”
Oct 20, 2013
Every Sunday we start service the same way, but I wonder if perhaps we should be saying “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey OR how much you wrestle with God, you are welcome here!”
Today we are going to explore what I consider to be the most important scripture for anyone of the Jewish or Christian faith to know about.
For me, it is a summation of what faith means, what it looks like, what it feels like, and what I, as a UCC pastor, strive to teach: that faith is something we wrestle with and that in faith there are no easy answers.
BUT, faith will leave us forever changed and forever blessed, even if we are left with a slight limp.
The story thus far: God made a promise to Abraham that his family will be the means through which God will bless all the families of the world. Abraham has a son named Isaac. Isaac has twin boys.
The first born is Esau, who is ruddy, hairy and likes to hunt. He is his father’s favorite.
The second born is Jacob who is smooth skinned, likes to stay indoors and cook. He is the one Momma likes best.
As they grow older Jacob becomes quite the trickster. He fools his brother out of his birthright and deceives his father into giving him the family blessing.
As you can imagine, this angers Esau so much that he vows to kill Jacob. Jacob runs away and lives with his uncle’s family.
But eventually Jacob realizes one cannot run away from their problems forever. Now that he is older, wiser and a successful rancher with wives, children, servants and money to spare, Jacob makes the journey back home.
The day before he is to arrive and meet either the wrath of Esau or his forgiveness, Jacob makes the decision to send everyone and everything ahead of him to safety.
Across the stream they go, and Jacob, the former mamma’s boy, who liked to stay inside and make stew, has the most interesting encounter: a man wrestles with him.
All night they are in grips with one another, neither one prevailing or letting go. The mysterious man strikes Jacob’s hip; though out of joint, the mamma’s boy holds on.
“Let me go,” the man states; Jacob refuses.
“What is your name,” the man asks.
“That is no longer your name, you will be called Israel because you have striven with God and have held your own.”
The sun rises; Jacob calls the place Peniel, meaning “I have seen God face to face and prevailed,” and he limps away.
This is a story in which its lack of clarity makes it open to so much interpretation and so much debate. It is a story that provides no easy answer or even attempts to.
Scholars and theologians and pastors and psychologists will try to tell you their own take on this.
People will try to take everything they think they know about God and the Bible and their faith and place it onto this story, but no matter what, nothing ever quite fits.
Was the man God, an angel, or as some suggest a river demon or a figment of Jacob’s own anxious psyche?
If the man is God, is it possible that Jacob could have defeated him? Could there have been a draw?
Or was God capable of winning the wrestling match at any time and was just playing with Jacob like a cat with a rat?
Isn’t there scripture that tells us no one can see the face of God and live, and yet Jacob makes the claim that he just did?
And what about this business of Jacob being renamed Israel, meaning that one has striven with, struggled with, wrestled with God?
Why can’t Israel mean one who has danced with God, or laughed with God or had tea with God?
Wouldn’t that be so much nicer; wouldn’t that be so much quainter?
Well, the truth of the matter is that faith isn’t always about being nice; it’s not always about being quaint.
It’s about the encounters we have with God and sometimes, well sometimes things can get a little rough.
Regardless of how one chooses to view this scripture; regardless how one chooses to approach it, one thing I feel for certain about it is that it’s about our relationality with God.
It’s about how God chooses to have a personal experience with us and that when we have a true encounter with God, we cannot help but to leave changed in some way.
…I love this scripture. Every time I read it, I discover something new, something dependent about where I am in life and my own life experience.
When we were planning this week’s worship I had just come back from visiting my sister in California. I had a wonderful time there, being by the ocean with my niece and nephew.
There was one day I went for a walk, surrounded by mountains, hearing the sound of the surf, and I had my own little revelation: for the first 29 years of my life I ran away from God, trying to do things my way; the results were not always spectacular.
Then for the next 14 years I tried my best to follow God’s voice and do things God’s way.
The results have been much more pleasing and successful, but at times I’ve been left wondering “What the heck?” or missing family and friends.
That’s when it occurred to me: wouldn’t it be nice if I could have it both ways?
Wouldn’t it be nice if God and I could find a way to compromise so that I wasn’t always running away or always being pulled far away from people I cared about?
Couldn’t there be a happy medium in which we both get what we want?
I shared this thought with my mentor, Rev. Andy Conyer, who told me to start praying this: “Thy will and my will be done.”
I did, and it’s interesting to see how over the last three months there has been a resurgence of people from my past coming back into my life while I’ve also become more and more a part of the community here.
It’s as if both my and Thy will have been coming together.
Then I came across today’s reading; something I’ve read so many times before. But I noticed something I had not noticed before.
Verse 26, the man (or in my interpretation, God) tells Jacob “Let me go.” To which Jacob responds “I will not, unless you bless me.”
There it was; that sense of compromise; that sense of my will and thy will coming together.
God wants Jacob to do something; Jacob wants God to do something; neither one proceeds until a divine action takes place that furthers their relationship.
Jacob leaves with a new name, blessed and prepared to face his brother and God is ensured that the sacred plan put in place through Abraham will still take place.
But note: we are never told who let go of whom and notice that Jacob now has a limp, forever changed by his experience with God.
Why do I believe this is such a vital scripture for everyone to know?
Because it gives no easy answers, because it makes us have to think. And it shows us an aspect of the divine holy that we rarely talk or think about.
There are so many views of God out there. There are those who think that God does not exist or that God is dead or disinterested in us, distant and far removed.
Then there are others on the opposite side of the spectrum who believe that God is in control of everything. All knowing, all powerful, all up in everything we do.
If something happens it’s because of God, if something doesn’t happen it’s because of God.
Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, happy or sad, if it took place, God did it.
And there are those who when something disappointing or discouraging happens say “Well, I guess it wasn’t in God’s will.”
Or they become passive players in their own life, believing if it’s supposed to happen it will, so why even ask or dream or try.
But this, this scripture challenges those notions; this scripture opens everything up.
This scripture dares to present God in a way that is very hands on, very active and very much a participant in an event who can win or who can lose.
This is a scripture that says faith is a wrestling match in which we go toe to toe with God and we get to play a part, we get to have a say, we get to hold on and sweat and ask.
This is a scripture that says faith does not always come with easy answers and that not all encounters with God end with us happily skipping away…that we may very well leave with a limp.
Thy will or my will be done? Why can’t it be both?
I believe when it comes to our faith, when it comes to our faith journey, it is important for us to be able to listen to and discern the will of God.
But I also believe that it is also Ok for us to question God, to challenge God and to wrestle with God.
Moses had no problem with this when he stood before the burning bush and God called him into ministry and Moses tried to come up with 100 excuses as to why not.
Isaiah 64 had no problem with this when he called upon God to tear apart the heavens, come down and make the mountains quake as God had done in the past.
Jesus himself had no problem wrestling with God. In Matthew 26 we see Jesus, like Jacob, alone, in the garden, begging God to take the cup from him.
Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, requests this: “Let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.”
Friends, our faith is not always rooted in our success or our shrewdness, but in our ability to encounter God, to wrestle, to ask for what we want, to refuse to let go, even if it means we might limp a bit, even if it means we are at a draw.
Faith is not about leaving all our doubts behind or always being gently led with tender care.
Faith is about having a personal encounter with God in which both the mystery and reality meet, in which the holy and the everyday collide, in which both God and ourselves are left transformed by the matter.
And often times when transformation takes place, we do get to see another day and blessings are bound to follow.
Amen and amen.