A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
I Have Wrestled with God
Sermon for 17th October 2010. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, Sarasota, FL
St. Paul writes to his protégé Timothy and says “be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable”.
A crooked Judge grants his judgment to a widow, not because he in favour of justice, but because she wearied him with her persistence. Jesus encourages his followers to be equally persistent in their prayers. He says, “and will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak”. We do not know who the identity of Jacob’s opponent. Maybe it was his brother Esau whom he had cheated many years before. It is a story about wrestling with God for on the morn Jacob declares that he has seen God face to face.
Whether Jacob wrestled with his brother, or with the Lord, it matters not. What matters is Jacob’s persistence, expressed in his words “I will not let you go unless you bless me”.
That’s a model of how to pray. To pray is to wrestle with God. It is to wrestle with God until one of two things happens. Either God does bless us. Or, after long and lengthy prayer, we come to the conclusion that we are asking for the wrong thing.
I have wrestled with God. Once was when I had a hunch that I was being called to be a missionary Priest in Central America. I prayed long and hard about that, but in the end I won the wrestling match. I told God, in no uncertain terms that I was not about to have my life uprooted, and that I preferred the certainty of ministry in Massachusetts over the uncertainty of ministry in Honduras.
There was another time during which I wrestled with God. It was a multi-year year bout. I’ll tell you more about it in a moment.
First let me tell you about Raymond Chase (19); Tyler Clemanti (18); Billy Lucas (15); Asher Brown (13); and Seth Walsh; (13). These are five young men who committed suicide in recent weeks. They committed suicide because they were bullied, betrayed or beaten up by their peers in public school or in college. They were bullied, betrayed or beaten up because they were gay, or because they were perceived to be gay.
They were, in a broader sense, bullied by the so-called Christian right; by the outrages of the “Tea Party” movements; by the vacillations of the President and the Congress; and by our silence.
I was about six years old when I first began to realise that I was “different”. I had no words to describe my feelings. When puberty hit I had various “girl-friends”, but already I knew that I preferred boys. That made me very unhappy. I could not imagine that my desires were normal.
In my late teens and early twenties I dated some lovely women. I wanted to be “normal”. Yet I still desired the intimate friendship of another man.
I prayed that I would wake up one day “sans” this attraction to men. I prayed. I prayed. And I prayed again. I wrestled with God, asking that she/he would change me.
I wrestled with God for so many years. Then God answered my prayer. He/she said something like this: “Michael Povey cool your heels. I do not make mistakes. I created you just the way you are. I love and accept you as a beautiful gay man. Stop bullying yourself. Stop hating yourself. Be present with and for my other gay and lesbian children”.
I ceased to wrestle. God had given a rich blessing to his gay friend Michael, just as he had done for Jacob.
How I wish that Raymond, Tyler, Billy, Asher and Seth had experienced a similar blessing before the bullies had driven them to tragic and early deaths.
3Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; 5and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’“ 6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, 8thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”
9And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ 10I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’“
13So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” 17He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’“ 19He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’“ For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” 21So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp. 22The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.
24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
18Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
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