Jacob Crosses the Jabbok and We Must Cross the Edmund Winston Pettus bridge
22 The 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. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
May the peace of Christ be with you. We have come to the end of our conference and our time together. Through this time we saw and heard things that excited us and we also heard things that got us frustrated. Hopefully we will have a lot to bring back home and to our churches and surely, a blessing that we will carry us along.
Last night a precious friend of mine was telling me the story of how hard it was to lay off one his staff members who was responsible for music and children’s ministry. He had to tell his son first because his 5 year-old boy loved her. He told his son that sometimes we don’t have enough money to do or to have what we want. The boy started to cry and said: “she can have all the money I have. Would she be able to stay?”
I wish our institutions and our churches would think like that boy. I wish we could share what we have, and empower each other by making sure all of us will have enough without distortions of ranks and social and economic hierarchies. This boy had the gospel in his heart and in his mouth. This little boy knows much better than all of us what really matters in our lives and our faith. When we love someone we give all we have. “Where our treasure is, our hearts will be there also.”
I must say of word of gratitude to the people who put this worship service together. Yesterday, a group of precious sisters and brothers got together and spent their time to prepare this worship. The same way that a group of people got together to prepare the opening worship service. In a powerful way, these two worship services are an offering of love to you all. For our service today, some of our people decided not to go to another workshop or to go out in the evening so they could prepare this worship. So this is their offering of love to us all! When we were talking we all decided that we would try to mirror in this worship, a movement of life going from a place of hopelessness and move to a place of hope.
A Couple of our friends in that group are going through difficult times. One friend said he wished we could all get into a bus and visit the neighborhood he works in and see how hard it is to work there, a place abandoned by the politicians and devastated by the harshness of life. My heart goes to you my precious brother Peter, you who are hanging in there in this very thin thread of hope that can be ripped away at anytime. Can we all say “We bless you Peter.” And yet another brother told of his personal losses and that he is in the midst of a hard time. Can we say “We bless you Andy.”
Listening to pastors gives joy. I hear the most exciting and the most scary stories one could imagine. And unfortunately more and more I am seeing pastors wrestling to keep everything together, especially when the resources are dwindling down. Poor and minority communities are struggling against nihilism and lack of meaning, having to wrestle with so much in order to pursue a dignified life and struggle for freedom. Like the boy of our story, I see pastors giving all they have back to the communities they work with so the community and the people they love can be kept alive.
Our Biblical passage for today talks about Jacob who was turned into Israel, a man who had his life changed in that valley. Jacob had received everything he wanted: he received the blessing of his father, a blessing that belonged to his brother but was usurped by his mother. He had his own family, children, animals and riches. He had everything but one thing was missing: he needed the forgiveness of his brother. But he was so afraid of facing his brother.
When the moment of meeting drew near Jacob is scared. He provides many gifts to his brother before he meets him as to appease his anger. “For Jacob thought,” says the Bible, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’
But before this important encounter, he had to encounter God! Face to face! What was about to come to Jacob was a long and hard fight with the angel of God, one that surely was a fearful, difficult, exhausting one. Jacob learned about God the same way that Job learn about God. Both of them have similar expressions. Jacob, now Israel says: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ And Job says: “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”
How many of us want to be marked by God? I tell my students: leave ministry while you can! Because to walk with God is way too hard, this gospel asks us way too much and you have to be marked by God’s presence. This mark is often not a pleasant one.
However, once we are marked with God we become stronger. We gain a larger vision of life, we see what is to be done, we see injustices, we become a prophet. Those who have been marked by a wrestling with God carry a mortal wound in their soul and bodies so they can speak about life. Those who have been marked by a God have a tainted eye, for they have seen more than they should have.
They hold a scary and poignant word of challenge and shock, and they carry a weight heavier than their soul. They are often a burden to this world, they don’t care about what people will say, they make their alliances with the poor, and they live a life that is always demanding. But also, they possess the anointing oil of healing. Those who have been through the valley of Jabbok know the labor it entails to stay in this fight and continue in this struggle until God gives us God’s blessing.
Jacob’s fight with God transformed his life. God’s mark on Israel’s body and soul took away his fear and made him be a blessing to the world. After this encounter, Jacob couldn’t live afraid anymore. At that night, Jacob saw the glory of God! And he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. It was only after meeting God there and crossing that valley that Jacob was able to see his brother and gain a new name: Israel.
When I go talk in places I often ask: what are your experiences with God and usually people don’t know what to say. Often, for Historic protestant churches, God is a mostly a thought, something detached from the rest of the body, something that lives in our head and rarely an articulable experience in our body. That is for me one of the reasons we are dying, For like Job, we know God by hearing only, and unlike Jacob, we have never seen God face to face. It is so hard to hear testimonies of God’s manifestation in our lives, we don’t have spaces in our worship services where our people can say: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of God.” So I ask: When was it my dear sister and brother that you saw the Glory of God last time?
One day I discovered that my name, Claudio, in Latin, claudicare, means to limp. How frustrating is that! The problem with my name is that the limping didn’t come from the wrestling of God but limping became a way of life because of my many fears . There was a time when fear was the soundtrack of my life. I feared everything. I had to go through a long journey to get rid of my fears. My Jabbok valley was much longer than a night. I had to wrestle many nights with God. And the devil! But alleluia, I feel I am finally over the Rubicon. If I am marked by God I can not say but I do know that I can strangely say: “Peniel: Mine eyes have seen the glory of God.”
What about you my precious sisters and brothers. have you seen the glory of God in your life? Has your skin been burned by the wrestling with God? Can you say “Peniel: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of God?” Because if you can, you will be able to move on and sustain yourself. You will be able to explain to your people what it means to be a Christian and that offerings and tithing is about offering our full lives and not a little something to appease our consciousness.
I know a young woman who lost her beloved husband to cancer. At 35, she was a widow with daughters, 8 and 6, and a 2 year old son . Without knowing or even willing, like many people who are marked by God, she was thrown into the the valley of Jabbok. During that time, she wrestled with the angel of God. She did all she could so her husband could live! She gave herself entirely so her kids could keep their daddy near them.
She gave up her work, her own life to take her of her husband so she could have him with her. That fight took a long while and she lost everything she tried to hold on too. After two years her 36 years old husband was gone. Now she had herself, her kids and a valley filled with empty bones…. So now she had to continue to fight with the angel of life and death. And she could have failed. A lot was required of her and her kids were the reason of getting up and out of the bed every morning. During this time, she surrounded herself with people who loved her and many people offered their love graciously to her and her kids. Now, mortally wounded by the loss of her husband she has also being marked by the angel of God, and now, she and her kids are able to come back to life. “Peniel: Mine eyes have seen the glory of God.”
So I would tell you all this morning as you go home: Keep on fighting! Care for yourself and keep in the struggle! Keep at it! Learn about money just to pour out this money into the lives of the least of these. If you are only using money with your own community your demise is just a matter of time! For you all are a supposed to invest in somebody else’s lives.
In order to do that, let us remember destitute communities, minority groups that had and have no luxury to choose if they want to fight. They fight day and night, for their lives are always at stake. Many of us here might have the choice to fight the angel but some don’t! But if we are to carry the name of Jesus Christ in our chest then we also have no choice but to fight for those who are in peril.
Oh don’t forget we are in a battle and the god of this world seems to be winning by a large measure. Nonetheless we won’t give up or give in! Oh no we wont! Because we have the angel of God wrestling with us! We will get together, we will reunite all of the forces of good, we will walk along with those who love and believe in a world of freedom and justice for everybody and we will fight the good fight!
For we are to fight each other’s battle, not only our own. The struggle of the poor is our struggle, and we won’t let them down! The struggle of the immigrants is our struggle and we will offer them a house! The struggle of gays and lesbians who are still brutally beaten up everywhere is also our struggle. I just heard that in Brazil, a 14 year old boy was killed by his friends because he was a son of two men. We won’t let that happen anymore!
And we will fight for our black brothers and sisters, the black boys and the black girls of our communities that keep on dying! We will stretch our ministry where they are and we will serve them and learn with them. So much so that we will say in every worship service we have: BLACK LIVES MATTER!
So you might ask me: What does this have to do with stewardship? And I will say to you: everything! For stewardship is not only to care for budgets and buildings and programs but fundamentally, stewardship is about caring for people’s lives! To sustain, support, protect, boost and care for the least of these. This is stewardship! Caring for the poor!
And if we unite ourselves in this stewardship campaign, we will together sing Glory! So them the future will be ours! Not only mine but ours, not only yours but ours, a future filled of life to all of the people of God.
If you haven’t seen the movie Selma here is a video clip of a song that pretty much shows how stewardship is a constant battle, a struggle still necessary. When we join each other to cross the bridge together, we show how well we use the resources God gives to us! Wrestling with the angel of God is to bring about “the best angels of our nature” and defy and defeat the demons that are pushing us down eager to destroy us all. Let us hear it:
One day, when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh, one day, when the war is one
We will be sure, we will be here sure
Oh, glory, glory
Oh, glory, glory
Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon
Formed against, yes glory is destined
The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtaposition in us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
Truant livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down” and we stand up
Like Jacob who had to scary, unknown, bigger than himself for of Jabbok;
Like the African American people had to cross the Edmund Winston Pettus bridge in Selma, and many others before and still many others to come;
The same way, many churches in this country will have to cross their own bridges towards those who are in need and leave their class commitments to commit with the poor.
If we are courageous to be open to be marked by the angel of God, we will find joy in crossing those bridges, we will find brothers and sisters along the way that we never imagined, and then, we will find a church at the end of the Jabbok valley, a church in Montgomery, that will be filled with life, where people are fully investing in faith, in the faith and life of each other! Our budgets won’t be a burden or a concern because this church knows how much our lives together matters!
So keep on going! Fight the angel of God! Fight the horses and dogs along the way! And let us keep on singing Glory! We will sing so loud and for so long that God will finally give us the glory! The glory of a dignified life in Jesus Christ! And the glory will be ours! Alleluia! Yes, the glory will be ours! So then we can celebrate God’s glory!
May God bless us all.
Stewardship Conference: Invest in faith! 2015 – Cláudio Carvalhaes