Sermon for Aug. 2, 2020



Aug. 2, 2020

Hugh Drennan


In my hometown, New Sharon, Iowa, I had a couple of bachelor farmer cousins who had adjacent farms on the outside of town on the banks of the South Skunk River: Wyatt Gunn and Virgil Gunn. (I was named after Hugh Edwin Gunn, a great uncle). One day Wyatt had what he believed was a brilliant idea and wanted to share it with his brother. Wyatt told Virgil to meet him at the stand of oak trees sometimes referred to as the Oakey Forest. Wyatt told Virgil what they should do was build a canal from the South Skunk River through the stand of oak trees, where they were, on the border of both farms that they owned. “A canal through the oak trees to the middle of our farms? That’s the most dumbest, scatterbrained, cockamamie idea your pea-brained has ever had. No way.” And so the argument began; it soon turned violent as the brothers yelled, threw punches, wrestled on the ground and tried to commit mayhem on each other’s bodies. The ruckus was so loud that town members soon gathered to watch the Gunn brothers fight down and dirty. The next day the local paper, the New Sharon Star ran the headline: GUNN BROTHERS FIGHT AT THE OAKEY CANAL. And that’s the way it was in my hometown where folk are pretty much like folk everywhere else. (Disclaimer: Over the years I have repopulated my hometown with factious characters to tell stories related to my sermons. I do not have cousins named Wyatt and Virgil Gunn though it is a family name and Hugh Edwin Gunn was a cousin I was named after. New Sharon really exists; 1000 folks when I lived there, 1500 now. The North and South Skunk Rivers are north and south of town. How they were named I have no idea, though once my brother and I bought a pet skunk for our mother. She named him Fiorello LaGuardia after the former mayor of New York City. Fiorello means “little flower”. Enough. You can judge for yourself how it applies to the scripture.]


I think Jacob is one of the Bible’s most interesting characters, so important that his new name given in this story would become the name of the Hebrew Nation, Israel. But he has a very dark side. A favorite of his mother, they finagle a way for him to steal his hairy twin brother’s birthright. He seems a coward and flees from his brother afterwards so as not to get beat up or even killed. He becomes prosperous with huge flocks of sheep, goats, and the like; marries the daughter of his rich cousin Laban. Laban then swindles him into marrying both of his daughters Rachel and Leah. Now he wants to come home and reconcile with his brother Esau, but doesn’t know what awaits him, an embracing reunion or death by an irate brother? These are the thoughts Jacob wrestles with as he’s on the way home, and then finds himself wrestling with God herself. Interesting fella.

All alone he sits on the bank of the Jabbok River, a tributary of the Jordan, and wonders what the days ahead hold for him. It often seems when life’s troubles confront us and as we wrestle with distressing issues, we can feel very alone.

Any of you watch to show Flip or Flop on HGTV? Doreen and I are addicted to all those remodeling shows. At one time, Tarek El Moussa and his wife Christina had divorced, their TV future must have been at stake, and then he came down with cancer. On the Dr. Oz show he said it was the loneliest time in his life. I think Jacob must have felt like that. And, in times of trouble, a lot of us have felt like that.

Perhaps Jacob asked questions like we ask from time to time. Where am I? Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? Questions we wrestle with throughout our lives.

And so Jacob wrestles with God.

One of the commentators, on the passage, Phyllis Trible, gave me a new perspective in translating this passage. The verb “to wrestle” she translated as “to make God dirty.” Whoa.  In the Genesis story what did God make us out of? Dirt. God must have gotten a bit dirty in the process, don’t you think? And to think of God wrestling with us and not beating us is also quite weird. That must have been as mind boggling to Jacob as it is to us. “I have wrestled with God face to face and lived.”

Jacob had been a power manipulator all his life and now wrestled with the author of life, God. It seems to me that as the big issues of life confront us, we are inevitably wrestling with God.

I’ll let you in on a piece of my prayer life. Frequently, when I pray, I start out flattering God as the number 1 in my life and how She is in charge of everything, and then soon I get caught up in my own thoughts and begin to tell God now She should be running the world. And then I remember who I am talking to and we begin to laugh. Just who do I think I am? Yet, all of us, I think, are God-wrestlers and commonly tell God (perhaps not face to face) how God should be doing things, how the world should be run, and how God should intervene when we mess things and just FIX IT.

When we complain about the world and what is going on, it is good to realize where our ultimate wrestling is -- with God. And while we may not understand how things are working towards God’s purposes, when we confront/pray to God, our focus becomes clearer, and if the divine does come, we know that God is with us, down here in the dirt, getting dirty with us, feeling our doubts and fears and offering comfort.


God is not far away sitting on a heavenly throne, but here down and dirty with us, offering divine perspective, and we focus on what God wants us to do about it rather than just thinking about our immediate druthers.

What is God calling his people to do now? What is God asking us to do in this time and place to promote God’s kingdom? Who are we? We are the children of God, as Psalm 8 says, placed higher than the angels in God’s opinion.

We are the people who can and do wrestle with God in the down and dirty parts of life. We are the caretakers God asks to be agents of reconciliation with brothers and sisters, though we may fear them.

As we wrestle with God, we often walk away limping. But then we travel to our brother and, reconciled or not, we are walking in the way of faith and faithfulness.

When I was in college, I got into following college wrestling. At that time, we had three superb wrestlers all at the 144-pound level. One of them typically wrestled opponents who were two weight levels above his. He didn’t appear muscular because he didn’t have to worry about weight. He was also a leg wrestler and constantly looked like he was about to be pinned, but his legs did strange things and often, in the midst of what seemed like a disaster, he would flip his opponent on his back and pin him. It was delightful to watch.

In our struggles with life, it can appear and feel like we are about to lose right away. We wrestle with God, but we walk away in victory, or at least in a draw, limping.

Oh, yes, what happened to the Gunn brothers? They finally quit fighting after they were all tuckered out and felt considerable embarrassed at the ruckus they had raised. Their bodies were never quite the same and they both broke hips in their struggle; Wyatt broke his left hip and Virgil broke his right hip. In adjoining beds in the hospital following their hip surgery, the brothers reconciled. They agreed never to fight again. In fact, they became peacemakers in their community helping people overcome their differences in non-threatening ways.


“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Mt 5. 9

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