This past Sunday I shared that one of my favorite stories is of Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. Jacob has many interesting stories associated with him but the one I spoke about was his wrestling with an angel in the middle of the night.
Jacob and his entire family were on a long trip traveling all day when it was finally time to stop for the night. Jacob’s family decided to cross the river in front of them before nightfall, but Jacob stayed with the belongings and would cross the next morning.
That night, after Jacob had gone to sleep and his family had left, Jacob was awakened by a terrible thing attacking him. Jacob wrestled the demon; all night they fought tirelessly! Finally, just as the sun was about to rise again, Jacob realized he was going to win. The thing was loosening his grip but before Jacob would let him, he said:
“I want you to bless me for winning this fight! I want to be remembered for having survived this battle!” Jacob did receive a blessing that day – as well as a battle wound so deep he limped for the rest of his life.
I love this story of Jacob because I know those nights of waking up alone and battling demons that seem to have come out of nowhere. Tossing and turning, I wonder if I will make it through to dawn when my deepest fears seem to quiet themselves for another day.
I am not shy to tell you that lately I have been wrestling with the goal and purpose of congregational life. I have always deeply appreciated the charge from Micah who asked (and answered), “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” These simple and powerful words have shaped my ministry for as long as I can remember and they have called out to me in the middle of the dark night.
It is an entirely different thing to feel fed by such a charge, than it is to serve a congregation who may not wish to hear the same answer to that question of what the [world] requires. Congregational life today can feel like a book club, a philosophy lecture, a self-help group. Are we still required to do justice? To love mercy? To walk humbly? These are the questions the demon asks in the night and I wrestle to know how each of you would answer.
As we approach our 100th anniversary as a congregational body, we will begin telling, hearing, and learning the stories of us – of all that we have been and, from this, all that we have the potential to be.
As we embark on a church wide racial justice project, listen to the stories we tell; lean into the people we’ve been; be attentive to who we believe we are and hope to be.
As those 30 plus new members connect into congregational life, learn from them, wonder who we are because of them, find ways to creatively become we.
This upcoming church year will be seasons of challenging and good work. It has the potential to keep us up at night wrestling big questions, deep demons, and even feeling alone. But remember the story of Jacob: it was because he wrestled, because he did not give up the fight, because he demanded to be recognized for the ways he changed, that Jacob received and was a blessing for generations to come.
Here’s to 100 years and for paving the way for the next 100 to come.