You know wrestling, right? Where someone wins and someone loses and the goal is to pin the other to the mat. I’m not a huge fan of that concept, though. In life, I don’t think someone has to win and the other lose for victory to be claimed, rather a subtle dance is engaged. Slowly, two tango with dips and twirls in the story line, finally reaching a conclusion that could only be achieved together.
Hopefully, they can both live in the story and thrive, navigating pain and brokenness, joy and laughter. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit is invited in, adding other layers of complexity. She holds them up when their weary legs are about to give out and takes the lead when they fumble and lose their way, but she doesn’t reveal the steps. She lets them find it, fight for it, embrace it all on their own, with her loving kindness filling them, encouraging them, and giving them the wisdom needed to discover the way forward. The unknown. The feared. The anticipated.
So maybe I am not wrestling, my friends. Maybe I am dancing.
I don’t particularly like to dance. I’m kind of awkward when I move to music, despite my degree in the art. I never know what to do with my hands…or my hips…or, well, any part of me. In fact, I haven’t really danced since my senior prom with the exception of a few weddings. I’m not sure those even count.
But I am choosing to continue to dance today. In vulnerability. With you.
I’m sure you saw the climax of the number coming. Because everyone wrestles with God stuff. Everyone hurts. Everyone fears. Everyone dances… But being really vulnerable? That’s scary. And I think I need to do it anyway:
I don’t always practice what I preach.
Not in an “I’m telling you not to bear false witness, but I secretly go and gossip about my neighbors at happy hour” kind of way.
I don’t always practice what I preach in an “I promise you that God loves you, has chosen you, and calls you beloved so you always matter, but I’m so special that I believe I don’t actually receive grace” kind of way. That’s right, I’m admitting to you that when I preach (or write, or speak, or sing, or just generally try to share the Gospel Story), I often speak what I believe is truth, but cannot seem to accept for myself. In a way, it feels deceitful. It’s laced with a shame I cannot put into words.
For that, I name my perceived transgression and apologize.
But I want you to know that it is not intentional that I dance this part of the piece. I truly do believe that God has named, claimed, and chosen each one of us and that the gifts of grace and love this mother-hen gathers us into is real and alive and flowing in, from, and with all of us every day. I know that truth, and I proclaim it loudly and proudly.
Yet, all too often in this dance, I feel like Jacob. You remember him, right? In Genesis 32, we read all about his encounter with God in human form, their wrestling deep into the dark of night – dancing a dance together that only they could – and even though God struck his hip socket, Jacob held on tight, determined not to let go. And he was blessed after when, boldly, he asked. Jacob knew what he wanted and didn’t let go, and God said: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel. (28a)“
In all of Jacob’s wrestling, nothing in scripture says that he was absolved from negative character traits or that sin left him, but we know that neither God nor Jacob remained static. They stuck it out with each other, holding on for dear life – like they were each other’s life preservers with no other hope of ever making it out of the ocean of uncertainty this fight – this dance – had left them in.
In doing so, in holding so tightly and blessing Jacob with a new name – Israel, which means the one who strives with God – God made a new covenant. For as long as Jacob continued to be with God, God continued to be with him. To be in relationship. To wrestle.
So I dance with you today, with God present in mind, body, and spirit, power overflowing and growing as we figure out this life together. I hold us in a space of vulnerability while I admit to you that I am struggling because most days I don’t believe I deserve or could ever deserve the grace I so proudly and confidently proclaim to you as one who speaks the word of the Gospel Truth. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is for each and every one of us. You (and I) get to dance every day, and because of Jesus’ love for us, because of being washed in the waters of baptism, because of the Gospel story, we get to dance and strive with God, too.
And she gets to strive with us.
So even when we’re vulnerable, when we struggle to believe – crying out in the darkness that God may help our unbelief… She is present. Promising to never walk away, to never abandon or forsake us. We are loved and enough. No strings, no questions. The dance is never ending, and our dance partner never tires mid-song.
I am loved and enough. You are loved and enough. We are loved and enough.
I pray you strive. I pray you strive with God every day. That no question goes unexplored, no thought unrevealed, and no doubt unaddressed. May the music change with each passing moment, may the Spirit help your steps flow ceaselessly in praise and lightly in thanksgiving, may those same steps slow in your confession and may they feel weightless in receiving grace. May your wrestling become a love song – a song that proclaims the goodness of the Lord, the never ending love in the midst of vulnerability, and the dance that never ends.
May God bless you and call you Israel. May you feel this blessing as Jacob once did, as we all feel now.