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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

La Luche Sigue

2017-08-06 Gn 32 22-31 and Mt 14 13-21 La Lucha Sigue


"La Lucha Sigue." It means, "The struggle continues."

Have any of you struggled with anything? What a dumb question.

Maybe you're struggling right now. Maybe that's why you came to church: to get help with your struggles. And that's good. From its first page to its last, the Bible is filled with struggles. Struggles between people. Struggles with God. God's continuing struggle with struggling people. From the Old Testament to the New, from ancient days to this minute, God knows. God knows about struggles. The people near you know about struggles. Everybody knows la lucha.


La lucha.

After our girls outgrew the Disney Channel (praise Jesus) we got rid of cable (praise Jesus again). Now we use an internet TV service that has enough. HGTV so we can keep up with Skip and Joanna. An off-brand weather channel that's right about 50% of the time.

And, El Rey. Does anyone else like the El Rey Network? El Rey is kinda sketchy. But it has one thing nobody else has: Mexican professional wrestling.

Mexican wrestling - Lucha Libre - was new to me. It is something to behold. Contrary to what haters might say, Lucha is more than zip-up head masks and swaggering macho. Much more. Their website says so. "Luchadores use their impressive athleticism and dynamic personalities to tell stories of good and evil through the tradition of freestyle wrestling." See? It's practically educational TV. Educational, and biblical.

Wrestling is biblical.

Jacob - from today's Old Testament lesson - Jacob, twin brother of Esau. Jacob, father of our faith - Jacob was a wrestler, too. He was even known to wear disguises. (See Genesis 27). A Hebrew luchadore. And his struggles continue.


Jacob's wrestling life began at conception. You see, long before your fancy ultrasounds, his mother, Rebekah, knew he was a wrestler. She could tell Jacob wasn't alone in there. She knew Jacob and his less-than-fraternal twin brother, Esau, were going at it. They weren't professional wrestlers; they were prenatal. And it like to killed Rebekah. Genesis 25:22 says,

"The children struggled together within her; and [Rebekah] said, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?"

(Lucha muy dolorosa.)

These two were born wrestling. Literally. Esau came out first. But Jacob came out grabbing his ankle, trying to pull Esau back in, so Jacob could be Number One.

Wrestling. Struggling. Cheating. Deceiving. Luche. That's Jacob.

In today's lesson, Jacob finds the ultimate challenger. Late one night, all alone on the banks of the river, Jacob meets a new foe. And the struggle continues.


Genesis 32 picks up with grown-up Jacob realizing he needs to escape his struggling.

God tells Jacob to break his lifetime of fake moves. God tells him to face his fears. And that's a problem. Jacob's #1 fear is returning to his homeland where his big burly-man brother Esau lives. You see, years before, sneaky Jacob masked himself and swindled Esau out of the family fortune. So Jacob's worried that Esau might still be angry.

So Jacob, is standing at the riverside, at the edge of Esau-country. The Bible says:

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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

And then, it says, the haunting words… "Jacob was left alone…."

This is where the literal and the figurative start to swirl together. Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? Is it a dream in the dark of night? The verse goes on, getting even spookier:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

I don't want to get too personal here. But I'm would guess that while you might struggle during the day with your decisions, the lucha-worthy wrestling really takes hold in the dark of night. Does that happen to anyone else? About 3:30am? When it's just you and your bossy brain, in the dark? About 3:32 they start rolling around, trying to pin each other to your mind's mat? And you think you've figured it out, but then it's 3:33 and the next round starts, Ding!? Do you do that, too? Do you luche in the noche? Jacob did.

Should I stay or should I go? Should I face my fears? Should I run away? Should I apologize to my brother and beg forgiveness? Should I scram while the getting's good?

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

When 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. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking."

But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." (Which means, heel-grabber. Tripper-Upper. The Overthrower. It's a wrestling name.) Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, (which means, well, it means a couple of things, depending on your translation.)

"Isra" means struggles or fights or prevails. "El" is God. So, Isra-El. It can mean, "May God prevail." Or, "God is just." Or, "Who prevails with God." Or "Who wrestles with God." Or, even, "God shall fight." (http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.652699)

It's confusing. Because "the man" - whom we take as God, or an angel of God - loses the wrestling match. Jacob wins. The Bible says so. The man says so.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob….

He renames Jacob as Israel "for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

Jacob out-wrestles God. But in the morning, he still gets up and goes to face his evil twin Esau.

So, did Jacob really win the wrestling match? Or does the struggle continue? How many nights have you thought you've come to a conclusion, but the light of day erases your victory?

And what about that trick move God puts on Jacob, where, when Jacob has him pinned, he strikes Jacob on the hip socket and Jacob's hip is put out of joint? It doesn't stop Jacob, but it does get his attention. It says:

The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel (literally, "face of God), limping because of his hip.

Hobbled, but still walking. Those things in the dark, those thoughts, those choices, those regrets, those people, that God -- all that which keep us up nights -- they leave a mark, don't they? They are turning points, whether we turn with them or against them. Like Harry Potter's forehead scar, the mark of the battle stays with us, becomes part of us, helps make us who we are as the sun rises and we continue on, limping, but still going. With the power of God, we struggle. By the grace of God we do not stop. La luche sigue.



Fast forward with me to the New Testament, the Feeding of the 5000. Why this gets paired with Jacob wrestling I do not know. That is, I didn't know, until I read this story looking for the struggle. The struggle is there, if you look.

It starts out,

Now when Jesus heard this…

Heard what? If you look back in your Bible you'll see that what Matthew has just told us is how Herod the puppet dictator has beheaded John the Baptist. John was Jesus's cousin, friend, mentor - the one who baptized him in the River Jordan. Jesus hears about John's execution. And while it's always tricky to psychologize Jesus, I'm thinking Matthew wanted us to expect that Jesus was grieving.

Now when Jesus heard this…

What did he do?

...he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

You, who know grief, you who have suffered through the loss of a loved one, whether sudden or gradual makes very little difference when you're grieving - You who have suffered grief - can you understand why Jesus might have wanted to withdraw, in a boat, to a deserted place, by himself (not unlike Jacob)? Did you not want to escape the pain? Did you not want to escape the well-intentioned people? Did you not want to escape the reminders of the one you had lost? Maybe, like Jesus (and Jacob), you did withdraw. Maybe you got in a boat. Maybe you wished you could go to a desert island, and just be by yourself.

I think Matthew wants us to recognize that like many of us have done or are doing now, Jesus was struggling, wrestling with grief. Even Jesus has dark nights of the soul.

But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Those danged people would not leave him alone. Yet as dark as his soul might have been, Jesus had compassion for them and healed their sick. And I wonder. I wonder if Saint Matthew might not be telling us that even the strongest of us needs to be pulled out of our darkness. I wonder if Matthew might not be saying that when our compassion wrestles with our grief, grief is hobbled, grief is displaced. Compassion may not make grief go away, but it puts grief out of joint. In caring for others we limp forward, injured, but still alive. By the grace of God, we struggle, but we do not stop.

The second place I see struggle in the Feeding is when the disciples exercise defensive compassion. Defensive compassion. It's a wrestling move.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."

In other words, "We don't want 5000 people getting hangry. People just aren't themselves when they're hangry." It sounds like compassion, but it's a defensive move.

Jesus tells the disciples, "You give them something to eat."

And they're like, "Whaaaaaat? We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."

Most of the time, when I read this passage, I skip over the struggle. And that's OK. I mean, most of us prefer to skip struggle. Our society's built on avoiding struggle. We're Southern; we'll struggle, but you'll never know it.

Our nation's current epidemic is medicine that keeps us from feeling pain. So it makes sense that we fixate on the size of the crowd. It makes sense that we celebrate the fantastic awesomeness of Jesus who can not only heal so many people, but turn five loaves and two fish into a meal that feeds five thousand. Free meals and health care. Truly, a miracle. But if that's all we see, we miss the miracle of the struggle. We miss the miracle that might mean the most to we who, like Jacob, like the disciples, wrestle the darkness of our own weakness and fear.

Jesus says, "You give them something to eat," and they say, "Who us?" The disciples don't believe they have it in them. The disciples don't believe they have the courage. They don't believe they have the resources. The disciples don't believe they have the strength to take on the needs of 5000 people.

And they're right. On their own, they don't.

But Jesus tells them to bring their stuff to him.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves...

...and then he fed the people, right?

Wrong!!! Jesus did NOT feed the people. That is not right.

It says,

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves...

...and gave them to the disciples

...and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Surprise. The disciples DID give them something to eat. With what they had. All it took was Jesus's blessing.

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women, and children.

Jesus turned the disciples' luche into luz, their wrestling into light.


The story of Jacob and Esau has a happy ending. The Feeding of the Five Thousand has a miraculous ending. But you know, and I know, it wasn't really the end. There's still that river to cross, that brother to face, that cross to die on, that grave to endure -- before the light of resurrection.

There are struggles. There are always struggles. They do continue. But the struggles are not everything. The Bible tells us so. The church reminds us so. By the grace of God, we do go on. We might limp. We might bear scars of the fight. But we do go on. So when the wrestling makes your stomach do flip-flops -- when people and nations and even God put us out of joint -- we can get back up and keep going. The struggle may continue, but so shall we.