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Invited to Wrestle with Him

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Good morning everyone!

I am an amateur wrestler.

This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s true. I am a regular partaker in the strenuous activity of wrestling although I am not a wrestler who wears a cape, leotard and a face mask.

I didn’t intend to get into wrestling, never saw the attraction to it at all as it’s messy, sweaty and often it hurts and can leave me bruised and scarred.

But I regularly find myself wrestling anyway.

I don’t think I’m the only one in this church who wrestles – I know I don’t know most of you at all, but I’m pretty sure that there are many of you here who regularly wrestle as I do.

The good news is that us wrestlers have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of: I think God wants us to wrestle.

I actually think He longs for us to wrestle.

We see plenty of wrestlers in the Bible:

The most obvious one is Jacob. We are told in Genesis the story of Jacob’s night-long wrestling match, determined to get his blessing from his opponent whom he later describes as God.

Jacob not only receives the blessing he fights for, but he also receives a limp where his opponent, God, (perhaps performing a sneaky illegal supernatural move) touched Jacob’s hip socket.

Like I said, wrestling can leave you scarred for life. But Jacob clearly thought this night fight was worth the blessing he received from it.

Another Old Testament wrestler is Moses. I know, it’s hard to imagine a Charlton Heston- type bearded figure entering the ring, nimble on his toes and circling his opponent. But wrestling with God Moses did.

And yet, this fight was not the fight of two enemies, but two friends: one Immortal, Omnipotent, Creator God challenged by one of his mortal, created beings. And remarkably, the created won over the Creator.

Moses was up the mountain with God and the Israelites had got tired of waiting for him, so they built a golden calf and started worshipping it.

Needless to say, God was not impressed with their initiative, creativity and gold-moulding skills. He was angry. He told Moses that He would give the Israelites the land He had promised them, but He wouldn’t go with them into it.

Moses steps into the wrestling ring.

Moses pleads with God to go with them and, quite quickly it seems, God agrees.

I strongly suspect mercy and grace was what God wanted to show to His people all along but perhaps He also wanted Moses to realise how much he needed God, despite what God had done through him to date.

Moses engaged in a wrestling match with the Living God, seemingly changing God’s mind and, perhaps, Moses himself was never the same again.

Wrestling with God changes us…

And then, of course, there’s Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh to speak words of God’s truth and Jonah ran away. So, God performed the unusual, sneaky wrestling hold known as the “large-fish-swallow” …that’s an incredibly hard grip to wriggle out of.

I can relate to Jonah, but thankfully not because of any fish-related encounters.

As some of you know, I am journeying through what the Church of England call “the process of discernment”. Four years ago I sensed God calling me to consider ordination.

This was something that came seemingly out of the blue for me and was a little like the bell at the start of a wrestling match- was I prepared to step into the ring and wrestle with the possibility that this is God’s calling for my life?

It’s a wrestling match that continues, and a select few of the Anglican Church judges will have the final say later this year. I am not clear what the answer will be, but whatever happens, I do know that God asked me to wrestle with this calling, I am and I know I am changed for the better for engaging with Him in this match.

Of course, the most powerful and significant wrestling perhaps ever to take place was held in the garden of Gethsemane, soon after Jesus gives us these words in the Book of John that we have read today.

Jesus was the Ultimate Wrestler, wrestling with doing the will of the Father and laying down his own will. He knew what he was going towards by following His Father’s will and the fight was so great we’re told Jesus sweated blood.

Having submitted to His Father in that fight, Jesus then wrestled and defeated death itself, engaging in that fight for each and every one of us here.

It doesn’t get a more significant contest than that.

But you may be wondering what on earth all this has to do with today’s passage?!!

I believe Jesus is inviting us to step into the ring in this passage.

In fact, throughout the Bible we see God’s invitation to His people to engage with Him. He doesn’t want us just to stand at a distance and admire His universe-making muscles.

Driven by His incredible love, Jesus came close to us. He stepped into the wrestling ring of humanity when He stepped into human form. He chose to engage with us, becoming familiar with our struggles, wrestling to submit His own will to the will of the Father, as we wrestle with too.

In this passage, I see Jesus inviting us to step into the ring alongside Him and to, as it says, “do the works that He has been doing”.

He uses words that I wrestle with because they seem so hard to believe and reconcile with many of my experiences to date:

“You may ask for anything in my name and I will do it”.

Jesus is inviting us to wrestle alongside Him, with the things that He wrestles with and to do it in His name, not our own name.

Let’s be honest, whether we choose to actively wrestle with God or not, life has its struggles.

That’s why I know I’m not alone here in being a wrestler. Right now, many of us will be wrestling with sickness, worry, sin, relationships, grief, temptation, financial uncertainty.

Wrestling is part of our lives.

Wrestling shows we care about something enough to engage with it.

It shows we love people enough to struggle with what they struggle with, even when it hurts.

We can know that we are not alone in our struggles- Jesus wrestled with them too.

Jesus makes this incredible statement that when we ask for anything in His name, He will do it. Of course, Jesus isn’t talking here about a magic spell, special words that we add to the end of our prayers to make the prayer “work”.

We can see this invitation in the context of the invitation God gives all of us to be sons and daughters who know their Father’s business, not simply slaves who worship and serve Him.

Jesus invites us to know Him, not just to watch Him from afar but to come up close and know Him, like Moses did. In today’s reading Jesus said: “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well”.

Chapter 15 of the Book of John that follows the verses we read today is entitled “Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit”. Jesus describes Him as “another advocate to help you and be with you forever”.

Jesus in His humanity could not have wrestled and defeated sin and death without the power of the Holy Spirit. And He knows we need The Spirit’s help too.

The Spirit enables us to see and know God.

In today’s reading from Acts, we hear of The Spirit in action in Stephen.

Stephen had been brought in front of the Jewish High Council, having been falsely accused of blasphemy.

He was brought into a fight that he did not start, but he had his eyes firmly on his Heavenly Father rather than his earthly opponents. Earlier in chapter 6 of Acts, we are told that Stephen stood in front of the men with his face shining like an angel, not surprisingly, causing everyone to stare at him.

We read today that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit” as the infuriated Jewish Leaders stood in front of him. But Stephen didn’t dwell on their murderous rage, as the Spirit enabled him to look up, see the open heavens and see Jesus, “standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand”.

It could be said that Stephen lost the fight that day. I would argue that actually he won an incredible victory with and for His Jesus that day, dying whilst forgiving his persecutors just as Jesus did.

Whilst I trust we here won’t die at the willing hands of others, we all have fights that we are currently engaged in, and other fights ahead of us.

It is the knowing God that enables us to step into the ring alongside Him, both on the same team, wrestling together with life’s opponents.

Often the outcome is not what we hope for or expect. I usually simply want to win as quickly and painlessly as possible. But God seems to be less interested in winning and more committed to my heart changing and softening as a result of my wrestling.

What are we wrestling with today?

Paul tells us in Ephesians that we do not struggle, or wrestle against flesh and blood, but against dark spiritual forces at work in our world.

Jesus prayed that we would be one, not wrestling with each other, but wrestling together against the devil’s work in our world.

Are there fights that we’ve engaged in that we need to walk away from?

Are we wresting with God and it’s time to submit?

Are we wrestling in His name or our own, for our glory or for His?

Is there other wrestling that God is encouraging us to step into, to come alongside Him in, so that together we can see His name glorified and ourselves and others set free?

We’re being invited to be in such close connection to Jesus and the Father that we may ask for anything in His name and He will do it.

He wants to engage with us that closely that we know His heartbeat for ourselves and the world around us.

He wants us to wrestle with the things that He is passionate about, pray the prayers He longs for us to pray so He can bring the answers He longs to bring to this world in so much desperate need.

Let’s take up this invitation to lay down any selfish struggles and step into the ring alongside Him.

Let’s take up His incredible invitation to have His Spirit help us to know Him more, to wrestle with Him and alongside Him so that we would be living with His name written across our backs, engaging in the fights that He is passionate about, to see His kingdom come and His will be done.

In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.