There are memories of events in our lives that stay with us, or that pop up at times when we don’t expect. It’s also true for the stories of the scriptures that are a part of my memory; I often find myself asking the question, “Why that story, now, what’s it trying to say to me?”
It’s a question I learned from that great teacher of pastoral ministry, Rev Dr “Tim” Savage.
One of the stories popping up for me these days is Jacob’s return to his family’s country (Genesis 32). He’s been away for a few years; on the run, in some ways; exploring his gifts and talents, his identity, in other ways. The time of dealing with the truth of his life has come. He wants to be reconciled to his brother Esau, who through Jacob’s deceitfulness, was denied that was his by right. But what will Esau’s reception be?
The night before he’s due to meet Esau is one of those nights we’ve all had—deeply restless. In the story, Jacob wrestles with a man—or God, we’re not sure—and as the day breaks, the man seeks to break free, but Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” The man asks Jacob his name, and then says, “You have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed,” so the “man” blesses him, changes his name to Israel, and gives Jacob a sacred wound.
I think of this story as an important aspect of the journey of discipleship, of life.
We seek to find our own way in the world, we make mistakes, sooner or later, we have to deal with them, and in some way, we work ourselves out. Yet this journey is never taken alone, it is never ours to create for ourselves and neither is our identity.
This has been an important story for me as I live my discipleship under the lordship of Jesus Christ. My early journey of discipleship was to know that I am known; to know that I am loved and accepted, forgiven, and that nothing can take that away; that is a given—that’s the message of baptism. The second phase of my journey has been about discovering the deep challenge of the gospel. The third phase is about the way of the cross; being faithful to the gospel, no matter what, letting go of how that will play out; trusting that my life—that creation, for that matter—really is in God’s hands.
That’s pretty much how I see things now. I just have to live it! That’s why participation in the life of the church is so vital. It challenges too my desire to make the gospel right for me, and the desire to shape the gospel so that I can have a sense of righteousness.
There are some in our life for whom the decision of the 15th Assembly on marriage has proved deeply challenging and disturbing; for others it has been a strong expression of the gospel. My prayer is that as we take this time of reflecting on its decision that we say to each other, “I will not let you go until you bless me”; that is, our journey together as the Uniting Church be one of radical openness to each other, deep listening to each other as we seek to hear the Word of God, and that we honour each other for our being baptised together into Christ.
Our baptism has not eradicated our differences; it has given us an opportunity to have a bigger picture of our life before God.
Rev David Baker