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October 16, 2022 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104 • Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121 • 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 • Luke 18:1-8*
By Rev. Mara Bailey
Doubt and faith have a curious relationship.
Is having questions and doubt an indicator of a lack of faith? Does having faith mean that you will no longer doubt? When you became a Christian, or began to recognize it as an important element in your life, did you think it was a one way ticket to a totally charmed life, where nothing bad would ever happen again?
I think doubt is a sign of faith. I think doubt is a healthy part of faith. Jacob’s wrestling with God at Peniel is a text that asks us to consider how we respond when we face challenges—or when we might feel stuck, as is often the case when we experience doubt. Jacob could have fled this moment- and yet he stayed put. He “fought the good fight”-seeking triumph over his opponent, rather than throwing his hands up and walking away from a challenge. I think this is one way doubt can be a companion to faith. If all we are doing is looking around for excuses, a way out, rather than considering how it is that God might be present in the moment, we may lose out on an opportunity to remember that the journey of faith is one that should point us towards God, not away from God.
The other powerful part of this story which always stands out to me is the power of a name. Jacob’s name means the usurper, the supplanter, or, more loosely, the cheat. He is a fraud. Up until this point in the story, Jacob’s done a lot of things that few would be proud of. He treats his family poorly—cons, cheats, lies, deceives, manipulates. Jacob is headed back home after this life he has lived, preparing to face his homeland after 20 years away. Will his past catch up with him? He has two decisions: to face the future, or to turn and run (which he’s been good at thus far).
In the moment of wrestling, God is asking him to be honest about this. He is asked to come clean. And instead of calling him out, which is probably a pretty human response, God…gives him a new name. Israel-one who wrestles with God and prevails. So Jacob’s outcome is that he walks away, although limping, but victorious. He has a new name, and a new character to embrace.
We can be called a great many things in life, and some of them are not good. Unworthy. Ugly. Stupid. Unloved. Disappointment. So it can be hard to hear, when we face one of those challenges, or when doubt creeps up, the still small voice of God calling you beloved. Calling you forward, even if you have doubt or challenge. Perhaps we might remind our people through preaching this week that the wrestling that comes with challenges and doubt can open up a new door in our relationship with God, wherein we are reminded that God has called us and claimed us. Not despite our doubts, but because we are earnestly seeking a life of faith that can turn to God through those challenges.
*This memo is focused on the text from Genesis. However, in my text research for this week’s memo, I came across a beautifully written commentary on the Gospel text found at Working Preacher. If you’re interested in working with the gospel text, I encourage you to read the piece by Francisco J. Garcia found here: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-5
Rev. Mara Bailey serves as Chaplain at Simpson College in Indianola, IA. Since baseball season is over, here’s a tidbit about Mara: during seminary, she and her spouse Jon (also Rev. Bailey!) threw out the first pitch at a Rangers game.
16 octubre, 2022 – Domingo 19 después de Pentecostés
Jeremías 31:27-34 y Salmos 119:97-104; Génesis 32:22-31 y Salmos 121: 2 Timoteo 3:14-4:5; Lucas 18:1-8*
Por la Rvda. Mara Bailey