Sermon on June 27, 2021 by Rev. David Hodgson

Just Before the Dawn

And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the
day. Gen 32:24

Have you ever wrestled with your guardian angel in the night? Perhaps you’ve never thought of it that way, especially in this age where faith language is going out of style ~ much to the chagrin of the angels who contend with us. Perhaps you thought of it as a restless night in which your mind kept haunting you with some unresolved issue, or a night troubled by a heart that would not rest until some problem had been fully addressed.

In some self-enlightened circles it is paraphrased as a struggle with one’s higher self ~ as though such a
declaration is more acceptable to those who live without a biblical faith. But for those of us who try to
life by faith in God, the Bible is inviting us this morning to consider the possibility that there are times in
the night when the soul of each of us does in fact wrestle with our guardian angels.

On a personal level, I am grateful for this passage because while my eyes cannot see my guardian angels,
when I read it I know that by some ineffable mystery I have been there too ~ that at times I have struggled
with a spirit other than my own in the darkest hours of the night. And the evidence of spiritual struggle
is that my identity ~ the authenticity of who I really am ~ is being measured by the outcome of the struggle.

From a biblical study perspective: write this passage off as a once upon a time story for children and adults
is to miss the point completely. Accept it as God’s invitation to become engaged with the guardian angels
God has provided for our own journey through the years, and it’s game on! And know that somewhere
in glory God is smiling for His Word has come alive!

His name was Jacob ~ a name which literally means the scoundrel ~ but it might just as well be a
pseudonym for every troubled life that surrenders to the scoundrel tendencies of human nature. We
pretend they may be in others while often denying that they are part of our nature too.

We are led to believe that our nature is not so corrupted as his because the sacred text details how he
conspired with his mother to deceive his father and betray his brother and then ran away with the family
fortune. But as this chapter begins we discover the unrelenting influence of God upon his life when his
guardian angels confront him. Verses 1&2 ~ Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; and
when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s army!”

How’s that for faith language describing a heavenly intervention ~ God sending angels to redirect the
course of a human life! We allow secular society to rob us of our faith language at our peril because it is
God’s way of keeping us in touch with the only dimension of reality that really matters: the spiritual realm!

As the story begins with an experience of many angels doing a heavenly intervention, the one that draws
us into familiarity is the description of how he sent his family ahead, on the safer side of the river, and it
was when he was alone in the darkest hour of the night that one of his guardian angels wrestled with him
until the morning light.

See it now and remember when you were there too. In the dust of the earth, stubbornness of will
struggling against strength of character, fear contending with faith, virtue wrestling with vice, anger trying
to strangle while love was attempting to embrace, guilt striving to pin down grace. On and on it went
until just before dawn, …and that’s when it happened!

That’s when the experience for all of its horror became a blessing, and the blessing came with the
exchange of a name ~ no longer would he be called the scoundrel, for by his struggle with God his character
had changed, so much so that he would be known henceforth as Israel, a name that literally means one
who strives, or struggles, with God.

It is a stunning image ~ a flawed mortal wrestling in the darkness and dirt of human experience with some
sort of an angelic manifestation of the Divine, for in it we can see the unmistakable signs of the way human
nature contends with the very nature of God.

And I don’t know about you, but in my approach to the Bible that experience has déjà vu over it ~ as in
I’ve been there before. That’s when I know that God has just used the scripture to get my undivided

It is the Old Testament’s way of saying he had a come-to-Jesus moment ~ a defining moment when who
he had allowed himself to become would contend with the vision that God had for his life. It is faith
language for the epic struggle of a lifetime when one’s identity would be forced to take stock of one’s past
in order to see with any clarity the promise of a future.

I have come to believe, from my own struggles with God, that the purpose of such wrestling is not to see
who wins or loses (for with God the outcome is uncontested!), but to discover new levels of maturity and
to discover the gifts of altered perspective and moral persuasion that come from contending with the Allmighty, the All-knowing, the Ever-present God!

And I suspect that for most of us it happens as well in the darkness of the night ~ whether literally or
figuratively ~ when some moral purpose is engaged, or a new vision is awakened, or self-worth is in
question, or life-direction is challenged. With these and so many more please know that a wrestling match
is underway for our own benefit ~ the saving influence of God upon our imperfect nature.

In the hours just before dawn ~ the dawn that comes instinctively, intuitively, to those who wrestle with
God ~ our transformation occurs. And we come to understand that even though our problems are not
solved by it, or challenges removed because of it, or perils dismissed from life in this dimension, something
there is about contending with God that emboldens the soul, that makes the human spirit more resilient,
that takes what was and reconditions it, that prepares what is so much a part of us for all we are yet able
to become.

Inevitably we come away with a new sense of self-worth, a new confidence in the saving power of God, a
new clarity about the sacred purpose of God for our lives ~ and always the awareness that something in
us has been forgiven in the very process of rebirth ~ a character change for those who struggle with God.
“How great the dignity of the soul,” wrote St. Jerome, “since each one has from his birth an angel
commissioned to guard it.” And we might add: and to contend with it when we need contending with.

There is an old hymn I’d like to share with you that was part of my faith formation. What I like about it is
that it taught me that among the dangers of human nature is that the most innocent and well-intentioned
decisions may also have unintended consequences in the grand scheme of things.