category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Learning from Jacob

By Rachael Keefe

After Jacob’s night of wrestling, after his hip was disjointed, did he try to hide his limp or did he embrace it as a sign of his strength and endurance? I would like to think that he did the latter, though I suspect it might have taken him a while. …

Learning from Jacob

After Jacob’s night of wrestling, after his hip was disjointed, did he try to hide his limp or did he embrace it as a sign of his strength and endurance? I would like to think that he did the latter, though I suspect it might have taken him a while. Jacob was known for his cunning, his trickery, his willingness to do what he had to do to get what he wanted. Yes, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah before Rachel. I’m guessing that didn’t alter his personality all that much. Maybe just growing up, claiming his identity, allowed him to accept his faults, flaws, and weaknesses, limp included.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think I have a lot in common with Jacob, or at least the Jacob I imagine. It isn’t that I will do whatever I need to do to get what I want in a way that hurts or uses others; I try to avoid that. However, for most of my life I have tried to hide my weaknesses, my limitations, my disabilities. Yes, I could name them, and yet I never really embraced them. Acceptance of my limitations is hard for me, even now.

When I was in college I was diagnosed with a learning disability that fit under the umbrella of dyslexia. While this diagnosis brought some relief and understanding to me, I told very few people. In my subsequent years of education, I think I told one professor because she asked the class to write down anything that might affect our class work, including learning disabilities. I remember writing that I was dyslexic and that it would not present a problem in class. I did not want to be viewed as “impaired” or “different.”

My journey with my physical health has been similar. It took decades to get an accurate diagnosis of POTS/Dysautonomia. In the intervening years, when my diagnosis went back and forth between Lupus and MS, I would acknowledge that I didn’t feel well and then proceed to do whatever needed doing. I didn’t want whatever was going on in my body to cause people to see me as anything other than fully capable of doing my job or living my life. These were my judgements about myself. I never viewed anyone else with any kind of disability as “less than.” Somehow, though, if I accepted my physical limitations then I would be diminished.

Now, with pandemic, I have no choice but to name my struggles. Dysautonomia and multiple autoimmune disorders put me at high risk for COVID-19. And the pacemaker given me in December doesn’t diminish that risk. I have to stay home, away from people. Sure, I’ve managed to find ways to get out, like kayaking in sparsely populated lakes. I walk my dog every day that is below 80 degrees and humidity below 45% and we cross the street a lot to avoid other people who are out without masks. I am vulnerable and I don’t like it.

Yet, it is this very vulnerability that has me thinking about Jacob in a new way. I’m guessing he didn’t fully become Israel until he embraced his brokenness; he didn’t become whole until he accepted his vulnerability. It’s an odd thing to contemplate. What makes us whole? What makes us able to accept God’s call to live in abundance and share that abundance with those who hunger and thirst (literally and figuratively)?

Jesus told the disciples that they had to feed the hungry and thirsty crowd gathered around them in the wilderness. The disciples thought Jesus may have lost touch with reality. How could they feed 20,000 people (5000 men plus women and children) with nothing? They didn’t actually have nothing. They had five loaves of bread and two fish. That turned out to be more than enough. There’s something to be said for using what we have and trusting God to make it what we need. Not for us on our own. For us and all who gather in community.

Only when we accept our whole selves, limps and limitations included, can we recognize the gifts we truly possess. Only then can we move fully into God’s abundance and serve the hungry, thirsty and vulnerable people in our communities. Whether we use our limitations as an excuse for inaction or we pretend we have no limits and in so doing cannot fully use our gifts, we are serving no one but ourselves.

Now is the perfect time for us as individuals and for us as the church, to embrace our broken places and accept the whole of who we are. Only then will we be the Body of Christ needed right now. Jacob became Israel after his hip was put out of joint and he could not deny his brokenness, his vulnerabilities as a human being. Imagine how the church would change if every congregation would spend a night or more wrestling with God to come limping into a new day. We could name and claim our vulnerabilities, our brokenness, and even our sins, and move just that much closer into living in God’s abundance. The world can be transformed if we stopped pretending to be perfect and embraced our wholeness instead.

Who would have thought that Jacob would be a model for living in God’s abundance…

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Photo: CC0image by jplenio

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

2 thoughts on “Learning from Jacob”

  1. Oh Rachael thank you for your honesty. You set an example for our congregation.
    You help me find hope and nudge me to be more than I think is possible
    Barb Gort


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