Worship leader: John Volkening
Call to Worship:
One: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
ALL: God is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.
One: God upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
ALL: The eyes of all look to You, God, and You give them their food in due season.
One: You open Your hand to all, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
ALL: : In every way God is just, and kind in every action.
One: God is near to all who call, to all who call on God in truth.
ALL: God fulfills the desire of all who fear God; God also hears their cry, and saves them.
One: God watches over all who love God, but will destroy all the wicked.
ALL: My mouth will speak the praise of God, and all flesh will bless God’s holy name forever and ever.
Prayer of Confession
Big Mama God by George Ella Lyon
Our Mother Who Art
in the kitchen
cooking us up
hallowed may we see
all that is
Your kindom here
delivered into our hands
Your will in children
and trees leafing out
as if it were Heaven.
Give us this day
bread we could feed
and snatch us bald-headed
if we try to swallow it all.
Don´t forgive us
till we learn it is all for giving.
That salve you’ve got in a pot
on the back of the stove
only heals when everybody has some.
And heed us not
if we believe You look like us
and love us best
and gave us the True Truth
with a license to kill Others
Deliver us from this evil.
For it is Yours,
this kitchen we call Universe
where you stir up our favorite treat,
the Milky Way,
folding deep into sweet
our little sphere
with its powerful glory
and mountains in feather-boa mist
if we don’t blow it up
if we don’t tear it down
Ah reckon She’s about fed up.
We better make room at the table
before She yell’s “OUT!”
and turns our table over,
before She calls it off
this banquet we’ve been hoarding
we aim to save
Scripture reading: Genesis 32:22-31 and Matthew 14:13-21
Preaching: Pastor Alli Baker
I begin today’s sermon with a word of caution: I don’t plan to try and teach you anything about the text itself or even stay with this particular story. Although I feel like that is often the preacher’s role when giving a sermon – to teach, at least, that’s what they told us in seminary.
In other words, a good preacher might stick to the text, taking time to parse out the details surrounding Jacob’s wrestling, as well as, unpacking the power of naming things, of being named and renamed. And what about the blessing Jacob not only receives but demands in his wrestling? And the injury to his hip? What does it all mean?!
However, having just come back from a retreat on immigration, from spending time listening to people tell their stories of ‘crossing the border,’ I find myself still processing, particularly the one we just read, in light of the many others we heard…
Furthermore, rather than spending my time on Jacob’s physical wrestling, I find myself instead wrestling with all the stories leading up to the moment in which we just read:
That same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.
As I red this part of the text over and over this week, following my time with Bridges to Community (an immigration encounter put on by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America), I couldn’t get past Jacob’s story of crossing and this image of being caught, wrestling with an unknown figure on the other side of the stream.
I mean, to think that a week ago today, the teens and I were gathered in a circle around Anibal, listening to him tell his own story of crossing and being caught—a story that many of us have heard by now. But even before that, living in a dire situation, not knowing when his family would eat; then at the age of 15, sitting down with his father to make the decision to cross the border of Mexico for the first time, “for the good of the family,” he said, “I was responsible.”
He talked about the long trek to even reach the border, then being lost in the desert for five days, praying that SOMEONE, even border control, would find them so they wouldn’t die.
Then, after years spent working and sending money home to his family, he was called back to the bedside of an ailing parent. So he crossed again.
All this made me wonder about Jacob—about everything leading up to his crossing and subsequently, his wrestling.
Jacob wrestled with a man or was it an angel? Maybe it was God or perhaps even himself? What exactly was he wrestling with and why?
These are important questions, however, sometimes it feels like we get so caught up with this moment of wrestling, that we forget about all the stories that lead up to it. Who was Jacob before he became Israel?
We seem to forget about where Jacob is coming from – the history he has lived and the long history of immigration and migration he also seems to represent.
In other words, Jacob didn’t just cross the Jabbok one day to wrestle an unknown figure, if you remember any of your Sunday school storytelling, you will recall the fact that Jacob was born wrestling, fighting first with his twin brother Esau for the birthright of his father.
And when the birthright wasn’t his, Rebekah, his mother schemed and planned with Jacob so that he would have a chance not just to survive, but thrive by tricking his father into receiving his blessing.
Then, when Esau found out about the stolen blessing, he bore a grudge against Jacob, vowing to kill him, and suddenly violence against Jacob became a real possibility. So his mother told him to go, “flee to Haran,” leave your home, cross the border, “until your brother’s fury subsides.”
Jacob flees potential violence (Genesis 28) and goes to Haran for what was supposed to be 4 days, to then work for his uncle, in hopes of marrying his daughter, Rachel. 7 years of manual labor only to be tricked into marrying her sister, Leah. Then he put in another 7 years so that he could actually marry Rachel.
After 14-20 years of living in a foreign land and working without a wage, Jacob makes the trek back home, migrating once again. “Crossing the ford of Jabbok,” with the threat of violence awaiting him when he hears that Esau plans to meet him with 400 men at his side.
Jacob crosses with all this history inside him; living with a kind of migrant mentality. That is, the idea that one must move in order to survive, a running theme in many of the stories we heard last week—something that seemed to resonate with some of the youth.
As Anibal told us more about what it was like to grow up knowing that eventually he would leave his family to cross the border, I heard someone say, “that is NOT what I was doing at 15,” sitting around a table discussing the future of your family.
But then there were others in the group, children of immigrants and migrants who seemed to live this reality every day. One youth said, “Last year we were all working towards moving the family back home to the Philippines. That didn’t work so this year I get to go to school.”
A few days later as our Wellingon group debriefed the weekend at the Dehne home in Indiana, one person confessed that they had had a hard time connecting to these stories. They said, “that’s not my reality,” and, “we’ve heard them all before.”
Suddenly it was just one more story about immigration—about wrestling with hardship of ‘crossing the border,’ rather than the hardships that caused someone to have to cross in the first place. And it made me wonder, have we spent too much time wrestling with the present day issues surrounding immigration without taking time to tell the whole story?
Have we not done our due diligence in helping to contextualize the issues regarding the increase in immigration and our role in creating the dire economic situations that many migrants flee whether it be in Guatemala, Mexico, or El Salvador?
Have we made the connections between the history of gun and gang violence happening here in Chicago and the war on Drugs which reaches way beyond the west or south side of this city? Have we highlighted the intersections of race and economics? Or being queer and undocumented?
Have we told our history?
Today’s story isn’t just another story about Jacob, but rather, it is part of an entire history regarding the migration and movements of the descendants of Israel, ofIsaac and Rebekah, Abraham and Sarah.
With these stories in mind, how do we hold this history of migration to the U.S. – of fleeing violence in order to survive – in tension with everything we are wrestling with regarding immigration today?
Such as the humanitarian crisis of over 60,000 unaccompanied minors at the border or the millions of families being torn apart by mass detention and deportation or the billions of dollars being wasted on a system that doesn’t even work?
How do we hold ourselves accountable to our history?
… as Christians and US Citizens?
And for that I am left with the words of one of the youth, passed down from her immigrant father, who said: “If you don’t know where you came from, the history you are a part of, how will you ever know how to tell your story?”
Jacob crossed borders, wrestled, and fought to survive – this was his history—one that we mustn’t forget, because it is part of a larger history, our history, one we are still wrestling with even today.
May God have mercy on us in the coming days and weeks, blessing uswith wisdom as we wrestle as a nation with how to move faithfully ahead.