Blessing for Baptism of the Lord Sunday (Year C)

A Blessing for Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Year C
(Adapted from Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:13-22)
Written by the Rev. Erin Counihan for worship at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church on Sunday 1/13/2019. You are welcome to use this in your own worship context.

Voice 1: Thus says the Lord, the God who created you,
Voice 2: The God who formed you and spoke life into your body:
Voice 1: You are my beloved.
Voice 2: Do not fear.
Voice 1: I have redeemed you.
Voice 2: I have called you by name.
Voice 1: You are mine.
Voice 2: You are my beloved.
Voice 1: With you I am well pleased.
Voice 2: When you pass through rough waters, rivers and waves,
Voice 1: They will not overwhelm you.
Voice 2: When you walk through fire,
Voice 1: You shall not be burned.
Voice 2: The flame will not consume you.
Voice 1: For I am with you.
Voice 2: I love you.
Voice 1: You are precious in my sight.
Voice 2: I will gather you up.
Voice 1: I will be with you.
Voice 2: Beloved.
Voice 1: Precious child.
Voice 2: You wonderful creature.
Voice 1: Do not fear.
Voice 2: I am with you.
Voice 1: You
Voice 2: You
Voice 1: You
Voice 2: You are my beloved.
Voice 1: And with you, I am so very pleased.


Call to Worship: Psalm 124

Here’s the Call to Worship I wrote for this Sunday (Proper 21 B, 9/30/18). Please feel free to use in your own worship service.

CALL TO WORSHIP                                                                      Inspired by Psalm 124

One: If God had not been with us-
Many: this world would have swallowed us up alive.
One: The anger, corruption, violence, and greed-
Many: would have overcome us, flooded us in, and drown us completely.
One: If God had not been by our side-
Many: If God had not held us through our struggles,
One: known us in our trials,
Many: embraced us in this mess,
One: defended us against the enemy,
Many: and loved us all the way,
One: If God had not been with us-
Many: we would have been lost to this world.
One: But the Lord is here,
Many: and the Lord is with us,
One: and so we are strong,
Many: and so we endure
One: and so we escape,
Many: and so we survive,
One: and so we hold on to hope,
Many: and so we keep believing,
One: and so we praise God.
Many: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
One: Our hope is in the name of our God!

A Litany for Healing

A Litany for Healing

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord.
Lord, hear my prayer.

In my pain I reach for you, Lord.
Lord, notice my need.

Drenched in sorrow, hurt, and fear, I look for you, Lord.
Lord, find me here.

God of love and hope and life, we cling to you in hope.
Lord, be with us now.

Christ of healing and help and truth, we seek you in desperation.
Lord, be with us now.

Spirit of grace, wisdom, and courage, we grasp for you in need.
Lord, be with us now.

We who are broken, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are bleeding, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are weeping, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are wailing, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are lonely, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are trying, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are angry, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are violent, Lord.
Heal us.

We who are lost, Lord.
Heal us.

We who keep trying to find you and hold you and love you, Lord.
Heal us.

Heal us.
Heal us.

God of Love, God of Help, God of Hope.
Find us. Be with us. Heal us. Now.

God of Justice, God of Community, God of Compassion.
Gather us. Mend us. Heal us. Now.

God of Wisdom, God of Inspiration, God of Action.
Call us. Heal us. Send us. Now.

Lord, here together, here now, we wait.
We wait in hope, we wait in love.
Hear us.
Help us.
Notice us.
Feel us.
Find us.
Heal us.

We place our hope in You.
We hold all hope in You.


Proper 8 (Ordinary 13) Year B
Based on Psalm 130 (with a little Mark 5 thrown in)
Written by Rev. Erin Counihan
for worship at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO on Sunday, 7/1/18.

Go on. Go Ahead.

A Sermon on Exodus 17:1-7.
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan at the Association of Mid-Council Leaders (PCUSA) Gathering in St. Louis, MO on Oct. 14, 2017.

Go on. Go ahead.

It’s a funny thing to say to a man who has been leading the people for a while now.

Go on. Go ahead.

They hate you and want to stone you. They are thirsty and afraid. Sure, they’ve seen God at work among them already- in the cloud and the pilar of fire, they’ve seen the waters set aside to make a new way, they’ve seen their violent oppressors conquered and tossed into the sea, they’ve seen the manna sprinkled down from heaven above, they’ve seen and felt and tasted God’s constant provision, care, and love, through crisis after crisis, but the thing is, the people are STILL IN CRISIS anyway, and they are still scared and thirsty and want to kill that leader who is taking them on this terrible, scary, thirsty journey through crisis, toward God-only-knows where.

But Go on, Moses. Go ahead.

Now, generally when we read the Exodus story at the church I serve, I ask us to consider ourselves as the people, the crowds, the masses of Israelites walking and wandering, I ask us to place ourselves in the middle of the tired, scared, thirsty pack. But today, well, really because of what I saw here yesterday, I am going to ask us to consider this story from a different position. Because yesterday, just as we were starting worship, and the Rev. Co-Moderator Denise was trying to call us into worship, and her mic wasn’t working, and half the room set upright, and went, “um, mic! Excuse me, mic’s not working. Turn on the mic! Over here, please!” When folks from five different tables got up to address the concern, when half the room took action in a crisis, I realized I was in a room full of leaders. I was in a room full of people used to being in charge. I was in a room full of people used to being the one who could fix the problems. A room full of people who have the answers and the vision and show others the way. So while I am in THIS room, full of us kind of leaders, let’s go ahead an let ourselves be Moses in this story for just a moment.

(Don’t worry, I promise I won’t tell your people back home that you think you’re Moses.)

But let’s put ourselves in those sandals, just for a moment, because I do think we can relate a little here. Because like Moses, we are people called to lead God’s people on a journey. We are people called to lead God’s faithful walking through crisis after crisis. We are people called to cry out to God for ideas and answers and new ways to fuel and fill and resource the community to live and witness and serve and just get by in this new time. And we are people called to lead and serve folks who are scared. And tired. And thirsty. And they’re really not sure we know the way to wherever it is God is promising to take us. And the resources aren’t coming from the places where we used to find them. And The people we lead are hungry and thirsty and tired and frustrated and scared and to many of them and more than a few of us, I fear it is starting to look safer back in the past, back where we came from, back when we were comfortable. And we are hearing some grumbling and quarreling and we may be hearing folks ask, we may be hearing ourselves ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?! “


I hear that inside my own head all the time. I hear it in committee meetings, I hear it in stewardship meeting, I hear it in prayer gatherings, I hear it in neighborhood meetings. As we walk through crisis after crisis. As my news feed is filled with ugliness after ugliness. I, middle-of-the-packer, grumble and quarrel with myself, as Moses, asking me, Is God with us or not?

You see, because here in St. Louis, where I live and serve and try very hard to faithfully follow the way of our Lord, here, my community, my city, is full of thirsty people. And the people here are thirsty for justice.

This day today marks thirty days of protest in our city since the most recent verdict of injustice was handed to us. 30 days of protests in the streets where my colleagues, co-conspirators, neighbors and friends are right now as I speak with you, where they are standing out there crying out in thirst.

Today marks thirty days since one our our leaders issued an acquittal of another of our officers who killed another man of color in this city. Today marks 30 days since we started grumbling and quarreling in this city all over again. Today is 30 days, and it’s coming three years after we spent 400 days in the streets before that.

And so, on these days when we stand in these dry, dry streets, and when we fill dry, dry city hall committee rooms, when we walk through dry neighborhoods carrying paper petitions to register more thirsty voters, I catch middle-of-the-pack me asking Moses-me, “is God with us or not?” When we march and the mothers of our lost siblings come up in the center, and a another mother joins the line, I catch myself quarreling inside me, “is God with us or not?” When we chant, and call out their names- Anthony Lamar Smith, Kiwi Herring, Vonderrit Meyers, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Terrence Crutcher, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and we keep adding another name to that dry list of injustice and death, I wonder, “is God with us or not?” When our elcted officials cancel town hall meetings and send a militarized force out to greet the thirsty people in the streets, I wonder, “is God with us or not?” 

Because we are thirsty for justice and I don’t know, but I heard somewhere or read somewhere that justice is supposed to roll down like water, but I am standing there in the street surrounded by thirsty people everywhere…. and it is always then that I hear the chants pick back up. And they quiet the grumbling in my heart. When the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor the housed and the house-less, the clergy and the atheist, the trans and the straight, the black and the brown and the white and the all start saying it..







And I hear a little voice beneath that reminding me, Go on. Go ahead. I will be standing there. In front of you.

And I look around and see my people…






And I hear it again. Go on. Go ahead. I will be tanding there. In front of you! STRIKE THAT DRY ROCK. And the water the people NEED will come out of it.

God says, Go on. Go ahead.


I don’t know what the issues are in your community, in your presbytery, in your congregation right now. But I know that we all come from communities filled with grumblings. From communities filled with quarreling. From communities filled with fears. From communities filled with thirsty people. And like Moses, we are leaders drawn from the water, we are leaders drawn out from the waters of our baptism, called to walk ahead, told to go on, to the place where God is standing. To use the tools we have already been given. To strike and smash some dry, old rocks. And let God’s provision, hope, justice, and love flow. Because God WILL quench the thirst of the people.

So, go on. Go ahead.

Thursday Prayer

My knees tremble. I am unsure. This is hard.

Press on.

Did you see their fear? Did you see that scene? How? How, my God…

Press on.

Everywhere I turn people are crying, people are hurting, people are enraged.

Press on.

These systems are overwhelming. The process of making the changes we need is daunting.

Press on, you say.

I know we need pushing, but I don’t want to break them.

Press on.

I’m quite sure at some point, I’ll say the wrong thing.

Press on, you say.

But look at the numbers, I hear someone whisper.

Press on.

And I am so tired.

Press on.

Because it’s not about me.

Press on.

And really, it’s not even about us.

Press on.

It’s you.

Press on.

After all this time, and all this work, and all this stuff, I still want to know you.

Press on.

It’s that simple. I want to know you.

Press on.

To follow you.

Press on.

To love you.

Press on.

To love like you.

Press on.

Because you changed me.

Press on.

Because you changed us.

Press on.

Because you changed everything.

Press on.

And love was different.

Press on.

You’re love is different.

Press on.

So, I can. I will. I am pressing on.

Toward that holy goal of following your call.

Wherever it may lead.

Even when it is hard.

Because of you.

Hold us, Lord, as we keep pressing.



(Reference: Philippians 3:4b-14)

What brings it out.

It was just a stupid teamwork exercise.
I told myself that as I stood on the patchwork meeting room carpet, listening to the instructions. I didn’t have to be in charge here. I’d only just met most of the colleagues in the room, but I already knew I wasn’t the most experienced or smartest or most clever or best leader in this room by far. I knew there would be an assessment at the end of the exercise and I didn’t want to be on the negative side of that assessment in this room. I had so much respect for these folks, I didn’t want to mess up in the stupid teamwork exercise and let them all know I was a loser. Plus, this was an intentionally diverse gathering. I didn’t want to be the white girl who thought she knew better than everyone. So, as we looked down at the tape and paper on the floor and were being told we had to cross the rocket, I told myself to stay back. To be quiet. To wait. To follow.
But then the facilitator said there was a time limit. And then time started. And no one moved. And no one mad a plan. And my nice-white girl anxiety about finishing on time, getting the job done, having my team win, accomplishing the task as asked, kicked in, and before I was aware of it I had pushed passed people to be near the front. I didn’t come up with that first plan, but when someone, anyone started trying something, I jumped into the water with them. And I yelled for others to follow us. I yelled directions at strangers. I didn’t have a plan. I was trying someone else’s, and without any assessment of its workability, I insisted others join us. I later learned that someone else had another plan. And was trying to tell us about it. But I was already at work and didn’t listen. Her plan was better. And so I jumped on board that plan. Abandoning the one I was working on and joined in the new plan. Again, I yelled at everyone to join us and hurry. Once we all got going, And we knew we were going to finish, I kept yelling for everyone to finish faster.
It was less than 5 minutes.
It was a stupid teamwork exercise.
But I’d completely abandoned my plan, my training. I knew I wanted to follow. I knew I wanted to listen. I knew I didn’t want to be a white supremacist jerk. But when time and competition started, I lost all that, and my conditioning kicked in.
I was the white ally who refused to listen to people of color in the heat of the moment. I was the white woman who assumed her instructions would be followed if only she were louder about sharing them. I was the white supremacist who thought success was more important that listening or planning or working together or making sure everyone was okay. Sure, I wanted the team to win, but winning became more important than how we won.
It was a stupid teamwork exercise.
And I knew it going in.
And I knew better going in.
And still, it brought out all my white supremacist instincts. The ones I have confessed and tried to train out of me. The ones I challenge others to confess and try to train out of themselves.
My colleagues were gracious in naming these traits and actions in the post-exercise debrief. I still have felt gross about them for days. But now it’s time to get over my feelings and work on those instincts of mine again and some more. Because those instincts are violent. My white supremacist instincts are violent.
It wasn’t a stupid teamwork exercise.
It was a reminder that the work is constant.
It was a moment of personal darkness and sin, that I now name and confess.
It was a trigger that hurt others.
It was a sign that I have so much more work to do on myself.


Because it’s Sunday and we all need a Word.

There’s a lot of pressure to preach well on days like today. Mostly it’s pressure we pastors put on ourselves. We feel called and charged with coming up with words, powerful words, meaningful words, inspirational words, comforting words. And we are. But also, this isn’t about us. It’s about God’s Word. So, very early this morning, with the help of a Spirit who’d been nudging at me through many, many drafts, I wrote this sermon. It came out a little differently than I had planned. God made some changes in the pulpit, too. It’s not perfect. I am sure there are some theological holes. And I know there’s a ton of bad grammar (don’t show my Mom). But this IS what God gave me to say today, this day, with all that we’ve seen over this weekend, to the congregation who gather at Oak Hill, to our little family, to our little fellowship, and all that we’ve seen over these past few years, in our space and context. And it preached to me so.

(We also used this prayer, shared by Rev. Traci Blackmon at the start of worship, and this prayer written by fellow RevGal, Rev. Rachel Hackenberg during our prayers of the people. I am so thankful for the beautiful words of others. Always.)


On Hate. And Fear. And Dreams. Oh, and the Work.
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan on Sunday, August 13, 2017 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

Text: Genesis 37:1-28
(This is an expansion of the lectionary OT text for 19A. Our congregation has been reading the lectionary OT texts throughout this summer.)  

At first I thought it was about hate.

They hated him.

It says so in the text and it gives us reasons why. They hated him. He was daddy’s favorite. Daddy loved him the most. Daddy gave him the fancy coat. He tattled to daddy on them. As someone who has 4 siblings let me just say, these totally appropriate and acceptable reasons for siblings to hate one another. Siblings are close and competitive and prone to jealousy and, well, it just happens. So, They hated him.

At first I thought it was about hate.

But then, they hated him even more, it says. They hated him even more when he had a dream and told them about it. In Joseph’s time dreams weren’t just these sleepy-weird-fantasy memories that we brushed off and said, “I really have to stop watching Law and Order before bed.” No, in Joseph’s time, dreams were visions from God, divine revelations, and holy proclamations. Dreams weren’t just ideas or dramatizations of our inner dialogues. They were prophetic truths send directly from God above.  And so, when Joseph had a dream, when he was given a dream from God, that all his brothers were to bow down to him, that his brothers and even his parents were to bow down to him, and when Joseph TOLD his brothers who already hated him about this dream of how they will bow down to him, they hated him even more.
They hated him even more because now they also had FEAR. Joseph’s words had made them afraid. Joseph’s dream had made them afraid. God’s plan revealed in Joseph’s dream had made them afraid.
This holy-special-divine-dream-plan terrified them. How could THEY bow to Joseph? They couldn’t. Because they couldn’t imagine bowing down to someone so lowly. Someone beneath them. They very one who was supposed to be behind them. Promises had been made, expectations set. This wasn’t how it worked. It up-ended the power dynamics society had come to let them understand. Their baby brother, for he was the youngest at the time, wasn’t the one who supposed to lead. It would be humiliating. The systems of their society determined that he did not have power, so who did he think he was? That kind of power was not his for the taking. That wasn’t how it was done. He was to remain subservient to his more powerful brothers. That’s how it worked.

But… if God suggested differently…. Because, God did have that kind of power…..

Well, that would change everything.

So when Joseph tells them of this dream, they who already hated him, were now also afraid, afraid of the change, of what it would mean for THEIR lives if this dream were true. Afraid that losing power, flipping the system as they know it, having to bow down to one who they felt was beneath them. That fear of the threat to their own position and influence and expectation is what drove their hate into rage. Murderous rage.
When I watched events playing out in Charlottesville this weekend, certainly I saw hate. But behind that hate, what motivates that hate to action, to rage, to a murderous rage, is fear.
Did you see the pictures? Did you see how young those white supremacists were? In their khakis and polos, carrying tiki-torches from Target and guns from Walmart. They were young. They weren’t the old uncle toothless redneck hillbilly caricature we like to label as racist. The image we like to draw up because it is so different from us, fringe and outdated. No. Those people yesterday, they looked like us. They looked like me. They looked like young white men, terrified of a world that might not, just for a moment, put them first. They looked terrified of a world changing around them, of changes they cannot stop, of a growing voice of dreamers, who’ve been given a vision from God, that we are ALL equally created in God’s image. That we in all of our various shades and styles, traditions and ethnicities, languages and tones, are beloved children of God. That is what they fear. As if there were a finite amount of God’s belovedness….
“Here comes this dreamer”, Joseph’s brothers said, “come now, let us kill him… and we shall see what becomes of his dreams.”

“They said to one another, ‘Behold, here cometh the dreamer… Let us slay him… And we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

It’s the inscription on a plaque outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN where another dreamer once was gunned down.

“The said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer, let us kill him… and we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’”

They’re not the exact words, but can’t you hear the chief priests and scribes murmuring that under their breath, behind waving palm branches as another dreamer rode into Jerusalem on a donkey?

“The said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer, let us kill him… and we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’”

It’s a statement of hate.
It’s a statement of fear.
It’s a desperate plan.
And it’s terrible theology.

Because if the dream is of God, if the dream is divine, then we can’t really stop it.
Even if we plan to kill that dreamer.
Even if we hate the dreamer.
Even if we craft systems to keep the dreamer down.
Even if we silence the dreamer.
Even if we take away the dreamer’s voting rights.

Even if we gerrymander the dreamer’s voting district.
Even if we rob the dreamer of access to health care.
Even if we separate the dreamer from us in school.

Even if we refuse to educate the dreamer.
Even if we lock the dreamer up.
Even if we cast the dreamer out.
Even if we don’t hate the dreamer, but we silently sit by and watch as our own brothers plot and craft and rob and silence and separate and lock up and hate and fear the dreamer.
Because, and I’m so sorry to say it, Joseph, it isn’t about the dreamer.
It’s about God’s dream.
For ALL of us.

You’ll remember, that this story doesn’t end up quite the way that the brothers had planned. And it takes some years. Long, hard years, full of work, and relationship building, and more dreaming, and more work. But Joseph’s dream, God’s dream, does come true.

Church, I believe God has a dream for us too. A dream of beloved community, a peaceful kin-dom, that time when justice rolls down like waters, where the wolf lies down with the lamb, where the multitudes are fed and no one is left hungry, where wisdom and understanding and love and hope prevail and sustain. It is the dream that God tells us over and over again in this message we call scripture. A dream that is taking thousands of years to learn and to live. A dream that requires us to join in what God is creating, to join in what God is making new, to join in what God is bringing out in us, with our faith, our prayer, our witness, our confession, our commitment, and our work.

For if we want peace, we’re going to have to work. If we want justice, we’re going to have to work. If we want to end racism in this country, we’re going to have to work. If we want to dismantle white supremacy, we’re going to have to work. If we want to stop this violence, in our streets, in our systems, and in our own hearts, we’re going to have to work. If we want to be freed from hate, we’re going to have to work. If we want to overcome fear, we are going to have to work. If we want share and spread love, a love from God, a love that overcomes and overwhelms, a love that changes and creates and makes things new, a love that saves, a love that can and has and will topple systems and fears, a love that is already pouring through you and me and us, a love that is already present and acting in this world, we’re going to have to work.

We’ve got to name it. Say it out loud.
Pray for it. Pray without ceasing.
Live it. And craft that dream into our own hearts.
And work for it. And work for it some more.
To join in the naming, praying, living, and working God is already dreaming for us.
Out of fear, they say, let’s kill this dreamer.

Out of love, let us say, we will do the work to live God’s dream.



August 9, 2017

Look, I don’t have the right words. But here’s my truth.
I was late to the work.
I didn’t know enough about systematic racism or my own privilege until it tore this community apart and killed another one of our own right in front of my face. I can’t un-see those images of Michael Brown laying in the street all those hours. I can’t un-see the images of his mother crying. It took too many lives lost, too many videos shared, too many images and stories seared into my heart to get me off my couch. Too many. Too long.
I was still brand new to STL on Aug. 9, 2014. I didn’t know what to do. But I knew I couldn’t keep watching and doing nothing. So I got up and went out and asked some questions. I listened and I learned. I made a lot of mistakes. I did some reading. I did some marching. I did a whole lot of emails. I followed organizers and experts. I made new relationships. I discovered “new” sources. I found my little lane in this work and I try to keep at it.
I wish it didn’t take that. I wish it didn’t take Mike Brown’s life. I wish his family didn’t have to suffer for so many of us to learn. I wish we didn’t keep seeing pictures and videos and images and tragedies. Now. Still.
I pray for Mike Brown’s family and friends today. I pray for activists and organizers. I pray for people who hit the streets and said NO MORE and did not back down. I pray for people who helped me learn, especially when I didn’t deserve that help. I pray for us. I pray for God to change our hearts and inspire new works of justice and love in us. I pray for hope.Oh, how I wish and I pray.
But I also know that wishing and praying isn’t enough. So, I also commit. I commit to keep doing a little bit of the work, to keep talking about it, to keep reading and learning, to keep showing up, to keep calling myself out, to keep calling us out, and to keep trying…

On Wrestling.

A God Who Always Shows Up to Wrestle
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan during worship on Sunday, August 6, 2017 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.

Text: Genesis 32:22-31
I remember really not being sure anymore.

Because at that time, nothing made sense. Going to work didn’t make sense. Talking to my friends didn’t make sense. Sitting alone certainly didn’t make sense. Neither did grocery shopping or working out or dealing with my landlord or brushing my hair. In the days and weeks and months after my little sister died unexpectedly many, many years ago, nothing made sense to me. We’d had the funeral, I’d seen her one last time in that casket, then I was there when they put that tiny little box into the ground. Through too many awkward conversations and far too much mac and cheese, I’d listened to every last it of good advice and well-meaning words of condolence and love that incredibly sweet and generous and lovely people had been so kind as to offer. And at some point, it really felt like I had said all the words. I had no more left. I had planned and organized and cried and processed and felt and watched Love Actually 57 times. And I had nothing left. I was completely numb.

And I couldn’t possible see, feel, or imagine how there was a God in that. I had read the hospital report, I had gone over the details many, many times. I knew the logistics and the specifics. There was nothing holy or sacred about what happened. It was medical. Clinical. Scientific. And it was done. A whole person. Done. A whole story. Done. In ashes. Now in the ground. Right by my grandma.

So for a long time, numb as could be, I walked through the motions. “Fake it till you make it”, my mom advised. “Just come along with us,” one of my other sister’s said. So I went to church, but there was no more God in it for me. I still liked the songs. And the people were sweet. And you know I liked the cookies and juice.

But God no longer made sense to me in this world.

It’s fascinating to me how grief looks so different in different people.  How we handle things differently, process things differently, experience and journey through the same exact things so differently. For so long, I felt like my family had taken their grief to one side of the river- and with it, their faith, their laughter, their joy, and their ability to move on- and I was stuck on the other side, lost in my numbness, all alone.

In our text today, Jacob the wrestler, the one wrestling within his mother’s womb, the one who wrestled away his brother’s birthright, the one who wrestled away his father’s blessing, the one who wrestled to gain wives and fortune, now sends all that he has- his family, his herds, all of his possessions- to the other side of the river, and is left alone to wrestle for his soul.

It is when he is alone, on the river bank that night, as he is leading his family back to God’s promise land, back to face the wrath of his brother, back to face the decisions of his past, back to face an unknown future, all alone, that Jacob the wrestler, wrestles with God.

We’re not told how it started. Was Jacob quietly waiting. Sitting silently in prayer, resting and gathering his thoughts, devising a plan. Was he screaming and shouting about. Calling for a fight. Seeking out trouble. We’re not told how it started. Did God just show up? Was there a leading in? Or a flashing presence? Who threw the first punch? Who drew the first blood? Were words tossed about or did they go straight for the body?

For such an important match, we’re not told a whole lot.

But here is what we do know. God showed up that night to wrestle with Jacob. And God was willing to wrestle all night long.

I spent a year in a numb fog after my sister died. I knew dust and I knew doubt. I went through the motions and more often, I just walked out. On faith. On believing. On God. But God kept showing up. God kept showing up for a match that took more than a year. For a match I snuck back into three years later. For a match, I still revisit in dark moments and times.

And I may limp a little from our battles. But I know how strong it’s made me, how strong God has made me, in doing this work, in skirmishing and roughhousing this way. In struggling and scrappling together we are both stronger. God knows my moves. I know some of God’s plays.

In the end, day breaks. A new light rises, and God offers a blessing, and changes a name. Jacob is Israel- the one who wrestles with God face to face. Jacob is Israel- changed in name and in gait. Jacob is stronger. Jacob moves differently. Jacob is blessed. Jacob continues on.

And God keeps showing up. To challenge. To wrestle. To bless. To encourage.

So I keep showing up, too. Numb, or tired, doubtful or jolly, with confident moves and lots of friends, or kind of afraid and all alone… however I can, I keep showing up, for a God who is willing to wrestle with ME.

All. Night. Long.