August 12, 2020

Evening Gathering: 11.19.06 : Wrestling God

podcast_logo.gifHere’s an example of what I do in preaching to the boarding school students at our Sunday evening gathering. (Our day students and most of our staff aren’t present as they are in daily chapel.) The message is called “Wrestling God,” and it is an example of the kind of message and approach that I use with students in our particular context of ministry. In “church” I don’t use humor the same way, and I’m more text centered. In these gatherings, I like to get on the level with the students and engage them more directly. I love having the kind of relationship with our students that I can do this kind of speaking. It’s fun for me and a great preaching experience.

I want to thank my partners in this ministry: Mark and Judy Palmieri, B.J. White, Bill Genet, and Jim Price. The Sunday evening gatherings are some of the best ministry I’ve ever been part of.


  1. You’re awfully hard on Jacob there, Mr. Monk. I understand of course not applauding his many failings, but I don’t know that that means that his prayers to God need to be put in such a negative light. I think the key is that we do need to see people like Jacob as heroes to admire and imitate, even as we recognize that they are also screwups we should hope we never end up like. It’s actually rather amazing how the Bible combines both of these elements so strongly.

    This story is amazing on so many levels, not the least of which in that it seems to imply, in some mysterious sense, that Jacob really was winning fair and square, despite the fact that we know God could incinerate him with a breath. I probed these aspects of the story on my own blog a while back. Jacob’s life, shady behavior notwithstanding, was one of recklessly pursuing the promises of God – wrestling with him, yes – but wrestling with him because he knows God has a blessing worth obtaining. It is this feisty spirit that God formed into a people whose stiff necks would eventually be directed towards pursuing him wholeheartedly.

    May you, like Jacob, continue to hold fast to God until he blesses you.

  2. I’d like to make a full response to your comment, but I don’t have a lot of time, but I’ll do my best.

    I am creative in my take on these passages, because I believe there are some hazards many preachers fall into:

    1. The assumption that the text is a dull recitation of salvation history, where the experience of individuals is of little real consequence.

    2. The idea that the covenant announcements are the major events, and the encounters with God are of secondary importance.

    3. A tendency to despise the existential possibilities of a text, and a fear that “playing with” the text, i.e. asking questions and putting together possible human responses, is blasphemous.

    I believe that we see in Genesis 22 a real existential encounter between God and Abraham that shows God wanted to do more than to make a covenant announcement. He wanted Abraham in a place of absolute dependence. He was moving Abraham from a faith confessed to an existential faith “leap” into a “soli deo” experience.

    I see the same thing with Jacob. His prayers are often good, but the story of wrestling Yahweh is THE critical junction in the story. A different man emerges. He may have been a believer and a receiver of blessings before, but after this encounter he is a man with a new name and a man who can bow before Esau. I believe God was seeking more from Jacob than a good return. I believe he wanted all.

    These stories seem to me to be much like the story of the rich young man in Mark 10. The correct Legal and religious response to God is replaced by the existential challenge to venture all on the reality of God.