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s196o04 Sunday 29 17/10/2004

"a man wrestled with him" Genesis 32.24

This is a strange encounter with the divine. Humanity striving against the divine, and vice versa. God letting the man win, but not unscathed. In the midst of it all Jacob is renamed Israel, and so is that ancestor of the ancient people of God. Their and our relationship with the divine is not a comfortable one, like old mates at a pub. There is a good deal of too-ing and fro-ing going on. If we think that being Christians; that God can't have any arguments with us, I suspect that we are likely to be sadly mistaken.

Jacob receives a new name, but God refuses to give Jacob the divine name. I ponder if God had, would Jacob actually have told anyone else?

No, God refuses to be known more intimately by one over another and again this as much pertains to Christians as it does to the ancient people of God.

If we find ourselves wrestling with God, perhaps this might be a sign that we are not doing quite what God would have us do. In my experience helping others is very easy. When one is helping someone else I find that obstacles seem to disappear.

It is when we fail to help where we can, where we try to maintain our rage against someone else that we do damage, of course to ourselves, rather than the other person. I often have cause to remember the wording of the prayer book catechism, about nurturing hatred and resentment in our heart. Who is harmed other than ourselves?

So the life of helping others and being open to the contributions others can make to our own existence is easy. A life of self-absorption and being closed to the contributions others can make will forever be a struggle. We can deny that we are wrestling with God, it will seem as if we are fighting against others.

So often this wrestling is done in the name of God, and so the "god" that we think we are obeying and worshipping is actually a demon of our own making.

Jesus was killed by those who thought that by doing so they were obeying and worshipping God. Again this shows how easy it is for those who call themselves religious and consider themselves devout to see themselves as apart from others, to be going in quite the opposite direction than God would want.

It also points to the fact that there are many who do not consider themselves devout or religious, but who are well aware of their interdependence on others and find it easy to do what they can for others and the society, and in doing so are doing what God would want and going in precisely the right direction.

So again, Jesus did not come to deliver nice proverbs at how to live our lives morally and ethically. Jesus came to make a statement about God; that religion that sets one person against another is idolatry.

If my thesis about original sin being about more acceptable and less acceptable offerings to God, it is about wanting god to be on "our" side rather than someone else's. So in this sense original sin is religion. Faith is about equally acceptable offerings and inclusion.

So inevitably religion and original sin are bound together. Each and every person who claims allegiance to God, myself as much as anyone else, struggles with a God who bids us consider the other, and the care that God has for all people, that God "is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." (Luke 6.35) St Paul tells us "God loves a cheerful giver", but God loves the begrudging giver just as much. (2 Co 9.7)

And perhaps this is the context of those difficult words of Jesus: Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth .." If we are looking simply for personal contentment then we will have to be blind to the suffering of others, and this is not what God would wish.

St Paul in Romans 7 has to wrestle with the faith: he concludes: "I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:21-23) It is so easy for any of us to assume that we know better than others what God wants, and often to the detriment of others.

Jesus warned "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. (John 16.2) If we look at this then it is clear that putting boundaries around who can and who can't call themselves a Christian is to show one's ignorance of the true nature of God and Jesus.

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