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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Bible study: Mystery, struggle and blessing

New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne addressed a text packed with “mystery, struggle and blessing” in Wednesday’s Bible study—the story of Jacob’s all-night bout of wrestling with a stranger by the side of the Jabbok River.

Payne reminded the assembly that Jacob regularly did whatever he could to get the best of his outdoorsy brother and did whatever else it took to get what he wanted in life. And Jacob “had a thing about blessings”—he stole them and demanded them. But Jacob still needed to be made whole. He had dreams that confounded and encounters with angels, she said, struggles that even led him to promise to tithe.

Jacob struggled at the river, struggled for his life, Payne said, adding, “He had an encounter with God, a test of his faithfulness; and facing that struggle was the only way to get to the blessing.”

Payne, who chaired the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, pointed to “the shared nature of the journey. This is not a plea for unity, we have that already.” Rather, she said, “I am beseeching this church to struggle together to become a church with one will to serve Christ together.”

You can struggle with fear until sunrise, she said, and in the morning limp away like Jacob, with fewer illusions and courage and hope in God, understanding the importance of struggle in the life of faith. “Whenever we wrestle with God, we are in God’s arms and already home,” Payne said.


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