I was once lighter than I am today. Much lighter. So light was I that, at one time, I wrestled in the 98 lb. weight class.
I was never really that good at wrestling. Fear would always well up into my throat before the whistle blew and the clock started. After only seconds, I’d often be down a few points. I rarely had the advantage. I was so bad at it, in fact, that the coach would offer me up to wrestle in higher weight classes just to avoid the forfeit. In one match, that meant I had to wrestle someone who was 205 lbs. I can still remember the feeling of my face being smashed into the mat – being smothered by someone who was more than double my size. It was difficult to breathe. I did my best to stay out of reach, and often I would try and pull myself out of the circle just so I could have a moment, but it was delaying the inevitable. On my own, there was no way I could win. When my shoulder snapped and I screamed in agony, the coach threw in the towel. I sat on the bench the remainder of the season and watched others suffer and inflict the same fate.
While our sacred texts do often feature and celebrate the 98 lb. kid triumphing, there is more attention paid to the unresolved struggle and the tension that is present when the odds are insurmountable. Abraham and Sarah never saw their progeny become a nation. Moses never stepped foot in the promised land. Many of the great prophets never saw anyone act after hearing their words. Jesus dies.
We participate in a faith that is full of struggle and tension. When we practice it with care and piety, it matches us up with opponents that we cannot defeat alone. Gun violence, hunger, homelessness, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and class bias are all heavyweights with which we wrestle. They make us want to escape – to go back outside the circle. Back to slavery in Egypt. Back to our boats and nets. Yet we are called to persevere. We are called to stand contrary to the powers of wickedness. We are called to play by different rules. Instead of trusting in our individual love to be enough, we entrust all to God’s love and act to that faithful end.
Instead of trusting our individual words to be enough, we entrust all to the Living Word and act to that faithful end. Instead of trusting in our individual power, we entrust all to the redemptive work that is taking place by the Holy Spirit and act to that faithful end.
And while it is not easy, it is not forever. Forever belongs to God, and I rest in that. Meanwhile, we wrestle with this peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that allows us to be shoved around. A peace that makes us cry “when O, God!?” A peace that relies on God to throw in the towel and remind us it is finished. It was before it started. And the outcome will not be decided by the one who has their hand lifted in the air. The outcome will be decided by the many wounded on the bench; those who persevere together in faith that freedom is coming.
Pastor Matthew (or “the person in the sling sitting right next to you”)