It was one of those moments when time moved awfully slowly. Our cars were going to collide. I could see it unfold second by second, yet at the same time I was powerless to prevent it. It happened too fast for me to react. There was a terrible bang. Sheet metal that always seems so strong and robust just crumpled like a candy wrapper.
Conveniently the collision occurred right outside her doctor’s office on the left, and my attorney’s office on the right. But fortunately, neither a doctor nor an attorney was required that day.
But here’s the thing about that collision, that rear-end-collision on Billerica road in Chelmsford, I was the one at fault. I was the idiot who came around that easy curve on my way to work and failed to realize that the car that came into view was actually stopped dead in the middle of the lane, waiting to turn left. OMG - scream of breaks – and then the crash.
What a mess!
It was hard to sleep that night, or the next, or the next. Tossing and turning, I struggled for calm and rest.
I was anxious about the consequences of the accident: the repair costs, the impact on my insurance record, the hassle of being without a car, and the potential for complications with the insurance companies or legal action.
In the darkness, as 3am turned to 4am, my mind played back the accident over and over again.
If I had been just 30 seconds later coming down the road, she would have already made the turn and my way would have been clear.
If the traffic coming the other way had been just a little lighter, she would have been able to make the left turn without stopping.
If I was half the driver I had imagined myself to be, I would have been alert, I would have slowed, stopped, and then gone about my business.
If I had been going faster, and her car been a little more to the left, the collision could have pushed her car into the oncoming traffic. Frightening!
I should have done this … I could have done that … I would have avoided it all.
I would have done anything just to have that moment to do over again.
I would have done much better, I promise.
And there it is… There is the shocking, painful, reality that’s so logical and obvious to our brains ….
But isn’t felt deep in our guts… our viscera … until something bad happens …
There is no “do over” in real life.
In the digital world, our word processers have undo buttons. We can rewind and playback video with our VCRs, DVRs, and video games.
Even my email program gives me 15 seconds to change my mind about the email I just sent – I can un-send it.
But there is no undo button in our life together.
There is no rewind and do-over for the things we have done.
We can not un-say the things we have said….
It is one thing to speak about mistakes and accidental harm we inflict on strangers – it is another to speak of the harm, the pain, we bring to the ones we love, our families, our partners … or the injuries we have suffered from them.
How often have we uttered a careless, hurtful word said in anger, or executed an impulsive selfish act that bruised or broke the sacred trust of love between partners, between siblings, or between a parent and a child?
Our language has a tragic vocabulary for the sorrows too often present in our homes and in our communities – words like “dysfunctional,” “broken,” “infidelity,” “cheat,” “betrayal,” “intimate partner violence,” “abuse,” “estrangement.”
Where do we bring that broken-ness – the damage we have caused others – or the damage we hold within ourselves …?
What a mess! What a mess.
There is no do-over – no rewind.
For a time, we can maintain a distance from the pain we have caused, and the pain we have endured
by being busy, busy, busy every waking hour – or perhaps we numb our souls with TV, to booze, to drugs.
But sometimes, in the darkness of night, the shadows of the things we have done, the things we have failed to do, memories of what we have said, or what we should have said creep out of our subconscious to demand our attention, to wrestle with us … striking us with blows of regret, sorrow, pain, and fear, stealing away the peace, and the sleep we crave.
I think that is what happened to Jacob on that fateful night by the river Jabbok. He sure had a rough night, fighting, struggling, suffering and in pain.
What brought him to that place? What led to that struggle?
When we first meet Jacob in our text today everything seems wonderful. He has a beautiful wife – correction! two beautiful wives, eleven children, 2 maids.
In earlier verses we learn that he has significant wealth in the form of flocks, and herds of sheep, goats, and camels.
Jacob is smooth; he is handsome; he is smart; he is rich; he has it made … everything is going his way … except for this.
He is a cheat.
He is a fraud.
He has been driven by jealousy, self victimization, and greed.
Jacob is the younger fraternal twin of Esau. Esau is the oldest son of Isaac and by birth order should inherit from Isaac both the headship of the family, as well as the sacred blessing given by a father to his heir.
Esau is hairy, red faced, and likes to use his hands and live in the outdoors.
From birth, Jacob, “Mr. perfect,” “Mr. smooth,” is incensed that Esau (that ugly brute) will be inherit from Isaac, just because he came out of the womb first.
Jacob schemes to steal Esau’s birthright. In a final act of betrayal and greed, disguised as Esau, Jacob goes to his blind and dying father to trick Isaac into conferring on Jacob the blessing due to Esau….
At Isaac’s deathbed, his father sick and blind, Jacob betrays love, relationship, and family.
What pain Isaac must have felt! The sacredness of his deathbed blessing was defiled by a son’s betrayal.
What a mess.
Esau vows to kill him and Jacob hightails it out of town. For 14 years Jacob continues with his scheming, wheeling and dealing. He had moved on. He had no need to deal with the past, the pain he had caused, or so he thought.
But God has other plans for Jacob. God directs him back to face Esau.
With fear and trepidation, Jacob makes the journey home.
In a typical shallow move, Jacob sends extravagant gifts on ahead to Esau.
Maybe he can buy him off – appease him. Let’s forgive and forget – bygones – we were just kids – you’ve done well, I’ve done well – there’s no need to bring up the past.
But you can’t put a band-aid over that kind of hurt, that kind of heartfelt injury.
On the night before he meets Esau face to face – God shows him what he has done, shows him who he really is.
Jacob wrestles with the terrible reality of his actions, and the hurt he has caused his father, mother, brother, even himself.
His father is dead – there is no going back to seek forgiveness – reconciliation. It’s too late. There is no do-over.
In the fierce struggle in the dark - the brokenness of his life, the pain of his deeds, become manifest in his dislocated hip. It takes a huge force to dislocate a human hip. The pain is terrible, and the recovery is very long. He can’t ignore it now.
His demand for a blessing is a cry out for another chance.
“Can I yet be blessed – given all I have done? Is there a way forward for me in love – the very love I have scorned and broken?
Holy God, please help me make something good out of the dungheap of my life.”
In a moment of sheer grace, God replies: “Yes.... I am with you. Let this be a new beginning. With this new name – Israel - I bless you, and forgive you.”
With his damaged hip, Jacob rose that morning,
broken AND blessed; forgiven but not forgetting the reality of his past; reconciled within himself (through the grace of God); then with humility, vulnerability, and contrition,
Jacob reconciles with his brother Esau…
Oh… the things we have done – and the things we have failed to do… the things we do to each other.
I should have done this … I could have done that …. I could have avoided it all.
What a mess!
But here’s the thing – here’s the miracle…
We can’t go back – but in the presence of our brokenness we CAN move forward into new life, a blessed new life -- through God’s love.
The same mercy – the same love – the same forgiveness - the same “yes” that Jacob heard from God – is for you and me too.
God’s grace is there for you and for me.
Her mercies are new every morning.
Thanks be to God!