Every two weeks I have the opportunity to tell you what’s happening in my life, or in the life of the congregation, or to respond to things going on around the world – in other words, to keep in touch.
In my last letter I wrote about my ongoing struggle with the decision to name, or not name, a specific date for my retirement from full-time ministry.
“And Jacob was alone and he wrestled with a man until the breaking of the day,” says Genesis 32:24. It’s one of my touch-stone stories about what it means to be human — to move forward through life’s changes; to withdraw and return.
In Jacob’s case he was getting ready to meet his brother Esau, from whom he had been estranged since he tricked Esau out of his birthright twenty-eight years earlier. It was a big deal for Jacob – he wanted to set things right between him and his twin brother.
He had been told that Esau had four hundred men who were prepared to do battle against Jacob and his company. So Jacob divided the people who were with him into two companies, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company which is left will escape.”
Jacob was ready to risk everything in order to achieve peace. He had some deep thinking to do that night, so he asked his family and friends to give him time alone to think.
It’s interesting – I’m now in my twenty-eighth year here in Westport. I’ve had some time alone, time to put things right and avoid having our congregation divided into factions.
Clarity came at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, which happens to be my Sabbath. The story says that the man with whom Jacob was wrestling said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh. And Jacob said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”
One definition of the verb to prevail is “to exist over a prolonged period of time.” In the story, Jacob prevailed by living with his uncle Laban for 28 years – four cycles of seven. After his night alone, wrestling, he prevailed against his greatest enemy – himself.
Last Sunday I did what obviously needed to be done – I announced a date for the conclusion of my ministry here in Westport, effective at the end of the 2012 – 2013 church year. It’s the date that came to me three-plus years ago.
Jacob didn’t need to divide his congregation into two camps, and neither do we. It’s time, now, to work together for a smooth transition, preserving and enhancing the vitality of this great congregation, not only four our own time, but for generations to come.