When I see pumpkins for sale in church yards and Halloween decorations in neighborhoods, I know that October is here.
As a Lutheran minister, this month reminds me of much more than trick-or-treats, but of the pivotal event that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, calling for debate over issues of faith and practice in the church of his day.
Next year will be the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, which was born out of enormous struggle and continues to this day.
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis records for us the story of redemptive struggle by one of the Patriarchs, Jacob.
We might regard Jacob as a scoundrel, deceiving his father, Isaac, and cheating his brother, Esau, out of the family birthright inheritance. When Esau learns about this deception, he is in a murderous rage, so Jacob escapes to a distant land, where he takes shelter with his uncle Laban.
After years had passed, Jacob decides to return home with his wives, children and wealth he had gained, not knowing how his brother would receive him.
On the eve of his meeting with Esau, Genesis 32 describes Jacob wrestling all night with “a man.” Whether this was a human being or God is left a mystery.
There was no winner in this struggle. Jacob’s hip was put out of joint, so he limped the rest of his life, but his adversary was pinned down until he gave Jacob a blessing. Genesis 32:28 says: “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man and have prevailed.”
The author of Genesis could never imagine the divisions, the separations, the hurts that have occurred over the years as Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all coming from the same roots, have such a hard time being reconciled with one another.
The Scriptures are meant to be the source of God’s Word for all people, to enlighten and encourage lives of faith and care for creation. There is a sense that the rivalry and overt disunity between major religions, between churches, even among people within the same faith is parallel to the deep division between the brothers Jacob and Esau.
The struggle for common ground is not just among people of faith with religious convictions, but spills out into our society. We are well aware that the Nov. 8 presidential election is one of the most contentious in history.
There are real issues at stake and our country seems to be deeply divided. Whatever the outcome, Americans have a huge job to do in the aftermath, to be reconciled to one another. We know it’s a struggle, but let it be a redemptive struggle, even if our hip is put out of joint for a while.
When we speak of wrestling or striving for truth with counterparts in other religions or churches, there are no winners or losers.
A much better alternative is to become deeply engaged with one another in service to the world so that we become a mutual blessing to all.
There are organizations for all faiths to support such as Aware Central Texas, which seeks to prevent child abuse, and Family Promise of Greater Fort Hood, which is a group of congregations in the community seeking to provide assistance for homeless families, one family at a time.
When we choose to focus on God’s Word rather than our differences, true reformation, renewal and reconciliation is possible.
After his wrestling match, Jacob was no longer the same crafty, self-serving Jacob of old. He was a changed person, not only in name, but ready to be reconciled with his brother.
The long nightmare of separation, fear, and misunderstanding is over. God’s own struggle through the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection is a blessing to all humanity. May this redemptive struggle give you hope and promise of life to come.
The Rev. Ray Zischang is the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Killeen.