A Name for the Struggle
Sermon, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday October 20, 2019. St Petri.
Pastor Adrian Kitson
Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8
I thank the Lord for these three words about being persistent in praying and not losing heart; not giving up on him or each other. Just by speaking them our God shows that he knows it is easy to do them – easy to give up and stop praying to him, trusting him.
Truth is that we can be worn down enough to give up on him, each other, and our future hope he has given us in Jesus. Truth is, we can be the cause of wearing down each other.
I wonder what would help you keep on praying and not give up on each other and God’s presence and promises for us all? Maybe what will help begins with a question I will ask of you: “Who are you”. “What is your name”?
This scene from Jacob’s life is about persistence in the struggle. Jacob persisted in this wresting with this strange “man” in the Jabbok at night, and eventually got the man’s blessing. But I reckon it also about another major gift – a new name.
Names matter – for Jacob’s time and ours, but more in his time. For Jacob your name was given to you by others to describe your character and tell others your founding story. So, speaking your name to another person was risky. Your name gave that person access to your story and insight into your character, wanted or not – like a photo of you on Facebook.
For Jacob, his name showed that he was a tricky man, a deceptive character, a ‘heal-grabber’, literally. He was the second boy grabbing the heal of his twin brother as he came into the world. Jacob was not only the younger son he was slighter in stature than his hunter, strong man brother, Esau. Jacob learns to live by his wits rather than his strength. Of course, as the eldest, Esau is heir to his father’s blessing and fortune.
There is sibling rivalry from the start. Jacob’s cheating ways erupt most fiercely on two occasions. Jacob tricks Esau out of his ‘oldest son’ status; dad’s family blessing (inheritance – wealth, future security and status).
A few years later, Jacob deceives his Dad. Dad is old and half-blind and dying. At the crucial moment of the giving of the final blessing Jacob is right there to get it instead by pretending to be Esau. He falsely gets the blessing. Esau is rightly distraught and enraged. Damage done; relationship broken.
Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s place. Eventually, by his usual trickery, over a decade or more, Jacob manages to rip off Laban and acquire most of his wealth.
Jacob is fleeing again. We hear that he is en route back to his homeland. He hears that his brother Esau is coming to meet him – but with an army of four hundred men! Oh boy. This blessing could be a curse!
Jacob hides away half of his wealth. He sends three caravans of gifts ahead to Esau. He hopes this gets him some way back into his brother’s good graces.
Jacob even sends the rest of his servants and immediate family across the Jabbok river, hoping that even if Esau refuses the caravan of gifts he may, at least, take pity on Jacob at the sight of his defenseless wives and children. Worse comes to worse, he would get a head start on doing a runner!
And then it happens…. Pacing around by the dark and troubled river, Jacob is attacked by what can only seem like a demon. They wrestle all night long. As day is about to break Jacob seems to be on the verge of surviving. This mysterious “man” who is obviously more than a mere man dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands Jacob release him.
“Not until you bless me,” Jacob cries. This man is special; divine. The man says, “Tell me your name.”
Jacob knows the risk. He knows his name is not good. It means “cheat, liar, manipulator”.
Jacob knows by giving his name, especially to an enemy, he is giving away too much. He is ‘fessing up’ to his many flaws and sins.
The sinner is getting his just judgement! We all cheer! So would Laban and Esau if they were there!
But there is not judgement.
28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
This special man; the Lord in human form, we trust, does not punish the pretender but re-names him instead. In so doing, for his own reasons and plans, the Lord reshapes this sinner’s character, his present and his future.
The name? “Israel”, the one who has wrestled with God and with human beings and has prevailed.
The struggle has its price – Jacob limps away at dawn with a hip problem. But he limps into a promising new day; into a new future. Sound familiar to you? I hope so.
This new name from the Lord creates new present and future. Jacob and Esau will be reconciled in the chapters to come. From Jacob will spring a new nation by his twelve sons. They and their descendants proudly bear his name even to this day.
Who are you? What is your name?
Now a descendant of Jacob came later. In a river of tears at night, and with blood on the wood as his body is put out of joint, Jesus, the Man of God, the Son of God, wrestles with all evil and dark death and seems defeated by them.
With those wounds that show the visible price of his struggle, he marches out of the dark at dawn in victory over not just a cheesed-off brother, but a dark, hell-bent, dangerous and deceiving Satan, a wayward self-orientated heart in each of us and a black future without hope that used to be ours.
But that death, that Deceiver and that deceiving heart are no longer what shapes us now or God’s future for us.
And all of this flooded into you when he poured out his life into you in that cleansing stream in that font on that day. It still floods into you when you gather with others and listen and pray and sing and receive him. It is poured into your body in the blood and in the bread of this Man of God.
Who are you? What is your name? Will you trust his new names for you and refuse to live in the old ones? This will help you pray.
Get those old names and bin them today – or let him bin them for you:
Names people try to give you (loser, ego-head, weakling, no good for anything, dumb, too old, too young, divorced, defeated), those names society lays on you (consumer, user, taker, buyer, weakling in need of a spiritual crutch, hypocrite, unintelligent) and names you take on yourself (unworthy, irresponsible, unfaithful, incompetent, worthless) that still rage within.
You have been ‘Christ’-ened” (Christened; Baptised), and given his names for you: “Son of mine, Daughter of mine, Child of mine, Co-heir with me, priest of mine, witness to my grace, person of hope, faith and love; follower, student, teacher of mine. Worthy, forgiven, graced, purposed, hopeful, lively, useful no matter the strength of the opponent or the length of the struggle or the place of the wrestling.
Your Father says, “You are Christ! To me you are Christ! He gives you his Son’s name to live in and pray in – “In Jesus’ name”, we pray.
Can you pray again now? Can you walk out of here with that limp and a few left-over scares (like Jesus from the tomb) but full of trust in his name and his names for you that define you now, not those old names?
Please do. You can because he has made it so.
Proudly limp out of here with your various wounds and weakness with head held high and a caravan full of this forgiveness to be shared, given and done as much as it is up to you. Anything less is just going back to that old sibling rivalry, that old anger, that old broken relationship, that old ego and that old future.
Limp with joy in your bones to live another day of his blessing; to live in Jesus’ new day of grace; to pray and listen and live with persistence in the struggles.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.