Sermon, Pentecost 22C, Sunday October 20, 2013.
We won’t let go
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
THE WORD OF WRESTLING
My closest association to the whole world of wrestling was the Greco-Roman wrestling contested at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I did not really watch the wresting so much as listen to the now famous commentary by those two Aussie broadcasters – “Roy and HG”. Their descriptions of the various moves in the art of Greco-Roman wrestling were very; so funny that their commentary has become part of Australian sport folklore.
As for the wresting, it is not my thing. I don’t understand it and I know I could not do it at all well – nor would I want to try!
But Jacob seems to have had some skill in the sport! Imagining having to wrestle with someone all night long up to your waist in water at times! Though
THE UNAMED ASSAILANT
Jacob’s unnamed assailant is just called “a man”. But it seems that Jacob senses this “man” was more than merely human because Jacob will not stop wrestling with this man until the man gives Jacob his blessing. This is surely God’s domain – the giving and receiving of blessing – along with the re-naming of a person that we hear comes soon after. There is the strong sense that this “man” is at the least a messenger from God, some angelic being or maybe even God himself in some human form?
It is very surprising that the wrestling match did not go so well for this “man”. Surely a divine man or angel should easily win the contest?
JACOB: THE “SCRAPPER”
But Jacob was a ‘scrapper’ by nature – a formidable opponent. In the story around him in Genesis, Jacob has been scrapping his way through life up to this point. He knew how to be determined, tenacious and even a little tricky when he had to be.
He had deviously conned his twin brother Esau out of his right to inherit their father Isaac’s fortune (gained his Father, Isaac’s inheritance; Genesis 25:29-34) and then outwitted Esau again, with a lot of help from his just as determined mother, in gaining his father’s blessing (Genesis27:1-40).
A SHIFTY MAN BY THE RIVER
Jacob ended up being quite estranged from his troubled family. No surprises there! Determined as he was to receive and live in God’s blessing, he brings back his “two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children” to the family’s farm land. However, as he gets close to home and so, close to his estranged brother, Esau, he fears Esau’s revenge. So, in true form, he sends off his family to take that heat first!
Jacob ends up alone, camped by the river for a night. But there is no gazing at the starts, having a schlook of port and falling in the swag for a good nights’ sleep this night!
The “man” turns up and the wresting is on.
THIS IS NOT A DREAM
Make no mistake. This is not a dream. Jacob is left with a real physical injury – a bruised/disjointed hip. This is the “man’s” last ditched effort to break free of the tenacious and determined Jacob.
Amazingly, the “man” declares Jacob the winner of the marathon battle.
“…you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”(Gen 32:28)
Jacob has clung on to this strange godly man and not let him go until this man gave him God’s blessing. With the rising sun warming his face, Jacob walks off in God’s blessing – sort of…. The blessing now includes a permanent limp and a new name; “one who struggles with God and prevails”, or, in Hebrew, “Israel”.
A STRANGE HERO
Jacob is a strange hero – an anti hero like so many of our heroes – Rambo, Rocky, Hancock, Homer Simpson and the like…. Jacob is a person only heroic as he lives and depends on God’s blessing as he journey’s through life as a struggler and prevailer upon God… as he walks through life with a limp. He is not perfect or complete but he is determined and aware of the need for God’s presence and promises to be active in his life.
We Christians are in Jacob’s family line now. By God’s grace we have been adopted into this story, this name, this character. We as the new community of God in this place can receive this defining account of God and a tenacious man as a model of our relationship with the new hero of God – Jesus.
JESUS: THE NEW HERO
Jesus…..wrestled with sin and evil and did not let go of his Father’s promise and purpose to bring all people into a blessed loving relationship with God.
Jesus fought with evil from that lonely desert mountain to that dark afternoon and those dark days in the tomb and prevailed with real physical injuries – nails wounds in his hands, feet and side.
Jesus struggles for us and his Spirit advocates for us before the throne of God’s grace, representing our needs and our identity as a baptised child of God in words and sighs too deep for us to understand.
Because he struggles with and for us, and because he has won the wrestle with evil and our self-centredness and idolatry, we can now see Jacob as a model for our faith journey together.
CALLED TO TRUST
We are being encouraged to trust God enough to prevail upon him – to not let go of his Word, his promises, his presence until he blesses us, frees us, helps us deal with our issues, our troubles, our misfortune. This is faith – prayer. Prayer is faith in action. We are being called to take on a Jacob approach to seeking God’s presence, blessing and promises for our lives and our congregation.
Would you dare to say to the Lord, “I will not let you go until you bless me”? You can. We can. Would you pray, “I will not leave here until you give me justice”, like the widow to the judge? You can. We can.
WRESTLING IS FINE
Does it strike you that our relationship with God is not by nature all “nice and proper”? It is a wrestle at times and that is just fine to God. God seems to be very “up” for the wrestle and he seems to allow the weaker party to prevail and receive his blessing, but not without real personal investment in the struggle on our part. That is part of a living, breathing relationship of trust isn’t it?
So, why don’t we all hang on to God’s promises and wrestle with him and his Word so that you receive God’s promises and life and hope in the issues you face now? You can. We can.
There is no need for you – a new Jacob, a new Israel, to be afraid to struggle with God. He allows it. You won’t offend him. You won’t do anything wrong by entering into a conversation with the Lord about what’s happened. The only wrong thing would be to avoid the conversation and the struggle – walk away from the river of God’s Word, deny the conversation with the Lord….
Hanging on to God’s promises in his Word does take energy and commitment on our part. Is that the problem? We can’t be bothered. We believe we don’t actually need God’s blessing because we blessed enough?
Friend, you and I do need God’s justice and his blessing at every aspect of life. Business, family, church, self…. To be a person of humility, honesty, good service to others and usefulness to the mission of Jesus we share here, we are dependent on God’s blessing.
A MIGHTY CHALLENGE
We need his blessing in all we do and for who we are in him. We have a mighty challenge to live this life in love and kindness. We have a mighty challenge at St Petri, to step into God’s plans for us with boldness of faith and tenacious prayer as we seek to fulfil the mission he invites us to participate in – the share Jesus’ love and hope with anyone and everyone in whatever ways we can – consistently, lovingly, creatively, unapologetically.
Trust that God will neither be offended or upset or angry with you for being persistent, like a wrestling Jacob, a persistent Timothy or a squeaky wheel unnamed woman who would not let go, not stop asking, not stop seeking until they received what they knew they needed from The Lord.
Believe in him, Friend. Trust his Word. Go ahead and seek his blessing and his justice for your issues. God welcomes the wrestling. God seeks your seeking and promises to hear your praying.
Read the text slowly noting down any thing that strikes you as odd, or particularly relevant to you at the moment or anything surpising to you…Share your thoughts when finished.
This is a quite mysterious little account in a rather mysterious account of the third of the great patriarchs of the jewish faith – Jacob. it could be worth just scanning those accounts of Jacob and his tricky ways mentioned in the sermon to refresh your memory of what he got up to! (Genesis 25:29-34 and Genesis27:1-40)
What do you think about Jacob? he is a great “hero” of the faith and yet he does not seem to be very “heroic”. Why do you think God used a man like him to establish his promise of land, name and blessing first given to Moses? Why does God use flawed people to achieve his holy purposes?! you might find helpful thoughts on this in 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 17-19.
Share an experience you have had with “wrestling over and issue” in your life and describe how God was involved in that struggle.
Do you find this notion of the Christian life being one of clinging on to God’s promises, even to the point of “nagging’ God or wrestling with God, or demanding things from God uncomfortable or comforting or both? Why?
Why do you think we sometimes find it hard to ask things of the Lord? is it because we are scared we might say something wrong or because we think he will not listen or because we just forget, or all three depending on how the week is going?! Share you experience on what helps you to pray and seek things of God…..
This incident by the Jabbok certainly takes on a very important feel when we get to the part about the re-naming of Jacob to “Israel”. Forever after the name sticks and the character of the name matches the character of Jacob ad the nation that came into being from this. if there is even a nation that matches its name it would ave to be Israel. Surely the Jewish people are resilient! Surely they have struggled and wrestled with many a hostile act throughout history. And yet, they were God chosen people even when persecuted and even when suffering greatly. Do you think we Christian have this same resilience?
How is the Lord calling you to trust him enough to pray to him for what you need at the moment? What do you hear him encouraging you to ask of him as you ponder this bible text? Share your thoughts…..