Category: abraham

Jacob in the Jabbok

Pentecost 7A

Sunday July 31st, 2011.

Ocean Forest
Jacob in the Jabbok
Blessing in struggle


Well, if you were ever looking to rate biblical stories for their “intrigue” factor, then this strange account we hear today would be right up there! Here is Jacob, one of the three patriarchs of the biblical community, wrestling in the Jabbok river all night with some strange unnamed super-human man, and winning the wrestling contest! The all night long struggle is over that much needed thing called “blessing” – God’s blessing in my life.



We might learn again 4 things about God’s blessing in our lives;

1. God’s blessing is at the foundation of life
2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle
3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
4. God’s blessing changes us forever

Prayer:

Father in heaven, by the power of your Holy Spirit now present and active in your Word, send us your blessing for our life as your children in this place, in the name of Jesus. Amen.


I think we all know personally the significance of blessing in our lives – blessing from significant people, like parents, and blessing from God as followers of Jesus Christ. A parents’ blessing of his/her sons and daughters is a precious and crucial thing if the sons and daughters are to grow up healthy people. Without blessing of others, people are often consigned to a struggle to gain strong self-identity and confidence.
There are many stories of people we may know who have feel they have never really received the unreserved blessing of their mum or dad or other very central person in their lives and of the deep longing this has left and trouble it has caused.
1. God’s blessing is foundational for human life.
Our text is a part of a big account of blessing that started long before this wrestling match in the Jabbok. Abraham was the first to receive the undeserved and unearned blessing promise of God three generations before Jacob’s wrestle in the Jabbok.



God blessed Abraham and gave him the promise of being the father of a nation specially chosen by God. In Genesis 12 we hear that Abraham was blessed by God and give the promise of a great name, a huge family nation and a land to live in. But even more important – this blessed nation and land would have one overarching goal in its life – to be a blessing to all nations and people. God blessed the old man and his nation to be a blessing to all of creation.

How foundational is that! Without God’s blessing there would be no Abraham, no Isaac, and no Jacob, no Israel, no us. Without God’s blessing there would actually be no earth and no humanity because right from the start “God blessed the earth and Adam and Eve” (Genesis 1-3). You could say that God’s blessing IS life itself. God’s blessing is as foundational as air and water to planet earth and human beings. Without God’s blessing, there is no life, no promise, no hope.

2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle.
Jacob, of all the OT people, seemed to know the crucial importance of God’s blessing for our life. He and his mother, Rebekah, acted in less than open and honest ways when the time came for Jacob’s Father, Isaac, to give his precious and once-off blessing to his first born son.



But, of course, Jacob was not Isaac’s oldest son. He was in fact the second out of the womb just after his twin brother, Esau. So, Jacob had no family/legal right to his Father’s blessing. But that did not stop him (and his mother) from scheming to get it! They discovered that this whole thing called God’s blessing would create and require struggle.

The famous moment we hear of in this whole saga is when Jacob and his mother conspire against Isaac, and Esau. Isaac is old and blind, and ready to give his last and once-off blessing of God to his oldest son, Esau. When the moment comes mum and younger son fool the old man into thinking that Jacob is Esau by very tricky means and ensure that Jacob will be the carrier of God’s blessing in his life.

This moment of blessing would create 20 years of struggle and pain for this family. Jacob and Esau would not see each other for 2 decades. I don’t blame Esau! Jacob and Rebekah did a rotten thing to him. This whole issue of birthright and blessing would be for Esau a thing of dread. “He despised it all” we hear. He also despised his brother.

Blessing created struggle. God’s blessing is perfect and holy and life, and yet, when it is placed in the domain of fallen human beings, human beings cannot handle it. We mistreat it, try and buy it, try and own it, manipulate it (and God). We try and control it – thereby placing life itself and hope for the present and future in jeopardy.

But thanks to God’s faithfulness to his promises and his will to bless his people, God does not let human beings kill his blessing promises. We get to this strange night in the Jabbok. But we see now that God’s blessing not only creates struggle in us human beings but is requires struggle at times.



This night-time wrestling match happens the night before Jacob and Esau are going to meet for the first time 20 years. It could go either way as far as Jacob is concerned. Either Esau will still be angry and be ready to finally exact his revenge on his twin brother for destroying his life as the first born blessing bearer, or he may have had enough time to “move on” , as we would say. There will either be a restoration or more than likely, a war and a death!

Jacob is a very crafty fellow. He does two things. Just in case Esau and his 400 men want to get nasty, Jacob splits his huge caravan of people, concubines, and animals in two. At least half of his accumulated “blessing” will escape to live another day. He also organises a massive gift to appease his brother’s anger – to “sweeten him up”, you might say, before they get to meet.


As all the organisation is happening, Jacob is all alone overnight. This strange figure begins the blessing struggle. Jacob seems to know this is a “God-moment”. He is always the one to strike while the iron is hot. He will “not die wondering”, as we say. He wrestles for the blessing he senses this man can give. See verse 26.


26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob knows that God’s blessing needs to be fought for at times.
• God’s blessing is always there and it is a gift but it requires something of us too. God gives his blessing to us freely in the Son he sends to secure our life with him, (Jesus), but he calls us to ask for it, struggle for it, seek it, knock on his door for it – with the promise that we will find it, receive it and enjoy it. God’s blessing requires struggle at times.


Jacob would not give up God’s blessing. He would not give up this “God moment”. Will give up God’s blessing as Esau was willing to? Will we give up receiving God’s blessing for food, for more wealth, for another way, a shortcut to short-term gain?
Truth be told, we will and we do. Each of us needs to ask the Spirit to show us how we are giving up God’s blessing and life so we may repent and seek it again in our work, our relationships, our hopes and dreams for the future and for now.



We need our Heavenly Father’s blessing ore then anything else. His blessing is his Son, Jesus and all he is and does. He is the blessing bearer we may need to wrestle with and not let go until we have his Word – his blessing for our life now.

3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
Jacob cannot be shaken by the divine man in the river. In the end this God-man gives Jacob the blessing he so seeks. The blessing comes in the form of two things;
1. a permanent limp from the struggle to get the blessing
2. and a new name that will redefine him and his descendents.


One thing is clear in this mysterious event; Despite struggle, treachery, deception, ego, family breakdown, fighting, lying, cheating, family fueding and all the pain these cause, God’s blessing triumphs. The blessing God gave to Abraham stays in tact – even in the struggle. No struggle will stop God’s blessing from achieving its intended goal – the blessing of the whole world. Even though we human beings will play god with God, take the glory for ourselves, try to get there by shortcuts, and all of the above, God’s promised blessing to gather all of creation into his blessing through his new Israel – us, the Christian Church, will succeed.
Jesus said as much. “The gates of hell will not prevail against this confession of faith you have just uttered, Peter” “Jesus, you are the Messiah of the Living God”. This will prevail and be there in any struggle we face. Again, even as Jesus was ascending to his place at the right hand of the Father he was giving his church the blessing. As he was taken up he blessed them”, the gospel writers say. The blessing has not stopped and the promise of one church, one faith, one baptism is continuing – even if we have to get wet and fight for it in some deep water of pain.


4. God’s blessing changes us forever
And the last thing to say? God’s blessing changes us forever. Jacob received a new name that would not be just his personal name, but a name for the relationship that would continue to exists between God and his people. The name is a ripper! “Israel (v28). One struggles with God and people and prevails – “Struggling winner” – that’s us!

Friends, your place with God and relationship with him will continue despite your never ending strong will to fight God! We are now, ”joined at the hip”, even when we fight or misunderstand each other and God. God the parent might look at us, his child, putting on a temper tantrum or going the wrong way and shake his head but never leaves – he promises to never withdraw his promises and see them through and see us through.

People of blessing, at the very foundation of our life is God’s blessing. 1. It creates some struggle between us an other people at times. 2. It requires some fight to cling to and receive at times. 3. God’s blessing will triumph despite our dodgy ways because we have been changed.


We have been named in the water by the Word of life, “child”. “Blessed child”. My Child”, by the father of us all and our heavenly brother, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son of blessing.


Grab hold of God’s blessing and don’t let go. Seek it, on your knees if you need to. Receive God’s blessing here in worship. Fight for it in your life. Hold up your work, your marriage, your friendships, your goals, your directions to God and say – “bless these, Lord, and help me detach from those things that are not of youyou’re your blessing and give me the wisdom to know the difference”, because, Friends, Jesus’ blessing is life and power and peace and promise. it is our very breath and all of our hope.



Jacob’s Prayer (Genesis 32: 9-12) adapted

O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, and I will be with you to the very end of the age” 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown to me. I began with nothing but now I have so much. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of trouble, hatred, unresolved conflict because I am afraid they will come and rob me of your blessing and mess up my life. 12 But you have said, ‘Nothing can ever separate me from your love given in jesus, my Saviour, and I will trust that blessing. Amen


Freedom

Sermon


Reformation Day
Sunday October 31st, 2010


 

John 8:31-36

Freedom




A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes. Thomas Huxley, “Address on University Education,” Collected Essays, 1902, III, p. 236.

Friends, it is interesting that the gospel word for Reformation Day is this part of John’s gospel. It is part of a long and very heated exchange between those who believed they were absolutely right with God and a Rabbi who said they were absolutely in bondage to sin in their belief! You can see why it was heated! This whole conversation eventually ends up with the Jewish leaders present picking up some big stones to throw at this Rabbi Jesus!

Hopefully there will be no stone throwing today as we hear some confronting words from Jesus, at least at first.

This would be an offensive word from Jesus to us if we replaced the word “”Jews” with “Christians”.

“To the Christians who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are REALLY my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“What, you mean there are Christians who have believed in God’s existence and gracious love, but are not REALLY disciples, and not truly free from being bound up in sin?” the “Jews” and we might ask? Well, it seems so, according to Jesus.



“Is he saying I am not really free and not really following?” Maybe….


As he made this charge against them, those in his hearing rolled out the truth they always returned to. “We are free. We are not slaves to anyone. We know this because we are Jewish. We are of the family line, the community, the history of Abraham – the father of all – the father of God’s promised acceptance”.


We might respond the same way. “I am not a slave to anything or anyone. I am free. I am a Christian. I have connection, belonging and history with the church. I have believed in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour’.

“I tell you the truth” says Jesus, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin and a slave has no permanent place in the family….”

Now there is a dent in the pride! Jesus seems to be laying a big axe right at the roots of our faith and saying that we are not a free as we think we are. He suggests that we are not permanently in God’s family. We can fall out of the family. And then even deeper; the fact that we rebel and disobey God and say and do wrong shows that we are still entangled with this sin problem.



Now that is difficult to take. In fact, many Christian folks do their very best to minimize this reality of bondage to which Jesus refers. “You Lutherans are always talking about being “sinners”, people say. “Why can’t you be more positive!? God loves people and is gracious and Jesus has already died for our sin and it is a past reality. Got over the sin talk and stick with God’s grace……”


Well folks, therein lies the seeds of a shallow and unfaithful life. If sin really is no big deal, and we are not slaves to it, then what do we do with the reality we find when we look within and around us? And once we admit that we have issues, and the world has issues, then where do we turn for justifying ourselves before others and God?


For the Jews that Jesus addressed, it was family/national pride (really themselves). They were children of Abraham, don’t you know. They were free. They we were above all other nations and peoples.


For us Christians – we belong to the church, don’t you know. I am fourth generation Christian or my grandfather was a minister, or my name is Schultz (for Lutherans) or I am a moral person and I do not deliberately sin. I am trying my best, you know!” we might say. Really it is the same place we return to – ourselves.

But the truth that will be the beginning of our real freedom is that our words and actions confirm our status.

Surely, as we reflect honestly on our life and relationships, we are entangled in many “unfree” things – words, actions, inner wounds and the addictions, idols and harm they bring, lack of understanding, lack of attention to God and his Word, envy, greed, just plain weakness and doubt about Jesus and his presence in my life….and so it goes.



These things tell us that sin is a present reality – a “clear and present danger” as one Harrison Ford movie was called back in the 80’s.

When one accepts this reality check of being still entangled with all that is offensive and unfaithful to God, then one just cannot rely on family heritage, church history, someone else’s faith in God or anything else – except one thing.


When the reality of my sin is brought to my attention – by the Holy Spirit, by the way, “who convicts the world of sin” (John 16:8), I am led by the Spirit to the only source of true freedom, and therefore, true following and true reward.

“A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a Son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed”
The Son is the permanent freedom for all slaves. Jesus is the permanent source and giver of complete freedom. Seeking him for our justification is true freedom.

Friends, the great and complete freedom we already have to live truly free – in love and compassion and faith and confidence is only found in the grace of God poured out in the person and word of Jesus.
May we find that great release from bondage and the freedom it brings that Luther and millions

 of others have found – God has done a new thing that is deeper and more far reaching than mere family tradition, church tradition or national pride – he has done something in the heart of a human being that changed a person from within – beyond family ties, or national boundaries.

God has poured out his undeserved gifts of faith and love and grace in the giving of his Son and surely taken all human sin into himself in his Son’s death and resurrection and created the environment for true freedom now.

We are free only in the Son. We are truly free from sin by faith in this grace of God given in the Son. Our faith rests on nothing else – our moral purity, our efforts to be Christian, our church going, our efforts
 to be above reproach, to be better than anyone else, our intellectual understanding of Christian faith, our knowledge of the bible even.

Our true freedom from all the sin and evil which still so easily entangles has its source in the Son – Jesus Christ and his dying and rising and his word speaking now.



“I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)


Now that is complete freedom – freedom even from death and its shadow over us. That is freedom that re-forms the church into a living, active, gracious, community of faithful followers of Jesus’ Way.

The freedom from sin and death that Jesus gives in our baptism and ever since is that which transforms the community into a community centred on the truth of things – and the ability to speak the truth in love and forgive and restore each other – in all truth and with all love.

Friends, the new deal has been made, God has done his new thing and is calling us to find freedom in his Son. Lt’s not justify ourselves or rely on anything less than the grace of God freely given in the Son, Jesus Christ – and let’s follow where he leads us.