On a warm summer afternoon an elderly man was sitting on his front porch reading his Bible. A passerby stopped and asked, “What do you see in that Book? It’s too old and too irrelevant to read today!”
The man looked up and answered, “Not for me; I find myself on almost every page.”
Might we, along with that old man on the porch, find ourselves in Jacob’s story?
Jacob wasn’t what we’d call a faith-practicing person; he wasn’t into talking with God in prayer; as a matter-of-fact, when he was with his father, Isaac, he referred to God as your God, and not his God.
It wasn’t until Jacob was in deep trouble that he began to pray to God, not only in a tone of desperation but also of boldness that has him daring to make demands of God, based on promises God has made.
For Jacob it is to hold up the pledge God made to Abraham: (Gen. 22:17) “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore.” With that birthright, stolen from his brother, and now in his
hands, he lays claim to that inheritance.
And so, when he sees his brother is about to catch up to him with enough manpower to overcome him, Jacob prays a prayer mixed with his fear and God’s pledge.
Might we find ourselves praying Jacob’s prayer?
As Linda Fabian Pepe, a former Reformed Church in America pastor, now online writer of what is titled “Theological Stew,” admits, We focus more on the “I’m not worthy” part of the prayer ... that lets God know (and reminds us) how we have failed, or have messed up, or really don’t deserve God’s help. And for most of us, our prayer ends up sounding like this: "But God, even though I know it's a long shot, would you please come down and just perform one little miracle… just one time…. just this time... please?" (Quoted from www.textweek.com for Aug. 3, 2014)
To find ourselves praying with Jacob’s boldness we need to remember God has also made a covenant with us and has sealed it with a cross and an empty tomb; God’s promise that fortifies us to say with the Apostle Paul, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8: 39)
Jacob, fortified with the armor of God’s pledge, enters into a wrestling match with the opponent that is his past coming down on him with a force that will predictably overpower him, but Jacob does not let go; he doesn’t let his sin and guilt win; he holds on, and in the struggle his hip is put out-of-joint.
Yet, Jacob persists and insists, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
It is obvious the real opponent is God, who demands to have Jacob confess his true self God and everyone else sees in his name: Jacob, the thief, trickster, conniver, liar, manipulator, scoundrel; the earned names that bring Jacob face to face with himself, be brought face to face with God and hear God say,
‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’
A new name marking Jacob with both a limp and a God-given mission.
Might we find ourselves called, like Jacob, to make our confession, so that we, marked with the limp of our humanness, will also hear our own call to a God-centered life re-created by God?
That is why, in our worship, every service begins at the font, where we remember who God has named us to be:
“Child of God, disciple of Christ, member of His church?”
But first there is our confession, as we admit to and announce who and what we really are – the first truth, so that God may bless us with the second truth that sends us into a new life filled with “grace” –the name for God’s love made visible in Jesus Christ;
the second part of the story that overpowers the first.
(Adapted from David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.)
If like Jacob, in the midst of the struggle, we ask, ‘Please tell me your name.’ might we, like Jacob, realize God’s name is not given, only God’s blessing that marks us a “new creation” through Jesus Christ Who calls us from “wrestling” to “feasting with God?”
Might today’s Gospel scene carry us over to that feasting as we find ourselves drawn into the hillside company of the crowd when Jesus
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled. ?
The ultimate blessing from God, a blessing that does not need to be wrestled from God, but simply received from God and made real and present in Jesus, tasted and savored like bread; through Whom all are fed the Bread of Life in Jesus Christ.
One day I was visiting Helen Wanner who was a homebound member of our congregation. When, in the visit, I shared the Sacrament of Holy Communion with her, she said was afraid she had done something wrong, and she went on to confess what troubled her.
While we are worshiping at church where she longed to be, she was able to watch a service on TV that was broadcast from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Allentown.
Hesitantly she admitted that the service ended with Holy Communion. She wanted so much to participate, that she went to the kitchen, got a cracker and a small glass of water and used them so she could commune with the congregation.
“Did I do the wrong thing,” she asked? “Not at all,” I said.
Looking back to that day in her home, I now realize I had been in the company of a person who was like the elderly man, reading his Bible and finding himself on almost every page. She was finding herself present at the Gospel’s Communion-like setting, hungering and thirsting for what Christ so freely gives through bread and cup.
Sometimes we are caught up in a struggle and wind up with a limp along with a blessing;
other times, in spite of our Jacob-like character and the daily news that threatens to pin us down to defeat,
all we need to do is receive what God gives: a Christ-centered life and the confidence and boldness to live it.
Sometimes we need to do is to stop wrestling and start feasting with God.
Either way, “Thanks be to God!” AMEN.