Summary: PENTECOST 6, YEAR A - Jacob Wrestles With God. One of my most enjoyable sermons. Talks about how God can use us even when we have little faith and we come from a disfunctional family system.
"Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.
Listen with me to a story. A story that we may all find is in someway our story. This is a story about a great man named Israel, who at this moment is neither great, nor is he known by the name Israel. But then, as Shakespear has Juliet ask "what is in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." None of us got to chose the name by which we are known, if we had many of us would have chosen a different name. Perhaps Elvis? Some of us prefer to answer to a pet name given to us by a loved one, and abhor those nick names given by classmates wanting to shame us. Some seek to make a name for themselves. There are names that have become household names. Names of terror like Alexander, Napoleon, or Hilter. Names of faith like the Apostle Paul, Gregory the Great, and Mother Theresa of Calcuta. Some names created to mean one thing have come to mean something distinctly different. A name for indistructability became disaster when the name was Titanic. I.B.M literally means International Business Machine, but to many who work for that company it has come to mean "I’ve Been Moved." When, after wresting all night beside the river Jabbok, God asked his opponent what is your name, he was asking more than what do people call you. At this period in the middle east to know someones name was to have power over them. People believed that a person’s name held the key to the very essence of their soul. So when God asked what is your name, He was asking in essence "name for me the very nature of your being." The reply God received was, "I am Jacob, the supplanter."
A LIFE OF CONFLICT
To understand Jacob’s name we must start even before his entrance into life. While still in his mother’s womb he and his brother caused such agitation that Rebekah thought she would surely die before giving birth. Seeking God in prayer Rebekah received this insight from God. "Two nations are in you womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger." These two children were children of promise. And it would be through them that God would continue to carry out that promise he had given Abraham that "through his seed all nations would be blessed." When time came for giving birth the first child was covered with hair and red of skin, so they called him Esau. But as he came forth from his mother’s womb the second child was found grasping Esau’s ankle. This second son they called Jacob, which means "heel/trickster/over-reacher/supplanter." Children of promise, now newly named.
When we are born we are born into families, and it is these families that influence our identity. It is our parents who name us and it is our families who tell us who we are to be. Were there is love this is a wonderous thing, were there is conflict it is the children that suffer. Unaware of these dynamics children are often triangled into the troubled relationship between husband and wife. This was true for both Esau and Jacob. Issac and Rebekha’s relationship had grown cold and distant by the time these two boys came onto the seen. This distance was manifested in the parents favortism for one son over that of the other. Issac chose his first born Esau as his favored son. Esau was daddy’s boy, a man’s man. Strong of body and familiar with the hard life of a hunter. Jacob, on the other hand, was picked by Rebekah to be momma’s boy, a son of gentle spirit, who as a farmer hung around the tents like the women.