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Pentecost 19C Sermon
Genesis 32: 22-31, Luke 18: 1-8
20, 2019


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Genesis 32:22-31

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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 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.’ 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. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

This story from Genesis 32 is not the first time that Jacob has an encounter with God in his life while he is alone. Shortly after he had stolen his brother, Esau’s, blessing from their father Isaac, he had fled for his life. Somewhere between Beer-sheba and Haran, Jacob laid down his head for a night’s rest. He had a dream of a ladder reaching heaven with angels ascending and descending it. From this vision, Jacob received a promise from God: Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. That promise came to a fearful Jacob, fleeing for his life from the furious Esau, who wanted to kill him. It was a promise that encouraged and sustained Jacob for many years following, working for Laban in order to marry his two daughters, Rachel and Leah; it was a promise that sustained him while he prospered and his family grew, leaving Laban’s land to go out on his own; it was a promise that strengthened him even as he sent gifts to his brother Esau, in order to make amends with him. This is the point of Jacob’s story that we heard read this morning – after sending Esau messages and gifts, he is now preparing to meet him face to face … and he is afraid. He needs a new vision to calm his nerves and to sustain him in this upcoming encounter with the brother who wanted to kill him. So, he sends all of his family and flocks and belongings across the Jabbok and waits alone for this new vision to happen. Only he doesn’t get a vision … what he gets is a night-long wrestling match!!

Things have changed in the relationship that God has with Jacob, and this is an integral point in that change. Instead of a sweet, calm and reassuring vision of angels and promises, Jacob is confronted with someone only described as, “a man.” Some have imagined this to be an angel or messenger of God. Jacob says it was God himself and names the spot Peniel or Penuel, two variants of the word that means, “face of God,” since he has seen God face to face and lived. A much different encounter than the previous vision for a deep and profound reason: things are changing for Jacob and for his family. God changes his name to Israel – a word that means, “strives with God.” As a result of the encounter Israel receives two things – a blessing and an injury … and this is how the relationship will be between God and God’s people from this day forward, yes even for us today.

Most of you know that our Lutheran Church’s campus ministry at Ohio State is called, “Jacob’s Porch.” When the pastor and students developed this name and theme a little over ten years ago, they did so with this story as their model. God’s people wrestle – we wrestle with God, with God’s word, with God’s presence and God’s will especially in relation to what is going on in our lives and the world around us. In that wrestling, many are injured. We are challenged in what is important to us; we are not sure of what is best for us. We enter into the fight for justice and right in the world, and that can be painful – especially if we are called to be persistent, like the widow in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18. But we are also blessed – it is in this honest wrestling with God that God speaks to us, listens to us, and loves us. This happens many times when we have a place to retreat to away from the voices of society that try to tell us what is good and just and right. So, Jacob’s Porch is a place where students can do that, guided by people trained to lovingly wrestle along with them on the porch – a place both inside and outside the house, neither fully in or fully out. It is a place where all can join the conversation no matter who they are, where they have been or what they have experienced.

It is important that we support this ministry for these young people at such a formative time in their lives of faith. It is also important that all of us feel connected to this story of Israel and God because our faith is always being formed and reformed. Just as the entirety of Israel’s history as it unfolded from Genesis through the Exodus, the Judges, Kings, United and Divided Kingdoms, exiles, restorations, occupations, liberations, diasparas, holocausts and current battles for identity, so also those of us who believe in Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised messiah are not excused from the divine wrestling match!! This story is also indicative of the faithful life of Christians today who wrestle with law and gospel, peace and war, justice, forgiveness and the presence of evil in God’s good creation. Like the persistent widow, we are called to be unending in our calls for justice, maybe even to the point of being annoying! As Paul reminded Timothy in our second reading today, we have this gift of the scriptures that is inspired by God – a phrase that literally means, “God breathed”. Amid the alternative narratives being promoted in our world, we have this narrative that proclaims that love and servanthood are the ways that God is defeating sin, death and the devil. And justice is not merely us wanting revenge when someone wrongs us – justice is the reconciliation of all of God’s creatures with God and with each other. That is the blessing that is promised from God. That is the wrestling match that always injures us in some way. That is the interaction that changes all of us as we strive with God and with each other and live another day to continue in confidence as God intercedes in our lives to accomplish the justice that we all desire.

Persistence is a word and theme that runs through all of our scripture today. But it is more than a hearty, “Never Give Up!!” It is a call to honestly wrestle with God and God’s word – and at times, each other - as we seek to live faithfully, love generously, and act justly. How does that look in your personal life? I may not know the details, but I do know that there will be blessings and injuries, and ultimately opportunities to live out our new name – Israel, those who strive with God and live! May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.