Archive for the ‘Pentecost 22C’ Category

Are You Wrestling With Man or God?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 22-C, October 20th, 2013

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“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” [Revelation 2:17]

You may be looking at the published title of our message this morning and wondering, “Now what is pastor up to today?” And frankly as I sat down to put God’s message to paper, I was wondering the same thing, “What is God up to in these three readings? What is He trying to tell us?” And in an answer to that question we have our chosen text that explains what He is up to! “To the one who conquers, (God) will give some of the hidden manna, and (He) will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except (God and) the one who receives it.”

You need the hidden manna, because it is the very sustenance that sustains you in life’s struggles. When you think of life struggles, what comes to mind? Aren’t they those dark moments in life when you feel all alone? Aren’t they those times in life when it seems that even God is against you? So what are you to do when it seems that the deck has been stacked against you? What are you to do when you feel trapped with no way out? And why is it that these feelings always seem so intensified after the sun-sets and night has fallen?

If you think you are alone with these feelings and experiences, think again! It is common to all God’s children of faith; even Jacob! In our Old Testament reading (Genesis 32:22–30) Jacob has just sent his entire family, every thing he owns and loves ahead of him into a land that was once his home; a land that he was promised would one day be his. The only problem was, his brother Esau was living there as if it was his. Do you know the story? Do you know how Jacob and his mother tricked his father Isaac on his deathbed; they tricked him into giving the blessing of the first born to Jacob even though that blessing should go to Esau? Do you know that Esau in a moment of hunger and frustration actually gave his birthright over to Jacob for a bowl of soup?

So in our reading we are thrown smack dab in the middle of Jacob’s terror. A moment of his life that he was trying to ignore and run away from was finally catching up to him. In a few hours he must meet his brother Esau for the first time in years and come to terms with both of their sins. Esau’s sin was thinking that words and covenants did not matter in the eyes of God. But to God, covenants or promises were everything. Think about that for a moment. God first made a covenant with Adam and Eve long ago, after their first sin. While God was angry with their sin and pronounced punishments that would follow because of that sin, He also made a promise, a covenant with them that if the waited and trusted in this promised Savior, then through their descendants would come a Savior who would defeat those things, those enemies and make a way for them and their children to return to paradise. Through out the Bible, we find many other covenants or promises of God that were given to His children of faith, but each one was given so that they would remember that they were not alone and that God Himself was with them; He would be their champion. So yeah, promises are important to God, and Esau needed to come to terms with that truth.

And then there was Jacob. Do you know what that name means? It literally means the heal grabber, or another way you could put it is “the deceiver,” one who gets his way by deception! Jacob knew that he received the blessing from his father Isaac through deception, but he also knew that what his father Isaac spoke into his ears was really the Word of God; a Word that must come to pass. But the question that must have haunted Jacob was, “How could God bless a deceiver, a sinner like me?”

So now, in our reading we find Jacob alone in the dark of night in prayer, wrestling with His sin and knowing full well that He was speaking to an almighty and all knowing God. All alone and afraid of being in the hands of an angry God, Jacob waited and He prayed. While Jacob did not know what God’s response would be, He did know that ultimately God would fulfill His promise. And fulfill it he did!

Have you ever wondered what Jacob was thinking as he struggled all night wrestling with God? If you could have some how been there and allowed to ask him, he probably would have answered in between heavy breathing as he switched from one hold and lock to another, “How should I know. I am a little busy here wrestling with this stranger who attacked me for no good reason. Can we talk about this some other time?”

You see, at the time Jacob had no idea that his opponent was God almighty. How could he have known that? He’s almighty right? But this fellow that Jacob was wrestling with wasn’t almighty, in fact Jacob was getting the better of Him! And then after hours of wrestling and a popped hip socket to boot, the stranger says, “Alright, that’s enough; let me go, because the sun is coming up and I have things to do.” And then suddenly, for no other reason other than a miracle, Jacob’s eyes of faith are opened and he begins to understand just whom it was that he had been wrestling with. The same person he was pouring His heart out to in prayer, actually somehow appeared in physical form to Jacob. Jacob must have thought, “So this is how I will finally hear from Him who has terrified me all these years.” And immediately after the wrestler, the God-man, asked to be released from the hold that Jacob used to cling to Him, Jacob responded, “(Uh ah! I’m not letting) you go unless you bless me.”

By now you may be thinking as I was how stupid and bold his attitude was for a blatant sinner, especially when it is the very Son of God you have there in an arm lock. What was Jacob doing? Doesn’t he know that God could crush him like an insect any time he wanted? Doesn’t he know that God was just toying with him? Sure he knows, but he also knows that this is the covenant God who always keeps His promise; a promise to forgive and to restore. So when Jacob asks for a blessing, he is only asking for something that God has already promised that he will give. And God’s answer proves his integrity. “And (God) said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob (the heal grabber), but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

What is it that you are struggling with this morning? What have you been calling out to God for help about? Are you beginning to grow tired of asking for His help? Does it seem like He is ignoring you? Do you find yourself identifying with the persistent widow in Jesus’ story in our gospel reading (Luke 18:1–8)? Well this morning God is telling you not to give up; don’t grow weary! Your Father in Heaven is with you; in fact everything and anything that you go through in life, including what you are experiencing right now has gone through His loving will for you.

Isn’t it true that all of our problems in life; all of the challenges that we face are no different than the ones that Jacob was facing? Either they are rooted in someone else’s sin, or if we are honest with God and ourselves, they are a result of our own sin. Even though in the middle of the night when it seems that He is not listening, we know that He really is hearing us? And perhaps, that is what we are afraid of? We are afraid that not only is God listening to us, He may actually be the one who allowed this trial to come our way. In other words, the Son of God is in the middle of our suffering.

Now I know that this does not necessarily make you feel better, but it should strengthen you. How so? Well because of how God is with you! He is with you as the God man… the very Son of God Jesus Christ. He is the One who was promised to Adam and Eve long ago, who would come to make all things right with God; He is the true manna. He is the one who renewed that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all the prophets of God, and to all of God’s children of faith, who have waited and waited in faith, wrestling with God and trusting in the promise of God. And now He has come!

He has come for you. He has come as your champion. He suffered and died for you; for your sin! He rose from the dead for you, so that you would have no fear of death, knowing that where He is you shall follow! He has defeated your true enemies. Listen… people are not your enemies, they are only tools used by your true enemy, the devil. And those other things you are worried about, things like sin, your sin and other peoples sin, and the result of sin, which is death, those things are also tools of the devil. But Jesus death and resurrection has defeated those things; they have no power over you.

So what is it that you are afraid of? What is it that you are wrestling with? Aren’t they things that have already been defeated in eternity but must be confronted here in time? Aren’t you really wrestling with faith; the ability to trust God and His Son who is your only weapon against your enemies? So what is the solution?

Grab a hold of Christ! Turn to His cross and see the Father’s great love for you; see that His promise to Adam and Eve has been fulfilled. See that His promise to Jacob is your promise. Grab onto the day when the promise of the cross of Jesus became your promise of eternal life. Remember your baptism; find some water if you must and touch it, remember the words of your baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make the sign of the cross and then remember that you are saved; you are blessed! You are not alone in the darkness of despair. Come to His table of forgiveness and feast on the very body and blood of Christ; that is the hidden manna, which feeds you and sustains you until like Jacob, you will see Christ face to face and your life will be delivered for eternity in a land of eternal joy!

On that great day when you return to the Father who created you, the Son who redeemed you, and the Holy Spirit who sanctified you, you will hear your Savior call to you, but He will call you with a new name; a name that was always yours but never revealed until that moment. It will be a perfect name that you will know, and it will describe your true baptized and holy identity. And when he calls, you will run to Him and all your questions will be answered.

May God bless our waiting and our wrestling until that great day… in Jesus name AMEN!