It is great to be back with you again. For the past 2 weeks I was at our trailer in the Kawartha’s, spending time with family, relaxing, cycling, and a little fishing. I am thankful for the opportunity I have to do this, and for the rhythms of my life – a time to work and a time to cease.
And so, we approach God this morning with shouts of joy, remembering His awesome creation and all He had done and will do for us. All because of His unfailing love!
(note: if you would like to take part in the Lord’s Table at the end of this service, have bread and juice prepared before you go any further)
1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
I once again want us to turn to the Prayer of St. Francis for our opening prayer. It calls us to faithfulness, humility, forgiveness and trust.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood and to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Song: Creation Psalm – Josh Garrels
New International Version
Jacob Wrestles With God
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 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.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
Message: This May Hurt
Jacob had just left his father-in-law/uncle’s, with his 2 sister-wives (Rachel and Leah), his 2 concubines (junior wives), and all of his children, belongings and flocks.
There is nothing normal about this story in our eyes. Not the wives and other wives, not the way Jacob got them, not even the way he accumulated his wealth. There are some stories in scripture that just emphasize how different the world of the ancients (at least 3,500 years ago) was from our own. When we talk about God’s model for a biblical marriage and family, we definitely skip over this story!
But Jacob’s family structure isn’t even the strangest part of the story. In this particular passage, Jacob finds himself somehow wrestling with an angel all through the night – seeking the blessing of God. There seems to be little or no animosity between them; it is presented to us as if a grown man wrestling with a stranger was the most natural thing in the world! At the end of it all, Jacob is left with the blessing of God, along with a wrenched hip that left him with what was most likely a permanent limp.
This story takes place while Jacob was in the midst of a major transition in his life – between living for 20 years in his ancestral homeland of Haran and moving back to the land of Canaan where he grew up – the place he fled from after stealing the birthright from his brother Esau. Worried that his father-in-law Laban would attack him and take back his family and possessions, Jacob left Haran without telling anyone; and at the same time was afraid that Esau would attack him in revenge for their past conflict. Jacob was hoping that a gift of a portion of his flock would smooth things over after all this time.
So, during this time in-between, Jacob wrestled the angel by the Jabbok river.
It’s best not to get too caught up in the details of this story, as doing so could cause us to miss the whole point of it. The point is, Jacob was wrestling with God. Jacob’s name literally means “the deceiver” – and he certainly did live up to that name. Even so, God had always blessed Jacob because it was through him, He would keep His promise to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham – the promise to make him a great nation!
It is in this struggle that we see the nation of Israel being born – passing through the waters of the Jabbok, struggling to receive the blessing of God, coming away from the experience with scars from the struggle. There was even that new name given to Jacob – the name “Israel,” which is literally translated, “He struggles with God.”
We know the history of the nation of Israel, and it was not a consistent history of obedience and prosperity. It is instead a history of the continued struggle of the twelve tribes named after Jacob’s sons – sometimes at war with outside forces, and often at war with each other.
Yet in the midst of all of that struggle – in the midst of a very messy and even dysfunctional family history – God blessed them with His presence; God did great things through them that we still benefit from today. Through them God gave the world His one and only Son.
So, what does this story tell us about the blessing of God?
1. God’s Blessing is Something You Need to Seek
As much as God makes it clear to us that His desire is to bless the whole world (John 3:16), it is almost always something that we need to be seeking for ourselves. There are exceptions like Saul on the road to Damascus, but that is an exception and not the rule. The rule is, God blesses those who seek Him.
In the story, the biblical author is telling us that Jacob’s struggle for God’s blessing was a real one, a struggle that had lasted, and would continue to last, his whole life. Still, no matter what, Jacob refused to stop before he received that blessing – he refused to let him go without it.
Remember how important a blessing was to Jacob. It was everything! It was his own sinful way (with the help of Rachel, his mother) he stole his father Isaac’s blessing from his brother. Again, through deception Jacob fought through adversity and received the blessing of his father-in-law Laban. Jacob had clearly shown he was willing to do whatever it took to be blessed by God – his whole life was a testimony to that.
How important is God’s blessing to you? How far would you go to get it? Is there anything that stands in the way of His blessing in your life, anything you are struggling with? A favourite sin; another god; refusal to submit?
2. God’s Blessing is Not Something We Deserve
If you took the time to read the whole story of Jacob’s life (starting at Genesis 25), you would see quite clearly that there is probably no one who deserved God’s blessing less than him! He was a liar and a cheat – a man we would quickly deem unqualified to sit on our FBK Board. And yet, it was Jacob who became Israel – God’s chosen nation was directly established through this underserving man!
This is an important fact for us to realize. God does not prefer those who necessarily obey Him best, even though that seems to make the most sense to us and is ingrained in our thinking as clearly preferable. Our culture, especially our democratic market-based culture, is a meritocracy – you work hard and do things properly (or better) and most of the time you will be rewarded for your efforts. It doesn’t always work this way, but most of the time it does. Now we know that there are problems with the idea of a meritocracy, as not everyone is born with the same advantages – the playing field is tilted in favour of those who are wealthier, come from supportive families, or are naturally more intelligent or charismatic. Join any of these traits with hard work and chances are that you will be rewarded – blessed by this world.
But God doesn’t look at us that way. Why? Because none of us can really do anything for Him. God loves us, but God doesn’t NEED any of us in particular. Our obedience doesn’t make us more worthy of reward to Him.
Still, we need to want to be a part of God’s family – and that is the basis of what God is really asking of us. He wants us to WANT to belong to Him; to desire to be His, in all of our imperfections and sins and bad decisions and disadvantages of birth.
God doesn’t just want His children to come home – He wants us, His children, to WANT to come home! Any parent of adult children knows exactly what I am talking about when I say this.
Do you WANT to give your life to God? Do you WANT to be a follower of His Son, Jesus? No amount of obedience or rule keeping or good works will make any difference if you don’t want that. Think about your answer – it actually defines who you are, and who you belong to.
3. Following God Might Leave a Mark
Finally, if you do seek God’s blessing because it is your desire to belong to Him, there may be a cost. To Jacob, this passage tells us that it gave him a limp, but there are many ways that we can limp. There are many ways that the cost can be manifest in our lives.
It might cost us money. We may be called to be more generous – both called to support God’s work in the world through the church and helping others who are in need. We are called to both of those! We may also be called to put less emphasis on our careers or businesses or jobs and spend more time with our families or others. And it might affect the things you spend your money on.
You also may find that it affects the people you spend your time with. Followers of Jesus need to be willing to have relationships with both Christians and non-Christians, but you may be called to be willing to adjust those priorities in your life. Some of you need to get out of the Christian bubble you are in and become more like the salt and light to the world we have been called to be. Others of you may need to spend less time in relationships that are pulling you away from growing closer to God, and more time with those who will encourage you to continue to move in His direction. Everyone is different.
There is a great deal more I could say about this, but for now ask yourself this question: Is there a cost to following Jesus that you are not currently willing to pay? Is there a barrier you are not willing to deal with? Is there anything you would NOT give up for God?
Personally, I am glad that the heroes of the Bible are presented as they are: real people with real struggles and weaknesses who God uses in powerful ways – not because they are impressive and deserving, but because they are willing to simply trust Him. Even if trusting Him is a struggle. Even if following Him requires a sacrifice. Even when it hurts!
Song: Jacob’s Song – Gabrielle Ariana
As we prepare our hearts to go to the Lord’s Table this morning, remember that what we are to remember is that sacrifice that God has made for us through His Son. It isn’t about our broken bodies and shed blood, but the broken body and shed blood of His Son, Jesus. God’s desire to draw us to Him is so intense that there is nothing He would not have done for us. The cross is the proof of that. All that we can do is respond to His love.
Prayer of Communion
We confess that we fall short of your calling on our lives. We don’t love You as You love us, and we don’t love each other as we ought. Forgive us Lord, and teach us by Your Spirit to love.
(take time to confess your sins before God)
As we take these elements of communion this morning; the bread that reminds us of your broken body, and the cup that reminds us of your shed blood, may your Spirit minister to us and give assurance that You gave yourself freely to save all of humanity who acknowledge you as Lord and give their lives to You.
May this be true in each of us Lord. And may we live it more and more as we are changed by your Spirit that lives in us – no matter what the cost.
We take these elements with gratitude and humility.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
(after this prayer, eat the bread and drink the cup)
And now we go into the world, reminded that we are children of God: forgiven and filled with His Spirit. Blessed.
The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you.
The Lord turn His face toward you,
And give you peace,