Tag Archives: Genesis 32:22-31

Truth Found in Community (October 20, 2019)

Luke 18:1-8; 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. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 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. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Have you noticed? There seems to be a growing crisis of anxiety and depression in our culture. More and more people are experiencing hopelessness and despair, and the reasons are all around us. Increasing gun violence, separating refugee families and caging children, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and fear-inducing rhetoric about the perceived dangers that are all around us. We hear these words day in and day out. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

All of these words constitute an actual spiritual assault on our collective soul. The words of injustice and hatred and fear that are constantly being heaped on us are having an effect. There is a correlation between the hateful voices we’re continually hearing and the deep sense of gloom we’re experiencing as a culture.

We’re not alone. These texts today speak to this cultural despair. One aspect of depression and anxiety is the belief that the hopelessness, the injustice, the anxiety of today is the way it will be from now on.

That is a lie and we cannot believe the lie. One of the reasons we fall prey to that lie is that far too often it’s the only voice we hear.

In both of these texts, the main characters are dealing with hopeless, anxiety-causing situations, but doing so all alone. The widow in the gospel is alone because she has no one to advocate for her, no one to speak encouragement and hope to her. Where is her community? She has to face this unjust judge all alone. The only voice she hears is one that says there will be no justice for you. There will never be justice for you.

In the Genesis text, Jacob is worried about his pending meeting with his twin brother Esau. And he has reason to be. Jacob cheated Esau out of both a birthright and a blessing. All his life Jacob has been a scoundrel and a cheat. As he returns to his homeland for a reunion with Esau in this chapter, he’s still trying to trick his brother. He divides his property into two camps, hoping Esau and his men will attack one camp and not the other. He then, in an attempt to soften up his brother, divides the tribute he’s bringing among three different groups of his servants. Jacob deals with his situation alone because he keeps dividing his property and household into smaller and smaller camps until he ends up alone. And alone, the only voice Jacob hears is one that says your brother wants to kill you and steal you fortune. So there will be no peace for you. There will never be peace for you.

Can’t we relate to these stories? It seems the only voices we hear are voices of hopelessness, injustice, despair, cruelty, division. It’s wearing us down. We’re starting to believe that what these voices are saying is true.

But there’s the word of hope for us. Somehow in both of these texts there is another voice that counters the lie. For the widow in the gospel, there is a voice that tells her that the injustice she is currently living with is not the only outcome. It doesn’t have to be a permanent reality. That little sliver of hope—that the lie of injustice she keeps hearing isn’t the way it will always be—is something she clings to. As she hears this other voice of hope and then boldly repeats it herself, she wears out even an unjust judge and a new reality emerges. The hopeless injustice of today gives way to the newness of tomorrow.

For Jacob too, another voice is heard. In his situation it is the voice of God who comes in human form during the night. The voice of God who is vulnerable enough and persistent enough to wrestle with him all night long. The voice of God who keeps offering the possibility of another outcome. The voice of God who winds up blessing him. The voice of God who wrestles the lie away from Jacob and as a result leaves him changed, scarred, tired, but with a new voice and a new purpose for his life. Jacob limps away from his encounter with God, but having heard God’s voice he begins a new life with a new name.

These are timely stories for us. Dark nights of the soul are now part of our daily human experience. What matters is that when we’re in the struggles of these dark nights, there is another voice we can listen to. There is a voice other than the one telling us there will only hate, only fear, that there will never be any hope, that there is no future. There is another voice that we can cling to. And what’s more, we can echo that voice right into the heart of that hateful, hopeless abyss.

What we know about God, what Jesus reveals to us about Gods, is that God speaks something different than the injustice and anxiety we see and endure. What these two texts tell us is to cling to that voice of God. Rather than struggle alone, we can speak together of God’s promise of justice; to encourage each other to never let go of God no matter how dark the night gets or how long the night lasts. We must not believe the lie that is spoken in the night. We must wrestle, cling, and continue to repeat the voice of God. Dawn is coming. Justice will be delivered.

The voices of hate and fear seem real in the night, but they are shown to be lies when the dawn comes. God comes to us and whispers words of truth, words of love, hope, and new life into our ears. It’s these words we cling to, these words we repeat, these words we remind each other. The dawn is coming. Hear the voice of hope, of justice, of peace, and of joy.

Hear them. Because they are words of truth.

Repeat them. Because they are words of encouragement.

Shout them. Because they are words of hope.

The hateful, frightening voices of the night will not win today. Speak words of truth to the person next to you: they are loved, they are worthwhile, the dark nighttime of injustice and despair is coming to an end. Together we can endure. God has spoken it.

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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon


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What Does God Call You? (22 Pentecost — October 20, 2013)

Genesis 32:22-31

 Have you seen any of those obnoxious TV commercial for attorneys? The ones that give themselves nicknames, like “The Bulldog” and “The Strong Arm.” They had to have given themselves those nicknames . And that just doesn’t work. You can’t give yourself a nickname. If you could, then I would have all of you call me “Pastor-Always-Right.” . . . See? You just can’t give yourself a nickname. It has to be given to you based on something others actually recognize about you.

Anyone have a nickname that you’ve been given? I don’t mean your name is Robert and people call you Rob. I mean a nickname that people started calling you because of something you did or some personality trait you have. Sometimes a nickname can be complimentary, from something people like about you. Sometimes they can be hurtful based on a mistake you made once or something others find peculiar about you. But regardless, once people give you a nickname, it tends to stick.

That’s close to the idea of names in the Bible. Someone’s name means something significant about who they are, what they are like. If you know someone’s name in the Bible, you know something deep and authentic about them.

Keep that in mind, the significance of names, as we quickly review this story in Genesis.

The main character here is Jacob, whose name meant in his day, “cheater.” He was actually born a cheater, conning his twin brother Esau out of his inheritance. He cheated his father, Isaac, out of the family birthright. Just before this story, he had–yet again–cheated his uncle Laban out of a huge amount of money and livestock.

So now he’s on the run. He can’t go back home because he’s afraid of Laban and he just got word that his brother Esau is coming after him with an army of 400 men. So Jacob, the cheater, hides half of his stolen goods so he’ll have something left if he survives. He prays the prayer so many of us pray when we’re stuck: Oh, God, I’ll be good if you get me out of this!

Now he’s walking around by the river at night, nervous, pacing, trying to see if there’s some way to con his way out of this predicament. He crosses the river by himself, figuring he could think better without the distractions of his wives, children, and livestock. In the night he is approached by what appears to be a man, but not a man. They end up fighting all night, with neither one winning. Jacob realizes that he’s wrestling with either an angel or a demon, who proceeds to whack him in the leg, dislocating his hip.

Have you experienced that moment when all your work, all your effort, all your planning, all your experience can’t help you? That moment when you become desperate? When you’ve run out of options and have no idea which way to turn? When it feels like God has even turned on you?

That’s Jacob right here. Not only has he run out of options to save his life, but God himself is fighting with him. It seems that God not only hasn’t come to help him, but is making his situation worse.

All Jacob can do is hang on. He can’t win, so he clings with desperation to this man, this God, who seems intent on doing him harm.

Then comes the final blow. This angel/demon/God/man demands to know Jacob’s name. If Jacob gives up his name, it will be like a confession of a life of lying, cheating, usurping, taking advantage of everyone around him. And if this angel/demon actually is God–which Jacob is thinking is the case by now–then God will have every right to him what he deserves: at best, throw him to Esau and his army; at worst kill him here and now.

But he’s got no choice. He is powerless in the grasp of this supreme being. He has no choice. He has to surrender. Even his desperation has run out. He has nothing. No strength, no plan, no options.

“Jacob,” he confesses. Then he waits for the sentencing.

Then the man opens his mouth and says to him, “Maybe you have been Jacob all your life. Maybe you have been a liar and a cheat up until now. But as of this moment you are a new person. You shall now be named Israel, which means someone who has fought God and people, and lived to tell about it.”

It doesn’t matter what his parents had named him. It doesn’t matter what everyone had called him every day of his life. It doesn’t even matter that he actually was a liar and a cheat all his life. The only thing that matters is that God calls him by his new name–giving him a new life. He is Israel, one who has fought with God and with people, and lived to tell about it. He is a new person–Israel.

We’re talking about money this month. When you look at your attitude toward money, what would people be calling you? When you consider how you use your finances, what would your name be? Tight? Pincher? Grubber? Perhaps Careless? Loose? Irresponsible?

It doesn’t matter today. God is giving you a new name. From now on, you will be called “Child of God,” “Forgiven,” “Loved.” Now the question is: What will you do with your new identity?

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon


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