Monday, October 22, 2007

Sermon - Pentecost 21 - Genesis 32:22-30

“Struggling With God”

Life is tough. Everybody's got their story. Some are better, or worse than others. But even people way better off than you have their problems, their struggles.

Jacob was just trying to do his thing, make a good life for himself. Maybe he thought it was easy street once he tricked his brother out of the blessing. But then he had to flee for fear of Esau's vengeance.

Maybe he thought he had it made when he met that beautiful woman at the well, but then he learned he would have to work 7 years for her hand in marriage. Of course, then he was the one that was tricked when he had to marry her sister Leah first, and then work another 7 years. More struggle.

Maybe he thought he had it made when his flocks and herds were so successful, but his Father-in-law couldn't take it anymore, and so Jacob had to pick up his life, his stuff, and his family, and flee again.

But as he came to the Jabbock River, Jacob would have the struggle of his life. He met a man, and there they wrestled. All night long, a stalemate, neither prevailing. Finally Jacob realized this was no mere man, but a manifestation of God himself, and Jacob asked for his blessing.

A cycle of struggle and success, such was Jacob's life. And such was the life of the children of Israel. Struggling to make ends meet in Canaan. Struggling under the rod of the Egyptian oppressor. Struggling against the Philistines and Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Wrestling with God and faith in the midst of a pagan world, with temptations to be like the other nations, worship their idols, practice their immorality. It was a struggle in which they often failed. Yet it was also a struggle in which God blessed them.

He blessed them in so many ways. By rescuing them from slavery. By feeding them in the desert. By telling them his personal name, and by showing his identity through his actions. By bringing them to the promised land, and conquering it for them. He blessed them with his presence in Tabernacle and later Temple. He gave an entire system of sacrifice, by which their sins could be dealt with. And he would bless them powerfully in a little town called Bethlehem, and at a place called Golgotha.

In all their struggles with enemies and hardships, their greatest struggle was to remain faithful. Of all the blessings given, the one that meant the most was the coming Savior in whom that faith rested.

Then there are the modern day children of Israel, who follow in their father Jacob's footsteps. I'm not speaking of the Jewish people, but the children of Israel by faith. The church of Jesus Christ. We too struggle, wrestle, and contend with God.

We, like all people, have struggles in life. I don't have to tell you what your problems are – you know them. Whether it is people problems, family issues, conflicts at work, failing health, or some other heartache. These all spring from sin in its various forms.

Then there is the spiritual struggle. We strive to live as Christians, to do God's will, but we fail so easily. Sometimes it seems the more you try not to sin, the more you end up sinning. If we could just go one day, one hour, one minute without sin! But, no. Sin's gotten into our nature.

We mean to do well, but we end up doing wrong. Like St. Paul who struggled with the Old Adam, “the good that I want I do not do, but the evil that I do not want to do, this I do. Wretched man that I am!”

Maybe there's a particular sin on your mind, with which you are struggling. Maybe you've been hounded by it for years, and you cannot overcome it. Only Christ can.

Struggling with sin is also a struggle with God. Will we rely on ourselves and our own devices, or will we acknowledge God as the giver of gifts? Jacob came to the realization, after his long struggle, that he needed God's blessing. And so must we.

We cannot win the struggle against God. But he continues to engage us. Sometimes he shows us who's really in control, as he did by touching Jacob's hip and throwing it out of joint. A reminder of his helplessness before God that would be with him the rest of his life. But in helplessness there is blessing. The passive reception of God's gifts is way better than the false dream of earning it on our own.

For God ended the struggle at the cross, through his Son, Jesus. There the night of our rebellion becomes the dawn of a new life with God. There he gives us his blessing, and changes our name – giving us the name of Christ to bear. More than that, the Triune name of God which is placed on us at baptism.

As Christians, we carry the cross with us every day to remind us how the struggle ended there. His cross makes our little crosses bearable, and we struggle and suffer with his strength and by his power.

And just as God blessed his people Israel in ways too countless to mention, so does he bless us, the New Israel.

Like the wicked, he gives us the blessings of physical life. Home and family, food and shelter, land, animals and all we have.

But unlike the wicked, we who are in Christ receive every spiritual blessing through him. So now, forgiveness, life, salvation. A promised future of eternal joy in his presence. A resurrection and restoration of this failing flesh, and a joyful reunion with God and all the saints who have gone before us.

As Jacob, now Israel, crossed the river into the promised land, his struggles would continue. Famine would bring him at his life's sunset to a foreign land, where God would continue to provide for him and his family. But in spite of and in the midst of such struggles, God's plan of salvation moved forward. A mighty nation was born, forged in oppression, purified in desert wandering, and brought by God's mighty hand back to their homeland.

So does God's plan for the struggles of our life conclude with a happy ending, when we reach the shores of the promised land.

So wrestle. Struggle. But as you hang on to God, look also for his blessing, freely given in Christ. And you will find the struggle is worth it. Great things are in store for you, his people Israel.

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