Sunday, October 20th, 2019

God Wants to be Known by His Name

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24, c]

October 20, 2019


Genesis 32:22-30

22 The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, 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 name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”


In the Name of Jesus.


God comes to Earth in the flesh, in the form of a man, for a short time—what is God up to?


It is Jacob to whom God comes down—Jacob the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. So that Jacob is the one on Earth carrying the promise of redemption for all sinners.


The promise of a redeemer from sin was given to Abraham, with the promise that from Abraham’s lineage would come forth a descendant who would bless all nations. Then the promise given to Abraham went to Abraham’s son, Isaac. From Isaac, it went to his son Jacob. And now we see Jacob, and God comes down in the flesh, as a man, to him.  What will God say?



Because Jacob has big trouble coming at him just around the corner, we might hope God will say something that would pull him out of disaster.


We remember some of the story. Jacob is getting ready to cross the Jabbok river and meet his brother Esau. Jacob hasn’t seen Esau since that terrible scene where Jacob schemed and lied to steal the family promise away from Esau and make it his. After that, Jacob quickly pulled up stakes and left town, moved away to a foreign land, married, and raised a family. But now he’s returning. Esau has had several decades to stew in bitterness, hoping for a day for revenge. Jacob deserves it.


Jacob crosses the Jabbok river in fear. The day of reckoning with Esau is here.


So when God comes down to Earth in the form of a man to meet with Jacob, maybe we will hear some deep wisdom about how Jacob can handle this Esau problem with success.


God comes down in the flesh, and this is what he says,

“What is your name?”


No great wisdom about how to handle a problem. Just a question:

“What is your name?”


A name is no mere label.


With the name comes the person, all that he is—his good, his bad, his honor, his guilt—and with the name comes all that has been done to a person, all that has oppressed him, defiled him, all that has brought shame to him.


With a name, you get the full person.


A name such as Stalin or Hitler—just whisper the name; we all know immediately what comes with the name. A name such as Einstein or Marie Curie, do we even have to say what they did? It’s given with the name.


All that a person is and has done, and that which has been done to him—it’s given with the name. By the Commandments, we are not to bring shame on another’s name, for an attack on the name is an attack on the person.


“What is your name?”

says the Lord.


Jacob is holding him down in his grip, demanding the blessing, and the Lord says,

“What is your name?”


To give his name will expose Jacob, it will bring with it all that Jacob is, and has done, and all that has been done against Jacob, bringing him into shame. In giving his name, Jacob is vulnerable.



he says.


It’s all there. Jacob is a Hebrew word meaning “supplanter.” He had supplanted his own brother Esau—Jacob’s name exposes him as a cheat, as one who takes things from others.


Before God, nothing is hidden.


Jacob, supplanter, is his name. But then God says,

“Your name is no longer Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and prevailed.”

[Genesis 32:28]


“Israel” is a Hebrew word meaning just that—he has striven, he has wrestled with God. He held God down; he didn’t let God go until he heard the blessing: “Israel.”



God knows our names. All that we are, all that comes with our names, all that we have done, all that we will do in our sinful flesh, all that we are in the deepest corners of our sinful hearts—it is all held up to the light of the Law, exposed in our names.


He knows our names. He gives us a new name: Israel. The church is named as the New Israel, the New people of God who strive with him. We are, all of us, “Israel”—named by him.


Strive with God. Hold him. Cling to him. Don’t let him go until the blessing. This is the language of faith. Faith is born of the Gospel.


In the Law God comes to us in strength. The Law exposes sin, names us as supplanters. We cannot stand before God like that and live. The Gospel is the Lord coming to us in his self-chosen weakness. The Gospel speaks forgiveness of sin, giving us the blessing of the Lord’s holy Name.


God wants to be known for the Gospel, for the forgiveness of sin, for the blessing. He wants to be known by his Name. By his Name the sinner will know him and who he is, will know all that he has done, and all that has been done to him, against him, bringing shame upon him.


By the Lord’s Name, we know how our sin defiled and crucified him.


By his Name we know how he stood in front of the Pharisees and let them insult him, in front of the soldiers and let them spit on him—and we know how he stands in front of us, even while our sin and our arrogance, bring shame to him.


But he took all that upon himself, and put it to death in his own body on the cross—that’s all according to his Name, Jesus.


Now he is the God who wants the sinner to strive with him, and hold him down, until the blessing.


This is the life of faith, the life of prayer.


Our conversation with God is no sweet whispering of flowery words. It is an actual conversation rooted in life’s pain. It’s wrestling and striving, speaking to God of what really hurts, of what leaves us empty, of what brings shame upon our names. In this conversation we hold him tight, in order to say,

“You are my Lord, I must have your blessing. I hold on to you, I will not give up speaking, until I hear your blessing upon my name.”


Our Lord gives it that way. He will have it no other way. He showed up to Jacob by no accident. The Lord didn’t come down and find himself walking around on the banks of Jabbok to, all of the sudden, find himself ambushed and head-locked by some guy named Jacob.


He came down in order to wrestle with Jacob. In order to ask him his name, to bestow upon him the new name, “Israel”—to bless him.


He comes to us by no accident. He is not ambushed by our sin. He is not surprised by the shame attached to our names. He knows it all, better than we do ourselves, and it is for that reason that he shows up to us in the flesh.


“This is me,”

he says,

“My Body, My Blood, and I know your name, who you are, what is your pain, what is your shame.”


“Strive with me, hold on to me, expect from me the blessing of my Name, for you are Israel,”

he says to us,

“You strive with God.”


So we hold onto him, to the Body and the Blood, to the Name spoken with the Body and the Blood, Jesus, and holding on to him, we are blessed.


Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord,”

we sing in the Liturgy. The Name of the Lord is Jesus. He comes to us by that Name. In that Name, we find the blessing: your sin is forgiven, your shame is removed—he covers you in honor.


In the Name of Jesus.