The 19th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24, c] October 16, 2022
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.
What does God want you to do?
That would make a popular sermon. Just preach about what God wants you to do, preach it in a way that makes it seem like you can do it, and wouldn’t everyone be ready to pack the pews.
The sermon could take off with saying that God wants you to live a more fulfilled life. Then would follow ways and methods to have a more fulfilled life, whatever that might mean. Then you would leave the pew ready to enter the week striving to accomplish the sermon.
Or that God wants you to be a more effective Christian, aflame, ablaze, excited for the Lord, whatever all that would mean in real life. Then would follow a sermon on pathways to improving yourself, getting better and better each day. Then you would go home ready to strive for improvement and progress.
Or the sermon could be that God wants you to be more spiritual. Then would follow a talk on denying all the material things in life so that your mind could drift up into the clouds to contemplate spiritual things. Whatever that might mean. And you would go out into the week striving to be more spiritual everyday until you reach some spiritual nirvana, perhaps.
But it all—whatever way the sermon takes off telling you what God wants you to do—it all has you striving for what you can be tomorrow, next week, next year. It’s all striving, striving, striving, but never getting there, because with the Law, you always have further to go.
You can never live in the day, because you’re always worried with where you are going.
Can you feal the anxiety? The despair over lost days? The distress of striving which never ends?
What does God want you to do?
Maybe we can flip it around to what God wants to do toward us.
He wants to make us more fulfilled. Or to make us more effective, ablaze and on fire for the Lord. Or to make us more spiritual.
That sounds better. Now it’s God doing the work. Surely we’re better off now.
If it’s going to be a sermon, or sermon series, about what God wants to do toward us, then we can title it, Jesus changes lives!
That sound like grace. Jesus doing the work.
Until we settle in and realize we’re no better off than before. For it’s about what God will do, yet I’m still left sitting right where I am right now, looking for what I don’t yet have, but which maybe God will change tomorrow. I still can’t live in the day, because I’m still concerned about what I need to be tomorrow.
Jesus changes lives—it’s still about putting me in motion, so that what I have today is not yet good enough, but maybe I’ll be changed into something better tomorrow!
To live everyday as not yet good enough, but waiting, striving for a changed tomorrow, which I’ve never yet experienced but somehow hope that I might at some day in the future—can you feel the anxiety, the distress of never being able to quite get there?
What does God want you to do? Genesis 32:26:
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
We start out thinking about what God wants us to do to reach a potential tomorrow, or what God is doing to improve us in the future, and we find we’re stuck in anxiety, never being able to have joy in living today.
We start out that way, because the Law is written on our hearts and we try to live, and progress, and improve things, according to the measurements of the Law.
But then we see the Lord come to Jacob, and what?
No instructions about how to improve yourself. No deep teachings about being more spiritual. No nonsense about how to be a Christian on fire or to have your life changed.
None of that. But a wrestling match.
A wrestling match where the Lord comes in the form of a man and puts himself in a position to be grabbed and grappled and held onto by the sinner, yet in which the Lord also leaves no confusion about who has the power.
The Lord has the power, not Jacob. Because after the Lord lets Jacob wrestle with him, the text tells us,
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.
If the Lord, coming on this night in the form of a man equal to Jacob, had the power to touch Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint, did the Lord not have the power to do that at the beginning of the match? Did the Lord not have the power to touch both Jacob’s hips and put them out of joint, and touch both his shoulders and put them out of joint, and both his elbows?
Is there anything of Jacob’s body the Lord could not have ruined by touching it? Not even by touching it. Could the Lord not have ruined Jacob’s whole body with just a word?
The Lord has the power. Even Jacob knows that. But Jacob won’t stop the match. He won’t let go.
He holds on to a man he knows is God in the flesh. Why? Does he not know God can destroy him without even a second thought?
Yes. Jacob knows. He’s not naïve.
But Jacob wants what God most wants to give. Jacob wants the blessing. Genesis 32:26:
Then [the man] said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The blessing. The blessing the Lord swore to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather. And swore to Isaac, Jacob’s father. The blessing is the promise of the Savior to come in Abraham’s lineage.
The blessing is the promise of all sins forgiven. Of death defeated. Of the crushing of the devil. The blessing is the Word justifying the sinner, so that by faith in the promise, Abraham was justified. And this blessing goes to Abraham’s children, including Jacob. Including, along with them, you and me and our children.
What does God want to do? God wants to bless the sinner.
God wants to have the sinner hold onto him like a wrestler not letting go, until the blessing is given.
God wants the sinner not looking to some improved life later months away after much work,
the sinner not striving for more spirituality or more effectiveness or whatever other measure of more the sinner comes up with according to the measurements of the Law,
but God wants the sinner living today, living in faith, living in the confidence that he, the sinner, is clean right now before God,
is at peace in his conscience right now, is beneficiary of every good gift of grace and life right now,
not because of how the sinner has finally accomplished that, but because God, the Lord of life, the Lord who came in the flesh on that particular day to wrestle with Jacob and later came in the flesh for good, for all days, to die on the cross for all sins—the Lord of life, Jesus, blesses the sinner.
God wants the sinner to hear the blessing.
So what does God want you to do?
Be done with the Law and its measurements and its seeming potential to lead to an improved Christian life.
Be done with the Law. Hold on to the Gospel. Do not let go of the promise. When God comes in the flesh to you, say to your God, I will hold on to only you for the blessing.
When God comes to you and say, Take and eat, Take and drink, this is me, my body, my blood for the forgiveness of your sins, hear those words, it is God blessing you. He does not forget the blessing he swore to you.
In the Name of Jesus.