New Sermon Series!
Over many years of reading the Bible and in thirty-three years of preaching and teaching, there are particular texts that become "favorites." There are a lot of reasons texts can be favorites. Perhaps they are seminal passages that help shape our understanding of God, or faith, or grace. Or perhaps they are passages that resonate with me personally or have been meaningful to me in my Christian walk. Obviously there are many more than can be included in a series that is limited to 10-12 choices, so perhaps this series would have more accurately been called, "Some of Ralph's Favorites." Nevertheless, I am looking forward to returning again to these familiar and favorite passages, and I hope you will join and enjoy them with me! -Ralph
Today we’re taking a journey with a patriarch named Jacob. He was Abraham’s grandson and Isaac and Rebekah’s son. He was a twin brother to a minutes older brother named Esau, but since he was born second, he was not entitled to the majority share of his father’s property. Jacob (whose name means “heel grabber”) and Esau couldn’t have been more different. Esau was a man’s man, while Jacob was a mama’s boy. As adults, Jacob conspired with his mother to steal Esau’s blessing from the father, but this never satisfied Jacob from grabbing for more. Eventually, Jacob spent 20 years away from home with his uncle Laban, where he married his two wives and had eleven sons and one daughter. Jacob had over 20 years to contemplate what he had done to his brother Esau. He desired to return home, but there was an unresolved problem: he had never reconciled with his brother.
On the night before he was to meet Esau, Jacob had a wrestling match with an angel. In personal crises, we have to come to terms with God and ourselves alone. That night, Jacob wrestled with the angel to a stalemate. Like in everything, the “heel grabber” would not let go. He was only comfortable when he was in control of his environment. Jacob had it all figured out: how to manage his life without the transformation of the heart. When it appeared that there wasn’t any progress in the wrestling match, the angel struck him on the hip and dislocated it. God wounded him. At first, Jacob just tightened his grip, but then he began to realize that holding on to the past was self-defeating, and holding onto God yields blessing. He had stolen his brother’s blessing, but it hadn’t changed him. What he did have didn’t satisfy his longing for what he really needed—the Father’s blessing. The blessing is the assurance that we belong to the Lord, the affirmation that we are chosen, and that we are loved, accepted and forgiven by God.
Jacob’s journey continues with the reshaping of his identity. The angel asks, “What is your name?” And he answers, “Jacob.” Sometimes we have to let go of the past before we can proceed into God’s future. This very well might have been the first time in his life Jacob admits who he really is: a heel grabber who refuses to let go unless it is on his terms. Yet God says, “That ends tonight! Now you’ll be known as Israel, one who strives for God.” From this time forward, the Lord will convert Jacob’s self-sufficiency into a passionate pursuits of God. The blessed will become a blessing. In the end, this encounter doesn’t just leave him with a new name, it also leaves him with a new limp. This permanent wound would be a constant reminder to him that God is now in control of his future. For when one truly wrestles with God, he or she never, ever remains the same.