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Gospel centred sermons, based on the lectionary often in advance.

Jul 20, 2022

A narrative sermon based on Genesis 32: 25-32 and Matthew 26: 36-46

My name is Jacob. I’m a twin. They say that even when I was in my mother’s womb I struggled with my brother. I came out holding onto his heal so they gave me the name grasper or grabber. The name sort of fits because for the first part of my life that’s just what I was like.  I knew that the only way to get ahead in life was to make your own way and your own luck. If a situation presented itself then you should grab it with both hands and never let go. Keep your wits about you and if other people give you a tiny opening, push your way in and get what you can.

 When my brother came home really hungry one day after hunting or whatever it is he does out in the fields I was cooking some stew. Red lentels, some herbs, and spices, I recall. He asked me for some – he said he was “starving to death” and so half joking I said, “First sell me your birthright”. I was basically saying - Give me your share of the family inheritance and give me the blessing or the Promise that my Grandfather Abraham was given by God. God was going to make our family big, powerful and rich. I didn’t really expect Esau to take me seriously about the stew, but he did. I’m starving to death! He said, what use is all that to me? So I saw my chance, “swear to me” I said that you will give me your birthright and I’ll give you a big bowl of stew. And he did! I couldn’t believe it.

 Maybe about 10 years later my dad Isaac decided to make the passing on of the blessing and the inheritance formal. Esau never admitted to Dad that he’d sold his birthright to me, but mum knew about it. She also told me that there was a prophesy that I would get the blessing instead of Esau. The trouble was that Esau was dad’s favourite. So mum and I cooked up a plan to trick Dad. We look different but we are twins so we sound alike and by this time dad was practically blind. So I disguised myself as Esau on the day the blessing was to happen esau was out in the fields hunting for a feast for the blessing meal. Dad fell for it and the blessing was mine. Mum and I thought Esau would just take it, be a bit grumpy but I’d get the the animals, the land and the greatness that God had promised. But Esau wasn’t having it; he threatened to kill me, so with mum’s help I ran off to my Uncle Laban.

 I had dad’s blessing but I’d lost mum and Esau, and my whole family. I believe last week you heard about the next part of the story. I had a vision of God who said I would be blessed. God would stay with me and things would turn out OK. Looking back it was an amazing and frightening experience. It gave me hope, but I didn’t really understand it. All my life I’d got things by making bargains or tricking people and also by hard work. I’d made a lot of my own luck. I thought God was offering me a deal, so I said to God and to myself. If you look after me I’ll worship you and give you 10% of everything. But I think God was offering it to me for free, as a gift, but I couldn’t believe that.

 Anyway, I had a lot of adventures with my Uncle, I ended up with huge herds of goats and sheep & cattle, two wives, two sort of more wives , 11 sons and only one daughter. I was rich, I’d been blessd and I’d also really, really upset my uncle who sent me packing, so with all my riches I went home back to my brother and my dad and mum. But I was worried. I had heard Esau was doing well like me but he also had his own private mini army. I had servants and herders but no army. 

 So I thought I’d try to make another deal. I separated out hundreds of my best animals and sent them on ahead as a present for Esau. I sent the rest of the family ahead of me too. I decided to rest by myself for the night before meeting my fate. I had thought that if I had all that wealth and wives and children then I’d have made it, but now it seemed my brother would get me in the end. It had all come to nothing.

 Then the strangest thing happened. This man appeared and began to wrestle with me. It was a surprise but I was up for the fight. I’d fought all my life. I knew he was strong far stronger than me but I used every trick I had. For hours we fought. I wasn’t winning but I wasn’t giving up either. We fought and we fought and dawn began to break, and the stranger showed his real power and hit me a blow so hard on the hip that it threw it out of joint. I was helpless, I had been defeated, but would not let go. I sensed he could probably have thrown me aside like a rag-doll, but instead he spoke. “Let me go for the day is breaking.” I could feel something huge, something powerful, so I said “No! I won’t let go, not until you bless me.” He asked my name - “Jacob” I said. His reply struck me like a bolt of lightning. “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28, NRSV) I had been wrestling with God. That’s what Israel means “wrestles with God”. I hadn’t really won. I was a bit cheeky then, despite the awe and the fear and I asked “What’s your name?” after all I’d given away my name. But of course he didn’t say. But he did bless me! 

 The stories of my Father and Grandfather said that God was so pure, so powerful, so mighty that if you saw God you would die. Instantly burn up in fire, be swallowed by the earth, whatever but I had not only seen God, face to face I’d wrestled with God. I called the place Peniel which in my language means “face of God”, for I had seen the face of God and lived. 

 I hadn’t really beaten God, God had beaten me. I had tried to earn God’s favour, earn the wealth, and earn the good life. I’d worked hard, I’d tricked, I’d cheated and sometimes I even tried to do the right thing. In the end although it seemed like it was up to me I had to accept that life and God’s blessing, God’s favour was a gift.

 I wrestled with God and I survived, I prevailed but I did not win. I walked with a limp from then on. Anyway armed with God’s favour it gave me the courage and hope I needed to go and meet my brother. 
 All that happened over 3 000 years ago. The blessing God gave my family, the gift that we didn’t deserve has wound up becoming a flesh and blood human being in one of my great, great, great etc., etc. grandchildren. Jesus of Nazareth his name was. Even he struggled, even though he was God, he was also human; he struggled and wanted his own way, but unlike me he always went God’s way. I had some hard times, but he faced worse. He faced abandonment, denial, betrayal, torture and death. 

 My story ended up OK. Esau welcomed me and in the end my story though full of more adventures was a good one. Jesus died, but that wasn’t the end. He was blessed with new life. Because God’s love is eternal, Jesus was raised to new life and that life is available to you.
 What his story and mine have in common is that God is with you. God is with you even if you’re a grasping cheat like me. I’ve learned the hard way that God doesn’t approve of any of that, but if God can stick with me, well God can stick with anyone. God can even stick with you. God is with you when relationships break down, like they did with me and dad and Esau, and God is with you when things seem darkest, when you have no-one and nothing, and when you have everything. Jesus’ story tells us that God is even with us through the darkest of all things, death. Everything else except faith, hope and love will pass away. The greatest is love and God’s love, just like God, is eternal. Anyway I’ll see you in the new creation and then you can tell me your story.