“Meeting God Face to Face!”
August 6th, 2017
Genesis 32: 22-31,
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Listen now to these ancient words, as we turn to the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis, chapter 32, verses 22 thru 31.”
22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the 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 is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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 place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
“May we come to understand our struggles with the living God.”
Conflict, conflict and struggle, are the central focus’ of our scripture lesson this morning. The disagreement between twins, the two sons of Isaac; whom was the son of Abraham. Esau, was the first born and Jacob the second. As they grew from childhood to adolescence and then adulthood, there was tension between them. Each striving to outdo the other to win the favor, the love and the blessing of their father Isaac. “Esau becomes a skilled hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.” /Genesis 25:27/ As these two men, the two sons of Isaac, as they grew into the fulness of their individual lives… a colossal battle developed between them. And accordingly, the theme of conflict, and struggle begins to grow and grow.
Hebrew tradition would suggest to us that when the time came for Isaac to pass the mantel of leadership to his sons he would give his blessing to the first born, Esau, yet… he gives it to Jacob. At one point in the writing we hear how Jacob had tricked his brother to swear to give up his birthright for needed food supplies. These combined occurrences – accelerated the feud between the two sons. If we were to read those earlier chapters from the book of Genesis, we would learn there are many details, justifications and situations that bring this feud to the level it becomes as we pick up the story of their quarrel, from our scripture lesson this morning.
The weaknesses of Jacob as a fighter has become self-evident, while Esau has become a skilled and formidable, a truly tough and challenging opponent and adversary. Our narrative picks up as Jacob has become aware of his brother heading his way with four hundred men at his command. Jacob is afraid for his very life. In the preceding chapters, we learn how Jacob had been sent to another region, perhaps to keep the two sons apart. Yet, the time of reckoning has come as the narrative brings us to this point. It seems that Jacob was dividing up his belongings, scattering his army, sending out his servants and his wives, telling them that if they should encounter Esau and his men, to say they were sent ahead-as gifts from Jacob; you see he was still using trickery, rather than honesty to deal with his relationship with his brother. There does not seem to be an end, to the core issues, which have come between these two brothers.
We hear how Jacob is ultimately left alone, as he has send everyone ahead of him to meet his brother. At this point, we learn of a struggle he has in the night with another man. Clearly, through the readings surrounding Jacob and Esau, at this juncture, their conflict was not resolved; and by all accounts the focus is upon Jacob and his conflicted character that has led the brothers to this state of unresolved discord and dissention. Ironically, at this interval in our scripture, we hear of this strange accounting of a man struggling with Jacob, during the night, as recorded for us, to read and to wonder about its intended meaning. At the end of the skirmish and scuffle, Jacob tells the man he will not let go of this struggle until the man blesses him! He does so only after putting Jacob’s hip out of joint. What a strange and perplexing story.
The challenge for us today, as we grapple with this accounting is to decide what it represents and suggests to us; ultimately, what can we learn from this narrative. Most scholars agree, or at least theologians are of the same opinion regarding the essence of the ‘legend’ of this writing, concluding that Jacob was wrestling with God. Listen once more to the scriptural accounting of this: Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 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. So, Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” /Genesis 32:28-30/
It is a good thing that this strange passage is in the Bible! What value would these stories offer us if they didn’t relate to our lives today! Everyone here today knows what conflict is all about. Each one of us can relate to this story, one way or another! God often must intervene and reshape us, all the while challenging us to do things differently in our lives. Perhaps it is our attitude or our stance in-a-given conflicting relationship, or situation. Or maybe it is something we said before thinking it through fully; now we are left with the after-math of our poorly spoken remarks. And as we all know, it is hard to take back our words once they are spoken.
Would it not be wonderful and refreshing, if our churches were a place where we all felt safe to confess ‘openly’ and with an honest heart all that conflicts us! Too many of us know, all too well, how holding onto an unresolved conflict, with someone or something, can turn our insides upside down, causing even more anxiety and stress! Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself pondering a question surrounding the anguish you are experiencing in a relationship? “Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk away?” /Lia Scholl/ Perhaps Jacob felt that way. Whether he did or not we will never know for sure. Yet, we know the feelings we experience in our own lives! Sometimes, we may think it would be easier to walk away from a situation, rather than to face it directly, and to deal with the issues at hand.
Here is today’s challenge for each one of us. This conversation which is developing from the essence, the heart of our reading, is confronting us and telling us we must ‘grapple’ with ourselves, and even with our understanding of God, as we work to ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’ in our lives, especially in our relationships with others; particularly members of our own family and those we are in fellowship with! Imagine if we were each “invited to tell the truth about who and what we are.” /David Lose/ Doing so could open a new opportunity… an opportunity to establish a new basis for that troubled relationship! Such openness could set the stage for a new understanding, as to ‘how’ one might move forward, resolving old and troubling situations and dilemmas.
Our central character, Jacob, he had to admit he had been wrong minded in his relationship with his brother Esau. It was his mean-spirited jealousy that sparked their feud when he wrongly bartered for what was not rightly his. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s needs to get him to give up his rightful heritage as the first-born son. Everything that occurred in their relationship after that point was fueled by this wrong. His struggle with God, via the man in our story, was a struggle to right what in his heart he knew was wrong! God struggled with Jacob and changed him, giving Jacob a second chance to reestablish a rightful relationship with his brother. Clearly, this was the intention of the author of this accounting, to speak to us of the need to struggle with ourselves, and grapple with our relationship with God if need be, to live a righteous life! A virtuous, respectful and honorable life is what it will take – to correct our relationship with God, and consequently with those we may be in conflict with.
“Just as Jacob first understood his wrestling partner to be human and not divine, today we find that God is often elusive.” /Comments from the Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia/ Yes, God can sometimes come across as intangible, vague and even mysterious. Have you ever considered the terms God might use to describe you or me? ‘Hard to pin down’ comes to mind and ‘tenuous,’ ‘weak’ and ‘halfhearted’ could easily fit some of what God could use in descriptions of many of us. Have you ever listened to someone’s excuse(s) for something they did not do or will not do? Did you find yourself thinking: “well that is questionable, feeble or even unsubstantiated”!? If you or I can see these characteristics in others, what might God see in us. Perhaps we need to struggle a bit more with ourselves.
Have you ever considered what you would do or how you might respond if you met God face to face!? Would you, would we, be willing to openly discuss the ups and downs in our relationships? What would we say or how would we come to terms with our doubts or questions. You know what you have reservations about, you know your doubts… the ones you hid in that dark corner of your minds. Are we willing to have the faith to openly grapple with these things, with one another, and with God directly, face to face even!?
“God blesses us, and even gives us the peace with which to face/wrestle with all challenges, all pressures, all stresses, all tensions. They are there and so ‘is’ God.” /Address from the Biblical Department of Austin Theological Seminary/ Once we acknowledge this and face these obstacles then we shall be ready to change and move forward as God intends! God will be there for us, when needed. We need to trust this. It is what we call faith.