Sunday, August 27, 2017


Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” --Exodus 1:8-2:10 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As our Genesis reading left off last week, Joseph, son of Jacob (or Israel, as we now know him), grandson of Isaac, great-grandson of Abraham, had, after decades, been reconciled with his brothers in Egypt. All of them, including their father Israel, were now in Egypt. Because of the deep famine in Canaan, Joseph had sought land for them from the pharaoh, who had given his permission for them to live in Goshen. A border province.  In Genesis 47, Goshen is described as “the best part of the land.” That certainly still rings true today, doesn’t it?

As time passed, the famine continued and grew even deeper. People from other lands came to Egypt, seeking out Joseph to trade their land for food. Scripture tells us that Joseph bought all of the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. Through his brilliant administrative skills, Joseph made the Pharaoh one of the richest and most powerful rulers in the entire area.  

At the same time, Israel became more and more settled in Egypt in that region of Goshen. The family gained possessions there and, our story tells us, they were “fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.”

Seventeen years passed. Israel’s death drew near. On his deathbed, Israel extracted a promise from Joseph--that Joseph would not bury his father in Egypt, but would take his body back to Canaan. That the Cave of Machpelah would be his final resting place. The burial home of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Leah.

Joseph also brought his two sons to be blessed by Israel. And, as we have seen so many times before in earlier stories, this blessing was anything but ordinary. Joseph had placed each of his two sons on either side of Israel’s bed, with the oldest and firstborn--Manasseh--on Israel’s right side. And with the youngest--Ephraim--on Israel’s left. As Israel raised his hands to bless his grandsons, he crossed his arms and gave the blessing not to the first born, but instead to Ephraim, the youngest. 

Once again, in God's world, tradition and convention or turned upside down. The unexpected happens and things are anything but ordinary.

And, then, it is time for Israel’s generation to end. The last verse of chapter 49 tells us that Jacob breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Soon, it was time for Joseph’s generation to end. In the very next chapter, we read that Joseph made the Israelites (who had now grown in size)...Joseph made them swear that they would carry his bones back to Canaan. Just like his father. Then, Joseph, too, died. 

From generation to generation. Over these weeks and through the centuries, we have followed the ancestral family of Abraham to this point. Abraham and Sarah. And their descendents. Persisting. All of them living into the promise that God would make of them a great nation. And that God would bless them so that they could be a blessing. Trusting. Believing it. And persisting.

And then there are these women in today’s story. Persisting. Beginning with the midwives. Women whose work it is to support life who are told to take it. By a new king, a new regime, a new dynasty who has forgotten. A pharaoh who has forgotten or never known the story of Joseph and Joseph’s God. Forgotten or never known how Joseph helped enrich and empower the previous pharaoh. A leader who seeks to have “power over” the Israelites and who creates a false narrative. A false story about the “enemy within.”  Those Israelites, those immigrants who are going to grow and grow and eventually seek to overcome “us.”

It is an old, convenient political narrative that we still hear today. Be afraid of the immigrant. Be afraid of the foreigner. Be afraid of the other. It is a false narrative that is designed to divide people and to keep people apart. And to keep the rich and powerful in power.

But, these women. These midwives. This sister. This mother. This princess. All resist this false narrative in their own ways. All resist this evil.

When Pharaoh comes to the midwives and tells them to kill babies instead of keep them alive, they know. They know that God desires life. And so they refuse. And when he asks why, they play into his own stereotypes and immigrants and their breeding habits. “You know these Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They are vigorous and they give birth even before we get to them,” they say to the Pharaoh. Even though, they know this isn’t true.

Then, Pharaoh moves onto the people and tells all of them to throw baby boys into the Nile. The resistance doesn’t end with the midwives, but extends into the population. To the mother of Moses and his sister. 

The language in these verses is incredible. It is language that is reminiscent of new beginnings. Of new eras. For example, in verse 2 of Exodus 2, when we read that a Levite woman conceived and bore a son, our text says that she saw “that he was a fine baby.” In the original Hebrew, this is the same language used about creation in Genesis 1. That it was “good.” 

And, then, in verse 3, we read how this mother could no longer hide this baby, this “good” baby. And so she found a papyrus basket for him. To save him.

Here the original word for “basket” is the same word used for “ark” in Noah’s story. 

So, in just two words, the writer of Exodus has connected up the story of the creation of the world into the story of the creation of the Israelites as a people. They are no longer just a family or a clan. But they have become a nation. About to embark upon a new era. 

Through it all, the women continue to persist. To persist against evil. Against strategies that are designed to divide people. And to persist against forces that seek death instead of life. That seek division instead of unity. Forces that run contrary to God’s desire for life. And for God’s desire that all people might be unified. Not identical to each other. But unified in their diversity. In the beautifully diverse ways in which God has created us.

We know the rest of the story. How against the odds, God ensured the safety of this young Moses. How God worked through these persistent women to ensure an upbringing for Moses in God’s ways. How God eventually brought Moses up to be that leader who would lead his own people to freedom. In the same way that Christ has led us to freedom.

And, so, like the women in our story, we, too, are called to persist. To push back against those forces that seek to divide people instead of uniting them. To persist against forces that seek death, those forces that are contrary to God’s desire for life. And that are contrary to God’s desire for all creation.

God’s ways. They are not ordinary, are they? We have heard over and over how God upsets the status quo. The powers that be. How God breaks into the false narratives that are used to divide people. God’s ways are not ordinary. In fact, they are anything, but ordinary.

May be remember this as we leave from here and go into the world and into our own lives. As we persist and seek to live out our lives in ways that, like God, bring life. For us and for all those we meet. May God grant it.


Preached August 27, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Privilege, Perspective, Power

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. 
  ----Genesis 45:1-15 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Good morning to you. It is good to be back. I am grateful for the days off I’ve had, which have given me a chance to reflect, renew and refresh. I’m also grateful to be back. 

Because I missed a Sunday, we have a bit of catching up to do in our stories of Abraham and his descendants--these legends we’ve been working our way through during this entire summer.

If you recall, last week’s Genesis story was that of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. You remember it, don’t you? How Jacob, Joseph’s father, showed favoritism to Joseph, his youngest son. (Have we heard this somewhere before?) And how Jacob gave Joseph a robe of many colors, making his brothers incredibly jealous. So jealous, in fact, that when they were out tending sheep, they stripped him of his technicolor dreamcoat and threw him into an empty cistern or well. And then sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites traveling with their wares to Egypt. Then, to make matters even worse, they took dipped Joseph’s cloak in ram’s blood and returned home to tell Joseph that his youngest son was dead.

Do you see and hear, once again, the generations and generations of brokenness? So you see and hear, once again, the hatred and anger that simply seems to be carried from generation to generation?

As our story opens today, we find Joseph in a high position of power in Egypt. In fact, he is the administrator over all of Egypt. It has been a winding road to this point, one filled with false accusations and betrayal, with incarceration, and with dream interpretation. In fact, it was Joseph’s ability to interpret Pharoah’s dreams of feast and famine that led to his appointment to such a powerful position, notwithstanding his complete lack of experience. 

Under Joseph’s administration, Egypt has grown dramatically in size, as surrounding nations have looked to it for sustenance during a 7-year famine.

As the famine has gripped the entire region, Jacob has told his sons to go from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain. They appear before Joseph, who recognizes them. However, the sons--Joseph’s brothers--don’t recognize Joseph. And Joseph doesn’t reveal who he is. Instead, he uses his power over his brothers. He first demands that they go home and return with their youngest brother, Benjamin. He, then, imprisons his brother Simeon until they do. 

When the food finally runs out in Canaan, they decide to return with Benjamin. Joseph invites them to dinner. There, they share a meal with Joseph. And they still don’t recognize him. 

What happens next is either a test or a second act of revenge by Joseph. Joseph instructs his servant to slip a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. He then confronts his brothers about the alleged theft and threatens to arrest Benjamin. Joseph’s brothers beg him not to do this. And Judah volunteers to trade places with Benjamin. 

It is here where today’s story begins. Joseph. So overwhelmed with emotion. Unable to conceal his identity any longer. Joseph sends all of his attendants away. Only his brothers remain. 

Joseph then reveals who he is to them--that he is their youngest brother, the one they sold into slavery those many years ago. He also shares with them, though, how God has used this evil act to save the lives of many, many people. 

Our story today ends with these words: “He (Joseph) kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him.”

Reconciliation. After all that has happened between Joseph and his brothers, after the original evil act, after the acts of revenge--after everything, the relationship between Joseph and his brothers is restored. They are reconciled. 

As I hear this story once again--this story of evil and hate and of forgiveness and reconciliation, I’m reminded of something written by Brene Brown. Brene is a researcher and professor of sociology at the University of Houston who has researched, written and spoken extensively on the topic of shame and vulnerability. 

She has also spoken frequently about the three P’s - Privilege, Perspective, and Power. 

First, privilege. There is no word today that makes people more angry today than this word. Privilege. Especially, white privilege. “I worked for everything I have,” we say. “I had no privilege!”

According to Ms. Brown, if this is our understanding of privilege, then we fail to understand what it is. Privilege is something, some right we have that is unearned. It’s about unearned access or authority. We all have some kind of privilege, some kind of unearned right. What is your privilege? 

One example of my privilege, as a Christian here in Kentucky or in the entire U.S., is that I can wear a symbol of my religion (say, a cross) and not fear being called a murderer or a terrorist.  Privilege.

Or, another example. As a white woman, a mother, I have never had to have a conversation with my son about how to handle getting pulled over by the police. Both of these are examples of my privilege. 

I have unearned rights, or access and authority. Privilege has nothing to do with how hard I’ve worked. To fail to acknowledge our own privilege--especially the unearned rights we enjoy by virtue of being white. To fail to acknowledge this fails to acknowledge the pain of others who don’t experience our level of privilege. 

The second “P” is perspective. We all see the world through a lens. Whether it is as a result of our age, our gender, our race, our ability, we all view the world with a certain perspective. Add in the perspective of insight, personal history, family stories--we see the world in a particular way. And the more white, the more middle class we are, the more likely is our belief that it is our view of the world that is the only true view, the only right way.

So, we are told we should have empathy with others who don’t have the same perspective. To put down our own lens and to view the world through their lens. 

Unfortunately, this is impossible. It is impossible to set aside our own worldview.

How, then, do we take the perspective of others? First, we believe people’s stories and experiences as they are told to us. Period. So, when we hear from our African-American brothers and sisters that they are stopped by the police regularly without cause, we believe them.

Secondly, we acknowledge that how someone else views the world through their lens is just as true and real as how we view the world through ours. It’s not okay to say, “Oh, that’s a terrible story. But that’s now how I see it.” We can have an opinion. But we can’t dismiss what other people share with us as truth.

Then, there is the third “P.” That of power. We hate this word, power, don’t we, especially here in the church. There are many definitions for it, but, perhaps the best is that one given by Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that “Power is the ability to effect change.” 

To be without power, to have no ability to effect change, to be completely powerless is the most dangerous state we can ever experience. It leads to isolation. To violence. To shame. To self-harm. Think about history. When has violence occurred most throughout our world? It has happened when people felt powerless.

Somehow we have come to the belief in our country power is finite. That if I share some of it with someone else, I will lose some of my own. That is not power. That is “power over.”

“Power over” is finite. It is also ineffective. When we lead, when we parent, when we act from a position of “power over”, we, by definition, disempower people who have great ideas, great experiences, and great stories to bring to the table and to our broader shared experience. BrenĂ© Brown writes, what we are witnessing in our world today is the last resistance, the last stand of “power over.” 

Joseph had all three P’s. He was in a position of privilege, having unearned access through his appointment by the pharaoh. He had a perspective that was shaped by his own world view and experience, particularly that of having been sold into slavery by his brothers. He also had power--particularly, “power over.” The power to imprison his brothers, to exact that final revenge upon them for all of the hurt and pain they had caused. 

This past week has been so difficult, hasn’t it. As we have watched what has gone on in Charlottesville, as we have watched the hate and bigotry of racism and fascism and naziism raise it’s ugly head in our country, as we continue to witness the growing divide in our country, I don’t know about you, but for me it is so incredibly painful. And hurtful. And sinful.

Yes, sinful. The actions of white supremacists, of bigots, of racists, of neo-Nazis is sinful. Yet, it is not only they who have sinned. We have sinned. We have all sinned. We are all guilty. All of us. And, particularly, the church is guilty.

In his writings during the time of the second World War and the time of Adolph Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the church was guilty. That the church had not professed openly and clearly enough its message of the one God. That the church had not confessed its timidity, its deviations, its dangerous concessions. That it had disavowed its duties as sentinel and comforter. That it was mute when it should have cried out, as the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven. That the church did not find the right words in the right way at the right time. That it did not resist to the death the falling away from faith. That it was guilty of the godlessness of the masses. 

So, we, as individuals and as the church, are called to confess. To confess of the privilege we have used to harm people as a result of our race. To confess of the perspective we have claimed as the only true perspective. To confess of the way we have “powered over” people instead of “powering with” people. To confess of our guilt without a single glance at all of the others who are guilty. And to call everyone--all people in our nation into a community of confession.

We must begin with ourselves. With the church. We, who have been grabbed by the power of Christ’s grace--we must acknowledge, confess, and take upon ourselves not only our personal sins, but also the falling of the world. 

Then, we must begin to change. If we are tired of the story of white supremacy (and that is what it is as much as we hate that word!), then we must begin to call it what it is. Every one of us. To say the words. To call it out. And then, to think about what we can do differently. To believe other people’s stories and to begin to work around our privilege, to work around our own perspective, and to work around power to build a world together, a world that lives into God’s declaration that all that God created is good. Every bit of it. 

To choose not to do it because it is uncomfortable or because we can’t do it perfectly is not okay. Because that is the definition of privilege. Privilege allows us to simply walk away from the hard work simply because we are not affected by it the minute we wake up. 

It must begin here and now. With each and every one of us in the church. As Bonhoeffer wrote, “The church is where Jesus makes his form real in the midst of the world. Therefore, only the church can be the place of personal and corporate rebirth and renewal.”

Joseph eventually reached a place of reconciliation with his brothers. What began as a curse became a blessing on the nations. The same can happen in the church and in the broader world. Out of usurped power can come justice. Out of rebellion order. And out of bloodshed peace. 

And this--justice, order, and peace--is what the kingdom of God looks like. And what God desires for all of humanity and all of creation.

May God so grant it!


Preached August 20, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28. 

With attributions to Dr. Brené Brown and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Faith Struggle

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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 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.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:22-31 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jacob. He is, once again, central to our story as he has been for the past 3 weeks. He will remain in the story line for the next two weeks. 

Jacob. Wrestling with Esau in the womb. Tricking Esau out of both blessing and birthright. Sent away by Rebekah, his mother, for just a “few days.” Hoping that Esau would calm down and forget the murderous threats he had made against his youngest brother.

Jacob. Tricked by Laban, his uncle, into marrying Leah, who was not his first choice. Or any choice at all for that matter. Now, he is husband of two wives, sisters. Leah and Rachel. The “few days” have turned into over 20 years and Jacob, who arrived penniless on Laban’s doorstep, is now the father of a full household that is composed of his 2 wives, 2 maids (part of his wives’ wedding dowry), and 11 children.

It is time now for Jacob to return home, as his relationship with Laban, his father-in-law, is getting more and more difficult. Jacob packs up his now substantial household, his livestock, and all of his possessions, and leaves Mesopotamia for Canaan. The ancestral land of his grandfather, Abraham. The land of his father, Isaac. 

As Jacob sets out, he sends messengers ahead to Esau. To let Esau know that he is returning home. And to ask Esau to be kind. The messengers return with the news that Esau is coming to meet Jacob and his household. With four hundred men.

This is terrifying news to Jacob. He fears that Esau is coming to kill him. That after all these years, Esau has yet to forgive him for his treachery. Jacob turns to God in prayer. And unlike his previous prayer, this time, Jacob puts no conditions on God. He simply asks God to preserve him. We begin to get a glimpse, however brief, that the years have humbled Jacob. That, no longer is he wrestling and struggling to grasp that which is not supposed to be his. Or so it appears.

After his prayer, Jacob puts in place a plan to try to preserve his household from an attack by Esau. He sends his servants and livestock forward to act as a buffer and to protect Jacob and his family. Once this large group sets out, Jacob and the rest of his household continue to move forward.  

It is here where our story today picks up. As it opens, Jacob and his family have reached the Jabbok River, where they set up camp. In the middle of the night, Jacob decides to rouse everyone to cross the Jabbok, assisting them along the way. It’s not entirely clear in our story why he does this. Perhaps it was at night that the river was easier to cross. Perhaps Jacob was concerned about being seen. Or, perhaps, Jacob simply was not sleeping well himself, anxious over his upcoming meeting with Esau.

Whatever the reason, he helped his entire family cross the river in the middle of the night. As they settled in on the other side, Jacob settles in for the rest of the night, apart from the rest of his family. 

It is here that our story takes a strange turn. As Jacob was making camp apart from everyone else, our story says that “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” Was it a dream? Was he struggling metaphorically with his fear? Or with his brother? Was it an angel? Or God?

The text never tells us. It’s a little uncomfortable, isn’t it? Not knowing? It makes me uncomfortable! And, so, I...we begin to speculate. Just like those across the centuries. 

Who was this mysterious man?

Unfortunately, our speculation doesn’t give us concrete answers. Nowhere in the story is the man identified. Perhaps, then, the identify of this man is not the point of the story. Perhaps we need to search elsewhere to understand the message of today’s story. 

The struggle left a mark on Jacob. Something that he carried away from the place. A torn muscle. 

We also learn that Jacob was not the one who gave up the fight. The man did. Jacob was tenacious. And at daybreak, as the sun was rising, it was Jacob who won the fight simply because he refused to let go.

Isn’t life like that sometimes? Things happen to us that aren’t easily understood or figured out. We survive by nothing more than simply not giving up.

I remember a conversation with a dear friend of mine. She had been raised in a family that had deep roots in a fundamental church. She’d been active throughout her childhood and youth in this church, attending summer camps and eventually become a camp counselor. A young leader in this church. She was deeply embedded in her family and in her faith community. And, then, she made a decision to “come out.” To announce to those whom she loved that she was gay. That she could no longer fight this truth in herself. That she had to be honest and public about who she was.

The response from her family and her church? Well, everyone walked away from her. She was shunned and asked to stay away from her family home, her family church, and from everything that she knew and loved.

It was devastating. 

In our conversation she asked me how to get through it. As I reflected on my own life and the many losses I had experienced, I told her that sometimes all you can do is to keep going. To not give up. And, if nothing else, to simply put one foot in front of the other and continue to move forward. 

Most of us have had times in our lives where we, too, fight with the mysteries and the hardships of life. We don’t know if Jacob’s injury was permanent, but the text notes he was still limping when he left. We, like Jacob, carry the injuries of our struggles with the mysteries. Every loss, every health challenge, every relationship struggle, every death of someone we love--all of these leave their mark. We walk with an invisible limp. Like Jacob, sometimes all we can do is simply hang on. 

Jacob was alone that night as he struggled. Our struggles are often like that, too, aren’t they? We can share our burdens and fears with each other, but eventually each of us must come to terms with life and with the mystery of God. A God with such deep desire to be in relationship with us that God sacrificed God’s own Son. For us. That we might have life. And have it abundantly.

As the sun rose that morning, the strange man gave Jacob a new name. Israel, meaning “you have struggled with God and with humans and have prevailed.” We often think only of Israel as a noun, a name of a place or of a people. It is much, much more. It describes not only Jacob, but all of us. We are to grab onto the mystery of God and hang on, even when we are tired. Or in pain. Or have doubts. We must fight for the relationship we share with God. Sometimes that means a confrontation with God. Anger at God. Telling God that we don’t understand how or why the world works. And, in such honesty, struggling to hold on in the times when the world is mysterious, or God’s methods or God’s kingdom just don’t make sense. 

It takes work. And it takes perseverance. And this is the nature of faith. It isn’t simply a gift from God. It is a lifelong pursuit of God for us and us for God. In the midst of this pursuit, we experience grief and heartbreak. And they leave a mark on us. 

And yet, we must be like Jacob. To refuse to let go of God until we are blessed with new understanding and an insight that transform us. Once again.

God never gives up on us. It is our job to never give up on God. 

Jacob was far from perfect, but he was faithful. In our story today, he is a model for us. No, not of moral perfection. But as the one who wrestled in the night and did not surrender. His new name “Israel” is a lesson for us that is fully worth learning.


Preached August 6, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
8th Sunday after Pentecost.
Readings: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21.
**With ideas and guidance from the commentary by Beth L. Tanner, Professor of Old Testament, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, NJ, on