aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

From the sermon barrel

Text: Genesis 32:13-32


All night long Jacob and the strange man wrestled with each other. At dawn, the stranger tried to flee, but Jacob would not let 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."

The man said, "What is your name?" And Jacob replied, "I'm Grabby."

This is the story of Grabby. That's what "Jacob" means, by the way (colloquially translated); and it also suits his character. Jacob -- Grabby -- was a grasping man: a con artist; a cheat; a swindler; a guy who only looked out for Number One. As a young man, he swindled his brother Esau. Then, with the help of his conniving mother Rebekah, he hoodwinked his father Isaac. Things got so hot for him, he had to leave town in a hurry. So he ran off to live with his Uncle Laban.

Along the way, he had an amazing vision of God opening up a ladder to heaven, with angels going up and down. And he heard God promise him, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go . . . I will not leave you." Grabby was greatly moved, and made some hefty promises to the Lord -- but it didn't affect his character much. He was still grabby in heart as well as in name.

But he was about to get his comeuppance, for he met his match in Uncle Laban -- an even sharper dealer than he was. Laban swindled Jacob over his daughters, so that he wound up getting fourteen years' unpaid service out of ol' Grabby. Then they swindled each other over their sheep flocks. Finally, when things got too hot, Grabby did what he'd always done: cut and run (with a little matter of theft -- or if you prefer, claiming his wives' inheritance -- unresolved).

Laban went in pursuit and they squared off in the wilderness. It was an ugly situation, but finally, they agreed to set up a stone to mark the boundary between them, and they sealed their covenant with tender words.
"All right, you slimy sack of sheep guts, you stay on your side, and I'll stay on my side -- and the Lord watch between us when our backs are turned!"

(That is, in fact, the origin of that tender Mizpah blessing you find engraved on those little hearts, "The Lord watch between thee and me when we are absent one from another." It was an oath made between two cheats who were separating for good. Jacob and Laban did not wish each other well -- did not trust each other (there are no tender feelings here). No: "Remember, you crook -- God is watching you.")

And having settled accounts with Laban, Jacob and his four wives, twelve sons, servants, and livestock headed for home. But guess what: he gets cold feet again. He sends his flocks ahead to pacify Esau, the brother he cheated. Gifts, you see (bribes, really). Then he sends his family ahead to make nice to Esau (or at least to prevent a scene). But Jacob stays behind. Tomorrow he will follow, and they will all meet Esau. But then again, there's nothing stopping him from taking off and starting fresh somewhere else, now is there?

Nothing but this guy -- who comes to him in the night, and wrestles him to a standstill.
"What is your name?"
"My name is Grabby."

There are a lot of grabby people in the world today. Sometimes, I think that snatching at things is the curse of our day. You see it all over.

You see it in all the people who want love, but don't have the patience to find it, or build it, or maintain it. So they just snatch at sex, thinking that's good enough -- a reasonable facsimile.

And you see it in people who snatch at a job, any job, one after the other. Because they don't have any idea of what they want to make of themselves. They don't weigh opportunities, they just grab the first one.

You see it in people who run after money, who earn it and spend it with blinding speed, and who think that that will satisfy them. Too late they learn that snatching at stuff is not the same as knowing what you want in life.

I've seen it in college: young people snatching at the hot majors -- the fashionable programs -- the easy-to-finish degrees, who end up as ignorant coming out as they were going in because they passed up an education to grab a certificate.

And perhaps most pitiable are all the folks who snatch at the mannerisms and values of the "in crowd," who snatch at a fashionable style instead of finding out who they really are.

There are people who have grabbed hold of a few slogans, and think they have principles. And there are plenty who have grabbed a piece of religion, and claim to be disciples.

I've had I don't know how many people bend my ear about their religious ideas, their slam-bang conversion experiences, their rock-solid devotion to God -- who in the next breath hasten to tell me that of course they never go to church -- or pray, or that they've found this neat, no-cost, all-you-gotta-do-is-believe religion that's what Christianity is all about anyway -- and don't I think that what really counts is what you feel? -- or that you're sincere? -- and aren't aliens mentioned in the Bible somewhere? along with the Soviets?

Now, I try not to be judgmental about anybody's spiritual standing before God, but really, I do get tired of some of the claptrap people feel obligated to lay on clergymen. And what the cranks and the don't-pin-me-down types have in common is that they have snatched at religion, but it hasn't changed their lives. Like Jacob at Bethel, where God called him with the vision of the ladder, they go right on and do what they were going to do anyway, thinking that God has now sanctioned their frantic, grabby lifestyle.

Well, religion without discipleship is no better than sex without love (or any of those other things): one more thing scooped up in one's indiscriminate rush through life. What good does it do them? And when the going gets rough, these people have no staying power. You'd think not even God could pin them down.

Meanwhile, at Peniel, God is wrestling with Jacob.

But something unforeseen happens. Even though he was thinking about running away, Jacob doesn't grapple with God to get away; he starts struggling to hold on to this stranger. And even though he is painfully injured, he hangs on.
Then he said, "let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me."

The man said, "What is your name?" And Jacob says more than his name: he faces up to himself, when he says, "I'm Grabby."

There is a moment of self-recognition there. And his opponent immediately says, "No! Now you shall be called Wrestler, for you have wrestled God to a fall," and he blesses him. Jacob is now Israel, "he who wrestles with God." And Israel gets up in the cold light of morning, and goes limping over the creek to meet his brother Esau and face the music at last.

Esau comes tearing through the flocks and herds, shouting, "Where's Jacob?" My lord, these are for you! "So what? I want Grabby! Have you seen him?" And then Esau meets the families: "Yes, yes, very nice, pleased to meet you -- where's Jacob?"

And finally, all alone, Israel and Esau meet. As Esau comes running toward him, Israel maybe still feels some fear, maybe wishes he could still run away. But his injury would forbid it, and anyway, he's done with running. Instead, he bows himself down before his brother, whom he wronged so deeply all those years ago.
But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

After all these years, Esau's love has turned out to be greater than his anger, but Jacob had to quit grabbing and running to find it out. It is a moment of grace. For this is what grace is: it's not believing that God will be indulgent and let you do whatever you want and still be on your side; it means finding that real love, real forgiveness, real reconciliation and joy can only follow repentance. "Repent" means "turn around." And we have to quit running and face the right direction, and then we find the grace of God that changes our lives and gives meaning to the stories of our encounters with God.

"What is your name?"

How might you or I answer that Question? One says, "My name is Badmouth, for all my talk is of how awful everything is -- and everyone else -- and nothing ever pleases me." Another says, "My name is Run Away, for I am afraid to be held to my commitments." Or, "My name is Liar, for you can't depend on what I say." "My name is Phony." "My name is Tantrum." "My name is Keeping Up Appearances." "My name is Blame-fixer" or "Rule-arguer" or "Mr. Excuse" or "Miss Victim" or "Poor Me." All of these are simply means of avoiding oneself. And as long as you avoid that encounter, grace cannot heal your life.

People may ask all kinds of questions about God, take an avid interest in religion, claim great piety or spiritual experiences for themselves. But until they face themselves, they cannot see much of the face of God.

"Why do you ask my name?" asked the stranger -- and then he blessed him.

Don't you know whom you've been running away from? And who keeps calling you back? It's not really very hard to figure out, but it can be very hard to face up to. But if we can -- if we will -- then he will change our name, for we will be made new by his grace.

Let us pray.

Lord, we cannot fool you, but we're pretty good at fooling ourselves. Turn us as often as we try to escape, until we are facing the right direction -- where we face up to ourselves -- where we face you -- and our lives are healed. In the Name of Jesus Christ, in whom we are made new creatures, fit for your kingdom. Amen.
Tags: sermons
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