+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Genesis 32:30
Theme: Struggle and Blessing
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God is not secretive. Yet His blessings are often wrapped in mystery. As we live in the tension of already being God’s redeemed children but not yet being released from the effects of sin, life inevitably involves struggle. Satan seeks to hide God’s promises and blessings from our sight. He wants to create doubt. He has no ability to derail God’s plans but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Often we allow ourselves to be easy targets because we are so absorbed with the mundane issues of life. We may find ourselves wondering what happened to God.
“Out of sight out of mind.” You’ve probably said it yourself many times; undoubtedly you’ve experienced the truth that it contains. It is easy to lose track of, lose focus on, or forget about all together things that are not in our immediate field of vision or have no triggers to recall our attention to them. We have limited capacity. The age of technology is meant to assist us but it can also confuse us and give us a false sense of being organized. Think how many millions of dollars of super have been lost track of which if people had right in their grasp they would never let go of! But out of sight out of mind!
Today the patriarch Jacob is an intriguing example of struggling with the hiddenness of God’s blessings. Afraid of the imminent meeting with his brother Esau whom he had deceived out of his birthright Jacob put his affairs in order and settled in for the night. There Jacob was alone. He had sent his family and possessions ahead in preparation for appeasing his brother. That night he wrestled with God. The exact nature of the encounter is hard to visualize. It is certainly described as a physical tussle. We can see in it an analogy for the struggle of faith.
It’s important to realize that it’s our sinfulness that makes faith a struggle at all. Were we not blinded by love for self and love for idols our trust in God would be unimpeded. If we claim that our trust in God never meets with any challenge or misgiving then we are only fooling ourselves. Your sin cannot be lightly passed over and faith that is only a mental exercise or religious association is not authentic. Christ came for real sinners and to believe that we are real sinners and Christ is the real Saviour is exactly where the struggle lies. Only the Holy Spirit can bridge that chasm.
At the end of the encounter Jacob had his named changed to Israel. Implicit in the name is the idea of struggle. It becomes the covenant name for God’s people. The Israelites become the people blessed by God since the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, though the promise of deliverance goes back to Adam and Eve. St. Paul refers to the New Testament church also as “the Israel of God.”1 Jews do not become Gentiles, but in the proper spiritual sense Gentiles become Jews, true believers. Strictly secular Jews however, are excluded from the benefits of the covenant because of their rejection of the Messiah. Baptismal water is thicker than Jewish blood.
More importantly, Jesus becomes Israel reduced to one. He alone embodies faithfulness to Yahweh. In Him is reconstituted the true church and in Him humanity is re-ordered. Christ is the new Adam, the ruler par excellance in the line of David, the prophet that supersedes Moses and the true heir of Abraham. As the second, or new Adam He restores the image of God. As the King in David’s line He rules over an eternal kingdom that eliminates all sin, death, and decay. As the greatest of all prophets He is the Word become flesh who continues to proclaim His gospel of salvation through word and sacrament. As the seed of Abraham He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant forged with His own blood. Christ “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”2
Christ is your Lord and Master, but He is the Servant King. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”3 That was a radical message for His age. To the extent that it doesn’t sound radical to us credit is due to centuries of Christian influence on society. The concept of rulers understanding their vocations as one of service is a thoroughly Christian understanding of leadership. Culture is quickly departing again from that understanding. Modern humanistic philosophies of the welfare state and their claims to be motivated by compassion have only superficial similarities. Secular humanism recognizes no objective truth, is answerable to no higher power, and fears no divine judgment. The power of coercion is finally how it rules. Might makes right. We’re seeing already that policy isn’t necessarily driven by consensus or democratic processes, but rather by those who have the means and the will to push their agenda on others.
One of the greatest misunderstandings of Christians is to correlate faith with a life of ease or success. Temporal prosperity is not a promised reward of faith. Perhaps you’ve heard it before: If only your faith is strong enough you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If only you’re obedient you will be spared from trial and struggle. Wrong! No! Not even close! The Bible teaches exactly the opposite correlation. Obedience to God will bring conflict with the world.
God’s blessings are often revealed most clearly in the midst of struggle. In fact, sometimes that’s the only way we see them at all. Precious metal is purified by extreme heat. Faith is refined as it passes through the crucible of life’s trials. Testing helps us sort out our priorities and reminds us who and what we believe in. What does the Redeemer say? The One who delivers His people? “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”4
Jacob called the place where He wrestled with God Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”5 Dear friends, you will see God face to face. The Scripture says this of the saints in glory, “They will be with His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”6 But even now God’s baptized people see Him in the person of His Son. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”7 And not only with the eyes of faith but with the mouth and tongue you meet Him as you receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
Just as we can call this place Bethel, meaning ‘house of God’ so too we can call it Peniel, meaning ‘face of God’. How appropriate that we are sent out into God’s mission field to live as His witnesses with those words of blessing- words which denote our reconciliation with Him- that have rung in His people’s ears for thousands of years, “The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”8 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Galatians 6:16 2 Romans 4:25 3 Matthew 20:28
4 John 16:33 5 Genesis 32:30 6 Revelation 21:3-4
7 2 Corinthians 4:6
8 Number 6:25-26
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
3 August 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt