A Sermon for Series C Proper 24 2016 “Wrestling with God”

Old Testament Lesson  Genesis 32:22-30

Second Lesson  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Gospel Lesson  Luke 18:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Old Testament lesson just read.  [Gen. 32:22-30]

Have you ever wrestled with a small child; as a parent, or a grandparent, or maybe as an aunt or an uncle?  There’s a certain determination, a never-say-die attitude in young children that comes out in these mock battles.  Despite all odds; despite the huge advantage you have in size and strength, in experience and knowledge, in leverage and balance; the child never gives up.  Oh, they may take a breather now and then, but they never really stop.

Maybe it’s because we adults encourage them.  A little tickle here or there, faining defeat, falling down and letting that little one hold you down as if you’ve surrendered.  And the wrestling is always done with a smile on your face; a sure sign of the love you have for the child; the unique relationship you have with them, the caring, protecting, even defending embrace with which you hang on to them, even as they convince themselves of their ability to hold you down.

You wouldn’t wrestle like that with just anyone.  This wrestling is reserved for those who hold a special place in your heart.  Do you suppose that was the kind of wrestling that was going on in the Old Testament lesson today?

I guess it’s natural for us to assume it must have been.  I mean, we have the advantage of knowing the whole story of Jacob, and we know how God blessed him throughout his life; so it may seem to be a no-brainer to see this as the kind of wrestling that goes on between a loving parent and his little child; but let’s not overlook Jacob’s record.

This is Jacob, the who entered the world grabbing his brother’s heel, the one who tricked his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, the thief who deceived his aging, blind father and stole his brother’s blessing right from under his nose.  Could anyone that blatantly, openly sinful hold a special place in God’s heart?

A place so special that the Almighty God and Creator would wrestle with him, fain defeat and let himself be held down by such a scrawny, puny man as Jacob?  As strange as it seems, that’s exactly what God did.

God became weak so that Jacob could be strong.  God lost so that Jacob could win.  And how did God lose?  How did Jacob get the upper hand?  Jacob grabbed hold of God’s own Word …. Word with a capital W.

Jacob had wrestled with God’s own Son, God’s Word, and he used God’s own Word to hold God down and receive his blessing.

There’s a lesson for us in here.  You see, we’re all “Jacobs.”  We sin, and rather than acknowledging our sin, confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness, we, (like Jacob), try to deceive our Father; telling our Father that it’s not our fault; telling him that we’ll try harder next time, to do what’s right next time; telling him we deserve for him to look the other way this time because we did our best to follow his rules.

How do we expect God to react to this superficial response?  Will he do as we ask; or will he react angrily?  I mean, he is the almighty, all powerful God!  Will he turn his back on his deceitful children?  Will he take away his protection, his defense against the evils of the world by which he alone keeps us safe?  Or will his smile fade as we wrestle, and we find him forcefully grabbing hold of us, angrily punishing us for all the times we’ve failed to treat him with the respect that’s due him?

That’s what we deserve.  In our sin, our actions and our words tell God we’re done with him; they tell him we don’t need to be in that special place in his heart because we know what we’re doing, and we don’t need him.  We’d rather go it alone.

But God sees through our complaints and our rude sinfulness because God sees us through the lens of his Son’s cross; and God maintains that special place for us in his heart.  He continues to wrestle with us as a loving Father; with that special handling, that sure sign of the love he has for you because you’re his child.

God’s promised us, in his holy Word, that he’ll be our God even though, in our wrestling, we try our best to overpower him; to show him we’re the boss; to show him that in this struggle, we can defeat him.  And so, when we grab hold of his words, his promises, just like Jacob we can hold God down.

When, in our wrestling, we say to God, “But you said;” his very own words hold God down.  When we call on God to remember his promises to us, when we call on God in faith, he hears us because our words said in faith prove us to be his own dear children whom he loves.

His promises are the words by which God weakens himself so that you might be strong; the words by which you win this wrestling match and God loses.  God lost.  He lost his Son, covered in the sins of the world, your sin, as he died on the cross. He promised to lose so that you might win eternal life.

But God also wins.  As he lost his Son, he defeated sin death and the devil; a victory that was clear for all to see as his Son rose from the tomb; never to die again.

In Christ, God has spoken to you and told you that he forgives all your grabbing, all your deceit.  In Christ, God promises you an inheritance of life and salvation.  In Christ, God has been merciful to you and faithful to all the promises he made in holy Scripture.

We know this is true, because, just like Jacob, we have wrestled with man and with God, and because we’ve held on to God’s Word, just like Jacob, we’ve seen God face to face and we’ve been delivered.

In fact, it’s in seeing God face to face that our delivery is made secure.  And thanks be to God, we get to see him face to face often.  In our Baptism, we receive God’s Spirit into our hearts and we see God face to face, as he guides and directs us throughout our lives.  In the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we see God face to face, and our sins are forgiven and our inheritance is guaranteed.  And as we gather to worship, hearing God’s Word, we see him face to face and we grab hold of his promises, and we cling to them.

So remember, as you wrestle with God; your salvation is not in what you see.  He’ll allow himself to be weak so that you may be strong; he’ll lose so that you can win; but in reality, he is the Lord.  He is God Almighty and you win only because you are his child.  So don’t have faith in what appears to be your victory.  Have faith in his promises.  Have faith in his Word; in Christ Jesus, his Word incarnate, because it’s in his promises, it’s in his Son, and not in you apparent victory that you’re delivered.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle