Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

Readings: Genesis 32:22-32 | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 | Matthew 15:21-28

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

One of our world’s favorite questions is to ask, “Where is God?” When the floods rage, where is your God? When the tornadoes touch down, where is your God? When tidal waves destroy, when earthquakes level cities, or people die, where is your God? “I thought He was good. I thought He was all-powerful. I thought He loved you.”

In fact, why wait for the big things. What about when it happens in your life? When a loved one dies, where is your God? When you find out you have cancer, where is your God? When you can’t make ends meet, when everything goes wrong, when you hurt most of all, where is your God?

It’s a good question to ask, really. Because we don’t bother with where God is until something terrible comes up. Everyday routine stuff, what’s God have to do with that? I don’t go looking for God every time I write a check, or wash my hair. I don’t go looking for God when I put on my pajamas or watch an evening sitcom. I don’t go looking for God when the 49ers take the field…except when they lose the Super Bowl. Well, maybe then. But that’s different. For the most part, we can handle it on our own.

Jacob was also pretty good at handling things on his own. He skillfully negotiated Esau’s birthright out from under him for a bowl of stew without any help. Jacob and his Mom got Dad to give him the blessing instead of Esau without a single prayer. He convinced his future father-in-law to let him marry his daughter just on his own skills. He convinced his father-in-law to let him marry his other daughter after his father-in-law conned him into the ugly one—poor, unloved Leah. He came up with that plan all by himself. When he was only allowed to keep the defective sheep for his flock, he managed to breed them all to look  defective. When He heard his brothers-in-law were jealous enough to hurt him, He got his family the heck out of Dodge. And as we see in this text, when Esau’s on his way, he’s got an escape route all planned out, just in case things go south.

Jacob talks a big game about God. He’ll say that God blessed him with this. That God was looking out for him in that. That God is a really great guy. But you know? It’s been the Jacob show all along. And now, Esau has small army. And Esau was looking to kill him not that long ago. And Esau isn’t going to be bribed out of his anger. And even just sending the women and children across the river is only buying time. So Jacob, where is your God now?

Right in front of him, trying to pop him in the teeth. It’s funny, the word for wrestle in Hebrew: אבק. It literally means to kick up dust. And I think both meanings are intended here. Jacob has a history of turning tail. But God’s not going to let him go this time.

But now? Can’t you go wrestle Esau instead? This is the worst possible time, God. And God does come at the worst possible time. For Jacob, and for us. Can’t you wait until I’m ready? Can’t you wait until I’ve got time to deal with you? Our moment might not be a life and death showdown with Esau. But it’s often not far from that. It’s when there’s too much going on. Too much to handle. And we need to be completely on top of our game if we’re going to get through it.

It’s then that God gets up in our faces. Wrenches our hip out of socket. Breaks us in such a way that we just can’t do it anymore. Why?! And why now, God?! To teach us some divine object lesson? To show us that we need Him for everything? To knock us off our high horse? Humiliate us into bowing our heads? Perhaps. He’s there to tell Jacob, and tell you that, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Prevailed? Let me get this straight. God comes down, puts Jacob in a headlock, breaks his hip, all to tell Jacob that Jacob wins? God makes a trainwreck of my life, turns everything upside down, hurts me badly, all to tell me I win? How does that make any sense? I could understand it if he wanted to show me that I need Him. I could understand if He wanted to me to keep my eyes on Him at all times. I could understand if He wanted me to pray more, get Him more involved in my life, and stop doing it alone. True, He exercises our faith to that goal. But God uses that place and that time to give Jacob a message: You have already prevailed. It’s a message to us: You have already prevailed.

When you’re used to doing it on your own, it can be overwhelming when you can’t. When you’ve relied on only yourself and your own means, it’s frightening when there’s nothing left. When you’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps all your life, it’s absolutely crushing when there’s nowhere left to pull. You cannot win. You cannot prevail. So God has to tell you that you already have…yet not in a way that you can rest in your hard work.

Because Jesus died on your behalf. Jesus rose again for you. Jesus won. Jesus prevailed. Yes, He did. Sin, death and Hell, He conquered them all. Sin is overcome, because He carried all that sin with Him when He died. Death is undone, because it couldn’t hold Him when He rose on the third day. Hell is beaten, because He unlocked its gates and set the captives free. Satan is vanquished, all because of Jesus. Not us. Jesus.

So how can God tell us that we’ve already prevailed? Because Jesus has already given all this to you. It’s certainly not because you were always there. Not because you leaned on Him at the right time. (that would be a lie) Not because you had a good relationship with Him. You have overcome because God gives. He gives even to those who aren’t really good at doing the right thing–even to those like Jacob the swindler in our text.

That’s an incredible comfort for us. In a world that is so geared toward one’s own getting ahead. We see this in the wrestling of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel (Matt. 15:21-28). She comes to Jesus, and it seems like He’s her enemy. What’s up with Jesus’ responses? Saying He hasn’t been sent to her, implying that she’s a dog, and pushing her off these three times?

But in her responses, we see faith—the gift of God—at work. Look at them:

  • “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
  • But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
  • “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

As strange as this sounds, this is the work of faith. Faith doesn’t come to God boasting about how much we’ve done for God. It doesn’t count the hours we’ve agonized for those for whom we’ve kept vigil. Faith doesn’t expect that God should move heaven and earth because of something in us. No, faith comes in humility before God-in-the-flesh.

There’s a song that’s making the rounds right now that goes,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours…
What You say of me, I believe” [1]

What if God were to say to you, “You don’t deserve His goodness”? “You are of no account, and ‘I have mercy on whom I have mercy’?” [Exodus 33:19] What if God calls you a dog, begging from the table? What faith says is, Yes and Amen. And in that confession, as weak as it sounds, you have the victory.

Jesus has given you His death and resurrection, and because you have that, God is right. You have already prevailed. Whatever you face in life, whatever the world does to you, and whatever Satan would use against you. You have already prevailed. In faith, you have faced off with God, and God has declared you the winner. What can anything else do to take that away?

None of the things that matter before God can be taken forever. The resurrection is coming. And we look forward to that with all our hearts. To our eyes, and to the eyes of those around us, it doesn’t look like victory. Does it ever look like defeat and Pollyannaism! Faith looks foolish to the unbelieving. But to the faithful, we trust that God has the victory; that God is true and we will say Amen to Him even though all others scoff. In the meantime, when the world asks, “Where is your God.” You have an answer. He’s right here, giving me Jesus.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lauren Daigle – “You Say”


Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) (Genesis 32:23-33)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) + March 17, 2019

Text: Genesis 32:23-33

In Hebrews 11, the Apostle defines what faith is: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Hebrews 11:1-2).  We don’t see God, but we believe on account of His Word.  We see the world as it is, not as God first made it, and not as it will be.

But that’s a hard road to walk, because while we believe the world belongs to God, and so do our own lives, we see so much evidence to the contrary. 

Take for instance Jacob in the Old Testament lesson.  Jacob wrestled with the God who had made great promises to Him, but at the moment, he was going into tremendous danger, toward his brother Esau.  He lived between the reality of what he knew and what God had told him.  Earlier in chapter 32, Jacob prays,

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)

That’s how it is for us as well, because our faith is often in conflict with the observable facts (and our perception of those facts).

In the First Article of the Creed, we confess God to be the one who has gifted us with life and limb, and He is the provider for all that we need in this body and life.  However, isn’t it a major occupation of ours to second guess that truth?  When we see someone who lacks in these first article gifts, we think, Hey God, what about them?  As when we see the riches of food and medical care for us, but people in other corners who barely scrape by or have to go without.

When things aren’t given to us (and maybe to someone else instead)—or worse what we have is taken from us—then we can be indignant toward God and doubt His sovereign rule and boundless love. 

But living by faith is not first about what our eyes see, but what we believe from the Word of God: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time; You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16-17) In light of this truth, when we see people who have been robbed or cheated of what they need to live, that’s when Christians are called upon to intervene with acts of charity.  Yes, the world is full of examples which preach against the truth that God provides. That’s why Jesus says, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16) because in providing for those in need and those abandoned, you’re setting right the Father’s provision and mercy, in spite of the evil that’s befallen them.

The Second Article is even more about faith.  We’re taught by Scripture to believe that we are lost and condemned persons, that sin and death are blights upon creation and ourselves.  But day after day, we’re indoctrinated with the idea that people are sophisticated animals.  If there is morality, it’s only because people before us have taught us to think that way.  And if that’s the case, we can live however we want—do what we want as long as it’s not illegal (and we don’t get caught), think whatever we want (unless our own quest for personal improvement tells us otherwise), say whatever comes to mind (unless we care how it would affect others).  This narrative considers religious people to be an oddity, surely not the work of anything supernatural.  They must just be infatuated with tradition and mystic thought.  This existence without objective sin and accountability, without a solid answer to the meaning of death, leaves people empty.

Whenever we come together as the Church in such a world, it is for sanctuary, for refreshment in what is true.  We gather around the Word of the Lord because only He can see us and the world we live in without the fog of human and demonic deceit.  So, enter sanctuary with Him and say, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”

By faith, we don’t only believe that we are sinners, failures, condemned to die.  We believe in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin and the hopeless march toward the grave.  With His holy, precious blood, He has purchased us to belong to God—out of this rotting world—and given us a hope and a future.  The Father does not condone the evils we have done, yet He has mercy on us by counting the righteous life of Jesus for us, so before the unseen God, we are counted innocent and blessed.

We also believe that this salvation isn’t just at work in us, but all over the world.  Now, granted, the world is a big place to imagine, so when we hear St. John say, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), it’s a little hazy.  But this matters to us because of the part of the world God has put us in—our family, our friends, the community we live in.  When we see apathy toward God’s Word, ungodly living, people missing from the pews, it’s a painful challenge to us.  When we hear discouraging news from around the country—that all the major protestant churches are seeing declines in membership[1]—we can start to doubt the effectiveness of God’s Word in people’s hearts.

But hoping against temporal facts and experience is what faith does.  When Jesus says that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against the Church and the confession of His Name, that’s the truth that endures in spite of people’s fickle hearts and membership trends.  “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  And this is why the Church in every place does well to pin their hope and trust firmly in the means of grace—the Word of God, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  This is how God has promised His Spirit is at work and His Kingdom will come, so this is where our faith relies on Him to accomplish it.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Faith is the assurance and conviction in what God has spoken, and His Word endures forever.[2]  But faith does one more thing: It holds God to His Word.  That’s what Jacob was doing as he wrestled with God, and that’s what the Canaanite woman was doing with Jesus.  In spite the immediate facts, these examples of faith held God accountable to His Word.

So, as we move though this temporal life, this world that is not as God made it and not what it will one Day be, we cling to God and keep on Him to do what He says He will, today and to eternity.  That’s the basis for prayer, which we will hear more about next Lord’s Day.  Amen.


[2] Isaiah 40:8

Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) (Genesis 32:22-32)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) + February 25, 2018
Text: Genesis 32:22-32

When you pray, do you ever wish you had some extra influence, something that would help God see things your way?  I know I do, when I’m praying for someone I love to make it through surgery, or for a difficult circumstance to turn around, or for a friend who’s wandered from the faith.
24And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.” (Genesis 32:24–29)
Prayer is like this wrestling match which Jacob had with God.  But with respect to God, we are not working with an equal, another man.  And this encounter teaches us the differences.
First, God comes to us; we don’t start the contact.  Jacob did not say to himself, “Tonight, I will get in touch with the God of my fathers.”  God is the Creator, we are His creatures. He is the Potter, we are the clay.  He wants that connection with us, but He is the one who initiates.
When God appears to His own, it’s always passive on our part.  Genesis 12:7, God appears to Abram, would better be translated “He showed Himself to Abram.”
How much more is this the case since sin severed our spiritual ties with Him!  Because of sin, our spiritual condition is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), but God, who is rich in mercy “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5).
Second, God gives us a position with Him by giving us a name.  A name change is a big deal.  You only do it at great turning points in life—when your marital status changes or when a child is adopted.  When your name is changed, it’s because you have a new identity. Jacob received a new identity before God.  That name change happened because God was adopting him as His own.
When God comes to us, He gives us a new name by which we are known to Him.  That’s what Baptism is: God gives you His own name by which He calls you—the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).  That name change comes with a new identity when we become adopted children of God through Jesus Christ.
Finally, God blesses those He has come to and adopted.  We started out with God coming to us, dead in our sins and He made first contact.  In love, He adopts us as His beloved children and gives us a place with Him.  Now come the blessings, because we have God Almighty as our Father, we have all that we need.  He freely provides for the need of our bodies, defends us against danger, and guards us against evil.
33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Why is this? Because we wrestled better than others?  Certainly not!  God is the greater, and He comes down to us in love.  We don’t need to “strong arm” God to see things our way. Instead, He teaches us what is truly best by caring for all our needs for this life and into eternity. Amen.
Jacob likewise tries to get the upper hand on God: What is your name?  Tell me a secret by which I might leverage you.  God’s name is not evoked like Beetlejuice; it is given. Jacob asks his name, seeking the upper hand (the winning pin).  He refuses, and it is enough that He is the God of Israel.  To us He has revealed His Name in Christ, but He maintains the upper hand and He is our God by grace. God has the upper hand, and yet the life of Jacob/Israel is saved (NTSL, passive).