Genesis 32: 22-31
Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
22 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. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Romans 9: 1-5
God’s Election of Israel
9I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Matthew 14: 13-21
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Jacob, this man of God:
- chosen yet apologetically entering the land of his birth,
- called yet moving forward nervously,
- burdened with the promises of God yet fearful of his brother Esau,
- rich yet empty handed,
- blessed yet injured.
There are few figures in Scripture more redolent with pathos than this image of the prodigal Jacob returning home.
Cold, weary and injured from the night’s struggle, he’s bravely carrying out his God’s command to return to the place in which God intended to work out his purposes for humankind.
Jacob is a somewhat inglorious link in the familial chain that began with Abraham and was yet to blossom into the people bearing his new name (Israel), a people designed to bring God’s light to the nations and eventually to usher in Jesus, the Messiah.
He is an unlikely hero:
- his mother’s favourite,
- someone who didn’t venture far from the family encampment,
- a sly and smooth-skinned deceiver
who fled from his brother’s understandable anger to seek refuge with an uncle who took advantage of him for close on twenty years before he managed to escape and head back to the land of Canaan. Jacob’s great advantage was that he had the calling of God on his life. Otherwise, well, I don’t think he’d have received much profile in the pages of Scripture other than as an example of what not to emulate.
But this particular morning we see the survivor hobbling along and being warmed by the morning sun.
Why do we feel some sympathy for Jacob? We’ve just been through a number of chapters watching two scurrilous fellows, in Jacob and his uncle, trying to outdo one another. Laban has thoroughly exploited his nephew and Jacob has managed to leave with most of the farm’s livestock along with his uncle’s household gods. And no-one can condone the cynical manner in which Jacob deceived both his brother and his father Isaac. He’s not a particularly nice person.
I don’t think we feel for him because he’s struggling along with a sore hip in the face of danger, though that may play a small part in it.
I think deep down we sympathise with Jacob because, as is the case on all such emotive occasions, we see ourselves in him. We know that we are far from perfect. We know that much of the craven character of Jacob still resides to some degree in all of us.
But even more pertinently, as Christians, we like Jacob are called by God. We too are undeserving of the grace of God, a grace bestowed upon us through the agonising death of Jesus. Paul tells the Church in Rome For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5: 10). Like Jacob we have been saved by the grace of God. We know we’re not here on our own merits.
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, (John 15: 16) Jesus tells his disciples.
Paul tells the Church in Ephesus that He (that is, God) chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1: 4a) We’ve not earned anything. Surprisingly, it is not we who have called upon God. Rather God has called us. Like Jacob we are embraced by God!
As Christians we identify with Jacob for a number of reasons, but identify we do.
The world has taught us that success should be spectacular, that we should feelsuccessful but most of us have no such experience. Most of us take comfort in the adage that nine tenths of success is just turning up each day.
Jacob’s early life is anything but successful. This in spite of his being called by God to the great task of carrying the Abrahamic torch. This is pretty much how most of us feel too. We know that as Christians we too are called by God, but how well do we respond to the great task to which we are assigned?
In other words, we’re on the same team and we’re in the same condition as Jacob, essentially. There not by our own merit, and tasked with the work of conveying God’s blessing, a job that doesn’t appear to be going all that well.
But I think the real reason we have a degree of empathy for the forlorn figure of Jacob is that like him we have hope! We’re not giving up!
I said earlier that Jacob was an unlikely hero.
- Do you consider him to be a hero at all?
- How do you feel about Jacob as he limps along in the early morning sun?
- As you listened to the reading, were you supportive of his having been chosen by God or did you feel that he was unfairly favoured?
- To what extent do you in fact empathise with him at all?
You see the degree to which you appreciate Jacob as a flawed but courageous instrument of God’s purposes, is probably the degree to which you appreciate your own call as a Christian. Jacob had no guarantee Esau would not kill him. His calling had not kept trouble at bay thus far, but he kept going in hope.
Jacob represents the small and the fallible in the face of the great and perfect; undeservedly loved, with a less than perfect track record yet carrying the responsibility of agency.
In our Gospel reading Jesus takes the bread and fish offered to him. Secondly, he blesses them. Thirdly, he breaks them and fourthly, gives them to the people. We’ve seen this four-step pattern in Jacob. He holds fast in the struggle with the angel, and in the process is blessed, broken and goes out to fulfil his calling.
He becomes more than a symbol. He becomes a sacrament. In his engagement he is blessed. In his brokenness he is equipped, and in his going out he becomes a purveyor of the blessing of God.
You and I are ordinary people, but we serve an extraordinary God who makes significant use of people just like Jacob; just like us. The pattern is there to be repeated. We may not feel successful, but when we engage with God he can take us and bless us. When we allow our self-sufficiency to be broken by him and we limp on our way with the sunshine of hope on our backs, we become purveyors of the blessing of God.
It is only hope that keeps us going. Even faith is closely linked to hope. So smile kindly upon Jacob. He was determined to keep walking in his calling. We’re still in train. We have some way to go.
Therefore let us pray for one another, as Paul did for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1: 18) I pray, wrote Paul, that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, And that glorious inheritance is not pie in the sky in the bye and bye. It’s the privilege of ministry now for by virtue of our baptism we are all called to ministry.
31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Whatever Penuels you may have experienced, don’t rest on your laurels there. Pass on by to fulfil your calling as Jacob did.
Don’t give up on developing your ministry. Don’t fear failure. The very pain you feel – the limitations you experience – may in fact be evidence of the touch of God.
Jacob had work to do as the bearer of the promises of blessing God had made to his grandfather Abraham. We have work to do as those who are commissioned to bear the promises of blessing in the Gospel. You’ll notice Jacob didn’t stand basking in the sun. He was moving on, getting on with the job.
As I farewell Holy Trinity today, my greatest desire for each one of you is that you would ask God for new opportunities to serve Him; that you would not rest until each of you has found a definite role to play in serving your fellows in Christ. We are Jesus’ hands and feet, he has no Plan B, and he doesn’t do well as a disembodied head. The Body of Christ needs your ministry, no matter how small or how large. God does not look for ability. He looks for availability. What is God calling you to today?
You have good reason to think only of success in your ministry. You have been called, so feel the sunshine of hope in your life, for, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1, 3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
10Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.
Charmaine and I have just returned from the annual Diocesan Synod in Waitangi.
There we heard much of Ruatara who welcomed Samuel Marsden to his pa at Oihi where the gospel was first preached on Christmas Day in 1814 – 200 years ago.
Contrary to the opinion of some, Ruatara was conflicted about welcoming the missionaries. He feared what the pakeha would do to Maori and his fears were well founded as history plainly tells us.
But he wanted the agricultural technology the missionaries offered and he took the chance.
We visited Oihi Bay and the Marsden Cross; and the site, I was pleased to see, is being referred to as the Gateway to the Gospel, as it was only a gateway. The first missionaries were a fractious lot. It took the arrival of the energetic and disciplined Henry Williams for things to take off.
Christmas Day 1814 at Oihi was the Penuel experience for the gospel in New Zealand. But, like Jacob, the work moved on. It was taken further by Henry Williams and others.
Let us all, with the sunshine of hope upon our backs, move on and develop the roles God has called us to.
Feel the sunshine, yes, but don’t stop to bask. Move on, for God has more for each one of us.
God bless you