(Click HERE to listen to this story.)
Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Jacob Wrestles with God – Identity vs Behavior”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Through the Written Word,
And the spoken word,
May we know Your Living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Anybody here ever order a drink at a Starbuck’s (or, really ANY coffee place), and when they ask your name so they can write it on your order – they get it really wrong? And while there may be several ways to misspell your name correctly (how many ways are there to spell “Caitlin”?), here are a few classics from Starbuck’s:
= Air Inn = Erin
= Angry = Ingrid
= Wong = Juan
= Auntie = Andie
= Fibi = Phoebe
= A-Me = Amy
= Missle = Michelle
= Panellipie = Penelope
= Mad-ah-Lynn = Madeline
Marc (with a C) = Cark
Fortunately, our identities are not defined by misspelled names on coffee cups – nor are we defined by what we do – what we do gives shape to our identity, but it does not define it out right.
In our current Sermon Series we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – favorite Bible stories, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about a man who discovers his identity in a very peculiar way.
In this series we have read the stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and a few Abraham and Isaac and Jacob stories.
I invite you to turn with me today, and to listen to, Genesis 32:22-32 (Pp. 23). Hear the Word of God …. —-
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob (Jacob means “one who lies, deceives, cheats, tricks, to get what he wants”), but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Israel means “struggles/wrestles with God”).”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel (“God’s face”), saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
This is a story about how one who is known for his cheating gets a new identity as one who faces God squarely, even when he struggles to get it right.
It’s not the first time someone in the Bible gets a new name. Abram’s name changed to Abraham, from “high father” to “father of a multitude”; and Sarai became Sarah (“my princess” to “mother of nations”). In the New Testament, Jesus changed Simon’s name (“Hear” or “Listen”) to Peter (“Rock”) and Saul’s name to Paul (“Ask or Inquire” to “Small or Humble”).
None of those names were terrible names to begin with, except maybe Jacob – high father, princess, listen, ask; but their new identities all define some quality as they relate to Almighty God – as the fulfillment of God’s promises, strength in God, one who find’s God’s strength in his own weakness – and one who wrestles with God! (Johnny, I was so glad when I saw that you were singing today’s Special Music song, because you love wrestling!)
What does God do with this good for nuthin, low-down, cheatin, lyin’, birthright thievin’, blessing stealin’, piece of no-good sin-ness? He reminds him that his real identity is found in God!
It’s not that Jacob’s sins don’t have an effect on his future – they do. Life circumstances change the way we live. Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, is left for dead by his brothers, is sold into slavery, is sexually assaulted, is arrested and convicted when he is innocent – all of that carried into his future – but his identity is not in any of his victim status – he is the one who saves the Israelites.
Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego are all taken captive, accused of treason, and sentenced to death by lions or by fire – but their identity is as God’s chosen.
We all carry some kind of hardship, choices we’ve made, terrible things that have happened to us, or simply the adversities of life.
Jacob had acted in terrible ways. But, God called him His own.
Have you done things that make you think you’re not good enough for God’s love?
Are you a survivor of sexual assault?
Are their drug abuses in your life?
Have chronic or terminal diseases stolen your health and well- being?
Do you feel like a loser because you aren’t as successful as someone else? (I am a little embarrassed to admit here that this is one of my personal feelings of unworthiness – I thought I would pastor a church of several hundred by this time in my life…..)
Friends, you are not the loser you feel like; you are more than just the cancer or Diabetes or Chrones that gives you turmoil; you are not just the drugs in your system or the money in your bank; your identity is not in your #MeToo hurts and fears; your bad choices, sad choices, sin choices, while they may lead you down some dark alleys and difficult life places, they do not define your identity – you are a Child of God.
After 60 years of marriage – after 6 days of marriage – becoming a widow, pained, lonely, lost = is not your identity. Being divorced, or never married = is not your identity.
After 40 years of work – reaching retirement = does not define your identity.
Being laid off, unemployed, without a paycheck or an address = is not your identity.
On the positive sides, working as a nurse, being in charge of linemen, serving customers, teaching students, overseeing operations, managing an office, handling transportation means … = is not your identity.
These are things we do. These are things that happen to us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples in the Kingdom of God, as people called by God and filled with the Holy Spirit = we are Children of the Living God! You are a Daughter of the King, a Son of the Almighty!
Because of that, in Christ Jesus, we can endure all things and live in the power of the Almighty!
God loves you, and He longs to give that love to you.
Whenever I go to a place that asks my name to call when my order is ready, I often do one of two things – give them the name of the person in our group whose name is the hardest to spell (or which might have the most variant spellings), or I give them the same name as the person just ahead of me in line (I guess that’s Identity Theft…). My identity is not defined by how the barista spells my name – And to that end, even our Starbuck’s baristas aren’t identified by their terrible spelling errors. Are you a Child of God? Rest in that everlasting identity, that unstealably secure identity, written in the Book of Life!
Thank You, YHWH God, for claiming us with the cross; for inviting us to call You our Heavenly Father; for adopting us as Your very own children. You call us Your own, and we want to anchor our lives into that identity, always. Thank You for Jesus; in His name we pray, Amen.