COME AND SEE THE WORKS OF THE LORD, WHO SAYS, “BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD; I WILL BE EXALTED AMONG THE NATIONS, I WILL BE EXALTED IN THE EARTH.” THE LORD ALMIGHTY IS WITH US; THE GOD OF JACOB IS OUR FORTRESS (Psalm 46: 8, 10-11).
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP.
OPENING HYMN (CH-324) – BLEST IS THE MAN, O GOD, that stays himself on Thee; who wait for Thy salvation , Lord, shall Thy salvation see.
When we in darkness walk, nor feel the heavenly flame, then is the time to trust our God, and rest upon His Name.
Soon shall our doubts and fears subside at His control; His loving-kindness shall break through the midnight of the soul.
Wait till the shadows flee; wait thy appointed hour; wait till the Bridegroom of thy soul reveals His love with power.
LET US PRAY
LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, we come into Your presence reminded of Your greatness, Your holiness and Your love; conscious that we come into the presence of One vastly greater than ourselves; the creator of life and sustainer of the universe, of everything that is and has been and shall be. For all the ways You have guided us, and all the ways You continue to lead, we thank You. For the times we have found help through Your presence, the days when You have seen us through problems and difficulties, and the moments when You have been there to watch over us, we give You our praise. Come to us now, and direct our footsteps by Your Word so that we may live and work for Your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – GENESIS 32: 22-31.
THAT NIGHT JACOB GOT UP AND TOOK HIS TWO WIVES, HIS TWO MAIDSERVANTS AND HIS ELEVEN SONS AND CROSSED THE FORD OF THE JABBOK. AFTER HE HAD SENT THEM ACROSS THE STREAM, HE SENT OVER ALL HIS POSSESSIONS. SO JACOB WAS LEFT ALONE, AND A MAN WRESTLED WITH HIM TILL DAYBREAK. 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. THEN THE MAN SAID, “LET ME GO, FOR IT IS DAYBREAK.” BUT JACOB REPLIED, “I WILL NOT LET YOU GO UNLESS YOU BLESS ME.” THE MAN ASKED HIM, “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” “JACOB,” HE ANSWERED. THEN THE MAN SAID, “YOUR NAME WILL NO LONGER BE JACOB, BUT ISRAEL, BECAUSE YOU HAVE STRUGGLED WITH GOD AND WITH MEN AND HAVE OVERCOME.” JACOB SAID, “PLEASE TELL ME YOUR NAME.” BUT HE REPLIED, “WHY DO YOU ASK MY NAME?” THEN HE BLESSED HIM THERE. SO JACOB CALLED THE PLACE PENIEL, SAYING, “IT IS BECAUSE I SAW GOD FACE TO FACE, AND YET MY LIFE WAS SPARED.” THE SUN ROSE ABOVE HIM AS HE PASSED PENIEL, AND HE WAS LIMPING BECAUSE OF HIS HIP.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – ROMANS 11: 26-27.
… ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED, AS IT IS WRITTEN: “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION; HE WILL TURN GODLESSNESS AWAY FROM JACOB. AND THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.”
Most Christians gain greater clarity of their faith from time spent alone with God. Sometimes these lessons of faith come in struggles – struggling with problems of life, and struggling with the presence of God in times of need and trouble. It is like wrestling with God, when the only spiritual attitude remains to hang on, like Jacob did at the ford of the river Jabbok, in this strange but fascinating biblical story. The outcome of his wrestling with God finally brought blessing to Jacob, and will bring God’s blessing to all who are willing to face the godly encounter, the challenge of their faith whenever it arrives.
A FAR FROM PERFECT FAMILY OF ISAAC, SPARED SON OF ABRAHAM The story has its roots in the relationship between Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau, the first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob … Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob – says the Bible (Genesis 25: 25, 28). As the elder son, Esau enjoyed the privileges of the first born – the birth right and the blessing, but later, taking his birth right casually, Esau sold it to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. On an other occasion, Jacob deceived elderly Isaac into believing that he was Esau, and giving Esau’s blessing to Jacob. When Esau discovered the trick he swore to kill Jacob, who fled in time to save his life. On that first night of his run Jacob took one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying … and Jacob called that place Bethel, which means House of God (Genesis 28: 11-13, 19). Then Jacob made a vow that if he would return safely to his father’s house, the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s House (verse 22). This was Jacob’s first encounter with God; and the wrestling at the ford, as he was coming back into his father’s territories, the second.
JACOB WAS LEFT ALONE IN THAT SECOND NIGHT-TIME ENCOUNTER After a long time, deceiving his uncle and father-in-law, Jacob had to flee again. He decided to return to his country and relatives, namely to Esau, ready to face Esau and his past. That night – when he reached the boundaries of his homeland – Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak … then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Then He blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” (Genesis 32 22-30). It is a strange story of Jacob wrestling with God, but also it is a living picture, a foreshadow of the MANHOOD OF GOD IN CHRIST. Or it could be a picture of God who was wrestling as a father with a son – unwilling to exert full strength lest he hurt his son. In such a case, the father might be unable to prevail decisively against his son, because the father was unwilling to employ his full strength in that wrestling, having other plans. The whole event is covered in mystery: an event in the darkness, an event without any adequate description, but in the hiddenness of this story a godly reality emerges: God is accessible, and blessedness receivable. Three times during the encounter they spoke to each other. The MAN asked Jacob to let Him go, but Jacob refused to do so unless he received a blessing, then they asked for each other’s name. Three times there was a dialogue between them. The conversation in the story reminds us that in the midst of our struggles, we can talk with God, and He will talk to us. We are not really alone in our troubles; God is there with us, and we can communicate with Him at any time through prayer- as I like repeating so often, God is just a prayer away! Interestingly, Jacob did not always get the answer he wanted; and so it is with us when we pray and ask questions of God we do not get the answers we aim to receive. But the important thing is the dialogue- that the communication continues. In a Hungarian proverb, when a child kept on asking some simple questions, the mother wanted to silence him, but the father replied, – Let him ask questions, for this is how he can learn! While the talking/praying continues with God, the relationship remains intact. When we stop talking to God and when we stop listening to His Word, it is then that the relationship disappears, and we are truly left in the darkness. So let us keep talking and listening to God, no matter how breathless we are, no matter how tiring the wrestling has become. Keep praying and listening to God. KEEP THE RELATIONSHIP ALIVE! At the end God had the final Word and the final action: He blessed Jacob there, as His blessings are always available to all those who believe in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE OUTCOME OF THE WRESTLING-RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. The last we see of Jacob in this story is as he names the place Peniel, to represent his face-to-face encounter with God, and then limping away to be reminded of his new name, ISRAEL, which means, that he had struggled with God and with man and had overcome. The Jewish linguistic etymology gives an even more powerful translation to the word, as GOD STRUGGLES or GOD RULES. That is, Jacob did not only wrestle with God, but God wrestled with Jacob. God gave Jacob/Israel the blessing that Jacob had sought for such a long time. He obtained his father’s blessing by deceit, but God gave His blessing fully aware of Jacob’s identity and character, and changed his name. Shortly after this Jacob met up with his brother Esau in a surprisingly friendly encounter. That time Jacob said, Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need – and Esau accepted Jacob’s gift (Genesis 33: 11). In this sentence the Hebrew word translated “present” is in fact the same word that means “Blessing”, and being used in this very context when Jacob stole from Esau in the incident with their old and blind father Isaac. There is no escape from sins of the past, but only being forgiven by God and inheriting a New Name through the face-to-face encounter with Him. Jacob’s place of defeat became his place of victory. His hour of defeat became his hour of victory. So very often we look at our defeats as the end of the world. They can be for some, but never for a Christian, who through Jesus Christ INHERITED the Birth-right and the Blessing of our heavenly Father. This is our CHRISTIAN FAITH.
Sometimes lessons of our faith come when we are wrestling with God. Sometimes lessons of our faith come when we are prevailing. God allowed Jacob to prevail because he had to learn that he needed God’s blessing more than he wanted his brother’s – or his father’s – blessing. Sometimes lessons of faith come in defeat. Jacob saw God face-to-face at the cost of his limp which became a blessing itself. Sometimes God allow us to be wounded in our struggles to experience his blessing. It may be that things God allows, or does in our lives, appear to be a limp – a hurt, a trauma or even a frustration – but may turn into a blessing from Him later on.
Certainly, we all experience times when we feel as if we are wrestling with God. Many of us are marked by spiritual scars and wounds, but we should always remember the GROWTH OF FAITH God offers us in that process. So whenever we may be in the struggle – whether wrestling in darkness, asking questions of God, or walking away from struggle and carrying a limp as a result – there is a promise that comes to every one of us from this story. We may know afresh the transforming and healing Love of God, which is SALVATION through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
LORD GOD, OUR LOVING HEAVENLY FATHER, we thank You that we can worship You, speak with You, learn from You, so that we may be equipped to serve You better. Help us to recognise the variety of gifts You have given us, the many different skills and abilities represented here, and help us to understand how these can be used most effectively, both here and in the wider world. Help us to be opened to You and to one another, to love You through loving one another, to serve You through serving one another. May the sincerity and warmth of our congregation be a living testimony to the transforming power of Christ, and may it spread over into all our daily relationships. Help us to recognise the wider family of which we are a part, the other churches of our town and country, churches in other lands, and the Church Universal. Open our minds to all that we can give and receive, to everything we can learn from those who have gone before us, and to our own responsibilities as part of the great company of Your people. Be with our world; with all those who wrestle with the problems of everyday life, personal problems, or troubles like Coronavirus that affects the whole present humanity. We remember Jacob today, a trickster and a cheat as he experienced a life changing moment at the ford of Jabbok. One touch of Your hand, one word from Your mouth, and life was never the same again for him. Touch us, speak to us, and let us speak with You, Lord, that our lives may be changed forever for the better. We pray for those for whom events in the world at large seem to deny Your love – those confronted with human and natural disasters, saddened by the loss of loved-ones, crushed by sickness, suffering and disease, and perplexed by the apparent victory in so many places of evil over good. Be with them and give them comfort, healing, support and above all, faith. Meet with those who find it hard to meet with You, and bless all those whom we now name quietly in our hearts … through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-689) – NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE, nearer to Thee! Ev’n though it be a cross that raiseth me, still all my song would be, nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee!
Though, like a wanderer, the sun gone down, darkness be over me, my rest a stone, yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee!
There let the way appear steps unto heaven, all that Thou send’st to me in mercy given, angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee!
Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise, out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise, so by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee!
Or if on joyful wing cleaving the sky, sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly, still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Nearer to Thee!
MAY THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL (2 Corinthians 13: 14)
Sandor, your Minister.