We tend to think of blessings as rainbows and unicorns. We think of blessings as healthy births and pleasant exchanges. We want to think of blessings with pleasing arrivals and lovely moments. Perhaps, we need to reconsider the biblical connection to blessings.
Blessing is more than the expression of gratitude. To say that God has blessed you or to ask God’s blessing on someone, is to ask for more of God or to be more aware of God’s presence. Let’s take the example of holding a simple apple in your hand. Our Jewish brothers and sisters lead us here. One of their blessings transliterated to English sounds like this: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.” This is not just thank you for creating apples. It is “Your presence in this world has been made that much greater, has increased, through this fruit You created that I am about to enjoy.” Simply put, in this apple, I see you, God.1
The same is true when I bless my children before they go to sleep at night, when I reflectively say God Bless You, after someone sneezes, and when I prayerfully write those words in an email or in a card. I am saying, May God increase in you and through you.
May God increase in and through you is the kind of thing, some times you must wrestle for. As we have been reading through the book of Genesis together, we have seen this. We have watched our forefathers and foremothers in the faith as they have had to wrestle for their blessings. But nowhere have we seen it as literally as our reading today.
Jacob is leaving the area to avoid his ongoing conflict with his brother Esau. After settling everyone else, Jacob goes off by himself. The night is coming, and the restlessness is upon him. You know this. You know what it is like, when no matter what you try, your mind is going. It is figuring and plotting, analyzing, and wondering, worrying and speculating. There are such things that wrestle with you. Things that will not let you go.
In the midst of the dark of night, with fear of brother, with dear of what lurks in the dark, Jacob wrestled with God. And God did not take it easy. Not unlike when you find out the kid does play a game just fine, and you begin to play like two equally matched gamers. God did not give Jacob an advantage. No, God came on strong and stayed strong. With take downs and pins, Jacob was fighting for his life – breath caught in his mouth. The wrestling was back and forth, like any good match. Moments of intense charge and aggression. Moments of almost holding the moment in intimacy.
Then, when Jacob had no more to give – when the pain was too much, when the exhaustion overtook reason- then he heard the voice of God. God, who had wrestled all night long and displaced his hip, said, “Let me go.” Where I wonder did Jacob find the moxie and the spunk to demand a blessing? But he did. Jacob would not let God go without a blessing. God asked Jacob his name, in the same way we ask parents a child’s name before they are baptized. Before the blessing, Jacob is asked to recall who he has been. Wrestling with God changes us. In the act of blessing Jacob, God gives Jacob a new name, Israel. “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
Seeing the face of God changed Jacob. He was forever different. A man known as a con and a trickster became the father of the tribes of Israel. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
Our best blessings come from wrestling matches with God. When we think our children will be taken from us, when we imagine that our health no longer has the full vibrancy it had, when we hold on to every penny that has been given us. We wrestle with God. We posit our understanding and explain why we must be right. We feel it in our souls that the debate is not done yet.
God has always let God’s self be available for wrestling. God does not resist us, when we want to wrestle. When we have questions of faith. When we doubt who God is or how God will show up. When wonder about how God will respond in the challenges. God is always there. Always ready to wrestle. Where are you wrestling with God?
When our heart is tugged to be a part of a small group and all we can hear in our mind are the limitations. Where will I find the time? Do I know enough about the Bible? Who will be a part of it? We tug, and we wrestle. Check the box with fear and trembling and hang in for your blessing.
When you and your spouse can not agree on how much to give, whether or not to tithe, or exactly how you should understand giving to the church. When you are worried how you will have enough? How will you come to a mutual agreement? Hang in for the blessing.
When your heart gets excited about serving others, but your mind lists all the reasons that it will not work. We tug and we wrestle. Check the box with fear and trembling and hang in for your blessing.
As you prepare to make a commitment this morning, let me invite you to wrestle and hang in for the blessing. You will have received a commitment card as you walked in today. If not, our ushers can make sure you receive one. Some of you will have received them in the mail. Others will not have yet. While the church office mailed them weeks ago via bulk mail, the post office has not yet delivered all of them. Our apologies for that delay. Prayerfully, I ask you to consider your giving and serving. For those who wish to reflect more, I invite you to return your commitment cards over the next couple of weeks. You can put them in the offering plate, drop them off in the office, or mail them in.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that those to who much is given, much is expected. As a congregation, we have been given much. Much vision, much community, much resources. We, who have wrestled with God, have been given much. Much intimacy, much intention, much heart. To live out our call, we offer those gifts, so that much may bless our community. Many talents and gifts have been given, share them amply. Many financial resources have been given, share them amply. Our budget continues to be strong, because you continue to give more in measured and sustainable ways. We live out God’ vision here, because you respond to God’s call.
Blessings are a celebration and invitation that God may increase in you. May God bless each of you. As God increases in you, may you share with others. May you wrestle with God, hang in for the blessing, and be changed by the encounter. May we be able to say, in you, I see God.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
1Example comes from here: http://www.aish.com/jl/jewish-law/blessings/Crash-Course-in-Jewish-Blessings.html
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 32: 22-31
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When 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. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 42-48
And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, October 29th-Saturday, November 4th
Sunday: “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” Genesis 32: 24. Jacob wrestled with God throughout the night. Our wrestlings and conflicts can last over days, months, and years. Pray for the daybreak to come for that with which you are wrestling.
Monday: “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’” Gen 32: 26. Jacob hung in and claimed his blessing. Where do you need to claim your blessing in the midst of wrestling?
Tuesday: “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?” Luke 12: 42. Sometimes we forget that God has entrusted all we have to us. How are you being faithful and prudent over all the blessings that God has given you?
Wednesday: “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” Luke 12: 43. Stick with it. Stay at the work to which you have been called!
Thursday: “Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. “Luke 12:43. Where is God blessing you even in the midst of challenges by entrusting you with God’s ways?
Friday: “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.” Luke 12: 46. Pray for stamina and strength as you stay faithful to serving God even when the days are long and the challenges seem insurmountable.
Saturday: “But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Luke 12: 48. Pray that you will stay faithful to manage and share that with which God has blessed you.