Sunday, July 24, 2016

Simon Peter and the Coke Machine god

John 12:9-19   New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Simon Peter is by far my favorite of all the disciples
          He is so real
          So human

It is hard not to love him

Peter is uneducated, most likely illiterate
          He is a fisherman by trade

          But Peter is called personally by Jesus to be a disciple of his
And Jesus gives him a new nickname
Peter is the original rocky
Rocky, however seems to have a hard time living up to his name.

Do you remember the night we call “the last supper?”

John 13:2b-9  (NRSV)
And during supper Jesus, . . . got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Don't you love Peter's exuberance and innocence?

But, after Jesus' arrest, trial and death --- what does Peter do?
          Begin Preaching?
          Start Evangelizing?
          Change the world for Jesus?

I’ll let John tell you what Peter says, it is just four simple words. 
Peter says: “I am going fishing.”

Peter – Rocky --- the one Jesus says he is going to build his church on --- when the chips fall --- Rocky goes back to his comfort zone and goes back to fishing.

And as Peter goes back to fishing, John tells what is my favorite resurrection story.

It is found in John chapter 21

Peter does exactly what he says, and the story finds him fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  But he and his fellow disciples are having a terrible night.

They have been out all night long and have caught NOTHING

They are getting ready to quit when they see this stranger standing on the shore, and as any of us who have been doing something for a number of hours long to hear, this stranger says “Your fishing on the wrong side of the boat, throw your net over the other side and you will catch some fish.”

I don’t know how you would react to that comment, but you can ask Nancy how I would --- let’s just say, I doubt I would respond very favorably

But, for whatever reason, they decide to give it a try.

And guess what?
John tells us that they caught more fish than the nets were able to hold!

Peter all of a sudden gets a glimmer of insight and realizes that it is none other than Jesus who has been talking to them, not some stranger.

And as they gather on the shore, what takes place one of the greatest (and for me) most hope filled exchanges in the bible.

John 21:15-17
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

I love that story --- and it is filled with hope for me.

Because if Peter had been blessed with three feet instead of two, you can be certain that he would have somehow managed to get all three in his mouth, instead, he just had to settle with getting two crammed in there.

Peter --- Rocky --- the guy Jesus is building his church on.  If Peter can be so thick headed --- well there is certainly hope for someone like me!

All this gets me to an earlier time in Peter’s life, actually the moment when Jesus gives him his nickname.

Sometimes I think we may have miss translated his nickname as Rocky when it really should be head full of rocks or knucklehead!

Mark 8:27-29   (NRSV)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

As many of you know, I graduated from The Divinity School at Duke University.

One of the special features of the Duke Divinity School in the early 80's was we had a demon possessed Coke Machine.

This was one of those old fashioned machines that you put your money in, a cup would drop into a slot, ice would fill the cup and then the drink flow into the cup.

But this was, as I said, a demon possessed machine --- you never knew with certainty just what you would get.
Sometimes it would take your quarter and do nothing
          Other times
Cup but no drink
Cup drink, no ice
My favorite: ice, drink --- but no cup
You quickly had two choices to make
·         Make a cup out of your hands and catch as much drink as you could
·         Watch your drink go down the drain

Near this pop machine was a good place to study because it was quiet and out of the way --- and once when I was sitting there studying --- this well dressed, petite, drop dead gorgeous woman, who obviously was very classy (and I had never seen before) came up to the machine.

She got out her quarter, put in in the machine, and made her selection --- but nothing happened

She pushed the buttons again --- tried the coin return --- but still NOTHING

After a few minutes of trying to get the machine to work --- this petite woman began to kick and hit the machine!

You see --- She EXPECTED something from the machine --- but she didn’t get what she expected.

PETER expected certain things from Jesus
He knew who Jesus was
          The Messiah
          The Christ
          The Chosen one of God
He thought he knew what that meant
Peter and the Jewish people of his day had certain expectations of God’s messiah
They expected the messiah to be:
·         A great king like David
·         The one that God would use to intervene in history and achieve by supernatural means that which they had not been able to achieve by natural means
·         The messiah would totally destroy all of God’s (and thus the Jew’s) enemies
·         The messiah would restore Jerusalem
·         The messiah would gather the dispersed Jews
·         Israel would be made the center of the world, and all the world would be subject to Israel
·         The messiah, after cleaning up all our mess, would bring an everlasting peace to the world

But Peter didn’t get what he expected when he encountered the Messiah

Listen as Jesus tries to explain to Peter just what kind of Messiah he is:
Mark 8:31   (NRSV)
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again

Simon Peter expected something from Jesus
·         He thought he had him all figured out
·         He put his quarter in the slot, but he didn’t get what he bargained for --- instead he got a Messiah who had to DIE


Last week I asked you to show me Jesus --- to show me the kind of Jesus that you follow.
What did you decide to show me?

We, just like the Jewish people of Jesus day, have come to put certain expectations upon the Messiah


Many of us would like to believe in the Christianity that is promoted by many of our mega-church, TV evangelists, and even within the walls of many churches: 
A Christianity that says:
          Just send your money
          Believe the right things
          Vote for the right candidates
                   And everything will be OK
          Just tune us in
          Just come to church
                   And you will have it made
                   All your problems will be solved

But like Simon Peter, we find ourselves with feet firmly planted in our mouths because when Jesus tells us what it means to be a Disciple, to be a follower of the Way, we say: “Are you crazy? --- You must be mistaken”

Because that is not the kind of Christianity that we have come to expect

But Jesus tells us, that to follow him means sacrifice
And one of the first things we must sacrifice are the ideas that we have come up with that define the Messiah
Instead we need to listen to God

Jesus tells us:
·         that we must take up our cross (our burdens)
·         we must risk our lives and our stuff
·         we must follow, actively follow, if we want to live with God and the Christ

What kind of God do you come here seeking?
What kind of God are you looking for?

For many of us, our God has become like that Coke machine at Duke
We put our quarter in and --- we expect something in return
          Something very specific
And when it does not come out as we planned --- we often find ourselves angry and disillusioned with God

Some of you may be asking yourselves --- OK, this is nice Steve, but what did it have to do with the scripture lesson that was read to us today?

Did you listen carefully to the first verse that Roger/Matt read?
John writes:
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 

The people had heard what Jesus had done with Lazarus --- RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD --- and they came because they wanted to see if it was real and to check out Jesus --- because --- well you never know . . .

We are also told that they believed and even testified about Jesus because of this great sign that he had done --- BUT --- when push came to shove --- as Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified, over the next few days ---- where were these people?
The problem was ----
·         they expected Jesus to raise up an army
·         Not to offer himself as a sacrifice

We have to be careful what we expect from God
          God is not called to live out OUR expectations
God is not like a vending machine, that we can go and put our money in and get out what we expect
          Instead God is calling each of us, and has expectations for us.

The question is --- are we willing to take the time, the sacrifice and effort to understand God’s expectations for us?

Or do we want a Coke machine god to do our bidding?


And see where God leads you this week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Spitin' Image

1 Corinthians 1:18-24   (NRSV)
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
          and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

John 12:20-33 (NRSV)
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

I am still pretty new here, but I want you to imagine for a moment that I am a stranger and that I have come to worship at Meridian Street for the very first time.

Now I also want you to imagine that I was somebody who did not know anything about Jesus, and I was curious to learn about him.

I said to you: “You are a Christian.  You must be, or why else would you be worshipping here this morning.  Since, I don’t know this Jesus that you are here worshipping --- Please --- Show me Jesus!

Show me Jesus!

I don’t want you to answer out loud, but I want you to figure out in your mind what you would say to me.
Because what you choose to show me is going to say a good deal about your faith. 
About your relationship to God. 
About how you perceive God.

So I come to you today and I ask you: SHOW ME JESUS!
          What will you show me?

I am very serious about this question.  SHOW ME JESUS!

ALTAR --- and the Beautiful Cross – I can find Jesus there

BIBLE --- Here is Jesus in this book.  I can find Jesus written on the pages in the words of the book

CONSTRUCTION SITE --- Jesus is in the new building

TAKE ME TO THE WALL OF PASTORS --- and show me some of the former pastors and say here is Jesus -- or show me Pastor Matt



Or maybe you would show me THIS FELLOWSHIP --- In the midst of this gathering on Sunday morning – that is where I can find Jesus.  We act so different that we can see Jesus here.

Or is Jesus just a myth, a figment of somebody’s imagination?

So I ask you: SHOW ME JESUS; what would you show me?

Or maybe --- maybe you would have the courage and temerity to point to YOURSELF.  You might do that if you were the spitin’ image of Jesus

In our Gospel lesson this morning this is precisely what happened.  A group of Greeks came to the disciples and Philip and said: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

Paul tells us that the Greeks sought WISDOM
As so they come to the disciples and say: SHOW US JESUS.

It is easy to understand why they came asking this.
          Do you know what happened just prior to this story according to John?
                   Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and Palm Sunday.

Paul tells us that the Greeks seek WISDOM
          Do you think Jesus taught them anything?

Maybe they were looking for understanding life and death
          Why do good people hurt?
Maybe they came because they were seriously seeking life
Or maybe success in their lives, maybe Jesus could improve their lives.
Maybe they were looking for simply how to survive --- how to live.

Those are all possible reasons why they came, and are the same reasons why people come today seeking to see Jesus.

But when the Greeks came, what did Jesus show them as the core reality of what he is?
          The answer should shock you!  Maybe even astonish you!
Jesus did not show them life, nor any great healing or teaching ---

Is this what you would show somebody who is asking to see Jesus? 
Would you show them pain and death, failure and defeat?

Listen again to what Jesus said:  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

What makes Jesus different was not his incredible teachings,
          It was not his incredible healings
          It was not his incredible miracles
          It was neither wisdom or signs
What made Jesus different was that Jesus died --- on a cross.

The cross is what made Jesus the son of God.

By our standards, Jesus was an absolute failure --- but by God’s – his death was GLORY

And on that cross we are told that Jesus would draw us unto him.

Listen again: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” 

Jesus is drawing Meridian Street United Methodist Church to himself

Jesus is making us a part of him

It is almost as though he offered to reach down from the cross and shake hands with us. 
And if we have the courage to take his hand --- we find that he will NEVER let us go!

That is the core of our faith!

Jesus dies for us and draws us in
          And because of that --- we are no longer the same.

Let me try to tell you this in another way.  Walter Wangerin, is a great storyteller, and I want to share one of his stories.  He says that it is a true story.

When Walter was a young boy his mother once said: “Wally, you are the spitin image of your grandpa.”
          I wondered what the spit was? Walter would ask
Walter’s grandpa used to spit tobacco --- so did that mean that when he grew up he would be able to spit tobacco like his grandpa?     
          Was that the spit?

His grandfather was the caretaker of a cemetery in St Louis and he loved to spit tobacco
          He knew his grandpa loved him and he loved to put on a show for Wally
                   He would lean back and spit --- a beautiful brown wad --- like a comet
Mom said “I’m the spitin image of my grandpa, and I wondered if that meant that when I grew up I would be able to spit just like my grandpa did”

Grandpa would tell Wally the secrets of life and death
          When you die --- your hair and nails continue to grow
          Sometimes when a body was cremated it would sit up and scream

One day mom announced that we needed to go and see grandpa
          “Why, we never visit grandpa in the fall”
Mom said it was because grandpa was dying
          It felt like something was wrong --- and I did it

Grandpa was dying
          Nobody said what dying was
          And nobody said what you do for dying

We rode to St Louis --- and I sat very small in the car
          Nobody said what dying was
          And nobody said what you do for dying

When we arrived we were ushered into the house and it was very quiet
          Nobody said what dying was
          And nobody said what you do for dying

The kids were all sent into the living room and they were invited in to see grandpa -- one at time
          Nobody said what dying was
          And nobody said what you do for dying

Wally shares how his grandpa called him in --- and as he walked into the bedroom he walked very small --- his mother left him and let him go in by himself
          Nobody said what dying was
          And nobody said what you do for dying

He asked his grandpa: “Is this what dying is --- you are no longer the same?”

But his grandfather did not say anything --- he just smiled
AND THEN HE TOLD ME WHAT YOU DO FOR DYING --- he didn’t say it, he showed me.
He reached out with his hand and shook mine --- and I knew what dying was ---- because grandpa invited me in --- I was a part of it.
          I knew what you do for dying and it was OK

Two weeks later the call came, I knew what it was --- and as my mother hung up the phone I walked over to her BIG, because I knew what to do --- and I did what you do for dying --- I reached out my hand and I took hers and shook it --- because that is what grandpa showed me you do for dying.

My mother grabbed me and pulled me close and said: WALLY, YOU ARE THE SPITIN IMAGE OF YOUR GRANDPA, and I wondered what the spit was.

Years later Walter says that he was paying a pastoral visit with a woman, her husband had recently died and she was talking about her son Arthur --- in the conversation she mentioned that Arthur was the spitin image of his dad.

Walter was taken back and chuckled and said his mom used to say that he was the spitin image of his grandpa, but he always wondered what the spit was.


I didn’t say spit she said --- I said spitin’, there is a huge difference.

It’s not spit --- it is just the way southerners say spirit.
You are not the spit image of someone --- you are the spirit and image of someone.

Walter said it took his breath away as he sat back in his chair.
For he realized that he just didn’t look like his grandpa, but that his grandpa lived in him.  His spirit was in him!

So when I ask you: SHOW ME JESUS --- If you are the spirit and image of Jesus, then you can show me yourself. 

If you have been drawn into his death by a profound handshake --- you just might have the courage to point toward you.  If it is the spirit of Jesus that lives in you.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Wrestling With God

Audio version available:

(Genesis 32:24‑30 NRSV)  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. {25} 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. {26} Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." {27} So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." {28} 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." {29} 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. {30} So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved."

It all began with Dan Brown and his novel THE DIVINCI CODE. 
          Well, that is not completely true. 
It really began, for me, as a child.  I read the Bible, I went to church, but to be honest — some things just didn’t make sense.   My parents, raised me in the church (my father is a retired United Methodist minister) but, more importantly, they raised me with a sense that it was okay to ask questions.  I didn’t have to believe everything at face value.

I was a history major in college.  Maybe that is where the blame lies.  In learning history, I learned that everything is seen through the lens of those who are telling the story.  The history of an event, told from opposing sides, sounds sometimes like it is two different events — yet, they both told the truth, as they perceived it.  That lesson seeped over as I began to earnestly study the Bible and the history of the early Church.

Maybe Albert Sweitzer, the great doctor and missionary is too blame.  As I studied his quest to find the historical Jesus, I realized that the only Jesus that we have is not a Jesus of history, but a Jesus of faith.  That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t live — I believe he did.  But what we can know about the Jesus of history can never be isolated from the Jesus of faith.

While I have learned to live comfortably in that grey area of life, I know that many people struggle with this.  I see this most profoundly in people who are what Bishop Spong calls “The Church Alumni”, people who no longer can believe the doctrine of the church, yet are still looking for something. 

There is a great deal of excellent scholarship out there on the formation of the Bible and the early church.  I claim no expertise.  What I do claim, is that Christianity is still valid and important in the 21st Century. 

The “Old” Christianity may be dead (or at least dying), but Christianity certainly is not.  Jesus came to show us a way of life, and he died trying to teach us. 

About a year and a half ago I was struggling with what God desired for my life.  I had been ordained for 30 years and had spent the last 17 years in Munster.

I sensed that it was time for me to move on, but I wasn't able to get a clear vision of what that meant.

I think what really made the waters muddy was the fact that I had said repeatedly over the previous 17 years that Ridge Church was my last appointment. 
          But now it was coming to an end --- what does one do?

I spend many hours praying and listening intently to what I thought God might be speaking to me --- but to be honest --- I never got a clear answer.  The only thing that was clear to me was that my ministry at Ridge Church was coming to an end.

What made it even more difficult was that I was passionately involved in the community.  I took John Wesley's imperative: All The World Is My Parish very seriously, and the other thing that was clear to me that my ministry in that role wasn't completed.

So what does one do?

How do we KNOW what God wants for our lives?

How do we KNOW, that our interpretation of scripture on a particular hot button issue is correct?

Unfortunately I don't thing we do KNOW, with absolute certainty.

The challenge for me has been getting comfortable living in the grey.

About four years ago I attended a seminar led by Donald Miller called STORYLINE. Don is best known as the author of a number of books including Blue Like Jazz and the one that really grabbed me: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

At the STORYLINE conference, one of the things we were challenged to do was create a timeline of significant events in one's life --- the good and the bad.

The good is easy
          Making the decision to go to Duke
          Meeting Nancy there
          Our wedding
          The birth of our children
          Starting Celebration Church
          Buying our first house
          The list could go on and on

Even coming up with the bad for the most part isn't that tough
          Being told in elementary school that I can't sing
          Failed relationships
          The death of my brother Stewart
          Leaving Celebration Church
          The death of Nancy's dad and brother in a six month period
          Dealing with the declining heath of parents
          Again the list could go on and on

The hard part is honestly looking back at those events and seeing God present in them and finding purpose in them.

Don’t get me wrong --- I don’t believe God allowed Stewart to die to change me --- I have come to believe that through Stewart’s life and death God gave me the opportunity to grow.

I don’t think God is mad at the USA so we are seeing this spike in violence --- God is praying that we will grow and learn and change because this violence is happening.

Jacob is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.

Jacob was the younger of twins, and throughout the pregnancy he and his brother Esau were fighting in the womb of their mother.

Rebecca (their mother) is rather unhappy about this fighting that is going on inside of her and she takes her struggle to God and we are told that she asks God “why?” 
          Why this conflict that is going on within her womb.

And the text tells us:
(Genesis 25:23 NRSV)  And the LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger."

The story goes on
(Genesis 25:24‑26 NRSV)  When her time to give birth was at hand, . . . {25} The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. {26} Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob.

Jacob, in Hebrew Ya’akob, means “supplanter.”

It was the perfect name for him, as it spoke of his tendency to want to get ahead, to try and turn the tables and change the outcomes —
so that the smaller could become the greater, the younger could gain the privilege of the older, the one with little could get a lot.

There are a number of stories in Genesis about Jacob trying to best his brother.
          In one story he convinces Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew.

In another he and Rebecca create a plan to trick old, blind Isaac (the boys father) into giving his blessing to Jacob, when it should have gone to Esau.

When Esau finds out what has happened, you can imagine he was just a little upset at his brother for stealing their father’s blessing, and we are told that because of his brothers anger --- Jacob the deceiver flees for his life.

Chapter 28 of the book of Genesis is all about Jacob on the run from an angry and murderous Esau.

On his way to his uncle’s home in Haran he lies down and dreams a remarkable dream. In his dream the Lord is poised atop a ladder, or a stairway, and from this place the Lord makes a promise to Jacob:

(Genesis 28:13‑15 NRSV)  And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; {14} and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. {15} Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

I am with you, God says.
I will protect you wherever you go.
I will bring you back.
I will not leave you.
At the heart of these promises is the promise of presence and protection. God commits God-self unconditionally to be with Jacob.

As far as we know, this is Jacob’s first encounter with God. And the interesting thing is that the promises, by themselves, are not enough for Jacob.
          Jacob wants proof.
          Jacob wants to KNOW that God will deliver.

So, when he wakes from his dream, Jacob makes a vow.
It is an interesting vow:
(Genesis 28:20‑21 NRSV)   "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,

God’s promises to Jacob were unconditional. Jacob, however, lays down conditions.
Jacob is concerned for his survival, for his safety, and for his well being.

I don't know about you, but too many times in my life I have been like Jacob.  God promises unconditional love, but I offer back conditions.

Eventually Jacob's past catches up with him.

The deceiver is deceived by his uncle and unaware he marries the ugly older sister instead of the beautiful sister that he loves.

After all kinds of twists and turns, the time comes for Jacob to return home. 

In order to go home, he must face his past.
He must acknowledge those bad moments in his life.

And for the first time in his life --- Jacob feels afraid.

He is afraid of what his brother Esau might do to him.

Jacob decides that maybe he can placate Esau by bribing him --- again trying to be in control.

So Jacob sent send messengers ahead bearing extravagant gifts of goats, sheep, camels, bulls, and donkeys, 550 heads of livestock in all.

But before that can happen, Jacob encounters God and learns what it really means to see the face of God — to engage, to wrestle, in authentic relationship with another.

After Jacob has sent his possessions and his family — everything that he owns; to the other side of the Jabbok — he is utterly alone. 

It is then that we read this remarkable story:

(Genesis 32:23‑28 NRSV)   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. {26} Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." {27} So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." {28} 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."

This encounter is a turning point in Jacob’s life.

When Jacob wrestles—truly wrestles — with God — He receives a new name, and with that new name, he is transformed. 
          He is, as Paul writes in Galatians “a new creation”.

He is no longer Jacob the deceiver --- he is now Israel, the one who wrestled with God

When I look back at those critical moments in my life I find one constant
          Not that I have the answers to:
Why Mrs. Boone told me at 12 that I could not sing
Why Stewart at 23 developed cancer and died
Why Mike at 55 died suddenly just six months after the death of his father

          When I wrestle with the issues of violence in our society
Why we kill each other
Why we distrust each other

What I have come to understand is ----
          I don't wrestle alone
God wrestles with me
·         God weeps with me over the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling
·         God weeps with me over the deaths of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa and Brent Thompson.
·         God weeps with me over the violence and hatred in this world
I do not have the answers --- but I know that God is willing to wrestle with me

God wants to wrestle with you too

Not to solve your problems
But to help you understand that in the midst of them --- you are not alone

I too am willing to wrestle with you --- not to give you my answers, but to help you encounter God as you wrestle to find yours.

Like Jacob of old, God wants to wrestle with you and change your name as you grow in ministry and service with Jesus.