Chasing Scoundrels

A sermon based on Genesis 27:1-23 and Genesis 28:10-17 preached September 24th, 2107

Sermon audio

If God was the CEO of a company, in business to bring to the world some sort of decency, some moral order that would get His creation off to a booming start, picking all the right people along the way to represent him—if God was out to recruit the cream of the crop, the upstanding among us—than by now, at this point in Genesis 27 and 28, we could safely consider His tenure as CEO a complete disaster. By any standard measure of success, God is not off to a good start. We should wonder if God knew what He was doing when He spoke the world into being with those first words,

Let there be…

By every measure, God has failed. Adam and Eve have two boys, Cain and Abel. One murders the other. And a few chapters later, God comes off as a Creator who has lost complete control of His creation. He’s created a monster that can no longer be reigned back in again, so God picks one family—the best one of the bunch—and a flood comes of the earth and drowns all the rest of them. Noah and his ark. We know the story. It’s not a children’s tale. It’s a troublesome narrative of a God who needs to go back to the drawing board, erase away this first attempt, thinking it’s a good idea to start creation all over again—take two! He does so by washing away all but one small family and using them to start all over again. This is terrifying. By the end of Chapter 11 of Genesis, we should wonder if God has any clue what He’s got Himself into.

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Then, Chapter 12.

God seems to have a new idea. Instead of hoping that the next generation of human beings is entirely capable all on their own of figuring out how to treat each other and this world with some smidgen of respect and decency, what if God does something a whole lot more direct?

And so it goes. God will not leave this world to its own devices. Things quickly spiral out of control that way.

For God, there will be no more of this ‘letting us go and hoping for the best.’ God enters into relationship with His creation. He chooses now, beginning with the 12th chapter of scripture, to guide us from here on out. To enter into deep relationship with His people. One based on a promise to stick by His people no matter how rough the ride gets. There will be no more of this letting His children find their own way. We are much too clueless to figure out this life and how to live it all on our own. We need God’s help—and daily, too!

God picks out a family. We talked about this last week. In Genesis 12, God calls a wilderness wanderer and his wife, Abraham and Sarah. Out of every family of the earth, why them? We don’t know. Neither did Abraham and Sarah know. God commits Himself to this family. And so goes the rest of God’s story. All of scripture is about this one family. God says to Abraham that his offspring will become more plentiful than all the stars in the sky. God will take these regular people—completely unimpressive and unremarkable—and from them, build his future, start His story. Let that soak in: God will stake His claim and risk His reputation on this one family.

Here we are in Genesis 27. Isaac, the son Abraham nearly sacrifices, is now a blind old man. As far as we can tell, Isaac, as important as he is to God’s story, has lived a bland life. And by all indications from our first reading for this morning, he has a complete mess of a family. They’re as dysfunctional as you can get. Mother Rebekah does what no mother should do and picks a favorite out of her two sons, going so far as ensuring that Jacob—the youngest, her favorite—successfully steals out from under Esau, her oldest, his father’s birthright and blessing.

Lifetime makes made-for-TV movies like this!

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Much of this talk about a father bestowing his birthright and blessing on his child before he dies is a completely foreign thing to us. So, we need to take a moment to realize what’s at stake here.

This blessing that Jacob steals from his older brother Esau by deceiving his father is no empty gesture. There’s more than meets the eye here. In ancient culture, words shaped lives. The same words could end lives, too.

Father Isaac unwittingly gives his blessing away to the wrong son, and these spoken words cannot be taken back. Once spoken, this ancient birthright and blessing must be honored. Jacob steals this birthright and blessing from his father and his older brother. These words of blessing from Isaac’s mouth are as real and as official as if he had signed his name on the dotted line of a contract.

Jacob knows what he has done. He seems almost surprised that it worked. He also knows it’s just a matter of time before his brother Esau will come back home expecting his father to give him this stolen blessing, so Jacob runs far away, out into the wilderness where no one will ever find him.

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By all accounts, God has another mess on His hands. This is the family—the one family—God has chosen. From this wreck of a family will come God’s people, God’s salvation. God has made a covenant with this family that He cannot break. And now the future of this covenant is in the hands of a thief. God’s story—and our story, too—begins this way. With a fugitive on the run from his own family. Even his name, Jacob, means deceiver—he came out of his mother’s womb grasping the ankle of his brother, Esau! From the very start, he took a hold of what was not his to have. Jacob has never earned a thing. Everything he ever owned and enjoyed was taken from someone else. Jacob is a scoundrel. But he’s who God has to work with. We would expect God to take Jacob—this shoplifter, this swindler—and punish him, chastise him, disown him. God cannot stake his reputation on a rascal like this! But, that’s not what happens. God does not chastise Jacob. Instead, He blesses him.

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To ask the question of whether or not God blesses Jacob because he deserves a blessing is to misunderstand God and all that’s happening here. The relationship between Jacob’s dishonesty and God’s blessing of him is not cause-and-effect. God doesn’t seem to care about what Jacob deserves here. This story is one we still read today because it tells us about a God who is unlike us—who is always surprising us. Our God is a God who blesses us despite our own actions. It even seems like God doubles-down on the worst among us. We belong to a God who calls the craziest ones among us and uses them to accomplish His purposes.

This story speaks, all these thousands of years later, because it tells us of a God who continues to bless even when we don’t deserve it. Most spectacularly, though, God refuses to let us destroy ourselves. He will not leave us to our own devices. He will not leave this world to its own devices. God has and will—always and forever—pursue us—chase us down, even when we try our best to run away into our wildernesses, where we’re sure no one could ever find us, and shows us what we need to see to change our hearts and lives. To re-direct our purposes. God still chases scoundrels.

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By the time Jacob ran far enough away to feel sure that no one could find him, he was exhausted. So exhausted that he finds the nearest rock and makes it his pillow for the night. Even in his anxiousness, he gets some sleep. And Jacob dreams a big dream. Maybe this is the only way God can catch up to this weasel of a man—pursue him in his sleep. Here, Jacob’s helpless. Here, he has his guard down. Here, he can’t run away like he always has.

Jacob is as spiritually blind as his father was physically blind. This is a rare instance for God to grab the attention of this frantic and inattentive, thoughtless, self-absorbed man, and get him to see. In his dream, Jacob has a vision of heaven and earth becoming one, connected by a vast stairway.

This is no ladder. Think instead a ramp joining together the space between where we are and where God is. Heaven and earth are no longer so far from one another. This is the first glimpse we get in scripture of God’s great project to merge the heavens and the earth into one. This is the first notion we get of the Kingdom of God that, later, Jesus will usher in and spend all of his time talking about. This joker, Jacob, is the first to witness God’s tireless and eternal effort to restore heaven back to earth. What the rest of scripture, and we today, call salvation. Earth has to do with heaven. Heaven has to do with earth.

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It would be great if I could tell you that from here on out Jacob was through being a jerk. It would be even better if I could tell you that after a few failed generations, God finally figured out a sure-fire way of getting people’s attention, setting them on the right course, following right paths. But we know this is not true. We are, all of us—at some time or another just as bone-headed, self-absorbed, and self-interested as Jacob. We have to settle for less.

Here, Jacob has seen a bit of God in a bit of him. He’s woken up to a sliver of heaven come crumbling down to earth, but even the grandeur of the heavens is not enough to lift us out from our all-too-earthy ways.

God is patient with us still, tirelessly chasing His hard-headed, hard-hearted people—you and me—hoping, one day, even the scoundrels might see.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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The Foothold of Faith

A sermon based on Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 and Ephesians 2:1-10 preached on June 11th, 2017

Sermon audio

Hobby wind-surfer, Adam Cowles, realized he was way off-course when he spotted a cargo ship. He was windsurfing the Swansea Bay, not too far from his house, but after a few hours of delightful distraction, Adam found himself in strange territory. He had unwittingly made his way into the Bristol Channel, 140 miles away from home.

The water that day was freezing cold. If he fell in, he’d be in serious trouble. If there came a lull in the wind, Adam could have found himself stranded. Opposite the cargo ship, Adam could see land, so he surfed his way to shore and walked into a nearby bar, soaking wet.

The locals must have seen sights like him before, because even though he was still dripping wet when he walked into that pub, the patrons thought and said nothing of it. They even bought him a beer.

Adam began to tell them his story.

They told him how far away from home he was. 140 miles. He was astonished. And then he was embarrassed when he had to call his wife, asking her to make the 280-mile round trip to pick him up. She was not happy.

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Wind is so prevalent inside of scripture that one could easily call it a character. A living force rather than an object or an atmospheric phenomenon.

God shows up in the beginning of the opening act, in the very first lines of our story in Genesis 1, as wind. This is the form in which the Spirit of God makes way into creation, and then helps creation take its shape out of what was before simply chaos and nonsense. The second verse in all of scripture says it this way:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is how God shows up. In a breeze. And that happens over and over again throughout God’s story—our story, too.

Consider the moment of the Exodus, when the Hebrew people, enslaved for two centuries in Egypt, make their way across the Red Sea and to the other side, outrunning Pharaoh and his army and into freedom. The Sea was split in two that day by a strong eastward wind.

And then there’s Jonah, the stubborn prophet, who tried his best to outrun God after God asked him to do something that made no sense to him. Throughout the Book of Jonah, he’s stopped, over and over again, to the point where it gets comedic, by wind and sea, by whale and wave.

We try our best but there’s no escaping the Spirit of God.

There’s at least two stories in each of the four Gospels, where fisherman disciples are out on a boat on the Galilee Sea. Terrified by brewing storms and rising waters, Jesus comes to calm the waves and the rain and brings them through. These are messages for us about how when we are caught in the scary seas of our own lives, when the water rises too high all around us, Jesus comes to us and subsides our fears and says to us the same thing he said to His disciples in those moments:

Peace be with you.

Last and certainly not least is the story we have in the Book of Acts where Luke gives us a glimpse of Paul’s travelogue. To get to the churches he has planted, Paul and his own team of disciples, servants, doctors, and scribes cross the Mediterranean Sea and sail up the Aegean between present-dayPaul Turkey and Greece, and north into the Sea of Marmara. Some of these voyages brought disaster. Pirates, shipwreck. Loss of cargo and loss of life. Throughout scripture, water and wind give life but they also take it away.

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dSo when Paul writes from a prison in Rome to the young believers in Ephesus—and by extension, to us—he has been wind-tossed, beat up, lost at sea, and then found again. Paul knows a thing or two about what it is to be blown about by wind. And he warns us, right at the get-go, here at the very beginning of Chapter 2,

Do not be blown about by the wind. Once you lived your entire lives wandering off-course in this perverse world….You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air. He once owned you and controlled you.

I don’t know what kind of devil you believe in. We talk so little about evil and its personifications. Certainly, the personification of evil into some being with the proper name, Satan, is not as much a creature found in scripture as it is one that has been imagined in the tales of subsequent works of fiction: Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. We need to keep our stories straight.

We’ll talk more about this when we reach Chapter 4 of Ephesians, but for now, suffice it to say, here Paul describes some sort of evil or persuasive power, but he doesn’t give it a name or a form. It’s as if Paul is describing that thing mentioned in the first two verses of Genesis 1, a sort of earthly chaos, life and creation without shape, or meaning, or form. Life without God. That is a sort of evil in and of itself.

Paul is warning us against living in a way that’s uncritical, where we get swept up by the power of the air, picked up by every breeze that comes our way. Life lived empty and persuadable, easily manipulated by anything and everything around us. We can get picked up and pushed around wherever the breeze takes us, like that empty plastic bag at the beginning of the movie American Beauty. This is the prince of the power of the air. This is an opportunistic presence that will sweep us off our feet any chance it gets.

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We live in a culture full of wind-blown people. Too often, we get caught up in the prevailing winds of our day, and before we know it we’re like that empty plastic bag that gets knocked around by forces both visible and invisible. We get taken anywhere it pushes us.

What Paul is inviting all of us to see is a new way to live and move. Paul’s words here are a sort of prelude to the important and biblical idea of living in but not of the world. We cannot be blown about. Persuadable. Pushed about. We must find our footing. We must be discerning, keen, wise, sharp, perceptive, insightful, critical. You’ve heard the phrase,

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for everything.

This is God’s way of saying a similar thing. Find your footing.

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Paul knew something about wind. He was a tentmaker.

These days, if a person calls him- or herself a tentmaker, there’s a good chance they’re a Pastor who specializes in creating new churches. Paul did that, but before he ever entered into the ministry he actually made tents. This is how he made a living, even while he sailed the seas, planting churches.

So, Paul knew a thing of two about wind. How to shelter oneself against it. How to build a structure that can withstand it. Build them strong, resilient, and with a big footprint so they hold up to the power of the air and the elements. Everything thrown at it.

As we mature in our faith, as we walk forward slowly in the Way of Jesus, following in His footsteps, we too become strong against the breezes that try to blow us off course.

It is with rope and ground pegs, poles and stakes that a tent becomes secure even in the most chaotic of climates. It’s the power of God’s grace that does the same thing for our minds, our hearts, our spirits. God’s grace pins us to solid ground, can keep us from being blown off course. Grace is the foothold of our faith.

I mentioned a few weeks ago when we began our look into Ephesians, that God’s grace given to us is not an end in itself. Grace is not the end of any conversation, as in, “but for the grace of God go I.” Grace is always the beginning of the conversation. Grace was in the wind that blew the disciples out of their tiny house on Pentecost, and it’s the power we have been given by God to walk out of here and do God’s work—in and for the world.

Grace is the fuel, the power source God gives us to start something—to go out from here, or wherever else we are, as agents of God’s love, as keepers of God’s Message, as sharers of God’s mercy. Grace is designed and given to us by God to take us places. It is first unmerited benefit, yes; but it’s also Divine enablement. Grace is given to us to get us going!

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Through grace, we gain a foothold in our faith, stand up tall in Christ, and then become agents of grace—taking it and using it. Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved. You have received it through faith. It was not our plan or effort, it’s God’s gift. Pure and simple. You didn’t earn it.

That’s verse 8. It’s one of the most beloved in all of scripture, but I’m afraid it’s too often misunderstood. People use it to convince themselves that works—doing stuff with and because our faith—isn’t important. But what Paul says is, Take God’s gift of grace, freely given to you—yes, it’s never earned, it’s always a gift—but then do something with it. Use it. Pay it forward. Grace is never the end of the conversation; it’s always the beginning of one. God’s grace is given to us in order to be put to work through us. Grace is God’s enabling power for growth.

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If you feel like you’re trudging through life right now under your own power, if you’ve lost your footing, if you’ve exhausted yourself that way, let me re-introduce you to grace. Author Anne Lamott says,

When you’re out of good ideas, what you’re left with is God.

She describes grace as spiritual WD-40 or water wings, if that works better. And all you have to do to find grace is to say “Help,” preferably out loud. Shout it into the heavens if you have to. The heavens will hear you. “But watch out!” Anne Lamott says. The moment you say that word, “Help!”, the moment you find grace, buckle up! Because, powered by the Holy Wind of God as it always is, God’s grace will take you places you never intended to go!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

In the Hands of the Clay-Worker

A sermon based on Psalm 139:1-6 and Jeremiah 18:1-11 preached on September 4th, 2016

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Sermon audio

I love to watch an artist at work. The start from nothingness and how, inside the silence of it all, with a few strokes of a brush or a pencil, a keyboard or a sewing needle, all the sudden, somethingness emerges from that nothingness.

I love those moments when you can see the spark in the artist’s eyes, and you know the boom is coming—when a few brush strokes make a mark on a blank canvas, and you can see something there, but for those first few moments, you’re left to wonder. The guesswork of it all! Something will come out of this nothingness, but what? Does the artist even know? Then the second dab of the paintbrush into paint, the second line of stitches sown, the next sentence coming into being on the computer screen. And little by little, stroke by stroke, a work of art is created.

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Every time that happens, it’s like a little Genesis again. We are the creatures made in the image of a Divine Creator. Because even creatures bear the image of their Creator, we too have the ability to create. The imagination, the initiative, and the ingenuity it takes to make something out of raw material. Thread, canvas, wood, or ink.

Genesis begins with God making something out of nothing. Tohu-vavohu. That words is Hebrew for chaos and nothingness. God sees nothing and he touches it, declares something to it, and all the sudden, something—the chaos and emptiness turns into order and fullness. In the Creation story of Genesis, God the Artist takes a step back from His creative work at the end of each day and He calls it all Good.

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When we watch an artist at work, we can learn something about God. Whenever you have the chance to make your way to Tamarack or the Dogwood Arts and Crafts Festival, or to Mountain Stage in Charleston to hear musicians play, to watch what comes about, pay attention to, and ask questions about how it all took shape in the first place, it’s a tiny echo of the first Creation.

When you spend time noticing how a woodworker takes a chisel and carves out of it until an image appears, that’s another tiny echo. Or on a stage paying attention to a violin having a conversation with a cello until a song is born on stage. Every time little things like that happen, Genesis 1 starts all over again in tinier way. The Creation story, with its refrains of And God said…, and It was evening, it was morning, the next day as well as God saw that it was good, is the song of an artist—the Divine Artist in his studio, taking His hands and creating something out of nothing. It’s poetry. There’s no talk of science in the first chapter of Genesis. No chemical interactions to speak of. As far as scripture is concerned, creation is no laboratory experiment. The authors had no interest in telling God’s story like that. The story they chose to share with us was, instead, the one about God, the Divine Artist, using his divine imagination and infinite creativity to bring the cosmos about!

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And here is the prophet Jeremiah, daring to ask this Eternal God, the Artists of all artists, how He works. God answers Jeremiah,

There’s no need to tell you how I work when I can show you how I work. If you want to understand my ways, go visit the artist in residence. Head down to the potter’s house. Then you’ll see!

And with eyes wide open, young Jeremiah goes. He watches the potter spin his wheel, pumping a pedal to make it go ‘round and around. The potter starts with some water. He shapes a moistened, 3-pound pile of clay into a ball, and throws in at the center of his wheel. Jeremiah watches as each and every way the potter’s hands move, little by little, they form clay into vessels, bowls, plates. “This is how I work.” God says to his prophet.

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Making pottery is all in the hands. Unless you hold your hands just so, the clay will escape you. Clay has a mind of its own. It does what it wants to do, and only a potter’s touch can help it take shape. Take your hand off for just a second, and the piece will collapse under the inertia of the spinning wheel and fly right off, wet clay splattered onto walls, and you’ll have a terrible mess on your hands. But these mistakes happen, even to the best craftsmen. The good news is that you can start over. Get the wheel going again, add a little more water to the clay, and press it back down into a ball. Clay is flexible. It moves in whatever ways the potter’s hands tell it to. Wet clay will yield to its creator.

Another thing about making pottery. It takes just the right amount of force to shape the walls of a vase or a bowl. A vessel is molded into shape only when the potter applies pressure to it, and without a good amount pressure, clay resists being shaped at all.

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God is the Potter, and we are His handiwork. We are the clay He uses, and God is shaping us still. And just like clay, we too resist change. We do not want to be reshaped. We like our shape. We see nothing wrong with the shape we’re in. But God wants to make something new out of us.

The question for us is, are we willing to yield ourselves to the shaping hands of the Divine Potter? Are we still pliable and flexible enough to be reshaped in the first place?

Dried out, brittle, rigid clay is no good to the Potter. It’s only good for the trash can, because it already knows it’s final shape. It’s uncooperative; it refuses to be remade. Are we like that, or our are hearts and lives, bodies and spirits pliable—willing to be recreated, to undergo reshaping—to be molded into something new—by the careful yet unyielding, loving yet steadfast hands of God? Are we flexible enough to be remade?

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Ask any church if they like change, and you’ll see a few hands go up. Ask the same church if they’d like to change and all the hands will go down again. Just like clay in a potter’s hands, we have the tendency to resist change. Being cast into something different, being reshaped into a brand new vessel, is often too threatening. But on the other hand, to think we shape ourselves, or to assume that we have the imagination and creativity it takes to re-build ourselves into something useful for God is to refuse the Potter’s hands altogether. To insist on our own ability to form and re-form ourselves is to give up on God, to be the piece of clay that says to the Potter,

You know, I don’t think I need your hands to shape me. I got this.

We who are clay forget that without the Potter’s involvement we’re lifeless, breathless. Unable or unwilling to change. And when that happens, the church dries out. And dry, unyielding clay is only good for the trash can.

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The challenge of this text, the question it forces us to ask is,

Are we willing to be destroyed in order to be remade? Are we willing to let go of what we think our shape should be and give ourselves to the reshaping of the Divine Potter’s hands?

The Apostle Paul talks about dying to ourselves so that we can live for God. That hardly makes sense until you start thinking about it alongside a text like this. What Paul means is,

Are we willing to do away with our own sense of identity and our own will to be, so that we can start living our individual lives, as well as our life together as Church, in the shaping hands of our God?

It will only be when we say Yes to that question—that challenge—that we can be rebuilt into something useful—useful to God, useful to our neighbors, useful to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God among us. Until with all faith and confidence, we can say,

God, we hand ourselves and this church over to you. With your hands, change our shape!! Recast us into the vessels you intend for us to be!!

So, what kind of shape are we in? Can we truly say to God…

Take the clay of our lives and shape it to love. Take the clay of this church and shape it to grace. Take the clay of the world and shape it to peace. Take the clay of today and shape it to hope. And then breathe your spirit into us again.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!!

Alleluia! Amen.

Undoing the Undoer

A sermon based on Deuteronomy 8:1-3 and Luke 4:1-13 preached on February 14th, 2016

Sermon audio

I don’t believe anyone who can say with a straight face that they don’t have any regrets. My life is full of decisions I would gladly go back and undo if I had the opportunity.

One of my favorite old TV shows is called Scrubs. It’s about a few medical students trying their best to make it through their residency program without doing any harm to their patients. The main character, JD, has a very vivid imagination. His inner dialogue narrates every episode. During one episode, every time he’s about to make a mistake, a tuxedo-clad opera singer appears in back of him, and in his huge baritone he belts out one word: MISTAKE! Sometimes I wish I had an imaginary opera singer who would pop up and warn me of my impending mistakes like that. Life would be a little easier that way.

If you could go back and undo or redo a part of your life, what would it be? Most of us have a mental list like that. Hopefully yours is not too long, but maybe it is. We’re human after all. Our lives are filled with moments we would gladly take a second chance at.

I’d tell you one part of my life I’d never redo is middle school. Middle school is when every kid is exploding from the inside. It’s called puberty. During middle school and high school you’re supposed to figure out who you are and what you stand for, but with all the hormones, and the confusion, I’m not even sure that’s possible? The changing, cracking voice. The acne. The bullying. All of that and you’re expected to be a good student, too! No thank you. There’s no way I’d do it over.

There are lots of jerks in middle school, but there are just as many in our adulthood. I say “jerks” because I’m standing in a pulpit and I can’t use the word I really mean. We all know a couple. There are people who seem to make it their mission to have us doubt who we are, who do their best to unravel us, to undo us.

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We don’t talk about the devil that much in church—at least us Presbyterians. In some churches, you hear about the devil all the time. Sometimes you hear more about the devil than you do about Jesus. I had a friend in college who seemed to know more about the devil than he did about God. It was as if his life was some kind of cosmic battleground between the tricks and temptations of the devil and his own efforts to push the devil away. There are some people who believe that their guardian angel leads them to every empty parking space at the mall, and if there isn’t an empty space then the devil is up to his tricks.

There’s a few things we need to unlearn about the devil. Most of our ideas about him are completely unbiblical. They come from John Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno, or some bad horror movie from the ‘90’s. Take this passage for example. There’s no point in this passage where we see the word devil capitalized. And the word satan isn’t here at all. We have to go back to the book of Job to find the word satan, but it’s not a proper name either, it’s just a description of a role: satan means adversary or accuser. In Job, the satan character is not the same Satan we all have built up in our minds: this cosmic, powerful but oppositional force to God. In the beginning of the book of Job, the devil and God seem to understand one another, and in a disturbing way, they’re working together to make Job’s life a living hell. What’s that all about? And if we go all the way back to Genesis, we could ask why this snake is slithering around in a place called paradise? In that story, the snake is never referred to as Satan or the devil. There, the snake is that presence that creeps up on Adam and Eve and says things like:

Are you sure God told you not to eat from this tree? What exactly did God say to you?

The snake’s presence in the Garden of Eden is the thing that has Adam and Eve begin to doubt themselves and God’s plans for their lives. We know this presence all too well. It’s that voice that whispers into our ear that says we’re not good enough, strong enough, attractive enough, smart enough, that we don’t add up. We need something more than what God can give us. It’s that nagging voice that comes to us to plant doubt into our heads, that seeks to erode our confidence and replace it with self-doubt; that thing in us that always seems to make us question who we are, that tries to strip us of our strength and our sense of self worth; that beats us up and kicks us when we’re down.

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The story we read today in Luke 4 comes right after Jesus’ baptism when God’s voice proclaims from the heavens that Jesus is beloved, that he’s the Chosen One, that he’s the Son of God.

The other gospels say the devil shows up only at the very end of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. That’s when Jesus is at his weakest and most vulnerable. 40 days of fasting. No water. No food. If Jesus is going to crack, this is the moment—when he might give it all away for just a morsel of bread. If evil ever has a chance to enter our story, it’s when we’re at our worst, when we feel most exposed. The devil whispers in Jesus’ ear 3 times. We know that whisper. It’s the nagging voice that cuts our knees out from under us, its words shrink our self-worth. It’s a voice that tries its best to convince us that we don’t deserve better, that we’re all alone, that no one else understands.

Jesus, you’re hungry so why not feed yourself.

Jesus, you’re the King of kings, so why not assert your kingly power over the people?

Jesus, since you’ve got God on your side, why not jump from a great height? You know if you do, angels will swoop down to catch you?

Jesus says No to all 3 because the first one would be self-indulgent, the second would self-aggrandizing, and the third would be self-serving. And Jesus isn’t here to show off His own power; He’s here to reveal the power of God. And God’s power isn’t shown through stunts or magic tricks; it’s shown through humble service, shown through quiet acts of love, and ultimately, the greatest act of love the world has even known—His death on the cross. Jesus says No because, all the way through, Jesus never doubted who he was—or whose he was. His hope was always in something much great than anything he could do for himself.

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There’s one part of this story that’s often overlooked. It’s at the very beginning. Verse 1.

Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus wasn’t rescued at the end by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit didn’t fall upon him only in the moments he was being tempted. He entered into the wilderness already full of the Holy Spirit. That’s what sustained him the whole way through. The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ sustenance when He had no bread, His strength when He was weak, His rootedness when the devil was trying his level best to push and pull him in all those self-serving directions. Jesus stayed faithful even when his stomach was growling and that testing voice wouldn’t leave him alone.

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This is one of the lessons of Lent. As Martin Luther declares in his hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God, there are many things that threaten to undo us. All these little devils that we come across from one day to the next, that enter into the conversation and try to pull us the wrong way. We might call each one a temptation, but it’s more like a test. The test is: Do we listen to all the lesser voices who like to tell us who we are and who were are not? Whether we’re good enough, or what we need to change about ourselves in order to be good enough? Or do we listen instead for that Greater Voice that sustains us through the wildernesses of our lives? Who’s whispering in our ears? What are they saying, and how do we respond to them? Do we choose our way—do we try facing all of these things with our own determination, using our own strength, wit, and willpower, or do we choose a better way—a bigger life—listening for a greater and wiser voice to guide us through our days, to govern our actions?

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This Lent, we can practice that better way—pay closer attention to that greater voice.

Life is messy and complicated. There’s no opera singer following us around to warn us whenever we’re about to get ourselves into trouble. Neither is there a way to undo our mistakes. The good news is God knows all that. He was one of us. He has lived this life. He knows what it feels like to undergo these things, to be tested, to fail, to get back up and try again. He even knows what it’s like to be undone by death, even the most humiliating of deaths: death on a cross, the worst of all the undoings. But as we know, whenever God’s involved, even that undoing will be undone.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

At Home In the World

A sermon based on Psalm 147:12-20 and John 1:1-18 preached on
January 3rd, 2016

Sermon audio

I was 22 and in my last semester of college when I did an internship at a small Presbyterian church with my mentor and friend Matt Matthews. The idea was to give me a taste and some experience into what ministry in a small church looked and felt like, and every day, I did something different. One of my main responsibilities, though, was to lead worship with Matt on Sunday mornings. The two of us would meet up 10 minutes before the start of the service with the Choir, and have a prayer beforehand.

It was the 2nd or 3rd Sunday I was there, as the two of us were walking from his office to meet up with the Choir that Matt said to me, “I’m not feeling so good today, so you might be the one preaching my sermon for me. We’ll see how it goes.” He said that like it was no big deal—like I would reply with a quick, “Oh, okay, that’s fine!”

In fact, that’s how I might have responded, but on the inside there was sheer panic. How could he just drop this on me all the sudden and 10 minutes before the service, no less?! This is a clear set-up for failure! I stand no chance!

As it turned out, Matt preached his sermon just fine that morning. He had taken a dose of DayQuil just before worship, and it kicked in right about the time he started preaching. But he did something that morning that I’ve never seen him do before or since. At one point in the sermon, to emphasize his point, he pounded on the pulpit with his fist. Hard and loud. It woke everyone up! I was sitting in back of him that morning, in the chancel area, and once he threw his fist down onto the pulpit, I jumped out of my skin!

Later that week, Matt told me he didn’t know whether it was the cough syrup or the Holy Spirit that made him bang his fist on that pulpit. A friend of his suggested that it was maybe both. Maybe both, but we’ll never know.

σ

How do we know when God is speaking?

Does the voice of God speaking to us feel any different than the effects of a dose of Dayquil, or say—indigestion, gas, or the hardening of arteries? How can we tell?

We have a bible full of stories where God seems to speak with words—audible words—and humans just like us (there’s tons of them!) they hear God’s voice, they have conversations with Him just like you and I can have conversations with each other. Why doesn’t that happen anymore? Did it ever happen in the first place?What if the writers of the bible simply had better imaginations than we do?

When we read that Moses heard the voice of God speaking from inside a burning bush, how literally are we supposed to take that? If there were iPhones at the time, and that whole scene could have been filmed, what would we see and hear when we played it back? And that’s just one instance out of hundreds in the bible. Has God lost His voice? Has He become more introverted after all these years? Has God tried and tried, over and over again, to speak to us and because we never really listened, He’s given up trying? Or is it that we’re not listening for the right things? What kind of voice are we listening for?

Maybe it’s that God speaks out of the mystery of life itself. Perhaps the voice we need to listen for is a slower and more profound one—something speaking to us not with words strung together into sentences, but something more than that, some deeper utterance—some nudge in one direction or another—some trembling in our bones or underneath our feet. And it’s all we can do to try to make sense of that utterance. We know we hear something, but we need to hear it again, or else we might chalk it up to too much cough syrup.

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And this is what separates the Church from any other gathering of people. We listen together. We live with one another, not just because we like each other, but because we’re here to help each other listen—to try our best to make sense of all the different and mysterious ways that God is speaking into our lives. If that wasn’t our calling as a Church—the very center of our existence, the very heart of our purpose, then we might as well call ourselves something other than Church. The Lion’s Club, perhaps. Or the Shriners. Our men could sign up for a spot in the parade, wear those funny hats with the tassels on them, and drive in figure 8’s in tiny go-carts. We’re here because we’re called for something more. We’re called to listen deeper—to listen with one another. We’re here to remind each other that God is still speaking, and has a word for each and every one of us.

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God is famous for calling something to life over and over again—something that didn’t and couldn’t exist before God spoke it into being.

John’s gospel starts with this poem—this amazing and mysterious word—and in it, he declares that Jesus’ coming wasn’t happenstance. That his birth among us wasn’t just a consequence, or good timing. John declares from the very start that Jesus has existed in and with God from the very beginning of time, and at the fullness of time, God spoke again and something new appeared. Think of the very first words of the bible. John uses them here as his very first words:

In the beginning…

God speaks and things happen. And this new divine utterance is just one more thing God is creating, it is God himself coming to us, to live among us, as one of us.

The Word became flesh and made his home among us.

Another translation of this verse says that God moved into the neighborhood, because the original meaning of the word here is that in the person of Jesus, God pitched a tent right next to ours. With Jesus, God made himself at home in the world—setting up camp with us. Jesus is the Word. The deepest utterance of God. The very center of God’s voice. His heartbeat. The purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to give God a voice we all can hear and wrap our minds and hearts around.

Before Jesus, we looked up toward the sky—into its vast emptiness and we wondered what was out there and if it had anything for us. But now there’s no reason to look up to find our meaning and purpose. Now we look to Jesus, because God has made himself at home in the world.

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Jesus’s voice—that’s the voice we should listen for. He himself is the very utterance of God. And He’s still speaking. Jesus is God’s most powerful word ever spoken—so powerful that it’s still echoing across the sky. Sometimes it comes as soft as a whisper. Other times, as loud as a clanging cymbal. Sometimes as small as a mustard seed. Other times, as big as Christmas.

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We don’t always hear God well. It’s far easier to pay attention to the small things that take up our days. We don’t have to look too far after God’s first words that spoke creation and humanity into being to find that it was the very first of us who decided to pay attention to other voices—their own as well as the smaller ones much closer to them.

We know that story. It’s not just Adam and Eve’s story. It’s ours, too. We’re great at listening to the lesser voices, the most immediate and closer ones. It’s much harder to listen for the Voice that spoke it all into being in the first place—the One who still speaks us into being. The invitation, then, is to listen deeper—to take time out before the tumble of our lives and all of its distractions begin hurtling towards us from every direction. C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity:

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other Voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and fretting; coming in out of the wind.

That’s the invitation in these first words from the gospel of John. To listen for a new utterance in and among us. Let us start the New Year listening for that voice.

Our God is closer to us than we have ever imagined!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

If Your Knees Aren’t Green

A sermon based on Gen 2:4b-9, 15 and John 20:1-18 preached on Easter Day, April 5th, 2015.

 Who are you looking for?

That’s one of the questions posed to us at Easter just as it is posed to Mary, who seems beside herself in those first Easter moments—standing next to someone, she’s not yet sure who. And we have this strange insight into the mind of Mary. By all appearances it seemed to her that she was talking to the gardener.

When Mary sees the empty tomb, her first impression differs from ours. We know the Easter story. Mary doesn’t. Resurrection, Easter-style, is not even a concept in her mind. It’s not a possibility. Nobody dead comes alive again. It’s not a category, resurrection. It’s not in Mary’s spiritual vocabulary. It’s not in anyone’s spiritual vocabulary in the 1st century. So, we can forgive Mary for thinking that an empty tomb means something much more sinister has occurred. For most of this story, Mary and the others (accept for one unnamed disciple) see the empty tomb and think they’re staring at a crime scene.

The way John writes Easter is different. For most of his story, the main characters (the ones we know the names of, at least!) have frantic minds filled with images of grave robbers at-large.

Who are you looking for?

the gardener asks.

See Mary’s mind has already gone into frantic mode by the time he asks that question, the rest of the disciples’ minds are in freak out mode, too. So it doesn’t seem like Mary is even aware of the gardener’s question. It just doesn’t register in her head. And, Mary’s reply to the gardener’s question, have you ever noticed, has a tinge of blame in it:

Sir, if you have carried him away,

she says,

tell me where you have put him and I will get him.

Mary doesn’t answer the gardener’s question as much as she sticks him with the crime:

It’s the horticulturist, in the garden, with the spade! He did it!

It’s as if Mary says to the gardener:

Why would you do something as horrible as moving a dead body that had been so carefully buried?

Do you get a sense…that’s the question that Mary really wanted to ask.

Mary has a whole conversation with this gardener guy. A nice, healthy back and forth, and nothing. And no “Aha moment” until…when? Until Jesus the gardener says her name…

Mary.

Then, bam. The light flows in, all the sudden, and Mary sees that this gardener she’s been talking to and point fingers at is Jesus. This is Mary’s moment of recognition. This is the moment that John emphasizes in his version of the Easter story. The moment when all of the disciples encounter the empty tomb? Not buying it. The moment when they see the nicely-folded linen clothes? Eh. That doesn’t cut it. Even when Mary looks at Jesus she doesn’t have her Easter moment.

Mary’s Easter moment comes when Jesus says her name. That’s the moment of recognition. That’s Mary’s Easter moment. One of my favorite ways to think about God is borrowed from a theologian named Paul Tillich. He suggests that God is not so much like a being hovering somewhere in the skies as much as God is like the Ground of Being—the foundation underneath our feet. And (unless you’re from California) quiet, solid, and reliable. God is the Ground of Being because God has a quality of Always-Thereness—God is the steady presence beneath our anxious and wandering feet.

Mary, why “gardener”? Why would Mary assume “gardener”? There did she get that from? This is one of the most well-known of sacred stories, so doesn’t this whole “gardener” bit seem strange? But, what if Mary thought Jesus was the gardener because he was gardening? That’s the simplest explanation, wouldn’t you say?

When Mary walks up from the empty tomb with her eyes full of tears, wondering what crime had just been committed, what she sees is a person gardening. So Mary makes what seems to be a pretty safe assumption:

You must be the gardener here? And, well, since you’re the gardener here, I suppose you’ve been around for a couple hours doing whatever gardeners do here—you must know something about the empty tomb I just saw.

What if Mary wasn’t mistaken? What if Mary was right? What if the risen Christ came upon Mary with a few gardening tools in his hand?

See, that’s Mary’s Easter moment. She encountered the risen and living and eternal Christ, and he had a spade in his hand, dirty knees, and can we imagine a few smudges of dirt of his face?

Jesus the Master Gardener.

Mary sees the Christ tilling the soil of the garden. Cultivating the ground. This Ground of Being in Christ-like form, turning the hard clay of death—the death of Good Friday and replacing it with the rich potting soil of Easter resurrection.

The famous theologian, Calvin was undressing right before a bath one summer evening after a long day outside with his pet tiger Hobbes. And Calvin says to Hobbes,

Wow, look at the grass stains on my skin! I say, if your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously reexamine your life.

That line has become a mantra for gardeners everywhere. It’s also the invitation of Easter. To play in the dirt. The risen Christ’s other Great Commandment is

Take up your shovels and follow me. Dig deep. Uproot your fears. Excavate your all that useless clay beneath your feet and plant something new.

The appearance of Jesus, the Master Gardner, should take us back to the words of our Genesis text for the day, when God planted the very first garden on earth: the one in Eden.

God had green knees that day. It was on that day that God stimulated the roots of countless wild plants, and put them down in the soil. And it was in that same manner that the Ground of Being

formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into our nostrils.

And then the text says,

humans came to life.

Easter is when we celebrate that moment of resurrection—when God breathes new life in us through the new and resurrected life of His Son and our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Easter is that moment when we, like Mary, see that the living Jesus stands right in front of us—that we’ve been talking to Him all along. We just needed to hear our names called so that we could see Him with a new set of eyes. But, that’s also the challenge of Easter.

Easter isn’t for spectators. It’s for participants. Easter asks to do just what Calvin said: to thoroughly reexamine our lives. Easter wants us to have green knees—to dig deep, to till the soil of our hearts and lives, to uproot fear and judgment, and plant seeds of hope and compassion and love in their place. The resurrected Christ, the Master Gardener in our midst on this and every Easter day, asks us to till the soil of our hearts and lives so that new things can grow there. The Risen Jesus wants us to dig down deeper into our communities and in ourselves, to plant into the soil all around us the seeds of resurrection so we, right along with Mary on that very first Easter, can recognize the living Jesus in the people who stand right in front of us.

Friends, that’s the invitation of Easter! But, it’s not a once-a-year invite. It’s a 365 invite, because we are 365 Easter people, asked to get our knees dirty and our lives reexamined everyday by the Master Gardener who stands right in front of us and calls us by name.

That morning Mary set out while it was still dark to see a dead body, sealed up in a tomb with a rock heavier than she could manage to roll back on her own. But what she saw instead was an empty tomb, a situation gone horribly wrong she thought, and then a man standing right there alongside her, working the ground as if something new was about to come alive again. Jesus, the Master Gardener, had to dig a bit to reveal to Mary who he was.

Who are you looking for this resurrection day?

Jesus, the One with green knees, the living One whom we encounter on this Easter morning, and every Easter morning, 365—tilling our hearts and our lives over and over again, and calling each and every one of us by name until we recognize him standing right in front of us.

The great task of this Easter Sunday is to take up our shovels and follow the Master Gardener. The great invitation on this Resurrection Sunday is to get our knees green, tending to the soil of our lives, reexamining them—and then uprooting all that is dead, or fear-filled—excavating all that hard clay, and letting Jesus the Gardener replace it with the rich topsoil of resurrection.

Take up your shovels and follow Jesus! That’s the 365-Easter message for the 365-Easter people.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Wrestling With God

A sermon based on Genesis 32:1-13, and 32:22-31 preached on March 1st, 2105

 Sermon audio

When I was a resident chaplain at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, I was strolling the hallways of the 11th floor Neurosurgery unit one morning, just taking care of my daily rounds, moving from room to room, bed to bed, saying good morning to some of my regular patients and introducing myself to any new faces I saw.

It was not uncommon for patients to spend months, perhaps even years living on the Neurosurgery Unit. There were patients there who have had profound brain surgeries that left them needing intense monitoring for years on end, and patients with MS whose bodies were failing them more and more with each passing week.

That particular morning, I walked into the room of a man who was recovering from brain surgery. There was a scar that ran from then front of his head to the back. His hair was beginning to re-grow around it.

He and I exchanged small-talk that morning, nothing of note at all—in fact, I could tell from the way we was responding to my questions—his short, disinterested answers and his lack of eye contact, that he didn’t want me there at all. I got the message and I started walking out of the room. I had almost made my way to the door when he shouted at me,

Why do you walk with a limp?

he asked,

Is it an old sports injury?

Once he asked that, maybe I should have stopped and walked back to him and used his question to start up a conversation, but I didn’t. I just said

No, not a sports injury.

In my head, I had thought of a much more sarcastic response:

Yes, it’s a old football injury from my days as a college linebacker. If it wasn’t for this hip injury, I would have gone pro.

I thought that, but I’m glad I chose not to say it aloud.

I often wonder what got in the way of me turning around and having a conversation with him about why I walked with a limp. Maybe if I had taken the time to do so, he would have felt comfortable opening up to me about his brain injury and his recent surgery, and how he felt about it.

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Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had, have been with friends and mentors when we somehow began sharing with one another the stories of how we got our scars, and scabs, our birthmarks, and our limps.

I wonder if you’ve ever had a conversation like that, where suddenly everyone becomes comfortable enough to literally uncover their imperfections (as long as they’re in shareable places, of course), and they move from scab to scar telling the tales of each one, moving from top to toe on their bodies.

Every single one of our blemishes, stretch marks, and birthmarks has a sacred story behind it. We are each living, and moving, and breathing testimonies, aren’t we? And our very bodies tell the tale for us. And sharing those stories can be transformational, and sometimes even healing.

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Jacob’s story spans the last half of the book of Genesis. It’s way too long to read, or to even summarize, here in worship this morning. It is a story of a man moving from brokenness to healing.

Jacob, as you might recall, had a twin named Esau. Esau was older by just a couple seconds.

As the story goes, Jacob was born holding into his older brother’s ankle. In fact the name “Jacob” means “grabber.” And as Jacob grows up, things don’t change all that much. He becomes a greedy man with a shoddy character. He’s a scroundrel, a fraud, a liar, and a cheat. He’s easy to hate because he weasels his way through life and becomes rich and successful by duping others—grabbing everything for himself —ensuring his own wellbeing even if it’s at the expense of another’s.

But as we get to this point in the story, Jacob becomes intensely afraid that all his swindling has finally caught up to him, because the next morning he will see his brother Esau for the first time in 20 years. And there’s no one on earth who realizes just how much of a dishonest a person Jacob is than his brother Esau. And Jacob is terrified.

Take a look at the cover of your bulletin this morning.

Jacob Pleading by Charlie Mackesy-2

This is one artist’s take on Jacob wrestling with God—this mysterious presence that he tangled with all night long.

Jacob is alone at this point—his whole family, his servants, and all of his possessions have been sent ahead of him, to greet Esau and his family and servants—and Jacob is left to himself that night. He sets up camp at the River Jabbok.

It was that night that Jacob wrestled with God. All night long until dawn broke. Look at the chaos of each line in this drawing. Can you see the struggle that both figures are making as they fight one another? Can you see the anxiety of that night? The tension and confusion of it all. It’s there in the text too. This is the very first Wrestle Mania.

There’s a poem about this passage that I’d like to read. It’s by a man named Michael Dickel, and it’s called…

JACOB WRESTLING

They’ve all gone ahead, those I loved,

those I cared for but did not love—

arrayed and ranked, walking toward doom

or reunion. This bank, this river I have crossed before—

this creek, this life, this wreck on this shore—

all too familiar, all too fresh, all too unknown, all too new.

Now a shadow over the moon, or

perhaps my own doubt

forms as I ford the stream.

Now I wrestle with myself,

with this messenger,

this something of nothingness.

Now the moon fades—

darkness less dark—

what is my name?

Now I limp away

from this tangled life

of deception and counter-deception—

to losses, deaths, uncertainty,

a favorite son sold to the gypsies—

Who will redeem us?

Soon my brother and I will embrace

but keep our defended distance.

Soon nothing will be the same.

Now, I wrestle with God.

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Before the sun rose on that long, long night, Jacob and this mysterious presence, this divine messenger—perhaps even the very being of God—they confront one another, and they wrestle to a draw. There’s no clear winner—each gives up something of themselves before they part ways. On Jacob’s part, he refuses to let go until he can wrestle a blessing out of this divine presence. And his mysterious and divine opponent will not let him go unscathed. Before the night is through, God strikes Jacob on his hip—leaving him from that moment on, for the rest of his days, to walk with a limp. Permanently marked.

But a limp isn’t the only thing Jacob walks away with. He also walks away with a new name. Before God lets Jacob go, God gives him a brand new identity: Now, he’s “Israel,” which means “he who wrestles with God.”

See, there’s no way to meet God without being altogether changed. Whenever we have an experience with the divine, we become different people. Our very identities are changed. The hip, though, that’s the very center of our balance. When God strikes Jacob on his hip, God throws Jacob off his balance. Whenever we meet God, we get thrown off our center.

Encountering God permanently changes our stance. When we meet the living God, we will never walk the same way again. Encounters with God change the way we move through the world. This is how Israel is formed: the man, as well as the nation born from him. Israel comes into being by an assault from God.

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This Lent, we are being invited by God to explore the dark corners of ourselves, to do our part to wrestle with the dim places inside of us. Just like Jacob, that might mean wrestling with God Himself. That might mean confronting God, mixing it up with God.

This story, as well as the story of Israel throughout the Old Testament, is about a faithful people who, just like Jacob that night by the Jabbok River, stubbornly refuse to let go of God. The bible is filled with poetry and prayers and petitions that demand that God show up and do something, say something, change something in people’s lives.

I think that’s what faith is. Faith is the stubborn refusal to let go of God, to say to God,

I’m going to wrestle with you until you do something here, God—until you show me something new or until you bless me.

That might sound like a scary way to think about faith: confronting God and refusing to let go until God speaks, but that’s exactly what Jacob did that night by the Jabbok River, and if God wasn’t interested in wrestling with Jacob, He wouldn’t have done so in the first place.

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I think a healthy faith is one that dares things from God. I think a perfected faith is not about the pursuit of a perfected life. I think a perfected faith is one that dares to ask God, just like Jacob did, to meet us right where we are—in the midst of our chaotic, and blemished, and bruised lives—and bless us. A perfected faith is one that knows both the wrestle and the embrace inherent in loving God and loving one another.

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I would like to tell you that from that day on, Jacob’s life was turned around—that he started to act like less of a selfish idiot—but that wouldn’t be true. What is true is that he was changed, in small ways. What is also true is that from that point on Jacob never moved through life the same way. He walked away from his encounter with God with a permanent limp. But he also walked away with a deeper knowledge and a deeper relationship with God.

Most importantly though, Jacob walked away with a new name: Israel. And as he walked away, limp and scars and all—little did he know he would become the forefather of an entire nation of people: Israel: Those who refuse to let go of God.

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This lent, I urge you to wrestle your own blessing from God, and see what happens. God might change the very way you walk through this life!

All praises to the One who made it all finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.