Sunday, August 2, 2020
Words of Welcome
The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar.
Don’t forget that today is Food Bank Sunday, but you can drop off non-perishable food items or to make a monetary donation to the Yarmouth Food Bank at any time. During the summer, when the Food Bank has limited hours food donations will be kept at Beacon and distributed through our Session Fund.
Birthday celebrations this week August 5 – John MacDonald
August 6 – Leona Brown
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, let us remember that its light is not to one space or one gathering. The light of Christ is with us everywhere. So as we light our candle this morning, let us remember that we have been called and challenged to not only recognize Christ’s light wherever it shines but to take that light out with us wherever we go.
Acknowledgment of Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unseeded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality along with the spirituality and traditions of the Métis people with whom we also share this land.
Call to Worship
I want to share with you this morning a very simple but powerful call to worship that was written by Katherine Hawker.
Wrestling … struggling … resisting. Powers beyond our understanding.
Embracing … reconciling … experiencing … Sacred!
Let us wrestle. Let us struggle. Let us worship that which is sacred.
Let us pray;
Ever Present Spirit, the story of Jacob shows us your willingness to enter into the messiness of our human struggles—into fractured relationships, family differences, unreconciled situations with people we care about. Yet all too often we shut you out, holding on to our hurts and grudges because we do not want to loosen our grip on our perceived control. Help us to wrestle with the conflicting values, desires, and pressures that confront us daily so that we can unclench our hands and open ourselves to the transforming power of your Holy Presence. We know that only then can we fully embrace our own pain and the pain of others, and by doing so be fully open to the embrace by your love in return. Amen.
Theme Conversation/Current Events
So as you can likely figure out from our Call to Worship and our Opening Prayer, today we will be hearing the story of Jacob wrestling with God. So I want to ask if you can think of a time when you felt like you were wrestling with angels, with demons or even with God.
As I already said, today we hear the story of Jacob wrestling with God. But before we hear that story, I think we need to know a bit more about what happened to Jacob between the birth of his children and his return trip to Beersheba where he encounters and wrestles with God along the way. After the birth of Joseph, Jacob told Laban he wished to leave and return to his father’s land. Laban asked what wages he expected for his many years of service.
Jacob asked for each spotted or speckled goat and each black sheep out of the many herds he had raised for Laban. Laban agrees, but then during the night Laban had his sons remove all the black sheep and all the male goats who are spotted or speckled and move then to land far away from the rest of the flock. Jacob said nothing and continued to tend the flocks, however, every goat that was born after Laban’s deceit was spotted, speckled and every lamb was black. Those that were not were weak and sickly. Jacob’s flock grew while Laban’s shrunk.
Laban’s sons began to grumble about their decreasing inheritance and Jacob knew that it is time to leave. So Jacob waited until Laban was off shearing his sheep and taking his wives, his children, his flocks and leaves. What Jacob did not know was that his beloved Rachel had stolen the household gods that belonged to her father. When Laban realized Jacob is gone, he went after him claiming that it is because of the missing gods. Although Laban searched the tents of both his daughters and their slaves he was unable to find the idols, apparently because Rachel was sitting on them, claiming to be having her monthly period and therefore unable to stand up in the presence of a man for fear that the man would become unclean. At this point, Jacob had had enough and an argument ensued which showed Laban’s true reason for chasing after Jacob. “These young women are my daughters; their children belong to me, and these flocks are mine. In fact, everything you see here belongs to me.”
Despite his protests, Laban realized that there is nothing he could do so he and Jacob set up a stone cairn and agreed that neither one will ever cross into the land of the other.
And now Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau whom he had years ago cheated out of his birthright. This is where our scripture today begins. It continues with Jacob wrestling with God and ends with the reunion of the twin brothers.
Jacob was frightened and worried. He divided into two groups the people who were with him, and also his sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks the first group, the other may be able to escape.”
Then Jacob prayed, “God of my grandfather Abraham and God of my father Isaac, hear me! You told me, LORD, to go back to my land and to my relatives, and you would make everything go well for me. I am not worth all the kindness and faithfulness that you have shown me, your servant. I crossed the Jordan with nothing but a walking stick, and now I have come back with these two groups. Save me, I pray, from my brother Esau. I am afraid—afraid that he is coming to attack us and destroy us all, even the women and children. Remember that you promised to make everything go well for me and to give me more descendants than anyone could count, as many as the grains of sand along the seashore.”
After spending the night there, Jacob chose from his livestock as a present for his brother Esau: 200 female goats and 20 males, 200 female sheep and 20 males, 30 milk camels with their young, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 males. He divided them into herds and put one of his servants in charge of each herd.
He said to them, “Go ahead of me, and leave a space between each herd and the one behind it.” He ordered the first servant, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who is your master? Where are you going? Who owns these animals in front of you?’ you must answer, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. He sends them as a present to his master Esau. Jacob himself is right behind us.’” He gave the same order to the second, the third, and to all the others who were in charge of the herds: “This is what you must say to Esau when you meet him. You must say, ‘Yes, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob was thinking, “I will win him over with the gifts, and when I meet him, perhaps he will forgive me.” He sent the gifts on ahead of him and spent that night in camp.
That same night Jacob got up, took his two wives, his two concubines, and his eleven children, and crossed the Jabbok River. After he had sent them across, he also sent across all that he owned, but he stayed behind, alone.
Then a man came and wrestled with him until just before daybreak. When the man saw that he was not winning the struggle, he hit Jacob on the hip, and it was thrown out of joint. The man said, “Let me go; daylight is coming.”
“I won’t, unless you bless me,” Jacob answered.
“What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he answered.
The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled with God and with men, and you have won; so your name will be Israel.”
Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”
But he answered, “Why do you want to know my name?” Then he blessed Jacob.
Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. The sun rose as Jacob was leaving Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Even today the descendants of Israel do not eat the muscle which is on the hip joint, because it was on this muscle that Jacob was hit.
Jacob saw Esau coming with his four hundred men, so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two concubines. He put the concubines and their children first, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Joseph at the rear. Jacob went ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. They were both crying. When Esau looked around and saw the women and the children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?”
“These, sir, are the children whom God has been good enough to give me,” Jacob answered. Then the concubines came up with their children and bowed down; then Leah and her children came, and last of all Joseph and Rachel came and bowed down.
Esau asked, “What about that other group I met? What did that mean?”
Jacob answered, “It was to gain your favor.”
But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have.”
Jacob said, “No, please, if I have gained your favor, accept my gift. To see your face is for me like seeing the face of God, now that you have been so friendly to me. Please accept this gift which I have brought for you; God has been kind to me and given me everything I need.” Jacob kept on urging him until he accepted.
Wrestling with God
Despite how I might feel about Jacob as a person, I have to admit that, at this point in his story, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. Jacob is really caught between a rock and a hard place. It has become clear that he can no longer remain in the company of his father-in-law Laban. The tension between them and the tension between Jacob and Laban’s sons has become dangerous. In many ways, despite his 20 years of living and working with them, Jacob is still the outsider. It is becoming more and more clear that Laban’s sons resent Jacob for his success and that the resentment they feel could put Jacob’s life in danger.
So Jacob is forced to pack up everything he has and escape. But where was he supposed to go? Before he left home, his brother Esau had threatened to kill him. They had not spoken in 20 years. What if Esau still held a grudge? What if he still wanted Jacob dead? Although Jacob may have had considerable wealth, what he did not have was a home or the power and influence to hang on to one. Even if he found a safe place to settle, he would always be an outsider, always viewed with a certain suspicion and never completely accepted and at any time he could find himself in the same situation he was in now, fleeing for his life.
The only way he could truly be ‘home’ was to face Esau and try to convince him to allow Jacob back into the family. So that is what he decided to do and in order to convince Esau not to kill him, he sends a gift, which might more accurately be described as a bribe! He sent Esau 200 female goats and 20 males, 200 female sheep and 20 males, 30 milk camels with their young, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 males. This was a huge fortune that Jacob sent to Esau in the hope of buying his way back into the family.
But Jacob was still uneasy and uncertain. So after ensuring the safety of his wives, his concubines, his children, his servant, and his remaining flocks and wealth, Jacob sought out a quiet place where he could be alone perhaps to think about he might what to do next.
It is while Jacob is alone that we are told, a man came and wrestled with him until dawn. I can’t help but wonder what it was that Jacob was truly wrestling with. If he was to return home after 20 years away, there must certainly have been a lot that he would have to come to terms with. Perhaps for the first time ever Jacob was being forced to deal with all that he had done in his past.
Now I’m not sure it’s ever easy for anyone to completely and honestly face up to their past. We all have things in our past that we would rather forget. We have all done things or made a decision that we would rather leave behind us. We all have doubts and uncertainties about how we measure up in the overall scheme of things. And perhaps Jacob, more than most people, had real issues from his past that he needed to face.
How does anyone come to terms with having cheated, deceived, and betrayed those closest to them? How does anyone come to terms with the pain and hurt they have caused to others? How does someone accept full responsibility for all that they have done in the past, being completely honest and open about it? How does someone wrestle with all of this, and if they are able to do so, how do they come to a point where they can move forward?
Jacob wrestled with his assailant all night long and as the morning dawned, the man pleaded with Jacob to let him go. Jacob refused. I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more honest for Jacob to have answered, “I can’t” let go, rather than “I won’t”. Jacob could not give up the struggle. He has already held on far too long. So he continued to hang on as tightly as he could and he said, “I won’t [let go], unless you bless me.”
Jacob could not let go on his own. He needed help. He needed a blessing from the very one that he was wrestling with. And then the man asked him, “What is your name?”
Seems like a bit of an odd question after you have been wrestling with someone all night long! But Jacob answers and the man responds, “Your name will no longer be Jacob … your name will be Israel.”
Jacob is no longer Jacob. All that has brought him to this point, all of the things in his past that he has been struggling with are left behind. This is a new beginning. He is no longer Jacob, a name that literally means the usurper, the one who supplants, the one who undermines, the heal. He is now Israel, which literally means, the one who has wrestled with God.
But if the past is truly behind him, what do we do about the story of Jacob being struck on the hip? If the overall symbolism of this entire story is actually the inner struggle we all go through, wrestling with ourselves, what does Jacob’s injury symbolize? If he has been given a new name and the past has been set aside, why does he come away from this experience limping?
Jacob has been given a new name and a way to move forward, but it is not as simple as all that. His past, and all the deceitful, dishonest, and unethical behaviour that has thus far defined who he is, is behind him. For the first time, he is free to move forward and to begin again. He doesn’t have to continue to be who he has always been up to this point. But that does not mean that the past has somehow vanished into thin air and it no longer exists. Just because his past no longer controls his life does not mean that he can simply pretend it didn’t happen. The things that he has done cannot be undone. His past will continue to be a part of him and it is something he will still have to deal with for the rest of his life.
Perhaps, the injury to his hip, the injury that he will carry for the rest of his life, is his past. That injury, at least from time to time, will continue to cause him a great deal of pain. It will leave him with a permanent limp. The damage that he has done and the pain that he has caused others will always be with him, but that does not mean that they have to control his life.
Israel has been given a second chance. He may not be able to change the past, but he has been given the opportunity to make a new future. He does not have to go on manipulating and using people as he once did. He can take this opportunity to change and to become a better person.
So, did this experience change Jacob? Well, the second scripture we read this morning describes the man who returns to greet his brother as being a lot different from the brash and cocky young man who fled in fear for his life 20 years before. We are told that “Jacob … bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother”, a sign of deep respect but also of deep humility.
And it appears that Jacob is not the only one who has changed. “Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.” This is the same man who 20 years ago had vowed to Jacob. Now he greets him with a kiss.
One more thing I want to point out. As the two brothers begin to talk, Esau asks Jacob why he sent so much of his flock on ahead of him, and Jacob responds, “It was to gain your favor.”
It was the bribe that Jacob had sent ahead in the hopes of pacifying his brother’s anger against him. This was his attempt to ‘buy’ his way back into the family. He had offered Esau a huge fortune in the hopes that his brother would not carry out the threat he had made all those years ago to kill him.
But Esau refuses the bribe, not because he is angry or because he is holding out for something more, but because he is simply glad to have his brother back and he does not need anything more than that.
Jacob’s response once again shows a very different attitude from the one we have come to expect from him. “Please … accept my gift. To see your face is for me like seeing the face of God … Please accept this gift which I have brought for you; God has been kind to me and given me everything I need.”
It is no longer a bribe that Jacob is offering, but a gift. And it is a gift given in gratitude, recognizing just how fortunate he has been and recognizing that this, and everything else he has, has come from God.
This is the first time in the entire story of Jacob where Jacob seems to see God as his God. It is the first time that he does not refer to God as the God of his father. Jacob’s relationship with God has changed. In the past, it seemed like there was always a certain level of mistrust or hesitation in Jacob’s interactions with God. When God had promised to care for him, Jacob had responded that IF God kept the promises that God had made and thereby proved worthy then, and only then, would the God of his father become Jacob’s God.
It took a long time and a lot of wrestling for him to get there, but he had finally arrived. Jacob has come home in more ways than one. The God of Abraham and Isaac had finally and forever become, the God of Jacob. And that was something that would never again change.
Now I realize that everything I have just said is pure speculation and I am sure there are many more highly educated and intelligent people than me that would laugh at everything I have just said and dismiss it completely. But for me, this is why these stories still matter today. For me, it is in the ways in which they can challenge us to think differently about what we read in the Bible. It is in the way these stories can reflect our own stories, and by doing so offer us new ways our understanding and relating to that which we call Divine, which is the very reason we gather here in this place on Sunday morning, to begin with. Amen
The Gift of Music
Prayer of Blessing (Gifts and Prayer Jar)
Let us take a moment of silence to remember all the gifts that have blessed and enriched our lives. Let us think about how we can use those gifts, the gifts of our time, our talents, and our treasures to enrich the lives of others …
Let us offer our thanks for these gifts;
Divine One, for all that we have, for all that we are, for all the wonder and love that surrounds us each day, we offer our thanks. We ask your blessing on the gifts we have been given and upon the gifts, we offer in return. Amen.
And let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as we sit here in the quietness of prayer, our thoughts are far from quiet. We wrestle with doubts and fears, we desperately seek answers but we seem to look in all the wrong places, we search for hope in the midst of apparent hopelessness, we seek your strength but we refuse to surrender our own perceived control. We listen to the story of Jacob and how he wrestled with an angel. We hear how he asked that angel to bless him and we realize that we, too, come seeking your blessing.
There are so many times in our lives when we have felt alienated, worried, confused, troubled, or alone. It can be tempting to simply whine about all the perceived injustices that have been heaped upon us.
It can be tempting to give in to the feeling of hopelessness and to forget your promise of help. But you encourage us to stand strong; to seek the blessings that you offer us; to recognize the many ways that you are with us, giving us love, hope, strength, and courage.
Knowing you are with us, we come once more seeking your guidance. As we bring before you our prayers for those near and dear to us, we seek healing and hope not only for ourselves but for others.
We think of all those who are ill. May the healing power of your grace surround them, may the gentle wisdom of your Spirit touch the hearts and hands of all those who care for them, and may the reassuring presence of your love be with them …
We think of those whose lives are filled with fear and violence, those caught up in war or political upheaval and fighting, those living in areas of ethnic or racial tension, those dealing with domestic abuse in their own homes. May they encounter your peace even in the midst of uncertainty and fear …
We think of those feeling lonely and isolated, those whose lives seem to have been put on hold by the world-wide pandemic, those who are far away from family and friends for whatever reason, those who have built up such walls of protection around themselves that they no longer know how to reach out …
We think of those whose struggles we do not know and whose pain we do not understand …
Yet even as we offer our prayer today we know that the blessings of strength, of courage, of hope, of forgiveness, of inclusion, and of love are already being offered to us and to everyone else. Help us receive these blessings with gratitude and grace, so that we, in turn, may become a blessing to someone else. Amen.
The Gift of Music
So now go out from here to live your life knowing you are loved by something far beyond your own understanding. Go knowing that Divine Power goes with you. Remember, you don’t go alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit accompanies us each step of the way. Go with God!