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16th October 2016 – Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity – Jack Noonan

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Genesis 32. 22-31; Psalm 121; Luke 18. 1-8

Saintly folk warn us to avoid developing an attitude where, when we come across some ‘easy’ passages in the Bible, we should deliberately linger, and not quickly skip along because ‘we know ‘what it’s all about. Because this may be an unwarranted assumption

The downside of ‘our reading on automatic’ is missing that unexpected nudge from the Holy Spirit saying ‘linger here and be surprised by a joy or an insight which renders the assumed insignificant significant.

General Spiritual Health Warning

Pozor /Be Careful… searching the Holy Scriptures with such openness , in the company their author, can put us on a real roller coaster journey with God….and like Jacob, in our first reading, risks radically changing our identity, character and nature.

(For growth in of Christian life is all about communication…effective communication)

At this stage in many of our lives, through trial and error we have realised … that the core of every successful relationship is effective communication.

This is especially so in our close and intimate relationships. The life blood of those relationships is how effectively we communicate+ manifest our love, intimacy, understanding, forgiveness, and patience.

All in relationships have a responsibility to build, manage and maintain a living form of 2 way communication; but such a task easier said than done.

Relating to/with a loving God

The same holds true of our relationship with God.

Our God is a God of yearning love, generous strength and passionate intimacy…who before time began fashioned us and sought us…….Not just to ‘do’ for us.. but… to ‘be’ with us. To love us. He is NOT like the unjust judge we read about. God, our Father is good…..always.

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

As sure as oxygen is essential for our human life; so communicating prayer-talk with God is essential for our spiritual life.

Without a 2-way communicating prayer-talk we become spiritually malnourished. Our spiritual growth is stunted and spiritual development severely impaired. So when push comes to shove in life’s turmoil we have no spiritual stamina or resilience.

Be Prepared

For ‘when trouble comes aknockin at the front door and crisis is a bangin’ at our back door, we flounder and panic realising we have a very poor history with God, no experience with God and poor understanding of our Father- God’s character and nature.

As the old hymn says:

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry,

Everything to God in prayer.

So Today Make Hay While The Sun Shines.

Today,then, as with the first disciples let us say to the Lord’s Holy Spirit …………..’Teach us how to pray’.

There is a wise old saying: ‘make hay while the sun shines.’ Now is the time to build up a track record, a pray-talk fluency with our Lord.

For like many of our lessons in life, it is very difficult focus and learn new survival skills in the middle of life’s storms, floods and hurricanes.

Us having a faith filled, time tested, resilient prayer life with God is vital. Not just ‘for emergency use only’ prayer life, but one we grow into with the Holy Spirit. We need our own personal history with God. With the God we encountered in this morning’s Psalm:

*Who reaches out to us

*Who is not willing that we should be utterly cast down.…

*Who watches over us as our Guardian, our Keeper and Protector, day and night, 24/7.

*Who is intent on shielding us from physical and spiritual harm.

*Who commits Himself to eternally and lovingly looking out for us.….

This psalm gives us a great basis for faith and prayer. It triggers: hope, thankfulness, encouragement, confidence and security:

‘’7.The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: yea, it is even He that shall keep thy soul.(BCP)’’

Jacob

Pozor/HW. Involvement with God involves the risk of stepping out in faith.

Moses discovered that;

As did Daniel, Jeremiah Elijah and The Baptist

As did Mary the mother of Jesus, whose reputation was virtually destroyed because she said ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to get involved.

And then there’s Jacob’s encounter with God securing for him both great blessing and a permanent disability.

Jacob could be any one of us.

The name means ‘holder of the heel’ or ‘he cheats’….supplanter……underminer…. He was a shrewd, calculating manipulator. Jacob, like us, is not a wholly attractive type.

When we entered the scene this morning, Jacob, after a 20 year absence, is returning home… terrified of meeting his older brother Esau who he cheated out of his birth right.

A little earlier Jacob got the news that Esau with 400 men was heading his way to meet him.

As Hamlet said: ‘Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.’

Jacob is terrified…and prays to God for deliverance……incidentally reminding God that he (Jacob) is in this predicament because of following God’s instructions.

In our passage Jacob is now alone. Night has fallen, when suddenly a mysterious stranger appears, and in the darkness grapples and wrestles with Jacob. All through the night this strange conflict continues. This is an existential crisis. A Dark Night of the Soul.

Let’s looks at some texts.

1.”And Jacob was left alone.”

This sentence gives us key to the incident. Jacob has, for safe keeping sent his family and wealth to a safer location. It is dark and he is alone in more ways than one.

For to be left alone with God is the only true way of arriving at a just knowledge of ourselves and our ways.

No matter what we may think about ourselves, the great question is, What does God think about us?

And the answer to this question can only be learned when we are ‘left alone.’

Away from the world, away from self, away from all the thoughts, reasonings, imaginings, and emotion fogs clarity. This is beyond existential aloneness for it is ‘alone with God,’— Jacob/We have entered the great Crucible of Angst.

2.And there wrestled a man with him.’

The man initiates the wrestling. Why?

What does he seek to wrestling from Jacob?

When God wrestles with us it is ‘all in wrestling….though tempered by tough love and forebearance. He knows what we are, but still He wrestles to get ‘something out of us’…………..and we fight for dear life as if our life depended on it. An in fact it does………….something profound is threatening us…. our instincts….our pride, our ego, our independence….our self esteem and self righteousness.

Jacob’s lengthy struggle continues as God uses only patience, forbearance, committed tough love and grace in seeking bring the Jacob/us to an end of ourselves as he teaches us that our true strength is in our weakness and our clinging to Him. No humanism here.

Like with Jacob’s hip socket, one focused touch by the Divine Wrestler and we with Jacob come to an end of our self-determination….our self-will….self possession. A great beauty I see in Jacob’s clinging. As all meaning is disintegrating we cling and cling.

As the hymnist writes;

Nothing in my hands I bring …Simply to thy cross I cling’

Only then does our dark night of the soul come to an end. And we cry in recognition; ‘Abba, Father.

3.”And He said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he/Jacob said, I will not let you go, except you bless me.”

In the light of dawn …in the light of the presence +warmth of God. We will not let Him go.

‘I will not let Thee go…except You bless me.’ Again we, to the depths of our soul realise with another hymnist:—

‘Other refuge have I none; clings my helpless soul to Thee, leave Ah leave me not alone…still support and comfort me

4.I will not let you go unless you bless me……………and he blessed him.…………

We will never be quiet the same after encountering God.. We will bear His brand in our soul…., a new nature and a warriors name to go with it.

Names are significant, they give meaning.

Jacob is renamed Israel………meaning God Commands

; ‘for you have striven with God and with man and have prevailed.’

Jacob’s dark night of the soul had passed. He named the place Peniel meaning Face of God…..

“It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Then ‘the sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip’. and that out of joint hip will ever be a reminder to Jacob of the date God transformed him from cheat to prince. What is your reminder?

What to say by way of conclusion.

Catechisms, distil to the essence core biblical doctrines. The first question asked in many is :

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

We are to glorify God in our spirit, in our heart, by our life and on our lips.

The result……………………. Eternal ecstasy, happiness, joy, love and bliss with Him forever.

This….as  with Jacob….is  worth wrestling for. One to one… with a passionate God who even died for us.

Like Jacob the sooner we ditch all our baggage the freer we will be to respond to the love that will not let us go and fiercely grapple head on with Him…. in whatever place we find ourselves in with Him……………until He blesses us with the countless blessings He died to give us.

So brothers and sisters, ‘’how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?’’

Amen.