I Will Not Let You Go

Text: Genesis 32:22-30
Date: Pentecost XXII + Proper 24 + 10/16/16

Almighty God has not only commanded us to pray but also has promised to hear us. Jesus’ parable, says St. Luke, is meant to teach us not only always to pray but also never to lose heart (Luke 18:1-8). Our prayers arise out of an awareness of our need. But they are not to dwell on that need. Rather they must attach themselves firmly to the promises and power of God to meet that need. Therefore, today’s Introit began, “Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed.” “Have regard for the covenant,” that is, God’s own word and purpose and promise of grace and mercy. The mini-drama of the widow continually pleading to the unrighteous judge reminds us how faith never gives up even when it seems either that God is not listening or that He is slow to respond. The strange story of Jacob wrestling with God was chosen as commentary on Jesus’ parable.

Having deceitfully stolen his older brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing to be the next in line of spiritual headship, Jacob (whose very name meant “deceiver”) flees his brother Esau’s wrath to his mother’s brother Laban hundreds of miles north in Haran. Over the next twenty years God blessed Jacob with material blessings and sons through whom would come the twelve tribes of Israel. Through other circumstances of his own making and two visitations of angels of God Jacob was now moved to return to his home in Canaan. Yet his fear that Esau still held murderous intent made him fearfully devise a plan to somehow appease his older brother.

Crossing the Jabbok River, he drew ever closer to his goal. At night we’re told Jacob was alone. Earlier Jacob had prayed to God, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him (Gen 32:11). So now suddenly, out of nowhere we’re told “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” Now though the prophet Hosea says of our text, “[Jacob] strove with the angel and prevailed” (Hos 12:4), this was no ordinary angel or messenger of God but was THE Messenger, THE Angel of God, the Son of God who appeared to Jacob as “a man” (even as He would for us and the whole world for our salvation as the son of the virgin). It was not a nightmare nor a merely spiritual conflict but a very real physical match. Not the best of five or even of seven but more like a wildcard game, “one and done.” “The man” allowed Jacob not to succumb, yet with one touch, he put his hip out of joint. Who can do that at all much less with but a touch?

Still Jacob wrestled even though he began to realize who this man was as he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” In his fear of Esau Jacob prayed to God for help. This was the answer to his prayer. God first met him as an enemy to show him his victory and confidence can happen only as he reaches firm hold of God even to the point of being blessed. His faith saved him and he became a new man. No longer “Jacob” the trickster but now “Israel,” literally the wrestler with God. As a result Jacob, now Israel confessed his faith in the words, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

Jacob’s prayer to the man was, “I will not let you go.” God’s answer to him was the same, “I will not let you go.” And that is God’s promise to all who believe and are baptized. “I will not let you go.”

Prayer is taking firm hold on God and His word, even when it seems that God is an enemy, that is, it is God speaking to you through His word of Law, not in order to condemn you however, but to expose and reveal your need in order to draw you closer to His mercy and grace, His Gospel. Therefore, when in doubt or even despair faith’s first prayer is not “Why me?” It is, rather, “Remember.” Remember your congregation. Remember your servant who you have purchased, redeemed with the blood of Your own Son, the very blood we receive when we meet Jesus here at His altar, His table, where we say, like Israel of old,

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean. (LSB 631)

Persistent prayer dwells not on our battles, wrestlings and troubles, but confidently says,

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot (or heal!) be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever. (Psalm 121)

Remember. Remember your servant and your steadfast love. Prayer repeats the petition to the God who promised, “I will not let you go.” Prayer repeats the petition, “Remember.”

Amazing Faith

Text: Ruth 1:1-19a
Date: Pentecost XXI + Proper 23 + 10/9/16

We have been hearing a lot about faith in recent weeks, especially that it’s not the so-called “strength” of our faith that makes any difference but the fact of faith in the promises of God. Today when we speak of “Amazing Faith” therefore we are not implying that some faith is more amazing than others but the fact that any faith is an amazing thing. Continue reading Amazing Faith

Living by Faith

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Date: Pentecost XX + Proper 22 + 10/2/16

Dearly beloved, I pray that God working through His Word before us today will give you not only an increase of faith but also an increase of great peace, patience, calmness of heart and mind even and especially in the midst of all the various challenges before us. Continue reading Living by Faith

At Ease?

Text: Amos 6:1-7
Date: Pentecost XIX + Proper 21 + 9/25/16

We’re surrounded by angels today.

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (Lk 16:22). Therefore we sing and pray for ourselves in the hymn:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing. (LSB 708:3)

This week we celebrate St. Michael and All Angels Day.

Today’s Gospel gives us some amazing, impressive and comforting details about the afterlife, what happens when we die, as the promise of the ministry of angels at our death. It also lays out a serious warning. No, the story Jesus tells of the Rich Man and Lazarus doesn’t mean that all poor people go to heaven and all rich people go to hell. And it doesn’t mean either that the way to heaven is the way of caring for the poor and our other good works, except insofar as our love and works or lack of them are indicators of our relationship with God if it exists at all. What is your relationship with God? A Christian priest got a laugh when he was questioned by a seven-year-old child after watching him serve the sacrament at Mass, innocently asking, “Do you know Jesus or does He just work with you?” Christian faith is never a part time thing, or shouldn’t be. Continue reading At Ease?

Upsetting the Fruit Basket

Text: Amos 8:4-7
Date: Pentecost XVIII + Proper 20 + 9/18/16

“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with money. At the same time we ought to say that there is also nothing right about money, money itself, for it will eventually fail. The question is not about money but about how and for what you use it (or it uses you) and the true riches of the gracious God of our life and salvation. Continue reading Upsetting the Fruit Basket

Let God Take Over

Text: Ezekiel 34:11-24
Date: Pentecost XVII + Proper 19 + 9/11/16

“Just who does this guy, this teacher, ‘this man’ think he is?” So the Pharisees and scribes grumbled and asked themselves. They didn’t know at the time that they were actually pondering and asking the most important, the number one question of saving faith – Who is Jesus? “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No orthodox, upstanding Jew would dare do such a thing! Just who does he think he is? Continue reading Let God Take Over

Choose Life

Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Date: Pentecost XVI + Proper 18 + 9/4/16

God sent His Son to bring salvation to the whole world. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16), He meant “whoever,” that is the invitation is open to all, to every human being. When He said, “whoever believes and is baptized” He meant that God Himself comes and works faith in your heart through His spoken Word and Sacraments and makes you his own. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Salvation is totally God’s work and gift. By the gift of faith God makes you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a follower, literally a learner. Continue reading Choose Life

Your Greatest Promotion

Text: Proverbs 25:2-10
Date: Pentecost XV + Proper 17 + 8/28/16

At first it would seem that today’s readings are aimed only at good advice or wisdom concerning an aspect of leading a God pleasing life in this world. And that it is. Jesus was being serious if not also a little critical before the Pharisees of the danger of ungodly pride and the need for true humility as we prayed for in today’s collect. With the words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” and vice versa, He certainly had the principle of the proverb in mind that we heard today, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov 25:6-7). Continue reading Your Greatest Promotion

All Flesh Shall Worship

Text: Isaiah 66:18-23
Date: Pentecost XIV + Proper 16 + 8/21/16

Today St. Luke reminds us that Jesus is continuing on His journey “toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem! It’s the place where God dwells. It is the place of divine worship. It is the place of God’s salvation. So it’s not surprising that a nameless “someone” asked Jesus about salvation. It is interesting that the question was not, as many ask today, whether everyone is going to be saved in the end. Among the Jews there has always been an awareness that salvation will be the possession only of a faithful remnant chosen by God. In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra it is written, “The Most High has made this world for many, but the world to come for few” (4 Ezra 8:1). This is simply because, while salvation is the totally free gift of God, it is possessed only by faith. Did God make forgiveness of sins and salvation available to all people? Yes, He did. Could all people be saved in the end? Yes, they could. Yet the Bible tells us that it is because of our fallen, sinful nature, our inbred spiritual blindness and deadness that many will reject God’s proffered salvation by unbelief. So if you change the question asking “Will all people be saved in the end?” The clearly unhappy answer is “No.” Continue reading All Flesh Shall Worship

Climate Change

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Date: Pentecost XIII + Proper 15 + 8/14/16

What’s all this? Casting fire on earth, distress, no peace but division, divided against each other? ‘Sounds awful. Today’s lessons sound like reading the newspaper with all the world’s daily tragedies, turmoil, desperation and death. Then Jeremiah’s report of false prophets and the threats of “the storm of the Lord,” wrath, a whirling tempest, the anger of the Lord. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” It’s bad enough having to endure the criticism and persecution of the world each day, but in line with the Gospel, today’s Introit says we will continue to have troubles and divisions even within our closest relations, even in the Church of all places. “It is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Ps 55:13-14). Continue reading Climate Change