Sermons, Uncategorized

Holding on for the Blessing

“Jacob Wrestles with an Angel” by James Tissot

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AYyGj8eB3ssyP3NKDQCaWoJQNbnEvqz2/view?usp=sharing

Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” (Genesis 32:26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jacob and his caravan reach the Jabbok, a stream that flows into the Jordan from the east just about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. After leading family and flocks south across the Jabbok under cover of darkness, Jacob himself goes back across the stream, apparently to spend some time alone with the Lord in prayer. As he begins once again to pour out his heart to God, he suddenly becomes aware that out of the darkness someone has grabbed hold of him and is wrestling him to the ground. The mysterious struggle continues—for hours—until the first streaks of dawn appear in the eastern sky.

In commenting on this passage, Martin Luther said, “This text is one of the most obscure in the Old Testament.” Although there are elements of this wrestling match that are difficult to understand and to explain, there are some basic truths that are immediately clear.

Jacob is struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involves a spiritual striving with God for His blessing, but it involves a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, at first referred to “a man,” later identifies Himself as God.

But why should God appear to one of His children as an opponent, as an enemy fighting against Him? Surely not to crush the life out of him. If God so wanted, the wrestling match would be over in half a second. In the heat of the struggle, Jacob may be tempted to think of God as his enemy; in that case God would not want to bless Jacob. But God has promised to bless, and Jacob knows that God cannot lie. Yes, God is an opponent, but He is not the enemy.

The struggle continues until Jacob’s divine opponent, by merely touching Jacob’s hip, throws the entire hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob can’t continue the painful struggle any longer, so he throws his arms around his opponent and holds onto him. His opponent says, “Let Me go, for the day has broken.” He is delighted to hear Jacob answer, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” God doesn’t want Jacob (and He doesn’t want us) to be timid with Him. He delights to let us win victories over Him on the basis of humble believing prayer. Jacob clings in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he receives the blessing he desires.

“What is your name?” the Lord asks him, not because He has forgotten but because He wants to remind Jacob that he has been born a “heel-grabber,” one who takes unfair advantage of a rival. But that old name no longer fits this man, and so God gives him a new one. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Bible names often serve as more than convenient labels for people. Here Jacob’s new name describes the new nature and character the Spirit of God has patiently and painstakingly created in him. No longer will he rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposes him. The heel-grabber has become the persistent fighter who clings to God’s promise and wins God’s blessing legitimately. He has learned to lean on God.

God apparently feels that Jacob needs a memento of his victory, as a warning against relapsing into his old nature. So, as Jacob leaves the scene of the wrestling match, he is limping. All of God’s children need to learn that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in holding on for the blessing, on holding firmly to God’s promises.

For Jacob another blessed fruit of this mysterious struggle is that he is freed from the terror that has gripped his heart since he learned Esau was coming for him with four hundred men. With the Savior’s promise ringing in his ears, he is now ready to meet Esau, ready for whatever surprises the new day might bring.

God still appears to His people on occasion as though He is an opponent. Each of us has known dark hours when we were unable to see God’s blessing and have seen only a face that looks angry. Jacob holds on to God even when He appears as his opponent, and he wins a blessing. We will have that same experience when we learn how to say, “My Savior, I will not let you go unless You bless me. Keep holding on for the blessing!

Jacob learned the hard way a lesson we all need to learn—in and of ourselves we have no power with God or man. We are much like helpless babies. Our only strength lies in holding firmly to what God has promised and crying out to Him for help. Apart from Jesus, we can accomplish nothing spiritually. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not know how to pray or for what to pray.

Unlike babies, we do not outgrow this helplessness. We never become spiritually self-sufficient but grow in our dependence. If there is one thing we discover as we mature spiritually, it is that before God we are nothing but beggars. In the face of death and God’s judgment, we can only cry out to Jesus as beggars did in the ancient world: “Lord have mercy!” Or as Jacob did in our Old Testament lesson: “I will not let You go until You bless me!”

Yet that experience of helplessness is the best thing for our spiritual growth. As long as we can manage quite well by ourselves, we have no need to pray and never learn to praise God. But when we have come to the end of our own rope, our only hope lies in prayer. Only those who are helpless can truly pray. Only those who have been helped by God in answer to their prayers can really praise God.

You are on a journey through this fallen world to the Paradise of God. You live in a land where there are temptations, and in which you have fallen often. Perhaps it is pride that keeps you awake in the darkness before the coming dawn. Maybe it is slavish fear in the middle of the night. You are alone as you wrestle with your past, with your conscience, and with that ever-increasing load of guilt.

Then the Lord permits you to wrestle with Him throughout the darkness of this world’s night. He may reach out His finger and touch your heart or your home or a loved one. There is instant pain and it continues. You hobble around and, in spite of the hurt and suffering, with strength and determination that can only be from above, you hold on until you have God’s intended blessing.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Striving with God and men… and prevailing. Suffering. Enduring hardship. Hearing the accusations of the Law. All the time, holding God to His gracious promises in prayer. Holding on for the blessing.

“The wages of sin is death…”

Yes, Lord, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“The soul that sins shall die…”

Yes, my Lord, but He was wounded for our transgressions.

“There is none that does good; no not one…”

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

Why does the Lord engage in such a wrestling match with you? Why does He inflict or permit a variety of painful injuries, horrid diseases, and awful injustices that might dog you the rest of your earthly life? In order that you might hold on for the blessing. In order that you might turn from your prideful independence to humble dependence upon Him. And in Christ you are! In order that He might bring you forgiveness. And in Christ you are forgiven! In order that your slavish fear might be replaced by godly fear. And in Christ you are! In short: In order that He might bless you! And in Christ you are blessed!

The Lord provides you with His Word and Sacraments, not only to bring you into the Israel of God, but to sustain you in His Church. Recall your Baptism daily by drowning the Old Adam through contrition and repentance. Declare to Satan: “I am baptized. And if I am baptized then I belong to Christ.”

Know yourself… both the sinner and the saint. Know God’s Word… both the Law that accuses and the Gospel that forgives. Listen as the absolution is announced and take it to heart. Receive the true body and blood of the Incarnate Son of God, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit gives you the strength to endure whatever the Lord God may permit to come your way and to remain faithful unto death and be given the crown of life.

This literal encounter between Jacob and God provides an object lesson for our prayer life. We wrestle with God in prayer. It isn’t always easy. Eager as He is to hear us and help us, God is no pushover. He is no magic genie at our beck and call. Often He must oppose us when our sinful will is out of sync with His perfect will. He challenges, convicts, judges, evaluates us and our requests. But when our will is in accord with His, God graciously lets us prevail. Graciously, He gives us the blessing we ask for.

Like Jacob, may you continue to hold onto the Lord even in those dark hours when you are unable to see God’s mercy and see only a face that looks angry. May you learn to say in prayer, “My Savior, I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Indeed He does bless you. He soothes your suffering spirit. He calms all your fears. And He gives you peace and comfort even in the midst of strife.

In Christ, you are blessed. That is to say: You are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Blessings of Life in the Fear of the Lord: A Homily for the Blessing of the Marriage of Greg & Jessi McCormick

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Click here to listen to this homily.

“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways!” (Psalm 128:1).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Greg and Jessi,

Almost six months ago, we met for a similar, though much smaller, gathering, as you were joined together in the union of holy matrimony. In the sight of God and before your parents and grandparents, you pledged yourself, your faithfulness, to one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death parts you, according to God’s holy will. You were pronounced to be husband and wife in the eyes of the state and of the Church.

Today, you will not repeat those vows, for they have been made once and they are for a lifetime. So, we are not gathered here today so you can have the wedding of your dreams—whatever that may we be. Neither are we here for the party—though I’m sure the reception will be wonderful. And I’ve heard that the band for the dance is pretty good, too.

No, we are gathered here today, to ask for the blessing of God upon your marriage. Realizing that you both, like each one of us, is a fallen son or daughter of Adam, appreciating the highness of such a calling as marriage, understanding the importance of God’s blessing upon all our endeavors, and realizing the need for God’s continuing guidance and provision, you have invited your family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, to join you for this solemn and joyous occasion.

You have heard again God’s plan for marriage from Genesis and Matthew. St. Paul has reminded you how your love for one another is intended to be a reflection of the mystery of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church.

In a few minutes, before God and His people, you will give your wholehearted pledges that you will live your marriage in God’s name, according to His Word, within His favor, and without reservation, daily seeking His blessing on your union.

And, finally, you and I and the rest of the congregation will pray that God would grant you always to live within His love and protection so that no sin or trial may separate you, but draw you closer to God and each other, even to the fulfillment of all your promises in Christ. In short, you’ve come today to seek God’s blessings!

Psalm 128, is both a promise of blessing and a prayer for blessing, centered upon the gifts which God gives us in our everyday lives, especially in our families. It begins: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways!” (v.1).

If, as the psalmist tells us, the blessings of life are found in the fear of the Lord, then it seems that it would be a good idea to ask and answer an important question: What is “the fear of the Lord”? After all, we usually associate fear with something negative; and it is difficult for us to imagine how fear could bring a blessing.

The Hebrew term can mean to be afraid of someone or something. And the phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” often carries with it the fear of judgment. But the word fear can have other shades of meaning. When referring to a person of high position, it takes on the idea of standing in awe or reverence before that individual. God wants us to fear Him in this sense. He is our Creator, and He is our Savior. He is our Lord and King. How can we ever think of God with indifference or treat Him lightly?

This fear is closely related to trust because we can truly respect and revere God only when we believe that He is truly everything His Word says He is. Understanding “fear of the Lord” as trust helps us understand other enigmatic Bible passages such as Psalm 130:4: “But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” To know and trust what God has done for you in Christ Jesus is the ultimate blessing.

Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, becoming one of us so that He might take your place. Jesus lived the perfect obedient life that you could not. He died on the cross to pay for your sins. He rose again for your justification. Ascended to the right hand of God, He intercedes for you before the Father, even as He is with you always to the end of the age in His Word and Sacraments. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you are cleansed of your sins, adopted as God’s children, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness. In His Supper, He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His Word, He continues to call you to repentance, to faith and forgiveness.

Once you have this “blessing,” this “fear of the Lord,” many other blessings follow, including fruitful labor, prosperity and fruitfulness in the marriage, family, Church, and nation. And one of my personal favorites: grandchildren!

Your relationship to God is not, nor should we ever think it is, a quid pro quo situation. God does not deal with us according what we have done for Him. Thank

God, He does not. There is no, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” No, God provides for each of us according to His grace and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on our part.

The Lord certainly does give His gifts, including family, long life, and daily bread, to those who fear Him. But He also gives these things to those who despise Him. The difference in the blessings of those who fear the Lord and those who do not fear Him is that those who fear the Lord have the added blessing of knowing where their gifts come from. The others attribute their blessings to luck, false gods, or their own hard work. All these things are undependable. Even hard work does not always pay off. The Lord, however, is dependable, and you can trust in Him to provide you  with all you need daily for your body and life.

Greg and Jessi, I thank God that you have chosen this occasion to ask His blessing upon your marriage and family. And given all the blessings, we’ve spoken of today, it seems especially fitting that I close this message with a blessing.

May God grant you the blessings of life in the fear of the Lord. May you seek to live always in the grace and forgiveness of our Lord. May Christ’s love so fill you that your love for one another would never weary but grow and strengthen through every joy and sorrow shared. May you always see one another as God’s special gift and blessing. May you find fulfillment and fruitfulness in the work of your hands, your God-given vocations. May you be blessed with many children, as many as the Lord sees fit to give you. May you be blessed with a long life together, watching your children, and your children’s children grow. May the blessings of your family flow to this nation and all of God’s people. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.