Jacob the ….(fill in the Blank)
Genesis 28 and 32:22-31
Penetecost +10, Common Lectionary Year A
©2017 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones
Introducing Jacob audio
Prayer of reflection audio
The story continues audio
Sermon: Jacob the …… audio
Sermon: Jacob the…..video
Jacob was a wrestler
from the day his cells formed into little fists in his mother’s womb.
Born holding on to the heels of his older twin Esau,
Jacob spent his entire life always grasping for more, more especially of what others had.
Did Jacob live in God’s world?
If he did, most of the time he was not aware of it;
He would be what we call now a functional atheist;
going along as he were the author of all his days;
as if everything was up to him to make his own world work
he paid God next to no mind at all.….
– most of the time.
Except this one time, when, on the lam,
running for his life away from trouble
– that he had caused –
with nothing, nothing, to his body or his name
but the ashen promise of a stolen birthright,
fully spent – both Jacob, and the day-
he folds his fearful body into the shadows of the night,
and crouches, cowers, camouflages himself
into the hollow of an age-worn rock, where he lays his head.
And in that sleep of fear of death,
oh what dreams may come!
As the storytellers of ancient Israel preserved it in their book of beginnings, called
Genesis, let me tell you what happened.
He dreamed that there was a ladder, a staircase,
set up upon the earth,
the top of it reaching to the heavens….
and on it the angels – the messengers – of God
and descending on it.
And as he dream-watched this most amazing sight,
Yhwh, the Holy One, God
came and stood right by his head!
“I am Who I am
I am God, the God of your grandfather Abraham,
I am the God of your father, Isaac,…
Here, where you lie,
this land, I will give you,
to your children yet unborn,
and to their offspring,
until you are numberless as the dust of the earth.
and spread to the west and to the east,
to the north and to the south
so that through you, and your children
shall be blessed.
Yet more God spoke, saying
“ Know this, I am with you in this world,
I will be with you wherever you go,
until you return to this place,
and I will not leave you
until all that I have promised you
That fearful waking from a powerful dream,
and taking the stone that had cradled his dream-filled
head, he set it upright, poured blessing oil on it,
as he muttered over and over to himself,
“Surely, the presence of the LORD is in this place,
and I did not know it.”
Surely the presence of the LORD is in this place,
I can feel his mighty power and this grace.
I can hear the brush of angels’ wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the LORD fills this place.”
Let us pray. (Reader)
Alone we sleep, our heads on holy stones,
under stars that blaze fierce and countless
as the dust of shattered dreams and stolen promises
of cratered sadness, and gaping meaninglessness.
Alone, so alone, we dream,
or we long to dream of angels,
messengers to us of God’s healing grace,
messengers from us to God of our confessed folly,
the deep sighs of our troubled, fearful hearts…..
Yahweh, Holy One,
come stand beside us,
cradle our heads on holy stones,
mantle us with the healing whisper
of your promise….
that beyond the fear there is a future,
held strong and safe in your heart,
and that you will not leave us alone, ever.
That you are there,
you are there.
You are there.
Hymn: In The Quiet Curve of Evening. VU 278
Continuing the story.
You’d think, wouldn’t you that,
after a night like that,
the story of Jacob continues simply:
“From there on, Jacob lived in God’s world,
living God’s Dream for him,
using those angelic messengers between earth and heaven
to keep him connected to the Almighty,
the Promise-Maker Holy God of Abraham and Isaac…
until he died, old and full of years,
and loved by all his children…
Thanks be to God… Amen!”
Not so much!
Jacob, the Twin, Jacob the Heel,
Jacob the Quiet One,
Jacob the smooth one,
who hung around the tents, plotting with his mother
to steal his brother’s birthright,
earning him the death-threatening enmity of Esau,
well this Jacob carried on, much as before,
living in a world of his own making.
Plots, trickery, both given and received,
fill the verses of the next chapters in Genesis:
He finds his mother’s brother Laban,
marries both his daughters – Leah and Rachel,
fathers 11 sons and a daughter officially,
and numberless others by dint of patriarchal privilege;
Jacob the con-artist, Jacob the Hustler tricks his way to fat wealth
with a unique line on speckled sheep,
But despite his living in his own world,
he’s carried that angel-ladder promise of God with him,
the promise of a home in the land of Abraham and Isaac.
We catch up with him on the road back towards Canaan,
now Jacob, the father of Many,
Jacob the Patriarch,
Jacob with too much to lose,
he approaches the territory of his wronged brother,
Jacob the Coward,
Jacob the Fearful.
Hear the story as it comes down to us from the writers of Genesis 32,
and told by some of the members of the CRG.
As Jacob neared the border lands, he sent messengers of peace ahead of him,
to find Esau and to gauge the sort of welcome he might receive.
The messengers returned, out of breath and full of fear, crying,
“We found Esau alright!
With four hundred soldiers at his back!
This will be your welcome, Jacob!”
So Jacob the Shrewd One
found his knees, bent them,
and called upon YHWH,
the God of Abraham and Isaac,
begging for God’s protection,
all while reminding God of
the promise that he and his children
would number as the stars and inherit the land.
Then, he divided his wealth, his flocks and his servants,
and sent them ahead of him in separate droves.
He told each group to offer themselves
as gifts to Esau in an attempt to appease him.
Jacob stayed well behind, with his two wives and his children.
They came to the ford across the river called Jabok,
on the threshold of Canaan.
And as night was falling he sent his wives and children across the river
so that he,
Jacob was alone.
And a person, a being,
came and wrestled with him all through the night.
Neither prevailed against the other,
but as dawn was almost breaking,
the unknown stranger put Jacob’s hip out of joint,
and tried to leave.
But Jacob, the Heel, held on to the other,
“I will not let you go unless you bless me”
“Tell me your Name?” The stranger asked.
“I am Jacob, the Heel. Who are you?”
The Stranger simply said,
“Jacob you were, but now you will be called
‘Israel’ the one who struggles with God,
for you have indeed struggled with God
and with humans, and have prevailed.”
With this, the stranger blessed him,
And Jacob, the Wrestler,
He walked into the morning,
and into the world,
with a limp.
RevE: This is the Witness of Israel
Thanks be to God.
Jacob the ….(fill in the Blank)
So I have at least one burning question
about this Jacobean drama!
It’s in the Bible, right?
He’s the one after which God’s people are named, for Pete’s sake!
Isn’t he supposed to be one of the good ones?
And yet, you heard us;
I can assure you, as can those who studied
this text with me earlier this week,
we have not been guilty of outrageous
trash talk or fake news.
What we’ve told you is what’s in the book.
Jacob was a bit of jerk.
He was everything we named,
Jacob the self-made cad,
Jacob the coward,
Jacob the cheat,
Jacob the liar,
Jacob the heel.
If truth be told, he’s everything we despise;
he’s making headlines on the news right now,
you can read about his exploits in the
white collar crime section of the news journals.
He has his own TV shows,
making a fast buck off someone else’s idea.
She’s the smooth operator on House of Cards, Scandal, Game of Thrones,
He’s the hustler on Better Call Saul,
he has a starring role in every series or movie,
or real- this- world exploitative escapade
that needs a fast-car, fast-woman- chasing
To get biblical a moment,
and quote the Psalms,
he’s among the “scheming evildoers
who whet their tongues like swords
and aim bitter words like arrows
to ambush the blameless with impunity.” (Ps 64:3-5)
So here’s my burning question:
How did this one,
this Jacob, the…
the enemy, of all I cherish in my moral universe,
end up being one whom God blesses?!
Blesses with a stolen birthright,
with a wrestled blessing,
with angelic dreams,
and promises of progeny
more numerous than the dust of the earth?
I don’t get it!
Did we miss something?
We must have, surely!
Jacob must have some hidden traits
that we don’t know about,
that only God can see,
some redeeming qualities that must render him
worthy of such generous blessing, yes?
That must be it…an incomplete tale…
we just don’t have all the data.
Or, another possibility:
has this trickster played even
God for a fool?
Duped God, wrestled God
out of a reluctant blessing
that should have gone elsewhere,
just as he did
to his father Isaac?
Neither answer is particularly consoling!
If I suggest for a second
that this last possibility is true –
that God can be duped for a fool by a charlatan –
then why on earth would I want to live
in God’s world,
ordering my life according to God’s Dream?
How could I trust God to be the One
who can bless with life and hope,
to be the One who can answer the deepest lamentations and supplications
that crawl up from the craters of my sadness?
How could I trust that the goodness of the world is intentional,
and ultimately redemptive?
So let me go back to my first
somewhat vacuous, answer,
that there must be something about Jacob
that God would deign to bless him.
The implication of this is daunting;
because, if God can bless Jacob
the coward, the liar,
the politically savvy crook,
the less than devoted husband and father,
the heel grabbing sibling,
then not one of us morally imperfect creatures is beyond God’s blessing.
Oh, but I do have a list God should look at!
I want God to stay out of reach,
beyond the sacred canopy of heaven,
send no angelic messengers of grace,
withhold all blessing, wrestled or otherwise,
from….. the people who think it’s okay to carry Nazi swastikas in Virginia,
from the perpetrators of racial violence,
the bullies who beat and kill gay and trans teenagers,
the internet trolls,
the … well, you get my point.
For many of us, our moral universe cannot expand to bless such as these
and we don’t want God to either.
God it seems,
from this Jacobean dystopian drama,
is intent on blessing.
God blessing all this,
this, God’s world.
All the mess, the mayhem,
the wars, and warmongers,
the leaders and followers,
on every side of every political,
every ideological divide.
God blessing the refugees,
those who made them flee,
and those who would keep them out;
God, blessing the fearful mothers who send their black sons out of town,
safely away from the hate marchers,
and, God knows how,
God is intent on blessing the marchers too.
I don’t get it.
I have yet to fully wrestle
that difficult, hip-wrenching blessing from this text.
I still watch fearfully a world hell-bent
on curse not blessing.
I still crave that God’s justice would rain down
on this broken world,
but it seems, God’s justice is
and always was
the fruit, first,
of God’s blessing.
God said it to Abraham,
“I will bless you, so that through you the nations will be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)
God said it to Isaac,
“I will bless you, so that through you, the nations will be blessed.” (Gen 26:4)
God says it again, to Jacob, the jerk,
“I will bless you, so that through you, the nations will be blessed.” (Gen 28:14)
God says it again, to us, descendants of this Creator’s creative promise:
“I will bless you, so that through you, the world can be blessed.”
The sort of blessing that shares the goodness of God
with the creatures of earth,
all of them. All of them.
The sort of blessing that hurts,
that wrenches, and twists,
and wrestles the coward in us, the heel in us,
the liar, the bigot, the self-serving in us,
the falsely prideful in us,
the fearful isolation in us…
Wrestles and will not yield, not let us go,
until we walk, with a limp,
into the dawn of tomorrow,
with God’s healing blessing, for God’s world.
The question for us all now, then, is
with what God-given blessing
shall we bless our corner of God’s world?