Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok: A sermon preached at Breath of God Lutheran

Greetings from your pastor Mark Parker who is currently with Breath of God’s youth at the Freeride event in North East Maryland.
Greetings from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Greetings and peace in the name of Jesus.
They tell you at Seminary to never go back to the original biblical language in a sermon, because then you are just showing off. But, sometimes it is only in the original language that certain aspects of a story shine forth.
Today’s story found in Genesis chapter 32 is one of them. There is a phrase imbedded in this story that just jumps off the page because of its alliterations,
because of the way it looks on the page,
and the way it feels in my mouth,
and the way it sounds to my ear; it cannot be ignored!
“Vay-ye’abek Ya’akob ba-yabok.”
Or, to translate it very concretely, “Jacob wrestled at the Jabbok,” as in the Jabbok river.
Or, in order to keep the original alliteration that rings in my ear like a can-opener to a herd of hungry cats,
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok.”
Or, I would maintain,
At this time
In this place,
Before this assembly here,
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok” could be translated, “Church! You are called to this community.”
“Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok” is, for us today, the message:
You are called
to this community.”
Let us pray:
Lord God, please bless the words of my mouth, please bless the meditations of our hearts and the places they lead us to. Amen.

Jacob Jebekked at the Jabok.
Jacob—born with one hand clamped to his brother Esau’s heel, attempting to pull him back into the womb so he could be the first-born instead.
Jacob—whose name means Supplanter or Trickster.
Jacob—who continued to degrade his brother once out of the womb, stealing both his birthright and his blessing.
Jacob—who took his father-in-law’s flock by hook and by crook.
Jacob, because of these anti-social actions had been estranged from his family, is returning to his brother Esau, but fears for his life.
Fears that Esau will want revenge, more than that his brother Esau will want Justice and want blood!
And so Jacob finds himself alone in the night.
Then he is confronted by, and wrestles with, a man that whole night.
Jacob, whose name means Supplanter or Trickster, is asked by this mysterious man, “what is your name?”
And Jacob answers.
Jacob says, “Jacob!”
But he is more than simply giving an answer.
Jacob is confessing.
Jacob is admitting, “Yes, I am a Trickster. Yes I am a Supplanter. Yes I stole what was my brothers and left him alone. No I have not been my brother’s keeper.”
And, in making that confession, in being confronted by the cowardly nature of his name, Jacob was given a new name.
Now, Israel can be translated a few ways. In today’s translation it is suggested it means, “God strives” others suggest “God preserves.” I’m not here to parse out this word—that’s not the point.
What I want you to notice is that God is in his new name. The point is that, in confessing who he is, God enters in. Jacob is given a new start with God.

Church! There is a message for you in this. For you see Jacob is not the only one involved in a name change.
Not the only one who has confessed an incomplete showing in compassion and understanding toward his brother and his neighbor. Confession that he has, missed the mark.
You see, I both have and have not preached at this church before.
Yes, I’ve preached in this building before.
Yes, I’ve preached to some of the same people in the pews before.
But, last time I preached here I think I preached to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church wrestling with becoming Breath of God. Today, I preach to Breath of God Lutheran Church wrestling with being faithful to its roots as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. I am preaching to a church in transition. A church with one foot on each side of the river Jabbok.
Yes, Breath of God/St.Paul’s Lutheran. Or, as Deaconess Kati Kluckman-Ault called to you when she would talk to Assistant to the Bishop Wolfgang, “Mark’s _________ people.” Mark’s ______ people.
Ummm… I suppose I should really call them Assistant to the Bishop Kati Kluckman-Ault and Bishop Wolfgang. After all you and Jacob are not the only people dealing with a name changes—with a new start.

But, the important thing is not the name change itself. It doesn’t matter so much if I’m preaching to St. Paul’s or if I’m preaching to Breath of God.
What matters is that the name change isn’t a re-branding—you know about rebranding—
how Coke briefly became “new-coke,”
how the cigarette company Philip Morris became Altria,
how Wal-Mart is supposed to be friendlier to workers now because it has a yellow sun in its logo.
That’s not what happened to Jacob, and from what I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard, that’s not what is happening here at this church. No, what is going on here on Clinton Street is not a re-branding!
this church here has confessed—truly confessed!
that at times you have not been as intentional as you ought in reaching out to your neighbors.
And not only that, God has entered in, yes God has entered in, and is doing a new thing—a spirit thing—a ______ thing.
A new start
you are becoming the community God wishes you to be.
God is entering-into your name, into your being, into who you are,
and through His grace transforming you!

Jacob Jebekked. Jacob, despite being alone in the night—Jebekked. He wrestled.
And I’m not repeating the phrase “alone in the night” for the emotional impact of this phrase alone.
No. Jacob was very intentional about being alone that night
he wanted to be alone that night.
If we look back a few verses Jacob begins by sending waves and waves of his property toward his brother, hoping that he will take them and spare Jacob’s life.
Then, he does the same with his family—sending them in front of him as a sort of human shield.
Let me repeat that, Jacob took the phrase “women and children first”—which usually refers to protecting women and children, and instead sends women and children toward Esau, his brother who he believes intends to kill him and possible kill his family as well!
Jacob is putting everything he has—property and family—between himself and his brother.
He is doing everything in his power to be separated from his brother.
He is doing everything he can to be alone in the night!
But God doesn’t let this happen! God doesn’t let Jacob alone!
No, Jacob wrestles with this man from sundown to sun up. If this happened here in Baltimore they started wrestling at 6:27 last night, and didn’t stop wrestling until 7:17 this morning.
Yes, Jacob wanted to be alone,
he didn’t want to deal with people,
he didn’t want to deal with his brother
—but God stepped in and Jacob was not alone—instead he wrestled for 12 hours and 50 minutes!
And, you know, we so often think about this story of Jacob wrestling, and only think of its divine meaning—we so often describe this as the story of Jacob wrestling with God—or maybe, if we’re feeling a little low church—we call it Jacob wrestling with the angel.
But, if you look carefully, Jacob is re-named Israel, not only because he wrestles with God—but because he also wrestles with humans.
Israel is Israel because he is “the one who strives with Divine Beings and with Human Beings!”—he wrestled with God, and with Man.

And Church, you are called. Church, you are called.
Now sometimes we forget that.
Sometimes we forget we are called.
Sometimes we, like Jacob, try to be alone—alone in our faith, alone in our piety, alone in our church buildings.
Jacob sacrificed his stuff and his family to be alone—but, I would maintain we sometimes do him one better.
One of the ways church folk try to be alone is by focusing on wrestling with God.
Yes. You heard me right. We try to be alone by wrestling with God.
Or, maybe, we try to focus so much on God that we forget about Man—on the divine to the point that we forget about the human.
And when we do that—we use God to hide from our brothers; from our neighbors; from our neighborhood.
God won’t let us do that!
After all, our God is the God who, at the end, says to us, “you fed me. You clothed me.”

And we ask, “when did we do that?”
And God responds, “when you fed the least of these, when you clothed the least of these.”
Yes, ours is a God who we wrestle with when we wrestle with others, when we wrestle with our sisters and brothers
Ours is a God who when we wrestle from sun up to sun down—those 12 hours and 50 minutes of darkness we are wrestling with both God and man—both divine beings and human beings! When we wrestle with one we wrestle with the other.

Or to put it another way, I think of a community meeting Pastor Mark was telling me about.
The main “issue” the community decided to focus on was the youth of Highland town. The youth, were described as both a “problem” and a people who needs help.
Perhaps they too can be Christ to you.
And, all I want to tell you, from all of that, is that I’ve been to Thursday night Basketball here at Breath of God.
I’ve seen you opening your doors to the youth.
But you can’t stop here!

Jacob Jebeked at the Jabbok.
Yes, in the end we find him limping into the morning light—changed—renamed—limping toward his brother!
We find him squinting a little as the light glimmers off the Jabbok. As he crosses over to the other side—cross over to a new relationship with his brother.

And Church! You are called to this community.
You have been called into a new relationship with the people of Baltimore!
You are called not only to serve here, but to learn here, and be community here!
You are called here! To Highlandtown.
You are called to wrestle,
and to engage,
and to be church
and to feel God’s breath reviving this place from Little Italy to O’Donnell Heights.
You are called to renewed engagement with your neighbors and with your brothers from Can-ton to Patterson Park.
You are called
to this community.

You are called to worship here!
You are called to belong here!
You are called to serve here!
You are called to grow in faith here!
Church! You are called to this community!
Amen and Alleluiah.