Genesis 32:22-3

William S. Epps, Senior Pastor
Sunday, February 5, 2023
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Genesis 32:22-31
Here we are on the first Sunday in February, African American History Month.  We have endured the worst this country offered, contributed to the best the country achieved and still remain courageously loyal to the values articulated by the founders of the country. We go forth in faith, challenging the conscience of a nation that is experiencing a crisis of character to fulfill the promise of its creed as articulated in its founding documents. The Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.") and Preamble to the Constitution (“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”). The pledge of allegiance to the flag, the symbol of our democratic nation (I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the nation for which it stands, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all). Our motto is,
“In God We Trust.” Our de facto motto is E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. The nation has struggled since its inception to fulfill the creative altruism articulated in its founding documents and mottos. The struggle to achieve continues.
Consider what it means that our belief and faith about life requires that we are in a perpetual state of progressing against the pull and tug of retrogressing. 
Monday, February 6, 2023
Our scripture shares a story of individual struggle with communal consequences. It’s about the struggle of a person experiencing a crisis of character caused by choices whose consequences have resulted in anger, fear and the propensity for violence. This is a story of the human struggle with God, but on another level it is a story of the human being's struggle with himself. Jacob wrestling at Jabbok is one of the Bible's model stories of the struggle we have being accountable for our actions as we seek to maintain our humanity, integrity and morality. 
What emerges from the story even in the midst of our struggles with God and with self, is the most enduring word, a word of God's grace. What began as a bludgeoning (beating-battering) ends in a peculiar blessing.  In the end Jacob is blessed; wounded as a reminder of the struggle, but nevertheless blessed. 
Firstly, God engages us where we are in our lives. 

“God is our refuge and strength, a present help in the time of trouble” Psalm 46:1 
We struggle with God in our attempts to be honest with ourselves. That struggle is prompted by our desire to get beyond our past misgivings. In trying to mend the rifts we have created with our choices, we now find that we struggle with what we believe about ourselves, the creeds of our faith, the desires of our hearts, the fulfillment of our dreams. We recognize that our relationships with each other are determined by our relation with who or what we give our ultimate authority, belief and faith.  
There is something about the story of Jacob that is universal. It is a story of struggle, of desire, of a strategy to survive and eventually thrive. One thing we note is that Jacob’s original deceit of his brother continues to haunt his life. He spends his life haunted by what he has done, always looking over his shoulder for the enemies he has created, like one of those wanted criminals living life under an assumed identity.  “Jacob was left alone,” says Gen. 32:24. That is often where we find ourselves. We are left alone with all of our own anxieties, our doubts and fears. When we are most vulnerable, is when God stands the greatest chance of helping us.
Consider what it means that we struggle and strategize and/or wrestle with how to get beyond our mistakes, misgivings and missteps. 
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
We are wrestling in our dysfunction and division as a people who are struggling to get beyond the inconsistency of what we say we believe and the contradiction of what we continue to conceive. We were reminded by the first ever teen poet laureate, "Where can we find light in this never-ending shade? And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished.” (Amanda Gorman). And that we are still struggling “to form a more perfect union,” (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution) “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.” (Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag). In God we trust in our motto. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many one, our de facto national motto. Neither of which we fulfill with our policies and practices.     
Like Jacob, we began as a nation denying what was stated as God’s unalienable rights to which everyone is entitled. We began with discriminatory practices, woven into the fabric of our society, structurally, systemically and systematically. We are struggling as in a tug of war pulling against one another as them verses us - contentiously brawling physically and psychologically with violence and loss of life. 
We are struggling to come together to reunite about addressing the threats with which we live, the protracted results of the pandemic which isolated us for years with social distancing and quarantining, and more the millions of those who died.  We are struggling with the polarization and politicization and the propagation of fragrant falsehood with twisted lies that consume so many live. It is foolish to believe what you know is false and deny what you know to be true. Gas lighting and conspiracy theories replace fact with fiction and truth with falsehoods.  
Jacob has to come to grips with his deceit against his brother which haunted him causing him to be afraid that his brother would treat him as he deserved given what he had done. Here was a soul searching moment for him to come to grips with how he had mistreated his brother, robbed him, took advantage of him exploiting his vulnerability. He was wrestling with himself as well as what he believed about his relationship with the ultimate source of his life, the creeds of his faith. Maybe that is what is wrong with us as a nation. Grappling with the reality that those we have harmed and wronged may do the same to us. So we live in fear of that threat and want to rewrite the history of the reality of our own misgivings. Isn’t that what we see today? 
Consider what it means to come to grips with and reckon
with the reality that our past misgivings haunt our present reality. 
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Secondly, God preserves us through life's painful predicaments

Jacob was preserved through the struggle. This crisis situation for Jacob turned out to be a life changing opportunity for him with God. There are choices to our consequences that are imposed by life and people 
We are all struggling with something or perhaps multiple issues at the same time. Many of us are running away from the bout or live in denial that any such struggle is occurring. We are not meant to avoid the struggle. We are meant to let God engage us in winning the victory in the struggle, the one with ourselves as well as the one with God. Jacob did not quit his struggle that dark night.  Jacob engaged in the fight. He did not quit. He fought with all he had in him. We have to do the same. 
There are times when we have to wrestle with our own failings – the times we are disappointed in the way we have responded and acted. There are times when we have to wrestle with all the calamities, dangers, tragedies and upsets that life in this world brings. We wrestle with questions like:
We wrestle looking for answers, for help, for strength and God’s grace allows us to wrestle with God as we try to come to terms with what has happened or is happening. Sometimes calamity, tragedy, or danger in our lives can lead to the obvious answer. What is that answer? I’m glad you asked. The answer is to trust
the sufficiency of God’s grace in everything we face.  
Even the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7, “when I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts…the other law…makes me a prisoner.” / Paul came to the conclusion that the Lord’s grace was sufficient, for God’s strength is make perfect in weakness.
(II Corinthians 12:9).
Consider what it means that you have the sufficiency of 
God’s grace in everything we face.  
Thursday, February 9, 2023
We are not meant to walk away from our struggles and challenges but to engage in the “good fight". Lord, keep us engaged in the struggle for your righteousness and justice.
God will do what it takes to move you through your struggles to a place beyond what would disgrace you. Sometimes it is through the agony of defeat, we often more truly find ourselves. What did Jesus say paradoxically?
To save your life, you must lose it.
The tree that never had to fight, / For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out on the open plain, / And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king, / But lives and dies a scrawny thing.
The man who never had to toil, / To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share, / Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man, / But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow in ease, / The stronger the wind, the stronger trees
The farther sky, the greater the length / The more the storm, the more the strength By sun and cold, by rain and snow, / In tree and men good timbers grow.
~Douglas Mallock
“Sure I must fight if I would reign, increase my courage Lord. I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by thy word,” is the way the composer put it in, Am I A Soldier of the Cross, a follower of the lamb.

Consider what it means that as a follower of the Lamb, Jesus Christ,
we must shoulder up our crosses, those that are thrust upon us,
those that are the consequences of our choices, and those we choose
in order to account for our responsibilities.  
Friday, February 10, 2023
Thirdly, cling to the Lord in your struggle.
We are not always clear about how God is going to help us. Jacob is engaged in a wrestling match in which his hip is dislocated. He is now totally dependent on the Lord. The Lord helps us by breaking us of our inherent self-righteousness. Too often we want to use God and the blessings God bestows to further our own ends. All of his life Jacob had been using God and people to get what he wanted for himself. Now God brings him to see that you don't use God and you don’t; use people - you submit to God and serve people. When we submit, the Lord blesses us. Jacob is exhausted and exasperated. All he can do is just hold on. 
Clinging to God in our brokenness is when we ask what we really need and want – we just want to be blessed. Hold on and say I am not going to let go of the struggle with my faith until I’m blessed. Notice, Jacob did not say how or what the blessing should be.  Jacob left it open to the Lord to decide the blessing that would be bestowed. All you should want when you struggle with your faith in God is for the Lord to bless you in the way the Lord determines or deems necessary. 
The blessing was a name change. A name that would designate a people chosen by God to bless the world. The Lord did not want people carrying the baggage of their awful nature, for that would define their activity and behavior. Jacob is the third person in the patriarchy of a chosen people after his grandfather, Abraham and his father Isaac. The Lord did not want Jacob representing who God is as a deceiver, fraudster, swindler and trickster, in essence saying, "I don’t want you to be a representative of me with your worst nature, but the possibility of your better nature. You may not know what you need, but I do."

The blessing was a changed name. Israel is the Hebrew name, Yisra'el, meaning one who God contends, or one who struggles with God. Those identified with that name are God’s people, chosen for a purpose. (God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways, as far is the heaven is from the earth are God’s ways different from our ways.” Isaiah 55:8-9)
Jacob is broken but blessed, hurt but healed,/ scarred but saved, wounded but whole. Being met with One who is all seeing and all knowing, you can trust the Lord in your time of change and crisis as you wrestle with your doubts to survive that the Lord will respond with what’s most important as a blessing to get you beyond the struggle to what’s in store for your future. 
You discover something about yourself. You face your brokenness honestly. You confront your struggle with the reality of faith in God. You discover that holding on to God yields a blessing that you most desire even though it is one about which you may have been unaware. 
Consider what it means to hold on to your faith in God
as you face the reality of your frailty.  
Saturday, February 11, 2023
The name change indicates a change in your connection to God: caught in a web of conversation seeking clarity; a change in your proximity to God; a change in your relationship with God for now you are completely owned by God with a blessing that seals your fate. 
Yeah! There it is! You become God’s people, chosen by God as you struggle with yourself, grappling with your belief and understanding about God as you seek to get beyond your anxiety, doubts and fears and finally your acceptance of your relationship with God.
We need to change our connection, proximity and relationship with our motto, In God, we trust. We are children of God first and foremost as our founding documents state unequivocally.  
God does not quit on us, but grants us the Grace of God with a blessing of becoming God’s children through the struggle. 
Hold on just a little while longer / Hold on just a little while longer /
Hold on just a little while longer / Everything will be alright
Everything will be alright
Pray on just a little while longer / Pray on just a little while longer
Pray on just a little while longer / Everything will be alright
Everything will be alright /Fight on just a little while longer
Fight on just a little while longer / Fight on just a little while longer
Everything will be alright / Everything will be alright
You know you gotta sing on / (Just a little while longer)
(Sing on just a little while longer) / (Sing on just a little while longer)
(Everything will be alright)
On first Sunday we observe communion. We remember that Jesus was broken to atone for our brokenness and restore our relationship with God. In doing so we are blessed despite our brokenness; blessed to live through our brokenness; blessed beyond our brokenness as God’s chosen people in Christ.  Amen
Consider what it means that the Lord does not quit on us and we should not quit trusting to hold on to the Lord as we come to grips with what we face. 
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