WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday, June 16, we worship on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (the time after Pentecost).  Jesus highlights the mysterious horticulture of the kingdom of God, in which we can never underestimate the magnitude of what can be done with something small.  We welcome Pastor Arden Krych, who will preach and preside. Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship:https://www.youtube.com/live/BVwInjrcBG0?si=931YpLrC1LksyemF

Genesis 32:22-31

October 16, 2022

Am I good enough?  It’s a question we so often ask ourselves. School makes us ask this question all the time.  Am I good enough to pass this physics test?  Am I good enough to make the soccer team?  Some of you are in the challenging season of wondering “Am I good enough to get into that college?”

I wish I could tell you that there was some magic moment when you stop asking yourself that question.  But it shows up other places too.  Am I good enough to do well at this new job?  Am I good enough spouse or partner?  Am I good enough friend? Am I a good enough parent?  Am I a good enough caretaker for my aging parent?

And the ultimate question: Am I good enough in God’s eyes?

The next time you ask some version of that question, I want you to think about Jacob.  Jacob from today’s first reading.  If anyone had reason to wonder if he was good enough, it was Jacob.  Let’s recall some of Jacob’s backstory.  Jacob was primed for a fight even before he was born.  Earlier in the book of Genesis we hear that Jacob and his twin brother Esau struggled together in utero.  The Lord told their mother Rebekah before she gave birth that two different nations were in her womb.  Esau was born first, hairy and tough.  Jacob came out second, holding on to Esau’s heel; Jacob was softer, quieter.  Esau became a hunter.  Jacob preferred to stay inside the tents, often preparing delicious food.  As parents sometimes do, their parents Isaac and Rebekah played favorites.  Isaac preferred the rugged Esau, while Rebekah preferred the gentle Jacob.

According to ancient practice, Esau had a certain birthright – particular benefits that fell to the firstborn son.  One day Esau comes inside from a day of hunting.  He’s famished, and Jacob has cooked up a delicious stew.  Jacob tells his brother he can have some food to eat if Esau sells Jacob his birthright.  Esau is either so famished that he can’t think straight or he’s a terrible negotiator – because he agrees.  So now Jacob has a double inheritance, and Esau is left out.

Later, when father Isaac is old and losing his eyesight, mother Rebekah conspires to help Jacob steal a blessing intended for Esau.  While Esau is out hunting, Rebekah helps Jacob cover himself in some of Esau’s clothes so he would feel and smell like his brother.  Rebekah cooks up some of Isaac’s favorite dishes.  So Jacob goes into his ailing father, manages an ancient version of identity theft, and receives the blessing that Isaac means to give Esau.  At one point Isaac says to the disguised Jacob, “Are you really my son Esau?”  Jacob answered, “I am.”  That’s some pretty straightforward deception.

Esau is understandably furious, and so Jacob runs away to live with his uncle Laban over in a place called Haran.  There he spends several years, marries two women and fathers many children with multiple women (which sounds shady to us, but to be fair, that was common in the ancient world).  There’s a whole other soap opera we won’t get into, but Jacob manages to make his uncle angry too and eventually packs up his large family and all his flocks to head back toward home.

Who do you think he’s most afraid to see when he gets home?  Esau.  Jacob only knows how to wheel and deal, so he sends some servants ahead with a whole bunch of gifts for Esau.  We’re talking 220 goats, 220 sheep, some camels, some cows, some donkeys. 

By the time we find Jacob in today’s reading right there by the river Jabbok, he’s all alone.  He’s sent his wives, his children, his servants, his animals ahead of him to smooth things over.  I don’t know what Jacob expected might happen, but the judgmental part of me wants to call him a coward in this moment.  He’s going to let his children and his goats try to make amends for a lifetime of deceit?

But it turns out that Jacob is not alone.  He ends up in a wrestling match with a man he does not know, thrashing throughout the night, his hip thrown out of joint.  When the sun begins to rise, Jacob demands and receives a blessing.  He comes to understand that he has been wrestling with God, that this night has been a holy one for him, a place of transformation.

Jacob walks away changed…limping, but blessed.

If we were to ask, “Did Jacob deserve a blessing?” the answer is an emphatic no.  His very name, “Jacob” means “Deceiver” in Hebrew.  He’s a hustler, a swindler, motivated by self-interest at every turn.  But he is given a new name – Israel – which means “wrestles with God.”  He gets a new start, regardless of what has happened before.

What Jacob discovers there by the streams of water is that it isn’t at all about his merit.  It’s about God’s mercy.  God could have easily won that wrestling match, but instead God stays present with Jacob in the struggle.  God does not leave Jacob in the same place God finds him.

Today we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism for Hayley.  Baptism is God’s ultimate answer to the question “Am I good enough?”  God tells us that it’s not at all about being good enough.  It’s about receiving the gift of grace carried in these waters, held fast by God’s promises of love and forgiveness for the rest of our days.

Baptism doesn’t mean there won’t be hard things.  There will be times of wrestling – with God, with ourselves, with other people in our life.  But even in the moments of deepest struggle, God holds us fast and does not let us go.

Jacob eventually catches up to his family, and there he sees Esau coming in the distance with four hundred men. Even in this moment, he slips into his old self-serving habits.  He puts his wives and children in front of him and stands behind them, afraid of what Esau will do.

And here’s what happens next: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4).  Having been held by God throughout the night, Jacob is now held by his brother.  Instead of receiving what he really deserves, Jacob receives forgiveness.  Mercy over merit.

After their reunion Esau says something to Jacob that echoes what God says to each of us – in baptism, in the struggles of the night, in the dawn of each new day.  God says it to us this morning, and we can say it to each other:

Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.  Amen.  (Genesis 33:12)

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

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