Sermon: Get Behind Me

Sunday 31 August 2014
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22C

Matthew 16:21-28

Today’s sermon is about Rocky. No, it’s not about the boxer portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. It’s about the apostle Peter. Peter isn’t his given name though. You might remember, when Jesus called him, his name was Simon. But Jesus gave him a nickname. In Aramaic, the nickname was Cephas. In Greek, it was Πετρος. And if you’ve spent any time studying for the SAT’s, you can guess what it means. Petros, as in petroglyph or petrified, means: rock. So, in English: Rocky.

Now, the passage we have for this morning has that famous phrase from Jesus to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.” Quite a memorable moment. But how do we go from Jesus calling Peter, “the Rock,” the foundation, the stable one, to Jesus calling Peter “Satan”? To figure that out, we’ve got to rewind a bit. And we’ve got to rewind a little farther than the beginning of today’s passage back to Matthew 16:13.

We read it in worship last week. Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying that he is. And they report back what they’ve heard. Some people are saying that you’re John the Baptist. Other people are saying that you’re Elijah, returned from heaven. Other people are saying that you’re Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.

Well that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Why would people think that Jesus was John the Baptist, especially since they were both around at the same time. John baptized Jesus, didn’t he? And why would they think that he was one of the Old Testament prophets? Israel doesn’t really have a tradition of reincarnation. What would they mean by saying that Jesus is Jeremiah?

The only suggestion of theirs that makes any sense is the suggestion that Jesus might be Elijah. You might remember the story of Elijah and the chariot of fire. According to the bible, Elijah doesn’t die. Instead, at the end of his life on earth, he is swooped up into heaven in a fiery chariot. Because of this, a lot of people thought that Elijah might return some day. But how could Jesus, at 30-years-old be mistaken for the now ancient prophet Elijah? It’s not entirely clear.

Whatever else they might be saying about Jesus, though, the crowds are clear that Jesus is something really special. He is not just some everyday traveling preacher. When they think of Jesus, they think of events on a cosmic scale. They think of long-dead prophets reappearing, of Elijah returning, as if it were the apocalyptic end of the age.

So Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Rocky, Peter, is the one who speaks up for everyone. He say’s, “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” Now, at the time, those word probably meant something a bit different than what they mean to us today. Christ, and it’s Aramaic equivalent, Messiah, both mean anointed. So that means that Peter thinks Jesus is either a prophet or a king or both. Prophets and kings were both anointed as a sign of their office. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is God, and Jesus would not have been the only person who was considered to be a christ.

Peter also says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. As counterintuitive as it seems to us, he still might not have meant that Jesus was God. Son of God was a common title for the kings of Israel. It could also be used to refer to any extraordinary prophet, philosopher, warrior, or ruler. Son of God also happened to be one of the official titles of the Roman Emperor, printed on virtually every Roman coin, which is probably part of the reason that Jesus ends up getting crucified. When the Romans hear words like “anointed” and “Son of God,” they immediately think emperor or king—a political rival to the authority of Rome.

Whatever the case, though, Jesus seems very happy with Peter’s answer. In Matthew, and only in Matthew, Jesus showers praise on Peter, saying that he is the rock, and on this rock I will build my church; you have the keys of the kingdom, etc. etc. If you’ve ever read a Dan Brown novel, you probably know that these words became very important to later Roman Catholics, who regard Peter as the first pope. They use this text to argue that all future popes also have a special place as holders of the keys of the kingdom.

So, Jesus is very happy with Peter’s answer. He’s happy that Peter has recognized who he really is: God’s anointed, God’s son. Right after he finishes praising Peter for how rock-like and foundational he is, Jesus has a quick line telling the disciples not to tell anyone else that he is the Messiah. I’m not going to deal with that today, but next year, when we read the Gospel of Mark, we’ll get into it.

So there is Jesus with his disciples. Peter has just been congratulated for saying that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. What are the disciples expecting?… They are expecting that Jesus is going to do what virtually everyone at the time thought the next messiah was going to do: kick out the Romans. That was priority number one for any new messiah. Raise an army, defeat the Romans, and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. It would have gone without saying. Everyone would have expected a messiah to lead a military rebellion.

But what does Jesus do? It’s at the beginning of today’s passage. Jesus starts talking about how he is going to, and I quote, “Go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.”

Now, for us Christians twenty centuries later, that all sounds like exactly what Jesus, the Christ, was meant to do. But for pretty much anyone at the time, Jesus was talking nonsense. The Messiah does not go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The Messiah goes to Jerusalem to be enthroned, to establish a Kingdom, to end the Roman military occupation.

And so, we should not be surprised by how Peter reacts. Peter says, essentially, “Um, Jesus… didn’t you just hear what I was saying? You’re the Christ. You’re the Son of God. Suffering and dying isn’t really on the agenda. Would you like us to start rounding up some swords? We could do that. I’m all for going to Jerusalem, but everyone knows you’re not going there to die.” I really like how the Common English Bible puts it: Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.” If Jesus is alright with being called the Messiah, then he’s probably just a little confused about who the Messiah is, and Peter is there to correct him. You can be sure that all the other disciples were glad that Peter was doing it.

And Jesus turns on a dime. He goes straight from happy praise of Peter to angry rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan.” Wow.. It’s hard to imagine anything Jesus could have said that would have been harsher. And Jesus continues, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” He had just been going on and on about how Peter was a foundation rock on which he would build the church. Now, he’s still calling Peter a rock, but he’s no longer a foundation stone. Now he’s a rock that Jesus is afraid of tripping over.

The problem is that Jesus and Peter have fundamentally different ideas of who Jesus is. They can agree on the words. Jesus is the Christ. He’s the Son of God. But when Peter says, Christ, Son of God, it means something very different than when Jesus says Christ, Son of God.

And that’s not a problem that we have overcome in the intervening two millennia. We have an awful lot of churchy words that most Christians know and throw around, but we don’t necessarily agree on what they mean. It’s not just Christ and Son of God. We have plenty of words to build misunderstanding around. Salvation, atonement, justification, righteousness, justice, peace, Kingdom, belief, faith, disciple, heaven, hell, even Christian. All of these words are crucial to understanding and describing who we are and what we believe. And yet, it would be very difficult for all of the Christians in Hood River to agree to common defitions of these key words, let alone to get all the Christians in the world to do so.

And there’s another word in our passage for today that can be equally problematic. That word is ‘cross.’ Now, at first glance, it wouldn’t seem like such a controversial word. A cross is a fairly recognizable physical object. I can make one with my arms. I can trace the sign of the cross across my body. I can look up on the wall and see a cross. Many of you are probably wearing crosses around your necks. What’s to misunderstand?

Today, a cross seems like a fairly obvious symbol for Christ, for Christians, and for Christianity. It’s a bit like a brand marker. If you see a cross on something, you know that that thing is supposed to be Christian. A building with a cross is probably a church. A book with a cross might be a bible. A person with a cross is a Christian. It functions in the same way as the McDonald’s arches or the Nike swoosh.

The first few centuries of Christians didn’t use the cross like we do, though. They, unlike us, still had first hand knowledge of what crosses were used for. And what crosses were used for were torture and execution. Imagine if instead of a cross up here on the back wall of the chancel, we hung an electric chair, or a gas chamber, or a noose, or a collection of lethal injection drugs. It is only because crosses are no longer used for execution that we can avoid the horror of the image of the cross.

And so when Jesus says, “All who want to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me,” those are much more radical words than we usually admit. We are usually prepared to admit that following Jesus might be difficult at times, that it’s not always easy to be a Christian. Jesus suggests something far more revolutionary. Jesus says that anyone who wants to be a disciple should be prepared to die. Jesus seems to suggest that being a Christian means doing things that would be so radical that it would get them killed.

There are still some Christians in our age who live their faith loud enough to be killed for it. Martin Luther King and Óscar Romero come to mind. And there are others.

But most of us are more like Peter in the story. When things get dicy, we are ready to get out. When there is conflict or struggle or disorder or controversy, we are so quick to say, “God forbid it, Lord! This must not happen!” But Jesus invites us to look struggle in the face, to look hostility in face, to look inertia in the face and to keep walking.

Whoever would be my disciple must deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow me, Jesus says. When we encounter opposition to the progress of God’s Kingdom, when the going of our faith gets tough, we should not be fooled into thinking that the Christian thing to do is to not make any waves, to be quiet and polite. If we are really followers of Jesus of Nazareth, then we should expect to do quite the opposite. If we follow Jesus, then when we encounter opposition, we must keep walking. We must even be willing to take up our own cross as we move ahead for the Kingdom of God.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

 

++ You may be asking yourselves, “how do we get to the office?!” People are doing two different options : you may come through our church building, and use the sidewalk out the backdoor of the fellowship hall, which leads to the office. This works only if you have a key, however.  The other option is to walk on the west side of the church, around the back and access the sidewalk from there. You also may call the office and I can meet anyone in front of the church if you’re just wanting to drop something off. Thank you!

++ Monday Sept 1st is Labor Day and the office will be closed.

++ This Sunday, Aug 31st is a Designated Giving Sunday for school supplies for Parkdale School. You may donate supplies or a monetary amount noted on your giving envelope.

++ WELCA quilting meets Wed Sept 3rd at 9am.

++ Saturday, Sept 6th  Women’s Spiritual Group meets at 9am in the church office.

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Don’t Think Too Highly

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Sunday 24 August 2014
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 12:1-8

Paul has an important message for us today. Although, it’s not always the easiest message for us to hear. It’s a message about how we live together in community. It’s a message about how we recognize our own gifts, how we respect the gifts of others, and how we choose to interact with each other.

Part of it is a very familiar message. Paul talks about the church as a body. Just like a body, the church is made up of many parts—it’s made up of many different people. And like a body, not all of the parts are the same. Bodies have toes and noses, eyes, and thighs, fingers and femurs, capillaries and kidneys—more parts than we could name if we spent all morning, and each of them has a different job. We humans are the most complicated machines on the planet. The knee can’t do the job of the neuron. The pinky can’t do the job of the pupil. The tibia can’t do the job of the tongue. They’re each very different. They each have different abilities. They each have a different job to do. We can only exist because of the diversity of our parts. 37 trillion cells in the human body, and they each have to perform their one particular task. That diversity of purpose is what makes each of us a human being instead pile of 37 trillion amoebas.

And we know from experience that our human communities function in the same way. It is the specialization of human society that allows for civilization. We can only have engineers because someone is baking the bread. We can only have musicians because someone is tending the crops. If we didn’t have different gifts, if we didn’t have different skills, then we couldn’t have civilization.

In the church we see a similar circumstance. If the same person who prepared the altar also had to lead the bible study, distribute the food, create the bulletin, weed the flower beds, call on the sick, evangelize, sing the solos, clean the bathrooms, preach the sermons, and make the coffee, chances are none of those jobs would get done very well. Each one of us has a very particular set of talents and therefore a very particular way that we can be of the best use to God. We’re not talking about a starkly deterministic system, in which each person is born into one and only one function, where everyone’s roles are determined ahead of time and no one can ever change or learn or grow. That would be pushing Paul’s metaphor too far. But we all know that there are certain things we are each better at than other things. There are certain things that we are more gifted at, or get more joy from doing. And it’s good that we have a diversity of gifts in the church, because there are a lot of different things that God has for us to do. Disciples of Jesus Christ are not cookie-cutter replicas of each other. God’s Kingdom is reaching into the world in a variety of different ways and across a variety of different circumstances, and so, God needs a variety of different disciples in order to meet those challenges.

So that’s all fairly intuitive. It’s not particularly controversial or challenging. We have different gifts. Do the things that you’re good at. Leave the things that you’re not very good at to someone else. That actually seems kind of comforting. It’s like Paul is letting us off the hook for being responsible for the kinds of things we would rather not be responsible for. Oh, my gift’s not gardening, so I guess I don’t have to worry about pulling the weeds. I’ll leave that to someone else.

But that isn’t really the force of Paul’s argument. Paul is hardly ever in the business of getting people off the hook. And the force of Paul’s argument becomes clearer when we look at how he introduces the metaphor of the body. He begins, “ I say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”

Don’t think more highly of yourself that you ought to. That doesn’t sound like the feel-good, each-one-of-us-is-unique-and-special-like-a-snowflake message we were getting from the body metaphor before. What is Paul trying to say about our place in the body that is the Church if he starts out like that? Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.

Paul continues, “Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.” That sounds even worse than before. Now, not only is Paul warning us not to think too highly of ourselves, but he’s suggesting that the difference between us aren’t really difference of kind, but differences of quantity. Each on of us has been given a certain amount of faith by God. God gives some people lots of faith and other people not very much faith at all. That’s the way that we are different from one another, Paul seems to be suggesting. It’s because some of us have lots of faith and others have hardly any, and there’s nothing we can do about it. God chose, seemingly at random, whom to bless with more faith, and we just have to deal with it.

And that sounds like a pretty horrible message. It probably wouldn’t have sounded so bad several centuries ago, when people really believed that they were born into a particular station in life and all they had to do was fulfill their role and not rock the boat by trying to be something else. But for us twenty-first century Americans, this message is utterly abhorrent. We believe in freedom and individual choice. We believe that we can do anything we set our minds to. We believe that we can become anything, do anything, so long as we make the choice to do it and follow through on our commitment. Self-determination is one of the founding principles of our society.

And here is Paul seeming to say, “God just makes some people better than other people. It’s important that you know your place.” What a backward thinking jerk!

Now, I’ve overstated Paul’s case a bit to make a point. The reality of what Paul is saying is not that harsh, but it is almost as uncomfortable.

I don’t think Paul is trying to enforce hierarchy in the way I was suggesting. But he does seem to be making a very difficult point about relationality. It is about how we function together as a unit. It is about how we treat each other, how we communicate with each other, and how we express power and control with and over one another.

And what Paul is saying seems to be something like this: if I am not particularly good with plants and I don’t have a very good sense of design, perhaps it would be best if I didn’t try to dominate the church’s landscape committee. If I don’t understand music very well, it’s probably best if I don’t insist on being the choirmaster. If I’m not very good with people, it would probably be better for all concerned if I weren’t heading up the welcome team. Those are some extreme examples, but I think you get the point. Paul says that we should express our gifts in proportion to the faith and grace that we have in those areas.

Here’s another way to think about it. We should not try to express our gifts in a way that stifles the gifts of others. If there are three virtuoso violinists in the orchestra and I’ve been playing for a year and a half, but I insist on taking every violin solo, then I am stifling the gifts of others. Or if I am the manager of that same orchestra with three extraordinary violinists, but I prefer banjo music, so I insist on programming only music that features the banjo, then I am stifling the gifts of others.

If I think too highly of myself, and if that causes me to think that my talents are far superior to anyone else, or it leads me to believe that my preferences are more important than those of anybody else, then I may very easily fall into a pattern of suppressing the God-given gifts of those around me. And when I suppress gifts of those around me, I wound the Body of Christ. When I suppress the gifts of others, especially on account of my own ego, I wound the Body of Christ, no less than if I were driving in nails.

But that is a very bitter prospect to face. It’s hard, because it means we have to look clearly and soberly at ourselves. We have to evaluate our own gifts, without making the mistake of undervaluing ourselves so that we never share our gifts with anyone, and without making the mistake of overvaluing ourselves, so that we hinder those around us.

If we are a body together, then the actions and goodness and disease of each one of us effects all of us. If I overvalue my preferences and demand my own way in everything, it effects us all. If I overvalue my gifts so that I keep others from expressing theirs and so that the needed work never gets done, it effects us all. If, through my words or actions, I wound one of my sisters or brothers in Christ, then we all carry the wound. Christ carries the wound.

And that is an awesome responsibility. It is an awesome responsibility to be a part of the Body of Christ. It is an awesome responsibility to be a part of a community. Thanks be to God, who gives us every good gift. May God grant us the additional gift of knowing how to use them. Amen.

Notes-N-News

Listen to me, you who look for righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry where you were dug.

Look to Abraham you ancestor,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
They were alone when I called them,
but I blessed them and made them many.

– Isaiah 51:1-2

 

If you are trying to find righteousness and justice, if you are trying to find God’s way, then look to where you came from. Look to the ancestors. Look to your predecessors in the faith. Put another way, if you’re trying to live a Godly life, then learn from the saints.

Protestants don’t have a very strong tradition of studying the lives of the saints. It’s one of those practices that often seems to strike us as too Roman Catholic. It’s a bit strange, when you think about it, though. We study the story of God’s relationship with humanity from the earliest times up until nearly the time of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible. Then we study the life of Jesus and the very early church in the New Testament. But you we usually don’t spend much time at all study the relationship between God and the church in all the intervening time between the second century and now. That’s a lot of lived faith and experience that we’re missing out on.

Though few of us probably use them, both Lutherans and Methodists have a calendar of saint days, a listing and schedule of saints whose lives are worth studying and imitating. The Lutheran calendar for this week remembers: the Apostle Bartholomew, one of the Twelve; Moses the Black, a fourth-century Ethiopian convert and monk who died for his faith; and Augustine of Hippo, the most influential theologian in Western Christianity. The Methodist calendar includes those three and adds Georgia Harkness, an early twentieth-century Social Gospel theologian who opposed racism, supported the ordination of women, and was the first woman to teach in a mainline Protestant seminary in the US. She also wrote the hymn “This Is My Song,” found both in the United Methodist Hymnal and Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

We may not pray to the saints, like Roman Catholics do, but we can certainly learn something from them. Whether they lived in the first century, the fourth century, or the twenty-first century, we can learn so much from seeing how real people, in a variety of different circumstances, lived out their Christian faith. If it’s not already a part of your devotional practice, I encourage you to learn more about our forebears in the faith and consider how their lives still witness to us today.

Your Servant in Christ,
+Pastor David


++ This Sunday 24th is Food on the 4th. You may donate non-perishable food items; egg cartons can always be used.

++ SPRC meets this Sunday at 11:30 in the Outreach house.

++ Card making class meets at 1:15 in the fellowship hall.

++ WELCA bible study meets Tuesday 26th at 2:00pm.

++ Join the choir! Anyone interested is invited to a potluck Thursday August 28th at 6pm with current choir members at Morning Song Acres. There will be singing, eating, and fellowship. Speak with Marv Turner if you have any questions.

++ Sunday 31st   Special Giving : you may donate school supplies or funds for supplies Parkdale Elementary School. Thank you Faith In Action for planning this giving.

++ Pastor Jill Rowland has accepted a call and is serving as CPE supervisor and chaplain at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Randall Children’s Hospital, and The Oregon Burn Center. A Service of Installation for Jill takes place Friday, September 5, at 4:00pm / Lorenzen Conference Center of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center / 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave / Portland, OR. Clergy are invited to vest in the stole of their choice. Please RSVP by Monday, August 25th to: Lori Rice (Admin. Asst.)  503-413-4151 or lrice@lhs.org .

++ Fall Women’s Retreat at Cannon Beach Conference Center

The retreat is October 31-Nov 2nd. Our time together begins Friday evening and wraps up after worship on Sunday. The book for this year’s study is The Noticer by Andy Andrews. Look for more detailed information (rates, activities etc )in the September Newsletter when it comes out the end of August. Attendance and roommate sign-ups will be in the narthex the beginning of September.

 

If I roll my chair to the left of my desk, I can see through the trees the beginning of a beautiful ministry! Granted, there is a “wall” of dirt and sod which blocks part of the view, but I hear the sounds and feel the rumble in the ground of the backhoe and dump truck. Men at work; God at work. How wonderful!

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Grafted Tree

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 17 August 2014
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. David D. M. King

Romans 11:1-2a, 11-32

I took a little liberty with the lectionary this morning. As you may have noticed, in the second reading each week, we’ve been working our way through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We started in Romans 6 back in the middle of June, and each week since then we’ve been moving our way through the epistle. The text assigned for today was Romans 11:1-2a and 20-32. And we read all of those verses. But I added a few. The lectionary skips over some very important verses here, verses that are at the heart of Paul’s understanding of where gentiles fit into God’s plan for salvation. It also happens to be one of my favorite passages in all of the writings of Paul. It is Paul’s metaphor of the grafted tree.

Traditionally, interpreters of Romans have focused on the first eight chapters. This is where all of the good Lutheran and Methodist theology about justification by faith alone comes from. Protestant theologians love the first eight chapters. Then they typically skip over chapters 9, 10, and 11 and begin interpreting again at chapter 12. They like chapters 12 through 15, and then skip chapter 16. These traditional interpreters prefer to skip chapter 16 because in it, Paul refers to one woman as a deacon and to another woman as an apostle. And of course the traditional interpreters, Luther and Wesley included, don’t much like the idea that women could be deacons, or pastors, or bishops, or apostles. So that’s why they don’t like chapter 16.

The reason they don’t like chapters 9-11 is different, but related. It doesn’t have to do with women, but it does have to do with inclusion. The reason traditional theologians don’t like chapters 9-11 is because of the way that Paul talks about Jews. And it starts with the way Paul talks about himself. You see, Paul is very clear in Romans that he is a Jew. He says nothing anywhere about being a Christian. Paul does not self-identify as a Christian; he self-identifies as a Jew, specifically as a Pharisee.

Now, the version of events that many of us learned in Sunday School goes something like this. Saul was a Jew. He persecuted Christians. On the road to Damascus, Saul was struck blind and had an encounter with the living Jesus. Saul converted to Christianity. He stopped being a Jew and became a Christian. At the same time, Saul’s name was changed to Paul as a sign of his conversion.

Unfortunately, that is not the story that is found in the bible. The story in the bible starts out the same. Saul is a Jew and he is a persecutor of the church. He has an encounter of the living Christ on the road to Damascus. But here is where the traditional story and the biblical story diverge. According to the bible, Paul does not convert from Judaism to Christianity. Paul remains a Jew. What happens at Damascus is that Jesus commissions Paul as the apostle to the gentiles. He remains a Jew, but he begins bringing a new message to the gentiles. Through Jesus Christ, God has established a way for gentiles to become part of God’s family, part of God’s chosen, without becoming Jews and following the biblical laws about circumcision and dietary regulations. In Acts, Paul’s name does change from Saul to Paul, but it doesn’t have anything to do with his experience on the road. When he is around people who speak Aramaic, he is referred to by his Aramaic name: Saul. When he is around people who speak Greek, he is referred to by the Greek version of his name: Paul. It would be the same if someone went by the name George when they were around English speakers, but went by the name Jorge when they were around Spanish speakers. Paul does not convert. Paul is called by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. The reason his name seems to change is only because after his call experience, he spends more time with gentiles, who speak Greek rather than Aramaic.

So you can see why this would be a problem for the traditional interpreters. They are quite committed to the idea that Paul stops being a Jew after his experience on the road. With very few exceptions, the reformers were extremely anti-semitic. Luther, for example, argued that all of the homes and synagogues of Jews should be burned to the ground and that Jews should be rounded up and pressed into forced labor, expelled from Europe, or killed. Wesley was little better, arguing that Jews were completely outside the grace of God and beyond salvation.

So it is of little wonder that traditional Protestant theology has tried to ignore chapters 9-11 of Romans and that Paul’s image of the grafted tree is ignored by the lectionary. They were under the impression that Christians are assured of salvation while Jews can only hope for salvation if they stop being Jews and became Christians. What Paul says is quite different. Paul says that Jews are the natural objects for God’s favor and that gentile Christians can only be included in God’s family because we become a kind of honorary Jew.

He says it’s like a grafted tree. The Jewish people are, always have been, and always will be God’s chosen people. Jesus was a Jew, and all of his disciples were Jews. However, Jesus resurrection has changed things a bit. Jesus death and resurrection mean that it is now time for the prophecies in Isaiah to be fulfilled. It is time for the gathering of the gentiles to God’s holy mountain. Paul is convinced that it is time for the gentiles to come to God. He has a disagreement with some of the other Jesus followers, though. They think that gentiles have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. But Paul is convinced that the gentiles have to come to God as gentiles. If they become Jews, then they will no longer be gentiles, and Isaiah is clear that the gentiles will come and worship on God’s holy mountain.

But, this creates its own problem. How can gentiles be cleansed of sin so that they can be a part of God’s family? Jews are cleansed through the continual observance of the law and the rituals that they perform in their homes and in the temple. But gentiles have generations of sin piled up. There isn’t enough time, Paul thinks, to purge all that sin through the normal means of Torah observance. Paul is convinced that God has made a new way for the gentiles. Jesus’ death and resurrection serve as the means of cleansing the gentiles so that we can be a part of God’s family.

And the way that we become part of God’s family is like a grafted tree. The tree represents the Jewish people, God’s chosen. It is an olive tree, in Paul’s metaphor. A nice, orchard-quality olive tree that has been cultivated over many centuries. At some point, some of the branches of this nice, cultivated olive tree are broken off. It’s not 100% clear what Paul associates with the breaking off, but the most likely thing is that the branches which are broken off are those Jews who refuse to accept that gentiles are now going to be a part of God’s family. In any case, some of the branches are broken off. Then God cuts the branches off of a different variety of olive tree, a wild variety that isn’t much good for agriculture. These branches from the wild tree are gentiles. God, like a master orchardist, grafts these wild branches into the broken spots on the cultivated tree. And because it’s God doing the grafting, these grafted branches actually change in nature. They don’t become Jews, but they start producing better fruit, fruit that isn’t good-for-nothing like before.

And what we have now is a single tree that represents God’s family. The root is Judaism. That is where the tree gets all of its water and minerals. But the tree has two different kinds of branches. Some of the branches produce the old, Jewish fruit. Some of the branches produce the new, gentile fruit. Both sides of the tree produce fruit. Both sides send their sugars back down to nourish the root. But they now exist as one organism, a unity constructed from diversity.

Neither Luther nor Wesley would like it very much, but that is the family of God that Paul envisions. He might think of himself as being right at the point of grafting, the bridge from Judaism to these new gentile members of the family of God.

And Paul speaks a further warning to the gentiles. Be careful, he says. Don’t forget that you are not the root, you are the graft. If God cut someone out to make room for you, don’t you think that God could cut you out and make room for someone else? So don’t be too uppity about your place in the world. Remember that Israel is God’s chosen people, and you get to have a share of Israel’s blessing through God’s extraordinary act of grace in grafting you in.

And there is no doubt that that is an extraordinary act of grace. We, through the self-giving death and resurrection of Jesus, have been offered new life. We have been offered forgiveness of our sins. We have been adopted by God and grafted into God’s family. We have been empowered to produce good fruit for the Kingdom of God. And it is all through God’s mighty acts of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is all through God’s grace, offered to us without price. It is all through God’s justification of us, which God accomplishes through the faith of Jesus Christ. May we never cease being thankful for God’s act of love in including us in the plan for salvation. And may we never presume to judge who else God might choose to include. Thanks be to God, who offers a grace that we have not earned. Alleluia. Amen.

Notes-N-News

++ FISH duty is Monday August 18th 3:30-5, Wednesday August 20th 3:30-5:30, and Friday August 22nd 3:30-5 Questions? Call Kathy Terry.

++ Parkdale Elementary School Supplies: This Sunday at both services you may commit to purchase a specific item or place a donation in the offering plate designated “school supplies”. There will be a collection basket in the narthex  for donated items and items will be collected Sunday August 31st.

++ 2014 Household Hazardous Waste Collections: August 15, 9AM-2PM  – Hood River

In the shed there is a barrel that we keep just for hazardous waste. Place any item carefully in it so as not to break glass items. I will be taken all on Friday morning.

  • automotive products, such as gasoline, antifreeze, and batteries
  • oil-based paints and thinners
  • pool chemicals
  • pesticides, herbicides, and other garden products
  • household cleaning products
  • Florescence lights
  • batteries (rechargeable phone, equipment and laptop batteries can be recycled at Home Depot stores deposit box at entrances).

Thanks to Craig Terry for this information.

++ Happy News! The donations needed for solar panels on the FISH building have been reached!

++ Next week the FISH pre-fab building will be delivered. The day of the week is not specific but please know that there will no longer be parking available on the gravel area.Happy Hands: I let Pat Crompton know about this, so you will probably be meeting in the main church. Quilters: there will be cars from Good News employees parking in the left side of the lot. Good News customers will no longer be parking at the church; the parking signs will be coming down soon.

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Walking on the Sea

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 10 August 2014
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. David D. M. King

Matthew 14:22-33

9:00 Traditional Service Sermon

There certainly is a lot of power on display in the gospel lesson today. Jesus performs all sorts of impressive miracles. However, we are liable to miss quite a lot of the significance if we just focus on the power and the wonder and fail to understand all of the cultural messages that are infused in this story. Without some sort of guide to help us understand the symbolism and cultural references embedded in this story, it would be difficult to understand the underlying message. So this morning I’ll try to bring you some of the cultural scholarship that opens up some the hidden meanings in this familiar story. As we will see, this is not just a story about an impressive miracle, it is a story about the most important conflict in the ancient world: the conflict between chaos and order, and how Jesus conquers the forces of chaos in order to allow life to flourish.

And the first thing we need is a lesson in spiritual geography. In the beginning of the story, after dismissing everyone, Jesus goes up onto the mountain to pray. He’s not going up there just to be inspired by the beautiful scenery. He’s going up there because mountaintops are the dwelling-places of deities and demons. Like deserts, mountains are places where chaos reigns, places where the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds are thin. For Jesus to go up on the mountain alone, and to come down unharmed, is a sign of his prowess as a holy man. No ordinary man would try something like that. Jesus has faced the powers of chaos head on, and he has not been defeated.

While Jesus is up there, the disciples are headed across the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a freshwater lake, 13 miles across in one direction, 8 miles in the other. The Sea of Galilee was notorious for how quickly and unexpected it could go from calm to storm.

But for people in the ancient world, the sea was not just a collection of water, it was a living being, sometimes a god or goddess. In the Roman world it was associated with Poseidon or Neptune; for Semitic peoples it was Tiamat, perhaps the greatest symbol of chaos in the ancient world. When that storm comes up, it would be not just a natural phenomenon, but a supernatural one. It was the spirit of the sea rising up against them.

As Jesus faces the forces of chaos on the mountain, the disciples struggle against the forces of chaos on the sea. And when night is nearly over, in the fourth watch, Jesus comes out toward them, walking on the sea. He is literally trampling down the personified forces of chaos.

When the disciples see him coming, they are afraid. And it’s no wonder that they are. Even in the ancient world, no one expected to see someone walking on the sea. The disciples think that he is a phantasm, that is, an apparition or an illusion. They think they are seeing things. And they are extremely afraid.

But Jesus speaks to them. He says, “Take courage, don’t be afraid.” And he says one more thing. Your New Revised Standard Version, that I just read, says, “It is I.” What Jesus really says is, “I am.” That is, he uses the name of God, the great I AM. Don’t be afraid; I AM.

Peter, the most impetuous of the disciples, is ready to jump in for himself. We can imagine that the other disciples thought he was crazy. After all, if they are afraid they are seeing an illusion, jumping into a stormy sea is not exactly the way to prove that this Jesus is real. And yet, that is exactly what Peter does.

And surprisingly, Peter is able to walk on the water. He walks out toward Jesus. But then something happens. Peter sees the strong wind around him. He sees the chaos, becomes aware of the reality of the situation, and becomes afraid. And with that fear, he begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus, “Save me.” It’s a theological word. Save me, heal me. Jesus reaches out his hand, like he would for a healing or an exorcism, and he catches Peter. And then Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you hesitate? Why were you of two minds?”

When they get back in the boat, the wind dies down, the storm stops. Jesus conquers the chaos on the mountain, and he conquers the chaos of the sea. His disciples recognize this, and they worship him as the son of God, the one who does on earth God’s traditional role of holding the chaos at bay, of making a safe space for civilization to flourish.


One of the most interesting details of this story is the contrast between faith and fear. When Jesus comes out on the sea, the disciples are afraid. Then, Peter stirs up his faith and accomplishes the amazing feat of walking on the water. Then he looks around and becomes afraid. He starts to sink. Jesus saves him and points out his weakness of faith, that he hesitated, but otherwise could have continued.

Fear, we see, is the main enemy of faith. Fear is the thing that keeps Peter and the rest of the disciples from being everything they could be. Fear is what causes them to succumb to the powers of chaos.


And I find that to be true in our modern world as well. So often we are not the disciples that we could be because we are afraid. We are afraid of looking foolish in front of our friends. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid of the way our lives might change if we truly and fully gave them over to God.

And so we find ourselves most of the time as lukewarm disciples. Most of the time we stay cowering in the boat, stay cowering in the church, afraid to step into the swirling storm outside. The problems out there in the world are just too big, too intimidating for us to face. Every once in a while, we recklessly step out in faith, and shine for one brief moment, like Peter, before the reality of what we are doing frightens us again. We of little faith, why do we hesitate? Why are we of two minds when it comes to the work of the Kingdom of God? Why do we allow fear to pull us down?

But there is one who can save us. There is one who can reach out and catch us when we are falling. There is one who can conquer the chaotic forces in our world, who can calm the storm and tread down the sea. His name is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. And he calls us continually, repeating the words he uttered on Galilee: “Take courage. Do not be afraid. I AM.” Step out again in faith. Risk everything in your reckless discipleship. I am here to catch you. I am here to save you. I am here to make you everything you can be. Do not be afraid. I AM.

10:30 Celebration Service Sermon

The story in Matthew today is about fear and faith. It is about what can happen when we summon the courage to take a risk and live out the gospel message. It is about how easy it is for us to shrink back from the things that God is calling us to.

The disciples are in the boat alone. They are trying to make it the few miles from one side of the Lake of Galilee to the other, but they aren’t making any progress. There is a storm, and it is blowing directly into them, through up a mist in their faces. There are great waves and swells tossing and turning the boat. This is the kind of storm that would keep even the heartiest wind surfers off the water. It is as if the sea were alive, as if it had a will to keep them from progressing.

And that is, in fact, how they would have understood the sea: as a living being. The sea was generally thought to be a divine or semi-divine being. For Greeks it was Poseidon; for the Semitic peoples it was the goddess Tiamat, often portrayed as a sea monster. If this storm was coming up on them, it wasn’t just some meteorological phenomenon: it was the forces of darkness and chaos seeking to destroy them.

And in the midst of this, they see what looks like Jesus walking out over the swells toward them. Even in the ancient world, even of Jesus, they would not have expected something like this would be possible. It must be a ghost. The Greek word is phantasm. It must be an apparition, a deception. Perhaps this is one of the tricks of the sea, trying to lure them out and under the waves, to be swallowed up.

But Jesus calls out to them. He says. “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” Literally, he says, Don’t be afraid, I AM. That is, he uses the divine name, I AM, the unutterable name of God. Don’t be afraid. I AM. In the face of supernatural chaos, Jesus invokes the name of the God of Abraham, who in some bible passages is described as creating the world by slaying the sea monster.

But what Peter does next is truly remarkable. Remember, they think what they are seeing is a trick, a trap designed to lure them into the consuming sea. But Peter calls out the figure on the waves and says, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” If Jesus might be a phantasm, that is the last thing Peter should ask if he wants to prove otherwise. But he asks, and Jesus says, “Come.”

O what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this
boat I’m in onto the crashing waves,
To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown
where Jesus is and he’s holding out his hand.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.*

Sometimes we treat the church like a boat. Sometimes even the church building itself is like a boat. There might be storms outside, but we’re safe in here. The world can be a frightening place, and sometimes it seems like it’s out to get us. There are so many temptations, so many things that could destroy us. And there are other things that we are quite glad to stay away from. If we stay in the church, maybe we can forget that they’re out there. If we sing the hymns, maybe we can drown out the sound of the hunger, the pain, the violence, the suffering.

O what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this
boat I’m in onto the crashing waves,
To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown
where Jesus is and he’s holding out his hand.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.*

Peter manages to overcome that fear. He steps out of the boat and onto the churning waves. And he walks; one step, two steps, three steps. He keeps going…. eight steps, nine steps, ten steps. He has almost made it to Jesus when he looks around, and he feels the wind, and the waves lapping at his feet, and he comes to his senses. What is he doing out here on the water? He becomes afraid, and he starts to sink. And as he is being pulled under, he calls out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus reaches out a hand, lifts him up again.

Most of the time, we can’t summon the courage to get out of the boat. Every once in a while, we hear Jesus calling us to go into the world, and we take those first steps. We move ahead, with the chaos and the messiness and the imperfection swirling around us. And we make progress. And then we start to realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We realize how far away from the safety of the boat we have gotten ourselves. We begin to be afraid. And we start to sink. And we wish that we had never stepped out in the first place.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.
The voice of truth says Do not be afraid
The voice of truth says This is for my glory.
Of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.*

There is one who can save us. There is one who can reach out and catch us when we are falling. There is one who can conquer the chaotic forces in our world, who can calm the storm and tread down the sea. His name is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. And he calls us continually, pleading with us to get out of the safety of whatever boat we find ourselves in. He repeats the words that he uttered on Galilee: “Take courage. Do not be afraid. I AM.” Step out again in faith. Risk everything in your reckless discipleship. Start something that you never thought was possible, even if you don’t know how to finish it. I am here to catch you. I am here to save you. I am here to make you everything you can be. Do not be afraid. I AM.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.
The voice of truth says Do not be afraid
The voice of truth says This is for my glory.
Of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.*

 

* Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman, “Voice of Truth,” track 3 from Casting Crowns, Casting Crowns, Beach Street Records: 2004. Adapted.

Installation Service

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There will be an Installation Service for Pastor David King on Sunday, August 10th, at 2 pm in the sanctuary. Rev. Susan Kintner from the Oregon Synod (ELCA) and Rev. Steve Ross from the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference (UMC) will preside. Community members and local area clergy are invited to attend. Clergy may wear the vestments appropriate to their faith communities (with green stoles, if applicable). Following the service will be an Ice Cream Social.

Notes-N-News

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?” –1 Kings 19:11-13

 

Imagine with me, if you will, two different Christians. One is a hermit. He lives in a cave in the desert. He spends nearly all of his time reading the bible and in meditation and prayer. Once a week, for an hour, he receives visitors at the mouth of his cave. Pilgrims come to ask him questions and to receive a prayer or blessing from him.

The other is a social worker. She gave up her lucrative job in the tech industry to work with the homeless in the inner city. She operates a center that coordinates services from all over the area, so that anyone in need can come to one location and find the best help available. She works individually with each client and tries to make sure that they are helped promptly and treated with dignity. She spends nearly every waking minute attending to the needs of others.

So which one is the authentic Christian? Which one is living the call of Jesus Christ?

And the answer probably is that they both are. We are called both to contemplation and to mission. In some cases, a person might be called almost exclusively to one of the other, as in the examples above. For most of us, though, we can’t effectively live out our faith without attending to both the quiet contemplation and to active service.

The story about Elijah is an example. He has gone up to the mountain at Horeb because he has given up on being a prophet. He has been doing God’s work, and it has brought him nothing but trouble. He is convinced that he is the last of God’s prophets and that he will soon be killed, putting an end to the worship of God on Earth. So, he has gone up to the mountain to wait for death. He is done.

But in the stillness, God appears to him. It’s not in any of the loud and calamitous signs: the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God’s voice comes only in the quiet, only in what the KJV calls the still small voice. If Elijah weren’t in quiet contemplation, he couldn’t hear the voice.

But the voice he hears in silence calls him to action. “Why are you here, Elijah?” That is, why are you here by yourself on a mountain and not out doing the work of a prophet? The voice calls him back out to his vocation, back out to his mission.

And we also need to find that balance between contemplation and action. If we never take the time to be in meditation and in prayer, then we are unlikely to hear the voice of God over the cacophony of our busy-ness. But if our faith is confined to a sanctuary or bounded between the covers of a bible, then we are not really living the faith, only understanding it. We need both—both listening and doing—in order to live our Christian faith. We need both in order to be the Church.

Your servant in Christ,

+Pastor David


++ Pastor David King’s Installation is this Sunday at 2:00pm.  Come and welcome Pastor David and his family. Steve Ross and Susan Kitner will be attending on this special day. An ice cream social will follow the service.

++ Special Giving-School Supplies
On August 31st, Faith in Action will be collecting school supplies for Parkdale Elementary School as our 5th Sunday special giving.  On August 17th, during both worship services, you will have an opportunity to commit to purchasing a specific item.  This will help ensure that we get some of everything which is needed.  If you will not be at worship on August 17th, please feel free to purchase anything from the list below, or place a donation in the offering plate designated “School Supplies”.  There will be a collection basket in the narthex of the church.

crayons
markers
glue sticks
child safety scissors
Ticonderoga #2 pencils
boxes of tissues
hand sanitizer
rulers with both metric and US measurements
spiral notebooks (wide rule)
colored pencils
erasers
Band-aids (latex free)
plastic folders with pockets
back packs

++  August 18-20-22 are the days that Asbury Our Redeemer serve at FISH.

The hours are 3:30-5pm on Monday, 3:30-5:30 on Wednesday, and 3:30-5pm on Friday.  If you would like to volunteer, any or all days, or have questions, please contact Kathy Terry at kterry@gorge.net.

++ Yard sale is this Saturday from 8am to 1pm.  Friday is the last day to bring items for the sale.  You may drop off things by the front door of the church or between 9 and 11am Thurs and Fri. Thank you everyone who has brought items so far!

++  WELCA bible study will be Tues Aug 26th from 2-4pm.

 

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

 

Wrestling Jacob

Sermon given at Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 3 August 2014
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

by Rev. David D. M. King

Genesis 32:22-31

It’s called liminality, from the Latin word limen, meaning “threshold.” Liminality is defined as “a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes.” Being on the threshold of or between two different existential planes. Being almost there, but not quite yet. Having already lost your previous identity, but not yet having a new identity. Like on the day of your wedding. You’re no longer really single—you’ve left that identity behind—but you are not yet married. Or that time between graduation and a first job. You’re no longer a student, but neither are you an independent, working adult. Or that time spent driving in the U-Haul between your old town and your new town. You’ve already left, but you’re not there yet. That is the state of liminality—a time of transition, loss of identity, excitement, expectation, fear, trepidation—liminal space.

And it is on that liminal plane that Jacob encounters God. After fleeing his homeland in secret, in fear for his life, having stolen not only his brother Esau’s birthright but also his father Isaac’s blessing, after spending 20 years working for his uncle Laban in Padam-aram, having married his cousins Leah and Rachel and sired eleven children, after fleeing from Laban, again in secret, to return to the land of Canaan, the land of his fathers, having acquiring numerous animals and slaves along the way, Jacob now must cross over. He must face the past he had fled. He must face his brother, whom he had cheated, who last they met had wanted to kill him. He must face his dishonor at running away from his family in the secrecy of night. He must face himself, the choices that he has made, the wrong steps he has taken, the person he was and person he has become.

But first he must cross the river. Jacob sends messengers, several of them in turn, each bearing gifts of animals for his brother, Esau. He separates all of his possessions into two groups, so that if Esau attacks one, the other will have a chance to escape. And he sends all of these across the river ahead of him. Last of all, he sends his wives, his concubines, and his children.

But Jacob himself stays behind. He remains there on the threshold, almost there, but not quite. Suspended between two realities, the past and the future. Just on the border of destiny.

“And a man came and wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.” It’s unclear just exactly who this man is. Jacob demands of him his name, but he refuses to give it, saying, “You must not ask my name!” Different translators and interpreters handle it differently. For some, it is God Himself who wrestles with Jacob. For some it is an angel or a divine being. The most literal translation of the Hebrew word is, “the gods.” And some later Christian thinkers have said that if Jacob wrestled a God-man, then it must have been Jesus.

However we interpret it, though, Jacob wrestles with this stranger all night. They are evenly matched, it seems, and since neither of them is willing to concede, they continue the struggle, on and on, with no clear winner.


On the one hand, this seems like a very strange story. After all, it seems to imply that God, the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe, appeared in bodily form to a man in ancient Canaan, and that the Almighty was not strong enough to overcome a simple human. And both of these ideas seem ridiculous to our faith. God is supposed to be the formless power beyond representation, beyond depiction, and would certainly not appear in bodily form to someone. And if God were to do so, wouldn’t God be able to defeat even the World Wrestling champion in a wrestling match, to say nothing for this pip-squeak shepherd? Maybe these sorts of things could happen, but they certainly couldn’t happen today.

And yet, on the other hand, this is a very familiar story. Because, who among us has not at some point in our lives struggled with God? Who among us has not spent time locked in combat with the lover of our souls? Who has not grappled with the questions of faith?

God, what am I doing? Do you have a plan for me? What is it? How do I know that you are real? How do I know that you actually care for someone like me? Why can’t I feel your presence now, when I’m in my greatest need? Why have you abandoned me? God, if you love me, if you love us, why do you let such horrible things happen? Why don’t you respond to the suffering of your people? Why did you let them die? What is left in this life for me? Why should I pray if I don’t ever seem to get what I pray for? God, where are you? Who are you? Who am I?


Sometimes we are told that good Christians shouldn’t ask these kinds of questions. You shouldn’t doubt God, God’s actions, or God’s motives. You shouldn’t put God to the test. All you need to do is have more faith. Questions cause the weak of faith to fall away. Just trust. Just believe. Hold on to your faith blindly, no matter what doubts or questions arise in your mind. That’s what a good Christian is supposed to do.

But this story begs us to challenge those beliefs. Look at how the story ends. Jacob has been struggling all night. Finally, as daylight approaches, the stranger, realizing that he can’t win, decides to cheat. He throws out Jacob’s hip. But even so, Jacob will not relent. He cries out defiantly, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And eventually the stranger is forced to concede, saying, “Jacob, you have struggled with God, and you have struggled with human beings, but you have prevailed. I am giving you a new name. You will no longer be known as Jacob, the supplanter. From now on you will be known as Struggles-with-God. You will be known as Israel.”

Israel, as you know, became the name for the whole of God’s faithful followers. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. And even in the church, we often call ourselves the New Israel.

And isn’t it interesting that the name we use for the faithful, the very model of our faith, is Israel: Struggles-with-God. We are reminded in this story that faith is not just about blindly following. No, faith is about struggling, struggling with the world, and even struggling with God. And we are promised that if we persevere, if we refuse to let go, then we will surely be granted a blessing.

This might mean a drastic change in the way we look at our faith. It means that the very core of the faith is in questioning, struggling, sparring with God. In the dark times of life, in the places of doubt, the times of change and upheaval, in those liminal spaces, we can wrestle with God. We can demand our answers, demand a blessing. We may not always get the answers that we expect. And we may, like Jacob, leave the encounter scarred, with a limp as a constant reminder of our bout with God. But we will not leave rebuked or scolded for our lack of faith. Struggle is at the heart of the faith, and rather than weakening us, as so many fear, it makes us stronger, more firm in our relationship with God. May we all be fortunate enough to be blessed with the insight, confidence, humility, and strength that comes only when we wrestle with God.