He struck him on the hip socket.
Well, close to the hip socket. Sometimes you need a swift kick in the groin to re-orient your world.
The ancient Hebrews, while compiling the stories given to them from God, the stories of God’s blessing and care upon their community didn’t want to sully their holy scriptures with too many specifics about our procreative parts, shall we say. They wanted the worship of the Lord to be without juvenile titters or chuckles and so the angels in Isaiah who had six wings, with two they flew, with two they covered their eyes and with two they covered their . . . take my word for it, not feet.
Or when Jacob, then called Israel, was seeking to be buried in his homeland and not in Egypt, he made his son Joseph swear by “placing his hand under his thigh” a double metaphor sine that wasn’t exactly where he placed his hand and he was swearing, not by his father’s leg, but by his father’s line, his family, his very own genes represented by something other than his dad’s thigh.
So here, in a much earlier scene in Jacob’s life, he wrestles with what we have all been told over the years is at the very least a messenger from God if not God in person. He strives, as the bible says all night and is evenly matched until his opponent struck him on the hip socket and then tried to untangle himself from Jacob.
Sometimes you need a swift kick in the groin to re-orient your world.
Jacob has been through a lot. Even his name, Jacob, ya-acov, means “he grabs the heel,” he cheats. He was trying to hold Esau back in the womb, trying to be the first born. He cheats Esau out of his inheritance and then flees, trying to earn for himself a wife acceptable to his family, laboring for years in the household of his uncle.
Laboring honestly, using the gifts God gave him. Prospering by doing the right thing for once, maybe growing up a little. It doesn’t hurt that his uncle cheats him out of his first choice to be his wife, Rachel, substituting Leah in her place so that Jacob has to keep laboring. Maybe a little of his own medicine is meant to teach him something.
Still, even though he has sent his family ahead, even though he has sent ahead of him gifts for his brother, Jacob is still uncertain, unsure of what to do next and where to go and who he is really. He needs some guidance and since he has proven that he requires a little shove into learning, he strives with a man at the shore of the stream all night until the man reaches out and, well, strikes him on the hip joint.
Still Jacob does not relent, his old self does not want to go gently into that good night. Most of us, well, most of us not struggling with inner demons, like who we are most of the time and eve if we don’t, we don’t want to change all that much. Jacob strives and it takes a swift kick to the groin to give him pause.
I think all of the guys in the room can agree; that’s cheating. But then, it kind of serves him right; what he is fighting after all is his calling, his calling not as the great man of faith, not as an icon for us all to emulate, Jacob is far too normal and sinful and occasionally wretched for that. He is resisting God’s calling to make of him an instrument of God’s will.
God has chosen Jacob’s family, after all. They are to be the nation we will someday call by the name Jacob receives by way of a blessing. Each of them has been, in turn, asked to submit to that calling in this way or in that way. Get up and go was his grandfather’s call. Slay Isaac on the mountain was another.
Isaac has to place himself in the hands of the philistine king and trust that god will protect him. (He fails to trust God, by the way, just like dad)
Now Jacob is on his way home, back to the life he himself would choose, of fat and happy, of landed gentry, a man of substance in the land of his father when he discovers that God might have another task for him and he meets the man and wrestles with him at the stream and he is struck on the socket of the hip.
In that one unkind blow, God re-establishes Jacob in a way that a lifetime of honesty and righteous labor could never do, that no gradual process of careful and sinless living could ever hope to accomplish.
God tears down ya-acov, the cheater, and in his place rebuilds Israel, striver among nations, a person meant to achieve, to strive and to win. And all it took to bring that about was a knee raised quickly in a wrestling match.
I, for one and I think that many will join me, think that there must be better ways to re-orient a life, to call and to claim someone into the service of the Lord. Personally, I like baptism better, even though, and I share this with you with some trepidation; what I am metaphorically doing is drowning the baby in the waters of the river Jordan so that Jesus can raise up a new life in them, so it has its difficulties too.
By whatever means, God is calling us. Not just me, not just the clergy, but all of us into the mission of the church, the life of the church, the ministries the stuff to be sure but most of all, into the mindset of the church.
Maybe worldview is a better term but it is hard to decide. How do you describe the transformation in a person who travels from the world of self-orientation and turns their attention instead to the welfare of those he travels the world with? What word do you use to describe the new sight that happens when fear is banished and hope put in its place? How are we to name what it is that we become when we stop wrestling with God and just accept our new name and get on with things?
We will not be Israel. We’ve already had one of those and that ought to be enough. In fact, God is no longer in the habit of handing out new names, there are plenty of people who do that all on their own but that doesn’t always turn out well, Vernon Wayne Howell changed his name to David Koresh.
No, the name you receive will not be Israel, it will be Jesus. There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which me must be saved. So they say in Acts and so it is. When you surrender, when you cease your struggling, when you submit to the love of God for you and stop fighting against being changed, then will you bear His name; then will you carry with you the name that can bring into being an entirely new world. Only then can you see with renewed sight the world that God’s promise, made manifest in Christ Jesus died in order to give to you, to make you the inheritor of, to bless you with.
I do not promise that it will not be a man by the side of the stream, or a burning bush or a pillar of fire my night, but those have been done already.
But maybe it will be at the door during the night. Maybe it will be the cry of someone thirsting for justice, or maybe just the chance to live with a little dignity in the face of whatever it is she is facing.
I have been listening, as is my own personal little discipline as we approach Advent each year, to some of Debbie’s grandfather’s recordings, sermons and speeches. One of them struck me when it came to this passage. He speaks of being up in his office, lost in study.
“And it’s when I am called down that His glory shines forth. It’s then when the sun is not there, when prayers are still not granted, the doctor still hasn’t found out what’s wrong with you, politicians seem hell-bent to destroy the world, my best friend has lost his job, my other friend has died, then he becomes the only hope I know.
He seems so at home in this world of pain; He reaches into the fears that seek to destroy me; He the hidden one, the anonymous crucified one seems so at home there, wiping away tears, walking with, living and dying for us. And all I can do is pray “Lord, stay close, I’m at my wits end, help me to hang on to you.”
And He does. He hangs on to me. He reaches in and says I am with you to the end. And I’ve noticed, often, it is at that point, when I have no energy, only Him, that somehow people seem to grab ahold of me, and get something when I’m at the bottom, not when I’m at the top.
There wells up from within me a choking sound a voice that wants to say, “there is no other name.”
That is your new name, your new world, your new identity. In the waters of your baptism so much more than on the banks of the stream you were given a name without striving, without pain and suffering, without struggling or the shot to the groin.
But do not think for a minute that the call, because it comes in gentleness and love is any less insistent. Like the widow at the door of the unjust judge, the calling to be freshly baptized, the calling to be newly minted, raised from the grip of death by the power and the love of God is an insistent voice.
I always thought that this parable was written backwards. The question Jesus asks likens God to the unjust judge, which is just stupid on the face of it. God is not waiting around for us to come and beg for mercy. God is seeking us out all the days of our lives.
The reality is that we absent the love and salvation in Christ are perpetually the unjust judge.
It is the widow who is God, calling to us as God has been calling to us since the beginning begging not that we give God justice, but that we allow God to give justice to us, and peace and hope and new life.
The name you have been given is the name of Christ, the only name by which we must be saved. It is not just a name, not just an identity. It is a whole new way of seeing the world, a whole new opportunity to lean into the problems that face this world knowing that on your highest days and on your lowest days he is with you, to the end, no matter what.
Unlike the unjust judge, you can resist the calling of God for all of your life, lots of people do it.
But what could happen if you let yourself be called down, into the fears and questions you try and hide from, and let yourself be remade in Christ? What could happen? What couldn’t happen? A whole new world is created when the name of Jesus is spoken.
What would happen if we all simply accepted our new name, His name, and spoke it aloud?