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God cheated! (and still lost?): A sermon on Genesis 32:22-30

God Didn’t Fight Fair! (and still lost!)

Genesis 32:22-30


† In Jesus Name †

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus increase our desire to cling to Jesus and never let go! (Even as we know He won’t let go either!)

  • Did God Cheat?

I titled this sermon God didn’t fight fair and still lost, but I was tempted to title it, “God cheated”. Here is why I wanted to say that:

“When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

We know from later in the passage and from other places in the scripture that the “man” was God. So look at the passage again….

God saw he wasn’t going to win… so he dislocates Jacob’s hip. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s a legitimate technique for the next family fun night?

But there are two huge issues here…

The first – God can chea…err not play fair?

The second—God can lose?

Those things may not make sense…

Until you realize that God’s goal was for Jacob to not only get the blessing, God wanted him to treasure what he gained.

Jacob—the trickster

A little background, in case you are not familiar with this man who wrestled with God. From his very birth, he was a didn’t play fair! He took advantage of his brother’s hunger and gained his inheritance. He would later take advantage of his brother’s absence and steal his father’s blessing for the firstborn, effectively taking over the family.

If there was an easy way to get something—he did it. If there was a scam, or a way to deceive someone, he was there.

Another way to say it, Satan knew how to tempt him, and he fell into sin every chance he got.

Most of us don’t have Jacob’s moral fiber, or lack of it. But we cannot say that Satan has no clue about how and when to tempt us. Maybe it is gossip, some nice juicy truth and rumor that makes someone look bad. Maybe it’s not spending time with God, finding your sabbath. Maybe the temptation is revenge and wanting something bad to happen to someone who did you wrong. Or maybe it is lust…

Everybody has their sin, and needs to be confronted with it by God, so that God can bless them, healing them by removing the curses they had earned. For every sin, whether thought, word or deed, earns a curse, a punishment.

Only God can bless us by removing the curse.

And as Jacob finally went home, as he would meet his brother the next day… he needed to be free of his past, the guilt and shame. He needed to find his blessing, and this stranger, he was certain, was the one to give him that blessing.

That’s what happens when we encounter God, we know it, even if we can’t put words to it, or explain the blessing that is to be ours.

  • What was different – The Blessing ( why he wanted to know the name

The question that needs to be asked is what changed in Jacob, that would make him so tenacious. Why did he have to receive the blessing?

It had to be the blessing that he expected.

He wanted to know the man’s name to confirm, but God simply blessed him. That blessing confirmed it, for Jacob, now renamed Israel, confessed who the man was…

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”

What he expected, he could testify to, a place he encountered God. He experienced being in the presence of God and even could demand a blessing—and received it.

That is what you and I need, to realize the blessing that is ours as we interact with God.

If we only had a place where we could wrestle with God. Where we could question Him, struggle with Him.  Where we could recognize His presence and never want to leave it, but stay there until we were sure we were blessed by Him.

Where could there be a place like that? Where is our place where we can wrestle with God, demand a blessing, (hopefully not get a dislocated hip)

Here at the altar rail is a place to do so. A place where His love is, as we take His body, broken so we could be healed, and His blood shed so we could be forgiven.

Where God would remove the burdens we have, the weaknesses, the curses. Even if we can’t explain it, we would know that He is with us. Where we could bring others who need healing as well.

Here is the place that changes life, as God comes to us, and we hold on for the blessing. This is where we know we are loved… and cared for, it is where we find peace. This is where we see God, and live.  AMEN

An Inventory of Blessings: Peace and Comfort! A sermon on Isaiah 66:10-14

An Inventory of Our Blessings
Peace and Comfort!
Isaiah 66:10-14

† In Jesus’ Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize God’s desire that you come close to Him, and let Him give you life!

  • This is what the Lord Says!

Often, I have people, mostly unbelievers or agnostics, tell me that they picture God in two different ways.

The Old Testament God is a God of wrath, who condemns people to hell as he smites them with fire and brimstone.

Then they see a different God in the New Testament, one that is, if anything, too merciful and tolerant.

When they hear the words that we did today, “This is what the LORD says, it is with a deep dark voice, almost like Darth Vader, or James Earl Jones, with every word punctuated and emphasized, rolling out like thunder. They anticipate what follows will be a harsh lesson, a caustic disciplinary correction or worse.


And while hearing God’s voice may get a little uncomfortable, it is not because it is strong and harsh and demanding.

Rather, I think that is it too comforting, too intimate, and it reveals us needy as it pictures us drinking in God’s glorious love, much as an infant would be content and filled…

  • Why does this make us uncomfortable?

There is a part of us I think likes to picture God as the mean and distant authority figure, of whom it is said, “just wait until your Father gets home!”

We aren’t as comfortable with God being the nurturing, comforting God that He is compared to in these words He gave to Isaiah. Just studying the passage is Hebrew, which is far more blunt and descriptive, was overwhelming, never mind projecting that level of care and intimacy on my relationship with God! Knowing God is that close, that aware of our needs, and that willing to provide for them–no matter the mess we make, is astonishing.

More than that, it is frightening to think we can be that dependent on God.

The same God who sees the mess we make of life, which is nowhere near as nice as that baby’s diaper.

It amazes me, and to be honest, I struggle with the idea that God knows us that intimately. He knows when we have messed up our lives. He even warned us about it, told us not to do it, but assured us He would be there to clean up the mess.

But we struggle with God being that close, that aware… We can be like the 2-3-year-old who’s done wrong and tried to hide it. Go all the way back to the garden, and you see men and women trying to hide their sin, trying to hide their brokenness. And so rather going with God when He calls us to spend time with Him, we hide out, thinking we can delay our getting in trouble, and maybe even escape getting in trouble.

As if any kid could fool their parents at that age…

Yet we still try, and we still mess up our lives, sometimes in spectacular ways.

And during cleaning us up, God gives us what we need, just as He taught us to pray for it, as we pray the Lord’s prayer. Just like the momma in Isaiah.

  • The closeness we need!

That is what we really need! For God to be that close! For Him to care for us.

The joy that comes from realizing not only can we depend on God that much, but that He desires us to, is amazing.

One pastor I was reading said it this way, this week.

Before our response to his invitation — well before! — there is his desire for us. We may not even be aware of it, but every time we go to Mass, the first reason is that we are drawn there by his desire for us.”  (Pope Francis)

The think that I still try to grasp, that I want each one of you to realize, is that God wants us to be there with Him. He loves caring for us, just as much as a mom loves caring for her baby.

He knew we would sin, prepared well to clean us up and make us perfect, and comforts us even as we grieve.

This was what the cross was all about, proving to us that God cared this much for us, that He desires for us to dwell in His presence.

And by us, I don’t just mean those of us in this room, but all of those whom He created, and calls to be changed, and then changes them. People we help by sharing this understanding that God told Isaiah to record for all the people of God.

This is something we need to count on, and make sure we understand is always ours, this comfort and peace given to us through Jesus Christ. AMEN!

Advent Streams: Singing – a sermon on Isaiah 35:1-10

Altar with communionStreaming to a Joyous Place!
Isaiah 35:1-10

† Jesus, Son, Savior †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to sing!

Getting excited…

I had a great conversation (well, we sent messages across the internet) with a promising young theologian this week. He went to the youth group here back in the day, and he asked me some questions about advent.

As we were talking about the idea that Advent is just as much about the Second Coming as Christmas, you could see his mind spinning and a grin break out as he wrote:

“The hope is that the whole of creation can finally Shabbat (that is rest)!

:” and you can wrap in that from the winter (sin) comes the new spring and the new life”

“I like it.  I mostly remember the songs and candles of Advent. But it’s awesome to really dig into what the message is all about”

And finally,

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation.  The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

He gets it, that advent is not about looking back to the past, because Christmas is beautiful and the kids in Sheep hats are cute, but advent is about looking forward to the second coming and getting excited about what it means.

The first time, Jesus came and dwelt in our presence.  This time, He is coming to bring us back, so we can dwell in the Father’s presence.

You saw a description of that day when even the wilderness and desert will be glad!

Of all the cool things that will happen, I want to focus on two this morning,

Here is the first…

Those who can’t speak…

Hear the first part of verse 6 again.

“The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!”

Now, I look forward to the day when not one member of Concordia needs a cane or a walker, but they are lining up to go in the bounce house after

But what I am looking more towards is when those who cannot speak sing out for joy.

Interestingly, this is not just any song, it is the song of Jubilee in Hebrew, the rejoicing when every debt is cancelled, when everything is restored. It is the most joyous of sabbaths, the greatest rest in the presence of God that could be known in a lifetime.

That is what the people that can’t sing, learn to sing.

That is what being in the presence of God, and knowing how much he loves you does. It happens when we realize that He has taken care of all our sin, when everything we’ve ever done that has hurt someone, betrayed them, crushed their spirit is forgiven, all of it. I think it will be something like this,

Free at last! Free at last, praise God Almighty I am free of sin… at last!

Or maybe more like this…

Praise God from whom all blessing flow…praise Him all Creatures ..(and let them sing it out)

Streaming in..

If you think that was something now, imagine what it will be like in a year, when there will be 60-100 more people here?

Or what it will be like with a couple billion here, around the throne of God.  All excited because Christ has returned, the walkers and canes are tossed aside, and we are singing God’s praises. And all the other blessings are being realized.

When we see Jesus, who died that we might live eternally.

That bore the cost of sin so we didn’t have to,… not that’s not right.

He bore the cost of sin, so we could be with God the Father, forever.

That’s why verse 10 means so much, and so amazes me.

10  Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

Imagine how great that procession is going to be, every person for who Jesus died for, every person healed of everything, from blindness and being unable to walk to cancer and heart diseases, and most of all, healing of the damage that sin has done to us.

Ransomed, all the debt paid off we will flood into heaven like a flash food.. the mega crowd of billions heading to see God, to worship Him, to praise Him, to hear Him welcome us all home.

This is what we wait for in advent, and get a little foretaste of, every time we hear we are forgiven, every time we hear He is with us, every time we remember what He promised here, and see it again as another person is cleansed in the waters of baptism… We experience His presence, as he takes our cares away as we realize our prayers are answered, in ways more precious than we can imagine.

It is just as Brandon noted..with one thing added in… the Trinity.

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

And every time Jesus meets us here, as we gather, and once again receive His Body and Blood…

This is advent, a time of now and not yet, a time where we glimpse a little of what it will be like when He returns because He has dwelt among us….and we beheld His glory, just as we will, even more clearly when He comes among us, and we dwell in the Father’s presence.  Amen!

Prepare the Way!

Prepare the Featured imageWay! It’s All About Jesus

John 1:6-8, 19-28


 May You Realize That Life is All About Christ, and As You Do, May You Realize His Life Is All About You!

The New Pastor

I’ve heard the story a number of times, there’s even a pastor who did something similar and posted it on youtube.  No matter who did it, it is a great object lesson.  It went something like this.

A church was waiting expectantly to hear a pastor they were thinking of calling.  He was supposed to come to town in time to preach at their evening service.   He was reputed to be an incredible preacher, a great pastor, and one who led churches through times of great blessing.

He wrote them ahead of time, telling them the message would be one to encourage them to love their neighbors.  Everyone was looking forward to it. 

That morning, a man was sitting outside the church, with a piece of cardboard with the words Leviticus 19:18b written on it.  He was unshaven, His clothes were filthy, his hair was messed, the letters on the sign were crooked. 

Some people didn’t even look at him, as they passed by.  Others looks, and muttered under their breath, A few walked up and tried to hand him a dollar bill, one man even tried to threaten him with calling the police – trying to scare him off the property.  He stayed there all morning – and ever as people drove by later in the afternoon, he was there.

That night though, to almost everyone’s relief, he wasn’t there.  The new pastor wouldn’t have to see him, and they wouldn’t have to feel guilty about treating him badly.

They were waiting for the message about caring for their neighbors.  There was excitement in the air…. But wait, up by the altar, the man they thought was deranged talking to the elders…..and his sign was leaning against the altar…. One person looked it up – Leviticus 19:18B….

Love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord (NLT)

They had seen his message all morning – but they didn’t see it.  They heard this amazing pastor speak, but they didn’t hear him.

They would repent, ashamed and shocked by the message, and perhaps they were only more surprised, when they heard the pastor announce that he would take their call, that together they would learn to love God and their neighbor

it is a story not unlike the story of John the Baptist that we heard this morning.  For he too was not listened too by some, and we see that in the gospel today.

Why Couldn’t They See or Hear His Message.

Who are you the Priests and Levites ask John, not once, but five times.

Who are you, why do you act like a messenger from God, these messengers from the leaders of Israel ask. Men who most likely grew up with John, for his father was a priest as well.

Every time I see this passage, I wonder, why they couldn’t realize who John is.

Why couldn’t they get it? Why didn’t they hear his message?  Was it the odd clothes? 

We look at them, and ask those questions, but would we treat the odd looking guy in different clothes, whose life was very different from ours any better?

Would we try to drive off a pastor who was dressed like a bum and acted a little weird when we first met him?

Or might we check out the Bible passage on the cardboard sign he held?

Why Didn’t John Answer Them?

As odd as it is that they didn’t recognize John, John’s blunt refusal to consider their question is even odder.  Jesus would tell people that John was Elijah.  Did John lie? Did Jesus?

Why doesn’t he just say yes, I am Elijah, and over here – the Messiah, the Prophet you’ve been looking for?  That’s my cousin Jesus from Nazareth.

Why not just make it easy on them?

Why not just slap them upside the head, and say, “look – the answer to your question is here, right here, right before your very eyes?

The Answer:

I think we find the answer in the reaction of the crowds when they do realize that Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  They either try to kill Him, they try to make Him a king that will provide everything on their time schedule, when God is doing something far greater, far more eternal.

But God is about something else – about redeeming mankind, of reconciling everything together.

7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8  But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (NLT)

Surely they wouldn’t have killed Jesus, if they truly knew He was the Messiah, they wouldn’t have sacrificed Him, and he wouldn’t have borne our sin.  They would have honored him, praised him, expected him to lead them in glorious battles, but that isn’t why he was born of Mary, that’ isn’t why he emptied Himself, and lived under the weight of being human.  

That is what John means when he says he is the one who cries out get ready for God to come!  A cry of despair, a cry of last resort, a cry for God to act, for only God can make the changes needed for people to be ready to in His presence.

if John admits to being Elijah, then the attention is on him again, and not on the message, the message people need to hear.

Are you ready for God to be part of your life?  Are you ready to be part of His?

John’s message has to be about our need for Jesus.  It can’t be, “look at me, I am Elijah!”

It has to be about Christ.

Without His Incarnation, His Birth, His life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension, we won’t be ready when it is time for us to be before the throne of God.   We simply can’t do the miracle of reconciling every relationship we’ve broken, every hurt we caused others, every time we’ve betrayed others, and been betrayed by them.

Yet that is why He came. That is the ministry of Christ! That is the work He accomplished, to make our lives, as bruised and battered as they can be, lives that are masterpieces because of what He does…

He needed to die, we needed Him to die! He needed to offer Himself for us, that our way to God would be made clear. 

And He did.

We know of Him, and His work, and that it was all planned…..

For John testified of his work, as we do, with our words and our lives.

For when we trust God at His promises, the promise of a Messiah, of a Prophet, of our Savior, and what He would do to save us… everything changes, and it begins to make sense. 

What changes the most?  We go from darkness to light, we go from questioning God to reveling in His presence, we know Him… He’s the pastor, who sees us at our worst, at the moments we aren’t loving, and says, I’ll stay, let’s walk together.

Therefore, knowing why He came, knowing He will come again, trust in Him, count on the promises He has made us, and live in His incredible peace…. AMEN!

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