Genesis 32

Have you ever had the feeling that you were being chased?  Running through dirty, crowded alleys like in some action movie?  Or perhaps you dreaded a coming confrontation so much tat you did all you could to prevent it.  Could you imagine both happening at the same time?  This is where we find our hero Jacob today.  He had just been running from his father-in-law Laban.  He was running toward Canan, the land promised to his grandfather Abraham, the land and blessing that he stole from his elder brother Esau, who he knew he would surely meet soon.

Why is he doing this?  Looking previously in Genesis we see that Jacob had been dreaming, again, and was told by God to head back home.  God has also explained to Jacob how all of Jacob’s wealth had been gained.  God told Jacob where his blessings had come from.  All of Jacob’s good fortune had come from God and it was not Jacob’s work that gained him these blessings, but a gift from God.  God’s love allowed for Jacob to prosper, even when those around him did not want Jacob to prosper!  Yes in the face of adversity, Jacob was able to prosper thanks to God.  Jacob was able to prosper even though he was not the most upstanding of individuals.  God still loved him.

Jacob then knew of God.  God had come to Jacob in dreams.  Perhaps Jacob had heard stories of this God when he was younger, from his parents.  But like many, still today, here, now, he had just heard the stories.  He was not able to internalize God’s love for him.  Even when God stood next to him in a dream as angles moved up and down between heaven and earth, Jacob still did not know God.
Knowing of and knowing someone are two different things.  An elevator ride does not make on intimately familiar with another, especially if you are just watching the action on the elevator.  Making up stories of the person standing next to you does not make you friends with them.  And making up stories of people who are standing next to you in the elevator definitely does not make you friends with them.

God wanted Jacob to know God, to respond to the loving nature of God.  God wanted Jacob to know, to understand, that life was “clinging to God.”

What then is “clinging to God?”  It is knowing that God’s nature and name is love.  See, clinging to God is a two way street.  God clings to you. And you cling to God.  Sure, we have various images of God “lifting” us up, or “setting” us apart, or “redeeming” us.  Each of these images illustrates God holding us.  But this is not just holding like you do when you pick up a bag of flour.  This holding is a clinging, a total wrapping of us in God’s-self.  Like a parent holding a child close, shielding them from the downpour.  This shows God’s nature.  God’s nature and name, which is love.  In the words of Charles Wesley:
Pure universal love thou art:
To me, to all, they mercies move-
Thy nature, and thy name is Love.

We know that God is love.  We know this from a young age.  We learn that even in the junk of life, as it pours down on us, that God is there, loving us, holding us tight, doing the best God can to shield us from the downpour love life in this broken world.  And then, we unlearn it.  We think that we can do better for ourselves than God can.  We turn from God, relying on ourselves.
God’s nature is Love, God loves Jacob, and God loves you.  God loves Jacob to the point that God, in many understandings of the text, God came to Jacob as a human to bless him in person.  God limited God’s-self to meet Jacob in person.  Jacob had been claimed by God prior to this story of wrestling at the Jabbok.   Jacob had already seen God in dreams, had heard God’s call to fulfill the call of his family, his place as heir to Isaac, heir to Abraham, to be a part of God’s Redemptive work in the world.  Just like God has already claimed you.

Part of the continuation of this claiming is the renaming of Jacob as Israel.  This is not God just claiming Jacob; this is God claiming all of God’s people, including you!  Jacob is no hero in the Biblical story.  He makes a lot of poor decisions to say the least.  He constantly deceives people, he outright steals from his elder brother Esau, and just after the reading today he is ranking his family so that the most important are in the rear in case Esau is still angry with him! 

For all the awesome things that God is doing in Jacob’s life he is still susceptible to human nature and putting his needs over the needs of others, and his own needs over the needs of God.  And we, who are here now, each of us, struggles with this same issue every day.  We have a ton of great things and all we do is complain about what we don’t have.  But, just like Jacob, we are claimed by God.  We make poor decisions, but God still claims us.  God still clings to us hoping that we will return the favor and cling to God.

God will show up in your life when you least expect God.  God will chase you through the alleys in your dreams.  God will hunt you down so that God can embrace you, to hold on to you.  And we don’t make this easy for God do we?  We happily run.  Sometimes, we would rather die of exhaustion than relent and let God hold us.  We would run off a cliff to avoid God’s activity in our lives.  And then while plummeting, we ask, “God where are you?”

So, instead of running away, ask what it is you are running from.  The most perfect love?  Jacob was surprised by God at the Jabbok, yet he did not run.  He grabbed on. He would not let go!
Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms thou shall not fly;
Wrestling I will not let thee go
Till I thy name thy nature know.

Grab on to God!  Not because you should, but because you can!  You have the ability to turn to God, confront God, hold on to God.  Look into God, enquire “who are you God?”

Stop pursuing the shadow of God that is cast before you as God chases you.  Turn to God, grab on to 
God, hold God tight, ask God all your questions till you know God.  Don’t settle for easy answers from God, probe God.  By yourself in prayer and with others in group study.  As God hems in the chaos, work to hem in God.  This is impossible to do but in doing this, you will see how far God loves, who and where God loves.  It is in asking these questions that Jacob is blessed, that Jacob, and you, are named Israel, for you have struggled with God.  God chases you down, God clings to you, God’s love is, so that you too can confess:
Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin with ease overcome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature, and thy name is Love.


Who do you follow?

Sermon Romans 8:12-25

Debtors to the flesh.  What is this?  If we live life so that our choices are all determined by our wants then we will merely die, not at the end of our lives but now.  If we live by the Spirit though, the desires of our bodies will be put to death and we will live!  We cannot live a full life just living to our wants and needs.  We need for those wants and needs to be put to death so that we are no longer indebted to them.

Put yourself in a place where you experienced great joy.  For me this was a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).  At the age of 13 this was my first camping trip and this was where I first encountered loons.  These marvelous birds which I had never seen before, would call to each other every night we were there.  In the moonlight I could see them swimming by on the lake.  Sitting on the shore, Looking out over the Lake, up to big dipper, the full moon, the sounds of wave lapping at my feet, the call of the loons and the fresh air.  I saw here for the first time at the young age of thirteen the grandeur of creation.

Upon returning to Mankato, the city where I grew up, I could hear creation groaning.  I had not noticed it before, but I saw where things had changed from how they were intended by God.  Were it not for the Spirit instilled in me, Dwelling in me, I could not have seen the wonder of creation in the BWCA.  I could not have heard it breathe there.  This was the first time in my life that I was able to step outside of myself.  I saw creation in all its glory.  The Spirit changed my world.

I was not in the BWCA because it made sense, my warm bed, my Nintendo, my friends, all back home.  These were the things important to a thirteen year old boy.  Summer vacation had just started and I was in the Boundary Waters sleeping on the ground in a tent, cooking meals over a campfire, all without my friends.  The spirit allowed me to move away from such things for a spot of time.  I did not have my favorite things from home with me.  Much like the column of flame and smoke that lead the Israelites through the wilderness.  The Spirit leads still today.  Though it may not be so visible.  I don't know that I have ever seen a person much less a group of people following a pillar of flame around the wilderness, except perhaps at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

The Spirit is there though, leading us.  Much like on Pentecost she is here today.  The Spirit leads us out of slavery to the flesh, we are no longer debtors to the flesh.  She leads us away from a world dominated by nationalist agendas. For such devotion is ultimately a devotion to an idol.  Not devotion to the LORD our God.  The Spirit leads us into adoption by The LORD.  An adoption that makes us heirs along with Christ.  Yes we are adopted into the Holy Trinity, along side the LORD, His son Jesus, and the Spirit.  We are heirs with with Christ.  But being an Heir with Christ involves a life like Christ's.  And as we all know, there was a bit of suffering in his life.

Thus when we look out over our place that brings us joy, we start to see fraying at the edges.  The edges of that place, the edges of reality.  Ultimately we cannot stay there in that joyful place.  For if we stay there we do not live the life we are called to in Christ.  The Spirit changes our world.

When we stay in that joyful place and ignore the spirit calling us to move on, we become slaves to that place.  The spirit calls us away from our comforts.   Into joy, but then also away from that joy so that we have a taste of what is to come and are able to witness to others of the Glory that we know in Christ, in God and in the Spirit.  The Spirit, she changes the world.

Jesus knew this Glory.  As Jesus is the Word and was there when God spoke the world into existance.  Jesus was there when God, as a pillar of fire and cloud, led the Israelites through the wilderness.  Jesus knew the glory of God and came to Earth, became one of us, to live with us in this world, in this creation that groans with labor pains.

So then, I had to go back to Mankato.  I had to leave the BWCA.  I did not return the same person though.  For I saw the Trinity in the BWCA.  But that revelation changed me and I could not hold the change in.  I had to change my outlook on life.  I saw the Glory of creation and it changed me.  This change caused great suffering in my life.  I poured out love.  You can imagine how well that went over in Jr. High.

One who claims Christ as LORD defies the temporal power structures.  As you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and your nation.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and Nike.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and The Vikings.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and The Twins.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and the republicans.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and the democrats.  you cannot have allegiance both to the LORD God and the green party. The Spirit frees you from the debts of the flesh. She changes your world.

The Spirit then makes life uncomfortable.  We have a vision of what life truly is.  We know and have seen love poured out.  The spirit gives us that.  Yet we are here, now.  With creation groaning all around us.  We hear the groaning in the halting of flights due to a groaning volcano.  People dying in earthquakes in Haiti and China.  Teenagers dying in horrible traffic accidents while driving late at night.

We see all this suffering and hope for change.  We as fellow humans, as Christ's followers, Spirit followers, suffer when others suffer.  It is normal and right for us to suffer in these circumstances.  This hope that we hope for is not a political promise by a presidental canidate,  This hope is for the inbreaking of God, for the redemption of our bodies and the world.  The Spirit calls us forth, leads us out of or comfortable places where we think that we know God.  The Spirit leads us into places where God is present and working, places of pain.  We see and feel God's suffering in the suffering of others.  We know that this is not the world that is to come.  We suffer here now with this knowledge, with Christ.  The only thing this brings us is to a place of hope.  Hope for what could be.  Hope for God's perfect love.

If the desires of our bodies are put to death by the Spirit working within us, then we are no longer debtors to the flesh.  Once we see the Spirit active, we then have a choice, and we must respond to the action of the Spirit in our lives.  We can either let it go, ignoring it, watching move about on the horizon.  Or we can embrace it and follow it wherever it takes us.  Truly once you have seen the Spirit active in your life you want nothing more than to follow it as it leads you.  Even if you have settled down into your place of joy, and you are covered in moss as you have not been moving, you can still see the Spirit moving on the horizon.  Get up, the world is new, the world has changed, embrace and follow the spirit.



I Am

John 4:3-43

Imagine if you will the formless void, Chaos, total and complete darkness.  Not the darkness of the city at night with its ambient, artificial light.  Not the countryside on a cloudy evening where you can eventually see when your eyes become used to the darkness.

Imagine being deep in a cave, without life.  Darkness surrounds you; you are not able to see your hand in front of your face.  Darkness grabs onto you, forces itself into you.  Into your eyes, into your throat, into your nostrils, darkness is crushing you.

In this darkness there is no hope.  Nothing is there but you.  And soon enough, you are not even sure if you are there anymore.  You have become a part of the darkness.

Then, far away, or not so far, as distance has no meaning in this darkness, then you hear something (light match).  The scraping of a match as it is lit.  Then the entirety of the cavern is illuminated.  The darkness is pushed back, into the crevasses.  You are blinded by the light of this match.  You reach up to shield your eyes from this brilliant light.  The sudden illumination frightens you, it hurts you.  You cannot stand it.  If you bring your hand down the blinding light fills the cavern.  You want to see the wonders inside this cave.  What is in this place beside you?  Your eyes become accustomed to the light, and the glory of the cave is revealed to you.

In the lighting of the match everything of the darkness, the crushing, invading, darkness is forgotten and all you see is glory.  A glory that fills the cavern, pushing darkness into the crevasses.  Freeing you to experience the beauty of the creation, the rock formations, the life that is there in the darkness.
In the gospel reading today it is noted that it is about noon.  Jesus was tired from his travels.  He rests at Jacob’s Well while his disciples go into the city to find food.

Jesus was alone at Jacob’s Well.  This well brings to mind the stories in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  These are the stories of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well, Moses meeting Zipporah, and Isaac meeting Rebecca.  Like these men Jesus was alone.  Like these men, Jesus meets an outsider woman.  Unlike these men, Jesus meets this woman alone.  There is no one there besides the two.

This woman that Jesus meets is a Samaritan.  She would have known well the stories of the three men; Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.  The Samaritans read the Torah too, they called it their own.  The Samaritans had separated from the Jews over a disagreement regarding worship space.  They thought as this unnamed woman states, that God was to be worshiped on the mountain.  Whereas the Jews thought God was to be worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem. 

This Samaritan woman came alone to the well, in the heat of the day, to get water.  This is an important detail as the original hearers of this story would have been shocked at the woman coming alone at noon for water.  This work was usually done by many and early in the day so as to avoid the heat.  The well was also a place for the community to gather.  This woman though appears to be an outsider within the city.  Still she was part of the City, she had not been kicked out of the city.  But for whatever reason she appears to have been ostracized from the community. 

In her relationships there is only Darkness, not because she did anything wrong.  We do not know the conditions of how she came to where she was that day.  We know only through empathy with one who hurts, who lives in the darkness, that there is great pain in her life.  As only there can be with one who has had five husbands.  This is such a series of broken relationships that we can only feel empathy for her. 

So, with the sun high in the sky, this woman finds herself heading to the well.  She is heading there to get water, so that she may live.  And there sits a Jew, who seemingly without a second thought, asks her for a drink.  This is an impossibility.  She was a woman, and a Samaritan.  She was doubly elect to be despised by a male Jew.

Yet she was less than nothing was being asked a favor by someone who apparently held worldly privilege over her.  And in all this confusion Jesus speaks of Living Water that will quench all thirst (match).  And she would love some of this water, as it would ease her burden.

Jesus tells her to call her husband and when she says she cannot (pull out match) Jesus tells her why.  She now knows Jesus to be a prophet.  She asks him a question about worship.  Not to change the subject, but as a dialogue partner.  Jesus says in effect, “Don’t box God in” (Strike Match) either on the mountain or in the temple. 

She knows of the anointed one, the messiah, the Christ, who is to come.  She knows that a light will come into the world and all the darkness will be pushed away.  And Jesus says, as the LORD God did to Moses, “I AM” (light match).

Now the disciples have returned to Jesus.  And the woman rushed off to tell everyone in the city what she now knows (gesture to the candles).  The disciples, despite having travelled with Jesus do not know this.  (hold hand in front of eyes) They don’t understand Christ until after they see his wounds as they cower inside locked rooms after he is crucified.  Then they let down their hands (drop hand) and see the Glory.

This woman though, she goes off to tell the people of the city about the light of the world, which was revealed to her at high noon.  In seeing the odd behavior of this woman, the people of the city head to the well and ask Jesus to stay.  When they had seen the light themselves (gesture to candle), as individuals, as community, they too believed.  The darkness of the world receeded for them and they were able to see, to celelbrate the light.  And they too, outsider Samaritians, confess Jesus to be “I Am, to be Christ, Savior of the world.

The woman was not hold to go and share this news.  She was not even sure of the plausibility of it.  But she was changed by it.  She had seen the light and wanted to reflect it so that others could see too. 
This double outsider Samaritan woman is the first evangelist in John’s Gospel.  The first besides Jesus to speak of the presence of God with us.  This woman who’s life situation had totally surrounded her, was suffocating her with Darkness.  Saw the promise of the light in Christ.  She saw, at the height of the sun, the brightest time of day, she saw, the great I Am.  The one who spoke light into existence and she was changed.  The only thing she could do, the only thing she was driven to do, was to share the good news.

When your own life is only Darkness, when you are in the cave, in the total, complete, suffocating darkness, and when Christ comes and you see the light will you block it out?  OR will you embrace it and drop everything to share with others so that they too can come to see the light and the life for themselves?  So that they can know the Savior?  So that they can know the I Am?