Biblical Text: Genesis 32:22-30
Full Draft of Sermon
This text is one of the strangest in the Bible, but I think it might be one of the most important for churches that baptize babies to understand.
The sermon is a character study on Jacob. You can read the entire story yourself starting in Genesis 25:19ff, but the core of my take away is that Jacob came into the world a child of promise and proceeds to attempt to earn it or escape from it. And he continues in conflict…until he can’t. Alone, in the night, scared he’s losing it all…Jacob prays. And then Jacob wrestles through the night..until he gets his blessing.
The blessing once taken from a blind Father by trickery is granted face to face. The blessing once traded for is accepted freely. The blessing that once came by grasping…is gained by letting go. And the name is changed. Not that those blessings were not true, they just were not claimed. They were not believed. But now, walking with a limp, no longer running. Israel no longer strives in conflict, but rests on the promise.
We baptized a child today. In baptism that child is made an heir of the promise – Just like Jacob. The promise is true. It doesn’t matter what we do because baptism doesn’t depend upon us. But why this text is important, is because we can turn our back on that gift. To learn the lesson of Jacob is wrestle with the promise. To hold onto God and not let go until we have made the grace and the hope ours. The christian life, lived with a Lutheran accent, is about those wrestling matches where we receive as ours what God has already given. Where we learn to live by grace in hope, instead of conflict.
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We had a double baptism this week. Yes, it breaks a liturgical rule about lent, but the text was perfect – living water, John 4:5-26. The entire segment of John from Nicodemus through the Samaritan Woman and the well with a picture of actual baptisms(!) in between is full of baptismal images and recognition stories.
Many of my metaphors or ways of thinking come out of the business world. One of the clearest to me is a business/tax term called a safe harbor. Many tax laws create safe harbors where if you do your accounting in this way – you are safe. Lets just say those safe harbors are usually the common sense way you would recognize revenue or cost. Many businesses operate outside of those safe harbors. They are not necessarily breaking the law, but if the IRS pursues them and wins in tax court, the business will owe taxes and penalties. They were not operating in a safe harbor. Businesses do this because: a) they might not get caught, b) their accountants and lawyers say it is within the law as written, c) it allows them to keep and report more income usually and sometimes more cash flow when they don’t have to send money to uncle same, d) it might make sense for their industry and laws move slower than business.
The sacraments are how God wants to deal with us. They are the only sure way that God has given for his grace. Baptism is objectively when the Father puts his Spirit in us and claims us as His children. But we all have our subjective stories to tell. We might practice faith outside of those safe harbors – however risky that might be. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are paired stories about recognition of God and how he works. Nick comes in the dark, and leaves in the dark. He doesn’t recognize the birth of water and the spirit. The Samaritan woman comes at noon. At the start she is as far apart from Jesus as, well, as a Jew and a Samaritan. By the end she has embraced the jewish term messiah and hesitatingly applied it to Jesus. She has started to see her subjective story in the light of God’s objective story revealed by Jesus.
This sermon ponders the multitude of layers between our subjective experience of God and how God has revealed himself. The text itself, playfully, in a Romantic Comedy banter, deals with the Bridegroom meeting the Bride at the well. That is a stock OT image. That is what is going on at that Samaritan well. That is what is going on in baptism. If we have been given eyes to see.