Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Blessing and the Name

When I first discussed the Baptism Service with the family, I said I was not sure if the Old Testament Reading for the day would be suitable for my sermon, even though I had challenged myself to preach on these readings for the rest of the year.

But when I looked at the story this week, I thought there might be some possibilities in it.  Let’s see how we go.

Let me fill you in on a bit of the story – especially the part between what we looked at last week and what we heard here today.

After Jacob had worked off his 14 years of indenture to his Uncle in return to his two daughters as wives, Jacob thought it was probably time to go home.

There has been a common theme of cheating in these stories.  Jacob cheated his father and brother.  Jacob’s uncle Laban cheated Jacob into working for 14 years instead of 7.  But now it was time for Jacob to return to his family.

His Uncle offers him a deal, saying he should have some pay because Laban had prospered while Jacob was there.   Jacob suggests that he simply be allowed to take the blemished sheep and goats.  Laban agrees, but then secretly removes them all and sends them three day’s journey away.  But somehow more and more blemished sheep and goats are bred.  Eventually Jacob leaves with so many sheep and goats that Laban’s sons felt like they were losing all their inheritance.

In this context, as Jacob starts heading home, he begins to realise that he will soon meet his brother Esau.  He wondered if Esau would be willing to forgive him after all this time.  He was rather afraid that Esau would still remember and want revenge.

So he sent advance parties taking peace offerings to his brother.  He sent so many that eventually all that was left was his immediate family and a few belongings.  This is when the story we just read happened. 

Finally he sends his family across the river but he stays behind and during the night a man comes and fights with him.  They fought and fought all night until at dawn the man said he had better go.  But Jacob would not let him go unless the man gave him a blessing.

So the man asks Jacob his name and then offers him the new name – Israel – which means he “struggled with God”.  In this way the man is identified as God or at least God’s close representative.  Then the mad gave Jacob a blessing and left.

Now we could make all sorts of things out of this story, but the context we have today, of the baptism of Isaac gave a couple of good thoughts that will do.

When Jacob encountered this man he didn’t really know who he was but eventually he realised that he was somehow very close to God, and that in meeting him he should receive a blessing.

A little man come into their lives of this family.  In this little life they have been reminded of the miracle of birth and the wonder of each new generation.  The instinctive response they had as parents was that they wanted to seek God’s blessing because this little man had come.  So they came to us and asked about doing what we are doing here today and it is wonderful that we can join with them in this celebration.  We certainly pray that Isaac will continue to be a blessing to them.

Before the man gave his blessing to Jacob, he gave him a new name – the name that is better remembered in many ways – Israel.

Even today, but more so years ago, when a baby was brought for baptism the parents would give him a new “Christian Name” when the minister asked them to “name this child.”  That is how Baptism came to be known as Christening.  That seems to be a nice link for us today with that old old story and Jacob wrestling with God.

We pray for his blessing and we pray that he will carry his name with pride as a member of the great family of God, just as we are.

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