First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost • Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, August 6, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Gathering Music “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” R.C. Wilson
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Announcements Assisting Elder:
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship “Prayer of Serenity” J.M. Stevens
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
The Lord gives food in due season;
God satisfies the desire of every living thing.
Time with Children
*Hymn 634 “To God Be the Glory”
Prayers of Confession (Mt 11:28-30)
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Let us ask God to forgive us.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Parent, we have sinned against you and against one another, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us correct what we are, and direct what we shall be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. People of God, hear the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!
Hearing the Word
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 32:22-31
22The same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Epistle Reading: Romans 9:1-5
1I am speaking the truth in Christ— I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Sermon “Wrestling with God” Rev. David Ashby
That night, 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.”
That, folks— the strange episode of Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabbok— is one of the weirdest stories in the Old Testament. And I think it is one of the neatest stories, but, then, as you have noticed by now, I like weird stuff in the Bible! This is not, of course, one of those nice, edifying tales you find in a children’s “golden book” of Bible stories. You won’t find an animated version on the video shelves, and it’s not commonly found in commentaries! But it is intriguing and revealing in a dark, half-glimpsed by the light of the moon darting behind the clouds on a dark and stormy night way, with flashes of clarity illuminating the scene like streaks of heat lightening. It’s kinda like a dream, kinda spooky, and really hard to pin down… sorta like how it was hard for Jacob to pin down that slippery figure on the banks of the Jabbok river.
This is an ancient tale, probably floating around the campfires and dinner tables of Israel for maybe a thousand years before the Bible was written down. Like a bunch of the passages we encounter in the beginning of Genesis, it mixes patriarchal history with legends of unknown origin and explanations of place names and customs, the “just so stories” of their day. And, on one, basic, simplified level, this weird tale explains why a particular town on the Jabbok river is called Peniel, “Preserved,” and, incidentally, why Jewish cooks often remove the sinew around the hip bone of a leg of lamb, because Jacob’s hip was dislocated there.
But the Holy Spirit did not preserve this episode just as a folk tale explaining things to children in the evening before bed. No, there is some powerful theological and psychological truth here for the adults to ponder. What does it mean to be a people descended from a scoundrel who wrestled with God and who was renamed “Israel?” What does it mean to wrestle with your calling? What does it mean to wrestle with God?!?
Clearly, the shadowy figure with whom Jacob strives that night is God. Of course, you could say it was an angel or God adopting the persona of a man, or of sending a powerful wrestler, or it was a projection of Jacob’s inner demons or inner psychic conflicts, or some other explanation, but it’s pretty inescapable that however it worked out, that entity symbolizes Jacob wrestling with God. That certainly was how Jacob, or rather Israel thereafter, understood it and how the nation of Israel understood it. Jacob the Heel wrestled with God and emerged a changed and more faithful servant of the living God named Israel.
Lots of people wrestle with God like that, maybe for a night, maybe for a lifetime, maybe about a church calling, maybe about spiritual conversion and faith, maybe about hardship, grief, sorrow, direction in life, maybe about a zillion things, but so many souls can identify with Jacob striving with his God, desperate, not knowing whether we are winning or losing, or what the difference is— just that we know it is a matter of spiritual life and death. Lots of us have been there, by our own Jabboks, not sure who we’re fighting with, but wrestling like our lives depended on it, but we just can’t pin our opponent down. And that slipperiness and that immense power and that intense importance of those dark nights of the soul are what resonate within us as we watch Jacob strive in this legend. And, to be honest with you, most of us who have had our Jabbok wrestling with God have come away limping. It brings back powerful memories.
But, just like Jacob came away with a new name and identity, so do we (once we stagger to our feet and stand there panting to receive God’s blessing and a new sense of identity as believers and followers of the God who strives with us). This was the turning point for Jacob, even if he wasn’t quite sure what, exactly, had turned with him. He had a new name, a hard-won name, and he turned from following his own self-interest to following the living God of heaven and earth, life and salvation. But that was a tough-won fight!
Despite our desire to keep the Bible and our faith upbeat and positive, just a cursory survey of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament show that there are lots of struggles by people of faith. The prophets struggle with the people who have gone astray on one hand and the God who has harsh or challenging things to say to them on the other hand. The Psalms are filled with laments and complaints and arguments and upset at God. The apostle Paul struggles with the churches and with God; think of that “thorn in his flesh” he mentions wanting God to remove from him. And there is Job, struggling not just with his neighbors about what is happening to him but striving mightily with God, demanding an explanation for his suffering, trying to pin God down. Then there are Jesus’ own struggles, most vivid in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross itself when he felt nearly forsaken. There is much wrestling with God. The history of the church had thousands of tales of struggle with God, from Augustine to St. Francis, to martyrs and mystics, Martin Luther, John Calvin, to Reinhold Neihbur, to Deitrich Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King Jr. and Henri Nouwen to people sitting next to the hospital beds of loved ones to the twenty-somethings wrestling with whether they, for themselves, believe in God. Maybe it’s not so physically personified as our tale of Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok, but striving with God seems an absolutely inevitable— or maybe even essential— part of the Christian faith.
Obviously, and for lots of reasons, God is tough to wrestle with! Just as that shadowy figure who kept throwing Jacob, God is faster and slipperier and bigger and stronger. God has more endurance; after all, God is everlasting! God has a bigger perspective and can see how things will fall into place for the benefit of the faithful, even when we don’t see the big picture and keep fighting providence. But for some reason, we keep trying to do it! Most of the time when we start to wrestle with God, it’s not God who initiates it, like the mythic figure at the Jabbok. Usually we feel something is unfair or incorrect or doesn’t fit our expectations, so we call God out on it. If we weren’t so mad at God in the first place, we would see the futility and absurdity of it (the comedy even!), like the little kid throwing a tantrum at a big father who simply holds his hand on his kid whose kicks and punches and yelling flail uselessly away. But God seems OK with us striving and arguing and wrestling with God, probably because God made us that way and loves us that way in spite of our sometimes futile striving.
Still, I think there are many times when the striving and wrestling really are important and useful. Certainly, striving can show we are paying attention and are reacting to things in the world in a healthy and appropriate way. God cannot blame some of us from complaining about evil and terrorism and starvation and death and violence and injustice in the world, and we want God to stop it, so we launch into God. I suspect God finds that good, for God created us caring and observant and committed to justice and peace. There can be times when our wrestling is the spiritual equivalent to athletic practice, getting our spiritual muscles and reflexes in shape, God using smaller strivings to train us and toughen us up for the big issues and hard times we certainly face. Or like wrestling with a difficult musical piece, putting hours and hours into practicing, finally leads to a good performance. Like hard kneading helps the baker develop the gluten in bread dough, wrestling with God makes us, paradoxically, finer Christians.
But here is the mixed-up part about Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabbok and us doing it next to these Creekside waters or wherever:
Why on earth do we fight so hard?
What is it about human nature that causes us to wrestle so hard and to try to win against God? What do we think we will accomplish trying to beat God at God’s own game? And do we really, really, really think we’ll pin God down? Really??? What makes us think we can win against the Creator of all that is, Savior of Humanity, Spirit of Truth and Life? Why don’t we just acquiesce, throw up our hands, and concede the match? That’s the part of this story and our lives which is so counterproductive!
For some absurd reason, we humans really want to win, even against God, when in fact, it is wrestling against God! We know, at least in our devotional life, that God wants what’s best for us, that God rescues us from sin and death, that following God’s plan is the only good plan, that when God directs us we will be happiest and holiest. So why is it that on a day-to-day level we so often resist God’s leading? Why do we resist God’s directing us in certain ways? Jacob seems to have just gotten to wrestling out of reflexive habit. Somebody shows up, so he wrestles. Never stops to think that it might be God trying to move him in the right direction. And even when exhausted, he only opens up enough to demand that his better bless him, figuring that anyone stronger than him might bless him so that some of that will rub off on him. And even at the end, when the shadowy figure renames him (clear clue that this is God we’re talking about), he only has a teeny glimmer of it all. He got so fixated on fighting back he didn’t ever stop to realize that he shouldn’t have been struggling in the first place! Jacob just couldn’t give up his self-centeredness to see that if he had simply stopped fighting reality for a moment, he could have asked for God’s blessing and gotten back on the right path with God’s blessing… but noooooo, he has to wrestle and end up getting his hip out of joint. But then again, how many of us have really learned from Jacob’s experience? Nope, most of us keep resisting until God has to take us down a peg in order to finally grant us the blessing we could have had long before if we just hadn’t been so ornery! Nope, we are way too much like Jacob, fighting tooth and nail against the very thing which God wants to do for us for our benefit anyway. So, we fuss, and fight, and end up exhausted and limping! And that’s why I believe the Holy Spirit has preserved this weird little story for us: it’s way too close to the truth!
Yet we continue to wrestle with God, which is destined to be pointless, but still we strive… until we, like Jacob, simply ask for a blessing and go on our way… or is that God’s way? Seriously, why do we work so hard at pinning God down to our satisfaction or to wrestle God into doing things our way? If we believe that God loves us and wants what is good for us, why don’t we simply give up fighting with God and struggling against God’s will and just go with God’s plan for us? Why do we have to get knocked to the ground and insist on getting our joints and our souls dislocated? Why can’t we say, “Lord, your will be done,” and just get with God’s program instead of kicking and complaining? We all do it: trying to get God to do things our way, or at least see things our way. And it keeps turning out that God has to toss us on our backsides in order to get us with the program because we won’t admit God’s will and let God bless us without a fight. But that’s human nature, it seems, at least back to good old Jacob! So, how about the next time we catch ourselves arguing or wrestling with God by whatever corner of the Jabbok happens to run through our corner of Monroe, Ontario, and Livingston counties, how about we try to avoid getting ourselves dumped into the dust (because God is not going to be beaten by mere mortals like us anyway, right?) but decide to try an entirely new tactic? Let’s skip right to asking God to bless us, skip getting beat up and pinned down for God to get our attention, skip trying to get our own way and skip right to following Christ’s upward way. Let’s learn from Jacob that God can’t be pinned down. Let’s remember, God is tough to wrestle with… God always wins…
And thank God for that!!
*Hymn 460 “Break Thou the Bread of Life”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O God you give us life and life abundant, and life complicated, sometimes! For all the blessing of this life which come from your love and sustaining grace, we thank you. We ask your help in our lives, and for those we are concerned about, those who are travelling, working, having tough times, struggling. We pray for people in storm-battered, drought-withered, fire-scorched, war-torn, terrorized places. We shake our heads at the dangers in Syria and Afghanistan and then bow our heads again to pray for those caught in the violence there. We pray for prisoners and prisoners of conscience, for those suffering injustice and poverty and oppression, for those troubled by crime, afflicted with hatred. We ask for your wisdom, through whatever faith traditions they have, to be with those wrestling with immigration, the environment, and other economic and political issues before them, for the good of our nation and for the good of those who live in our nation. We pray for everyone trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. We pray for those grieving and those with medical problems, financial problems, and all the rest. …………………….. ……………
O Christ, you are the sure foundation of our lives, the sure, constant source of hope and endurance and grace. You nourish and sustain us in our souls. You are with us when we are troubled, distracted, overwhelmed with cares, suffering, lost, wondering. You are with us when we rejoice, sing, laugh, hug, smile at beauty and joy. Bless what we do, what we do in your name. Continue to build up this congregation and to renew our spirits. Send your Holy Spirit upon our leaders, and especially, upon the Pastor Search Committee. Add your wisdom and direction to their wisdom and discernment and lead us to that intersection of our pilgrimage with the journey of the next pastor for your people here.
O Holy Spirit, help us to share the word of life with the world. Grant that we will speak kind and gentle and healing words, that we will live with open hands to share and help others, and with open hearts, that your love will flow through our love for our neighbors. Bring us wholeheartedly to follow your will, to relinquish our need to pin you down, to stop fighting your way, to accept your blessing and follow you, as we pray…
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Sharing Holy Communion
Invitation to the Lord’s Table
This is the joyful feast of the people of God. Men and women, youth and children, come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.
According to Luke, when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples, he took the bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
This table is for all Christians who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God’s people.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is truly right and our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise, eternal God our Creator.
You formed us in your image to love and serve you, but we forgot your promises and abandoned your commandments. In your mercy, you did not reject us but still claimed us as your own. You spoke through prophets calling us to turn from our willful ways to new obedience and righteousness. You sent your only Son to be the way to eternal life..
Eternal God, we unite in this covenant of faith, recalling Christ’s suffering and death, rejoicing in Christ’s resurrection, and awaiting Christ’s return in victory.
We spread your table with these gifts of the earth and of our labor. We pre-sent to you our very lives, committed to your service in behalf of all people. We ask you to send your Holy Spirit on this bread and cup, on our gifts, and on us. Strengthen your universal church that it may be the champion of peace and justice in all the world. Restore the earth with your grace that is able to make all things new.
Be present with us as we share this meal, and throughout all our lives, that we may know you as the Holy One, who with Christ and the Holy Spirit, lives for ever. Amen.
The Words of Institution
We remember that on the night of betrayal and desertion, and on the eve of death, Jesus gathered the disci-ples for the feast of Passover.
Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks to you, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying: “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Sharing the Bread and Cup
Communion will be shared by intinction. Please come to the table by the center aisle, take a piece of bread, dip it in the cup, and partake.
Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
“This is my body, broken for you. Take, eat, all of you.”
Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches.
Cut off from me, you can do nothing. Abide in me and so bear fruit.”
“This is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me.”
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Prayer after Communion
Bountiful God, we give thanks that you have refreshed us at your table. Strengthen our faith, increase our love for one another, and send us forth into the world in courage and peace, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Hymn 833 “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”
*Charge and Benediction
The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
*Postlude “Trumpet Tune” H. Purcell