Trinity 18 – 16th Oct 2022 – Rev Alison Way 1

Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our first reading today tuned into one of the many difficult times in Jacob’s life. This time he spends the night wrestling with a messenger from God. We recognise his problem where he is literally wrestling all night. We understand it because sometimes in our own troubled times, we can have nights wrestling with our consciences

I have to confess to not being a big fan of Jacob. His name means “heel holder” or “supplanter” and in part this relates to him arriving in the world clinging on to the heel of his twin brother Esau, and also it relates to Jacob making off with an inheritance that was not his, but intended for his brother. Jacob also has a huge family and even to his dying day is not adverse to favouring one son over another. He remains a poor example of parenting to put it mildly! We all know what trouble that caused from the well-known story of Joseph (who is one of the 11 children sent on ahead to safety with his wives and their maids).

We get today probably one of the few stories of Jacob, where he comes out in  a more positive light and he keeps going. We imagine him wrestling all night with the messenger from God and can admire his staying power. Even when the going gets really tough and his hip is dislocated he doesn’t give up! When I was travelling home on Monday, on the radio they were trailing a church in the north using wrestling in worship (but I didn’t hear the actual segment).

Anyway back at Jacob the story ends in rather a strange way, with this whole business of giving Jacob a new name. After all that wrestling the messenger from God asks Jacob his name. He hears the answer and then decides to call him something else. No more is he to be called supplanter or heel holder, but Israel – and this relates to remark the wrestling messenger from God makes. Where he says for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed, scholars vary on what they think Israel means. Anyway all of the following are possibilities – “prince with God,” “he strives with God,” “let God rule,” “God strives” or “God prevails”. This is a very significant name as it becomes the name of God’s chosen people the Israelites and the 12 sons of Jacob become the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel

We are struggling a bit here as we don’t tend to name things with these kind of meaning filled names today. But there is a second one further on in this passage, the place where all this happens is called Peniel by Jacob. This means facing God or seeing God face to face – which has got to have some relationship to his name Israel as well.

I wonder if we know what our own names mean? Alison for example means noble and kind. (It is a Germanic name derived from the characteristics of St Adelaide). Anyone else know their names meaning?. Obviously for most of us our names are given to us at our births, but it is surprising how often we have known people who are not known by their given Christian names. I come across this most obviously when visiting people in hospital. When I have found that the name we have always used is in fact a second name (or worse) not a given name at all. Sometimes the explanations for all this is quite simple. The person was named after their parent so always known by their second name. But in other cases, sometimes the reason for the used name are lost to the mists of time or they can be elaborate about a particular time in that person’s life long ago, when a different name seemed pertinent.

This can also be true of nicknames and shortened versions of our names too. For example there is a period of my life when I was OK about folk calling me Ali and there are a selection of people I encountered in my late teens and early twenties. These people would naturally call me Ali. I met one such friend on my recent holiday. Before we all think this is an object lesson in what I like to be called – Nothing could be further than the truth – I much prefer to be Alison. With my surname, being called Ali has some obvious difficulties!!!

But hearing myself called that – reminds me of an earlier time in my life and the lasting relationships that were forged then. Who I am and what I am now has been built on the foundations of the ‘Ali’ period of my life. But I have changed and grown over the years since then and the Holy Spirit has worked in me and changed me from the inside out. Inside ourselves we do need to know that God knows us by name and knows us deeply and intimately and fully.

I am sure I have said before one of my favourite passages from the bible is about being called by name. It comes from Isaiah 43 – Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Stressing how God knows us fully and completely. The bits on show and the bits we hide. Our dreams, visions, hopes and aspirations as well as our darker sides and grievances. When I looked this verse from Isaiah up to put in this sermon, I found something really interesting. That actually it is prefixed by the following statements – But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

This must be a reference to the life of Jacob and the influence God had on him. As God made all of us, he made Jacob, and then God formed him into Israel. In the church we tend to use the language of ‘formation’. This is a bit tricky to understand and really means our growth in attitudes, values, belief and other dimensions which increase our Christian discipleship. Saying formation makes it sound like a one stop shop and happens only once. I am much more comfortable with understanding our life and growth in our Christian discipleship as transformation – an ongoing process with us in every step.

But briefly going back in our understanding there is a more important thing to understand here and to move on from here really knowing in our hearts – That we are called by name by God. We are not commanded but called. God calls us to belong to him and to be his labourers on his beautiful earth. The calling of God, for each of us is different as each of us is different and the way we experience God’s call will also be different. But for each of us, there is a specific plan and path. There is abundant love and interest in our every step. And there is also our responsibility to respond to that love and put our love of God first.

What is also clear from this story of Jacob to Israel is that god’s hand is at work in his life and is equally at work in our growth in discipleship day by day. God has called us by name, is calling us by name and will call us by name into eternity. We need to live responding to that call every step of the way. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized edition) copyright 1989, 1995

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized edition) copyright 1989, 1995