A middle-aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near death experience. She sees God and asks if this is it. God says no and tells her she has another thirty years to live. Upon her recovery she decides just to stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, etc. She even has someone come in and change her hair color. She figures since she’s got another thirty years she might as well make the most of it.
She walks out of the hospital after the last operation. An ambulance speeds by, runs her over and kills her. The woman arrives at heaven and confronts God, complaining, “I thought you said I had another thirty years to live.” God replies, “What can I say? I didn’t recognize you.”
I want to talk to you this morning about who God sees when God looks at you. God doesn’t see the person you are. God looks at each of us and sees the person who can be. There is a person inside of you that is waiting to come to life. That’s the person God sees.
Jesus said we have to be born again or born from above. By saying this, it means he believes it can happen. Jesus believed there is more to you than meets the eye. Jesus knows a bigger, better, more faithful, even more loving, more godly person is inside of you. Give that person a chance to shine. Let that even better you take control of your life.
God is such a hopeful God. No matter how many times we have stuck to our old, tried and not so true ways to a crisis, to temptation, to an insult, to hard work, conflict, or a challenge, God holds out hope that this time we’re going to do it differently–we’re going to do it God’s way. Nothing can stop the Lord from believing in you.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to give this new you a chance to take over. We face circumstances that cause us to rise to the occasion, to take a step forward and really become that better person. Sometimes it’s the hero impulse, when someone goes into a burning building, finds the child in the closet all alone and pulls him or her to safety; or sees someone fall onto a subway track, jumps down and pulls the person out of harm’s way. Other times either you’re going to become someone new or you’re not going to make it through a long-term illness, or a financial difficulty, or another relationship gone south.
Now I’m not someone who says God places these crises in our lives on purpose. Certainly Jesus didn’t hold to that. He would never have pointed to God his Father as the source for tragedy in our lives. And James, Jesus’ brother, in the Letter of James says, “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” The Lord doesn’t have to. Life is guaranteed to give us more than enough opportunities either to let the good guy come out of the closet, or to keep him stuffed and of no good consequence.
Jacob found himself in such a situation. Scripture talks about the fear of the Lord; well, in the story preceding our reading, we hear how Jacob begins to experience the fear of Esau, his older twin brother.
You may recall that Jacob had weaseled away from Esau his birthright one day when his big brother was so hungry he gave his birthright as it was called to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Later, with his mom’s help, Jacob deceived Isaac his dad, pretending to be hairy, smelly Esau (Isaac’s fave), and got his father to bless him instead with the one and only-time first-born blessing. That was the last anybody saw of Jacob because he immediately went on the run.
Jacob had been a dishonest man, who used deceit and trickery to get what he wanted, even at the expense of his brother, his father and whoever else was in his path. He was a deceiver. That’s actually what the name Jacob means, “deceiver” or “supplanter.”
Jacob probably had a million excuses as to why he needed to deal with people in this way: Esau had it coming… my dad never loved me… everyone else is playing dirty so why not me…. Excuse after excuse after excuse. We’ve all got the excuses or the reasons to do what we do, and why we become who we become.
Jacob ran to his mom’s brother, Laban, lived there for years, and married two of his daughters. He became a man, gained lots of livestock, enlarged his family, and became successful. Then came time to pay up. Esau was coming, with four hundred men, to meet Jacob.
We can run from our past for only so long. This is one of the things scripture means when it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” or “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.” God is faithful and good but life has a way of making us meet the consequences of our actions. Jacob’s time had come.
There is a time when we ought to stop running and start overcoming. We cannot win by staying the same person who felt the initial fear or the loss or the confusion or the pain. Jacob knew it was time to become a new person. The old one wasn’t working. He couldn’t be blessed by God remaining the old man he had become. And he couldn’t keep fooling himself that he was alright. He finally saw it wasn’t everyone else who had it wrong.
Perhaps you know someone who feels she is often under attack by others. She takes so much personally. While she may believe she has the right to act this way, other people consider her prickly, unhappy, and unpleasant. When you’re faced with such a person, it’s like you want to tell them, “It’s OK. Relax. Isn’t there someone in there who believes things aren’t as bad as they appear?”
When we blame others, we’re not taking responsibility for what we’ve done. Take responsibility for what you’ve done, without regard for other people’s part in your life. Let them go. This is your life. You have your path. We ought to want our happiness more than we want to blame or feel wronged or find fault any longer.
Our scripture reading finds Jacob in the grips, literally, the grips of the fear of the Lord. Jacob was at the end of his rope. He was desperate. He could see how it all was going to end, and he didn’t like it. As someone quipped, “We don’t usually change because we see the light, but rather because we feel the heat.” He no longer liked himself or all the things he had done or what he had stood for. All his gain, all his conniving, all his getting what he wanted, wasn’t enough anymore.
Jacob decided to turn his life over to the Lord. Only in God could he really be alive. Only the Lord could make him into someone he could respect again. Only God could bless his life, and change him from inside out.
The reason people can’t find more of God in their life is because they aren’t willing to take their life to the Lord. God can’t bless what isn’t offered. To get what we seek, we have to be willing to give up something. You can’t keep the old you, and get the new one at the same time. Jacob couldn’t still be Jacob and also be Israel.
We can’t act the same way, believe the same things, think the same thoughts, and get anything different than what we’ve already gotten. In other words, if you need to change, then you will have to change. If you can’t get there from who you are here, then you’ve got to become the person that’s there.
Reminds me of the one about the sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager who are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out in a puff of smoke. The Genie says, “I usually only grant three wishes, so I’ll give each of you one wish each.” “Me first! Me first!” says the admin clerk. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.” Poof! She’s gone. In astonishment, “Me next! Me next!” says the sales rep. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.” Poof! He’s gone.
“OK, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager. The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.” Some people don’t change for the better even when they’re given the opportunity.
When the Lord got done with Jacob, he no longer looked quite as handsome, and he wasn’t smooth, fast-talking Jacob. He had a limp. He had a deformity, even. He was marked by God. Jacob was no longer even Jacob. He went by a new name, Israel. He was marked by God through and through. Jacob finally had become the man God had seen in him all along, someone he named Israel. God had given him a name, and nobody could change that.
I heard such a sad story, one that we have heard too often in the past several years. In Lakeland, a 12-year-old girl committed suicide after she was bullied online by more than a dozen girls. Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death this past Monday at an old cement business. She was despondent after others had continuously posted hate messages about her online.
This poor girl was constantly bullied with messages, including “Go kill yourself,” and “Why are you still alive?” Before her death, Rebecca had searched questions online related to suicide, including “How many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die?” and “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”
Her mom had changed schools because her daughter had experienced in-school harassment and bullying. She thought Rebecca was happy now. But the cyber-bullying continued online, something Rebecca never told her mom about. Just an hour or so before her death, she messaged a boy friend of hers, writing, “I’m jumping, I can’t take it anymore.” Toward the end, this poor, bullied girl had changed her name on a messaging site to “That Dead Girl.”
Too many messages, too much negativity, can break a person’s spirit. Rebecca no longer could hear God’s voice in her. She had lost the name her loving mom had given her. She changed her name to correspond to the voice she heard most. She believed she had lost. That’s so sad.
Listen for the best voice. Listen for God telling you that you’re loved. Find a way to see yourself as God sees you. Don’t look at yourself the way others might.
Most people want to go back to their high school reunions and look the same, stand as tall, act as youthful. We’re hoping nobody will notice our wrinkles, or our slight limp, or the way our hair has thinned out, or how our bodies don’t look as young anymore. But if you’ve been wrestling with life, and who hasn’t, then these aren’t marks of embarrassment. They’re a badge of faith and honor.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be “striped,” bearing on his body the marks of our wrongdoing. Jesus was so marked, and God was so proud of him, and so in love with him, that he refused to let death have him. God put Jesus, with his holes and tears and marks, put him right up next to him on the throne of glory, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:9-11 That’s a name that will never be taken from us. And for all who are “in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2Cor. 5:17
There is more to us than meets the eye. The Lord knows this more than even we do. God can see already the person you can become. Take hold of God’s faith in you. If you’ve got to fight to let the better person out, then do so. God will bless all that we offer. Can anybody say, Amen?