A sales rep, an administration secretary, and the manager 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.
“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 chance. But some people do. Here’s a video clip from the movie, Along Came Polly. The notoriously cautious Reuben, played by Ben Stiller, proves to Polly, played by Jennifer Aniston, how much he has changed and loves her by eating nuts off the ground.
Have you ever thought of who God sees when God looks at you? God doesn’t see the person you are. That’s because the Lord knows about the person who can be. That’s the person God sees. God is the God of hope.
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 from now on while walking with the Lord.
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 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 something really hard, 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 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 or to keep him stuffed in.
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 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 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.
We’ve all got the excuses or the reasons to do what we do, and why we become who we become. At some point, we ought to wrestle with whether this is the way things should continue.
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 Lord. Jacob was at the end of his rope. Jacob’s time had come. He was
desperate. He could see how it all was going to end, and he didn’t like it. He couldn’t keep fooling himself that he was alright. He finally saw it wasn’t everyone else who had it wrong.
As someone quipped, “We don’t usually change because we see the light, but rather because we feel the heat.”
Jacob decided it was time to take his whole life to the Lord. No more excuses, no more blame, no more anger or greed or deception. He wanted to live a whole life in God’s sight, no matter how anything else worked out.
He knew God was his God, whether or not his life had gone perfectly, whether or not others had been fair, whether or not he had done what he should have done. He knew his only answer for what bothered him about this life, his life, could only come from turning to the source of that life. He had to stop taking things out on others and on himself.
The reason people can’t find more of God in their life is because they aren’t willing to take more of their life to the Lord. God can’t bless what isn’t offered. 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 realize the distance you have travel can only be made by traveling with God.
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 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.
Many 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.
Find a way to see yourself as God sees you. Don’t look at yourself the way others might.
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, 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.”
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. But to bring that out takes a little bit more than dreaming about it. Like Jacob we need to wrestle with the Lord, be blessed, be marked, and be given a newer and better identity in keeping with God’s purpose for us and where our lives are today.
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?