By Any Other Name

Message Title: By Any Other Name
Theme: Redeemer of Stories
Main Text: Genesis 32:22-31
Scripture Reading: Romans 9:1-5;
RCL Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Focus: Jacob wrestles a mysterious person and receives a name change.
Function: To recognize the redemption arch in our own story and that God hasn’t finished our story.
Other Notes: COMMUNION

SCRIPTURE READING: Romans 9:1-5 I’m speaking the truth in Christ—I’m not lying, as my conscience assures me with the Holy Spirit: I have great sadness and constant pain in my heart. I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters, who are my flesh-and-blood relatives. They are Israelites. The adoption as God’s children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises belong to them. The Jewish ancestors are theirs, and the Christ descended from those ancestors. He is the one who rules over all things, who is God, and who is blessed forever. Amen.


Today begins with a new month and a new series. In this series we will examine stories from the end of Genesis and beginning of Exodus. While we study God’s redemption at work through the stories of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, we will also examine stories of redemption from authors like L M Montgomery, Madeleine L’Engle, and Suzanne Collins. May we discover our own redemption arcs through the study of other’s redemption.

BOOK INTRO: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

  1. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite stories as a young girl. I loved Anne’s personality and knack for messing things up. She helped me to feel more normal as a quirky kid. Now, I must admit to the avid readers in the room, I only knew Anne through the movies until I read the books in my 30s. The books have ignited a deep love for Anne that will be passed on to my children.
  2. Basics of Anne of Green Gables: If you haven’t heard of this book series before: Anne of Green Gables is a 1908 novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery.
    1. Set in the late 19th century, the novel recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan girl, who is mistakenly sent to two middle-aged siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who had originally intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island, Canada. (Wiki)
    2. They have adapted this story into film multiple times through animated shows, miniseries, tv-movies, and movies. I’m biased towards the 1985 version with Megan Follows… even if it isn’t super accurate to the books after the first movie.
  3. Video clip: “Call me Cordelia,”
    1. This morning, we will be at the very beginning of Anne’s journey with the Cuthberts. Anne is not who Matthew and Marilla ordered from the orphanage. As this unfolds in the books, Anne realizes she is not wanted by the Cuthberts. She takes this moment to test out a new persona, since this home will only be temporary.
      1. I want to show you a clip of this scene from the 1985 rendition with Megan Follows.
      2. CLIP
  4. As an orphan, Anne used her imagination as a comfort in particularly grueling times. It felt very natural to her to try out an alternative name in a new location. Perhaps it would be easier to cope with rejection as Cordelia than Anne Shirley. Unfortunately for Anne, Marilla does not allow this coping mechanism. Marilla reminds Anne that her name and proper personhood is adequate.
  5. Little do Anne and Marilla know, but they will continue to shape each other as their stories weave together from this point forward.

TRANSITION: In our text for today. We will enter the story of Jacob as he receives a new name. Let’s discover what events lead to this name change and what this means for Jacob.

SCRIPTURE: We will be in Genesis 32:22-31.

  1. Ask the Audience: While you are turning there, I would love to know what you know about Jacob. (Besides his name change.)
  2. Background:
    1. Twin with Esau
      1. Jacob’s name means ‘deceiver’ (The Bible Project)
      2. Bought brother’s birthright for some food
      3. Tricked brother out of blessing
    2. Leaves the family and finds his uncle Laban & works for him to get Rachel.
      1. Uncle Laban humbles Jacob by tricking him into marrying Leah first.
      2. Repaid for the trick he played on his father? (WP)
    3. Jacob stays and works for Uncle Laban for 20 years. Through his wages, Jacob builds a household of prominence and his Uncle/father-in-law resents Jacob. So, Jacob plans to leave.
      1. Laban tries to accuse Jacob of stealing, but they form a treaty and part ways.
    4. Jacob prepares to return to “The Promise Land” of Abraham, where his brother lives and his anxiety is high. He hears his brother is coming to meet him with 400 men and he sends his brother gifts until they can meet.

vs 22-31 22Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” 27He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.”28Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” 29Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.” But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.31The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.

EXPLANATION: Jacob wrestles with God and receives a blessing and name change.

  1. “Leaves in the night”—In the same way that Jacob left his family home, he’s leaving his uncle’s home.
    1. Originally, I thought: Is he sneaking? Is he being a deceiver? Why is he leaving?
      1. He can’t just up and leave, Jacob now has an entourage (4 women and 11 sons, and Idk how many daughters- no Benjamin yet)
    2. But he’s moving towards the potential fight, not away.
    3. Perhaps he couldn’t sleep? Perhaps he is anxious rather than sneaky?
  2. “Jabbok River”- Jacob moves towards the Jabbok river, a river that flows into the Jordan River. Jacob is about to enter the promise land again after 20 years.
    1. Fun play on words: Jabbok sounds like Jacob and wrestle in Hebrew.
  3. “A man wrestled with him,”– Jacob is accosted by a mysterious man.
  4. “man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob,” initially we don’t know who this man is but we know that Jacob defeats him and he would not have escaped if it weren’t for the damage done to Jacob’s thigh.
  5. “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” Jacob demands a blessing from the attacker.
    1. How could the attacker bless Jacob? What was so special about the man?
    2. The man blesses Jacob & Jacob receives a name change. This new name gives a huge hint:
      1. Israel, which means ‘to wrestle with God.’
      2. Jacob is no longer the “Deceiver.” He is now the one who “Wrestles with God.”
  6. Jacob receives a blessing and names this place by the Jabbok River “because I’ve seen God face-to-face,”
    1. Jacob clarifies that though he won the wrestling match, it was God that saved him. “My life has been saved,”
      1. As Jacob looks back at the last 20 years, he gives credit to God. He does not give credit to himself.

INTERPRETATION: God redeems Jacob’s story with this event.

  1. Jacob, this once arrogant and conniving man, has been humbled by God over the last 20 years.
    1. Now, God redefines Jacob’s story. Others will no longer know Jacob as the deceiver. Jacob is now Israel, the one who wrestles with God. Jacob’s children and their children will now be defined by this name.
  2. My Thoughts on Jacob: If I’m honest with you, my natural inclination is to hate Jacob. I realize that Jacob is the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, but I don’t like his story. Jacob’s story seems super great if you’re Jacob, but not so great if you are a woman or one of his children. Even if you are his favorite child, Joseph, this isn’t a splendid story. Hint: we’ll learn about Joseph next week.
    1. Jacob represents a generational problem of dad’s picking a favored son and the dysfunctional family situation that unfolds from favoritism.
    2. Amid God redeeming Jacob’s story, I still see Jacob failing, and I judge him for it.

APPLICATION: STORIES REDEEMED To recognize the redemption arch in our own story and that God hasn’t finished our story.

  1. Then I remember my story… and want to cling to redemption again.
    1. I want God to not give up on me, even when I fail. Jacob’s story should be reassuring. Not because every decision he makes is good, but that God doesn’t give up on him even when Jacob makes terrible choices.
      1. God doesn’t bless Jacob’s terrible choices or claim them as his own design. God takes the choices that Jacob has made and redeems them.
    2. It’s difficult to be a work in progress. It is difficult to live with decisions you have made that you aren’t proud of anymore. Easier to change your name & identity than adapt or grow.
  2. Book Redemption: For Anne, it felt like if she left behind “Anne” maybe someone would want her. If she stopped being Anne, she could get adopted. Maybe change her name? Maybe change her hair? What would convince them to want her?
    1. The beautiful truth for Anne is that she didn’t have to be someone else for someone to want her. It doesn’t take long for Matthew & Marilla to decide that they will keep Anne Shirley; Chapter 6: Marilla makes up her mind.
    2. Photo: Something shifts at Green Gables because Matthew and Marilla keep Anne. Not only is Anne changed, but Marilla and Matthew are changed too.
  3. God Redeems Our Stories
    1. Jacob is not the most likeable person. He’s conniving. He’s tricksy. He’s manipulative.
    2. God doesn’t leave him in that place. God continues to give Jacob chances to grow and change.

CONCLUSION: We do not see Jacob reach perfection in scripture, he continues to be a story in the process of redemption, much like our own stories.

COMMUNION: As we prepare to gather for communion together today, we recognize that we are all a work in progress. If you are breathing, God is not done working on you. Your story is still being redeemed. This church is a collection of people being redeemed.

Our stories aren’t wasted or ended. God is not done with you yet.

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