What Is Your Name?

Genesis 32: 24-31.

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Bible Portion

And Jacob was left on his own, and a man struggled with him till dawn broke.  He realized that he could not win, so he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he struggled with him.  He said, “Let me go, for the dawn has broken.” He said, “I shall not let you go, unless you bless me.”  He said to him, “What is your name?” and he replied, “Jacob.”  He said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”  So Jacob asked, “Tell me please your name.” He said, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob named that place Peniel, because “I have seen God face to face and yet my life was rescued.”

Devotion

The passage starts with the words “And Jacob was left on his own”. When Jacob was on his own he gets into a struggle with a man until the dawn broke. Even in this struggle where Jacob gets his hip dislocated he demands to be blessed. Jacob is a character who would go to any extent to win a blessing. If he did not get it, he would steal it. Point blank he was asked the question “What is your name?” this was God asking Jacob his name? Dint he know it? God is asking him “Who are you, what is your name, what is your past?” Jacob who had cheated his father and deceived his brother had to be reconciled to God. He had to own up his past. He had to say his name is Jacob, he had to accept that he had cheated his father. He had out of greed stolen the right of his elder brother.  And then God changes his name, reconciles his past and gives him a new identity as Israel. He realizes God’s presence to name the place Peniel that reflects the grace of God in his life, that with all his shameful past, he is still alive. He is a new man. Man transformed by God. After God names him, he repents and goes and reconciles with his brother Esau in Genesis chapter 33. He gets first straight with God, and then with his brother.

Are we not like Jacob? Are we not on the run, fleeing from God and ourselves? We are like him, we want everything for ourselves, no matter what the cost. We are struggling with God. He asks you and me, “What is your name?” “Who are you?” “What is your past?” in the presence of God we need to own up our name, who we actually are, What is our past. This is the act of Confession. Coming as you are in front of the Lord. Repenting and accepting yourself owning up the shameful acts we do, the hypocritical lives we live and greed we have, to urge we have to fulfill all our needs even at the cost of our brothers, sisters and friends. God gives you a new name, makes you a new being, transforms your identity. Friends, it is important to come in the presence of the Lord and say “Lord I am wrong. I am leading a very shameful life. I am hiding from myself. I am fooling You O Lord. Forgive me”. Let the Lord heal you. You will have to discern his forgiveness and grace. Do not hide yourself. Come out and own up.

If one notices the Mar Thoma liturgy, we see that after the sermon we have the Sacrament of confession. In that confession we begin by saying “I confess that I have sinned against you, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in thought, word and deed. I am sorry with all my heart for these my sins……” He forgives those who truly repent, He gives them a new name. He calls them His children. And like Jacob after being forgiven by God and transformed by God went to reconcile with his brother. In the same way after the sacrament of confession, the second part of the service begins with the act of Kiss of Peace which indicates reconciliation with your brothers and sisters. Your confession is not just a hollow act, it has to be manifested in action, and you have to be a witness to the people around you. People will have to see the Peace of God in you.

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing grace” written by a gentleman in 1779 by the name of John Newton. John Newton used to be a Sailor who used to sell young boys from Africa as slaves for huge profit in England. The lives of young boys from Africa were a matter of profit to him and he earned immensely. But there was guilt. This man that he sold was created in the image Of God. But he avoided heeding that voice. Then one day when he was alone in the sea and had a near death experience. He discerned the grace of the Lord and repented, owning up his sins. After this he wrote the beautiful hymn “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” He not only repented but also reconciled with his brothers who he sold for his profit as slaves. John Newton later became a priest and he crusaded against slavery and slave trade. He too got right with his Creator and reconciled himself to his brothers.

God is asking you “What is your name?” What is your answer?

Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church
Guwahati

Wake Up and Stand: Bethel is here

 

Text: Genesis 28: 10- 22

 

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;  and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.  Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”

Message

Jacob was on the run. After cheating his brother Esau, he was fleeing from his home as his mother was afraid that Esau would kill him. He had conned his father Isaac. Home was not a place that he could be at. He had to escape from the person he was turning out to be. Running away from his parents and sibling. Running away from home.  He comes to a place called Luz. Here he takes a break to rest in the night. Luz means separateness. This was Jacob’s situation. He was separate from the home that was his comfort and distant from all the people who gave meaning to his life. This is alienation of the worst kind. In this night of separateness he sleeps with a stony pillow. He is a man on the roadside. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (vs. 12). It was indeed a strange dream. This dream has inspired many imaginations. There is a very popular song that goes like this.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder

 Ev’ry rung goes higher, higher

 Makes the climbing harder, harder

 Life’s a journey on this ladder…”  

So what was it. Was Jacob climbing the ladder? Was this his “Stairways to Heaven?” Was he climbing to reach out to God? No. No. No. This ladder was for God to reach out to him. God climbed down. Vs 13 says ‘And the Lord stood beside him…..’ Standing beside Jacob God gives this rogue a promise. “….. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (vs 15). What did Jacob merit to receive such a promise? Was he meditating or on fast to have an encounter with God? No. That is Grace where God encounters you when you least expect it. He encounters you in the most unlikely places. Jacob wakes up to the  realization of this grace “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”(vs 16). He says that God is in this place but he was not aware of it. So waking up is getting over the sleep of living as if God does not exist. Waking up is being aware of the presence of God. Waking up is being aware of the Grace that He gives. An insignificant land is now the gate of Heaven. Luz now is transformed to be Bethel- The House of God. Jacob met God in the most ordinary of ordinary situation. He felt his presence and grace. Fearing his brother Jacob runs away from his house and finds himself at the ‘House of God’. In Chapter 33 we see Jacob taking the step to reconcile with Esau.  When Jacob meets Esau he says “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen 33: 10). When one discerns the presence of God in the most ordinary place like Luz and calls it Bethel, he can easily see the face of God in any body. Jacob could see the face of God in a brother who had turned out to be his enemy.

We need to discern our Bethel. The beauty of the Gospel of Matthew is that in Chapter 1: 7 we see the promise of Emmanuel God with us and ends with the promise “……I am with you always to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28: 20) Do we discern the presence of God. Do we believe in his promise? When you are on the run “God is with you”. When you are escaping from yourself “God is with you”. When you did something wrong you acted as if God was not around. God was still with you. God being with us is not just a comfort, it is also a responsibility. Discerning the presence of God helps us to have a Bethel in every situation of life. It calls us to be supremely aware of the work that we undertake. God encounters us.

L’Arche day care centre is a place for mentally challenged children. The Founder of this place is Jean Vanier. This center has a great bank of volunteers who dedicate 6 months or a year being with the mentally challenged children and elders. The volunteers are youths who have taken break from their hectic work schedules. Many had become numb because of the routine in their work. Some of the volunteers were burdened with academics and therefore decided to volunteer.  But the common phenomenon was that volunteers used to come and volunteers used to go. No one stayed back. This upset one of the inmates of the Centre. His name was Michael. Michael went to Jean Vanier and said “If the volunteers love us so much, why do they leave us and go?” Jean Vanier replied “Michael these are not people who have come to give you some help. These are people who need help. They have come to you. In their work places and lifestyles they had forgotten to be humans. In the pressures of academics these people had forgotten to laugh. In your company they learnt how to laugh. How to be present in the moment. You taught them the importance of human touch. You helped them feel the presence of God. This is their Bethel. When they are healed they go. You are like Jesus who commissions them to live a meaningful life in the world so that they encounter God in every situation. You are commissioning them back to their work places where they will be no more machines but humans living in the presence of God”

There are many of my friends who are in jobs that give them no joy. There are some into academic courses that are nothing but a drag. They feel distant from God, parents and all possible relations. Story of Jacob is a promise that God is around you. You are not aware of it. Your Bethel is just around you. As the mystic Brother Lawrence says “When I look at the tree I realize why I am so frustrated. I am chasing my happiness. I am dependent on myself. The tree has life because it is rooted in something other than itself and something way deeper than itself.” Being rooted in God is realizing the Presence of God. Being rooted in the other is realizing the importance of relation. Let us wake up. Let us discern the presence of God. God is with us to the end of ages. Amen.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati