The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

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The Power of the Promise”

Genesis 32:22-30


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Twenty years and more, and it’s come down to this. To a single night. Twenty years and more since Jacob has seen his brother Esau. Twenty years since Esau swore to kill Jacob for his deception. Twenty years, and it’s come down to this night, alone in the darkness, wrapped in worry and wondering what might happen in the morning when he meets Esau with his 400 men. Tossing and turning on the banks of the Jabbok, and a man attacks him. It could be Esau, or it could be one of Esau’s men; Jacob doesn’t know. He only knows that he’d better hang on for dear life. He fights and wrestles and holds on, otherwise it might mean his death. The man dislocates his hip with a touch, but still he doesn’t let go. As the sun starts to burn the horizon, the man says, “Let me go, the dawn is breaking.” Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What’s your name?” he says. “Ya’akov,” Deceiver, Cheater. “Your name will no longer be called Ya’akov, but Yisrael, because you’ve struggled with God and Man and prevailed.” And Jacob says, “Please, tell me your name.” “Why are you asking my Name?” And that’s it. Jacob is probably left with more questions than answers, but he knows one thing: his name’s been changed. The promise of the blessing remains, so he can go in the morning to meet Esau, knowing that whether he lives or dies, he belongs to Yahweh. He has only the promise, but Yahweh never revokes His promises.

Twenty years and more. Twenty years and more you’ve put into that marriage, and it’s come down to this? Twenty years and more and you don’t know if your marriage will last the night. Twenty years and more you’ve invested in that job, and you don’t know if it will be there tomorrow. Twenty years and more, and in her junior year of college your daughter has stopped going to church, and maybe she doesn’t believe that there’s a God at all. And you lie there in the darkness, wrapped in worry and wondering what the morning will bring. You toss and turn, by yourself in another sleepless night and, in that moment, to what will you cling? In the morning, you may still have more questions than answers, but you know one thing: your name has been changed. Jesus Himself has inscribed His name on your head and on your heart by water and His Word; He has called you by name, you are His.

There’s something about the morning. The people of Israel stuck between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, come to get their slaves back or kill them, and they are wrapped in worry and wondering whether God will continue standing between them and their enemies. But in the morning, there is dry land under their feet, and their enemies dead. God and His promise are vindicated. Those disciples, on that Friday afternoon, in the darkness of creation, standing and looking at a cross. What kind of God is this, who gets down into the mess and mud and muck of creation, who enters the pain and the suffering and the death of human sinners, in their very blood and flesh? You don’t think they doubted that night? You don’t think they were wrapped in worry, wondering what would become of everything they thought and believed? But in the morning, very early on the first day of the week, Jesus is not in His grave. And God is vindicated. Everything Jesus ever said or did is proven true by that resurrection. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). When there is only darkness and pain, worry and weakness, the promise remains. As Luther wrote, “If God sent an angel to say, ‘Do not believe these promises!’ I would reject him, saying, ‘Depart from me, Satan, etc.’ Or if God Himself appeared to me in His majesty and said: ‘You are not worthy of My grace; I will change My plan and not keep My promise to you,’ I would not have to yield to Him, but it would be necessary to fight most vehemently against God Himself. It is as Job says: ‘Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him’ (cf. Job 13:15). If He should cast me into the depths of hell and place me in the midst of devils, I would still believe that I would be saved because I have been baptized, I have been absolved, I have received the pledge of my salvation, the body and blood of the Lord in the Supper. Therefore I would want to see and hear nothing else, but I shall live and die in this faith, whether God or an angel or the devil says the contrary” (LW 6:131). When there’s nothing else, Jacob clings to the promise. So does Abraham, when God tells him to sacrifice Isaac. So does Job, when all he hears from heaven is silence. So does Paul in prison. So do all the saints and all the martyrs. When there is a sword at your throat or a gun at your head, to what will you cling? The promise: I am baptized, I am absolved, I have received the pledge of my salvation in the body and blood of the Lord in the Supper. I will see and hear nothing else; I will live and die in this faith.

So it is this morning: whatever else is happening around you, Jesus, to whom you cling in faith, turns the face of His mercy toward you and says: I am your promise, I am your inheritance, I am your blessing, I am your life. I do not revoke My promises. Here is My baptism. Here is My absolution of your sins. Here is My Supper. Here is My death and My resurrection. This morning, joy has come, and you can go out, knowing that whatever happens, whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s. Under His blessing, fight for your marriage. Under His blessing, He will provide, whether in this job or another. Under His blessing, do not give up praying for your daughter. Pray, and do not give up in the midst of evil. Your Lord hears you and His promise remains. The steadfast, loyal love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). The darkness has an end. The dawn will break, your God will come, and you will see Him face to face.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/15/10


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