The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Do me a favor and raise your hand if you have an easy life. If your life is just a walk in the park, nothing ever goes wrong, it’s all great.
We all deal with things, right? We all have struggles in our day to day lives. We have problems in our families, personal struggles, sickness, poverty, strife. Work isn’t a fun thing usually. That’s even true for me and my day job is basically playing with cats, so that’s something!
We know that life isn’t always easy. And sometimes, when life gets hard, we can lose sight of what’s important. Sometimes we can feel like God isn’t there.
My wife and I haven’t been here in a few weeks. We’ve been traveling. We were in Louisianna visiting my Uncle Bubba.
Uncle Bubba 73 is years old and was diagnosed some time ago with cancer that eventually spread to his bones. He’s on medication, a chemotherapy pill as I understand it, and basically, we’re just riding this thing out!
So, we’re down in Denham Springs, Louisianna visiting my uncle, enjoying a week with him and his lovely lady Susan, and we get hit with that big freeze that happened. The huge cold front, remember, a few weeks ago? The one where everybody in the world got snow except Fayetteville?
Everything freezes. It gets down to 17 degrees – which is pretty cold for the south. Livingston Parish – the county my uncle lives in – was not prepared for this event. Everything froze over, power lines went down, the whole area goes offline.
It’s freezing cold, we have no power, Uncle Bubba is on a well which – in addition to not having any power for the pump – is frozen over. We’re in a tough spot.
I won’t bore you with the whole day but eventually, after 7 or so hours, the power comes back on. Still no water – frozen pump – but we have heat and light. So, we put together some dinner and my uncle blessed the food.
And this man actually thanked God that the power went out.
He thanked God, of course, that it came back on, but he thanked God for the time it was out, and admitted that even our electricity was in the hands of the Lord, and how gracious God was to give it to us even after it had been taken away.
It was just such a stunning, and beautiful picture of faith. I mean, can you imagine thanking God not just for the blessing, but the misfortune?
A similar picture is painted for us in our readings for today.
Let’s look at our reading from Genesis. This has always been one of the weirder texts in the Bible for me. To give you a little context: Jacob hears that his brother Esau, whom he cheated out of both a birthright and a blessing, is on his way to visit.
Jacob is in anguish. He understandably thinks that his brother is going to kill him. If you don’t remember, Esau basically swore to Jacob that he would kill him the next time he saw him.
So, Jacob decides the thing to do is split his massive wealth – his flocks, and herds, and camels – into two groups and send them different ways. He figures that should Esau fall on the one and destroy it as revenge, he still has the other.
Then he arranges gifts in large groups to send ahead to Esau to try and gain his favor. Finally, he sends away his wife and children and he is alone. Then, in the middle of the night, he has a random wrestling match. Because I guess in the ancient middle east if you’re taking a nap and some dude decides he wants to wrastle, that’s what you do.
So, after an extended wrestling match that seemingly took all night, the guy – who is the Angel of the Lord – asks to be let go. Jacob does not let go. He continues to hold on to the guy. He says, “I’m not going to let go until you bless me.” The Angel of the Lord goes so far as to touch Jacob’s hip and put it out of socket and yet Jacob continues to hold on.
Finally, the Angel of the Lord blesses Jacob and gives him the name Israel. A name that means, near as I can tell, “Prevails with God”. In fact, the Angel of the Lord even tells him this: “For you have striven with God and with men and prevailed.”
But now, here’s what’s interesting to me about this: Jacob didn’t actually win the fight. He lost. He lost pretty good, too.
But even though he lost the fight, he didn’t let go. He kept holding on. He kept trying to win the fight. He kept struggling, right? During a literal dark night of the soul, he would not let go until he got a blessing.
Fight’s over, The Angel of the Lord is trying to leave, the sun is coming up, but still Jacob will not let go. And so, God counted him the winner of the fight. Not because he won. Not because he was a brilliant fighter. But because he just refused to give up.
We see the exact same thing play out in our Gospel lesson today. The woman asks for Christ’s blessing to heal her child. The Lord says, “Why would I give the children’s bread to the dogs?”
These are hard words. But the woman doesn’t give up. She doesn’t even disagree with him, that she’s the dog in this metaphor! In fact, she takes his metaphor a step further and refers to Israel, not as children, but as *her* masters!
“Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table.”
She refused to quit. She refused to leave. She would not let go until she was blessed.
Now, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that this is an exact one to one for your life. That you will get health and wealth, healing, and prosperity, and blessing. None of that is true.
But I would like to encourage you to hold tightly to your faith. To run the race with endurance, as it were.
A lot of times in our lives we fall into the trap of trusting things that we probably shouldn’t trust. We trust bosses, governments, jobs, ourselves. We have faith in the various institutions in our lives and when those institutions and people (including ourselves) let us down, we often despair.
Sometimes we allow ourselves, in that despair, to doubt. To lose hope or faith.
But no matter how hard it is, we cannot allow ourselves to do that. I was reminded of that during my trip. Reminded that our God is a good, and loving, and merciful God. And we should receive all that we have with thanksgiving, with joy, and with hope.
There was an alternate Epistle reading today: Romans 5:1-5. Verses three and four say it like this: we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
So, if you’re going through hard times, Dear Christian, hold on. Cling to your Baptism, wherein you were washed of your sin and united with Christ. Cling here to the altar, to the Lord’s body and blood, where you know you have forgiveness of sin. These things strengthen and preserve your faith.
Be encouraged by the Canaanite woman, who refused to leave until she had even a crumb; be encouraged by Jacob who refused to let go of the Lord until he had a blessing!
Hold fast to your faith. Even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like it, even when it’s silly. Refuse to let go. Hold tight to the promise of God. Know you can do this because God Himself is holding tightly to you! Jesus Christ, who gave Himself up for you, who was obedient to death – even death on a cross – for you, is holding on to you!
He has given you faith, He has given you hope. Cling to them as they also cling to you!
You are forgiven, you are redeemed, you are the Lord’s chosen people. Keep hold of this in your heart and you will be blessed. You will be victorious. Even if you lose, even if you pay the ultimate price, you have the victory. Through Christ, we know that we are still winners.
And it is in the name of Him who secured our victory on that cross, our Lord Jesus Christ, I say to you.