What are we to make of this strange story in which Jacob wrestles all night and gets a new name? I think it tells us something important about who our God is and about the identity of God’s people. And I want to reflect on what this story tells us about our own identity and vocation as Christians.
The first thing to notice is that whenever somebody in the Bible is given a new name it is best to pay attention. A new name signifies a turn, a change, a new chapter in the person’s life, and a new calling. A new name means a New Being.
So, for example, Abram becomes Abraham as God calls him to keep the covenant of promise. Saul becomes Paul on the road to Damascus and is changed from being a zealous persecutor of the church into the Apostle to the Gentiles. Fisherman Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build his church. Continue reading →
“A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.” —Matthew 21:28,29
Repentance has long been an important theme for Lent, but many are put off by the idea since it seems to demand one big life-changing event. A friend of mine had a big poster on his wall that said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In small print at the bottom it said, “If you have already repented, please disregard this notice.”
But I contend that we should never disregard that notice since repenting is something we must do again and again and again throughout our lives. Continue reading →
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?
I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading →
“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
—Psalm 72: 12
Psalm 72 begins “Give the king your justice, O God.” It implies that justice is a God-given matter, and though in our time we have no king, the seeking of justice remains one of the marks of authentic government. Continue reading →
“Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’” —Luke 22:39-40
Since I was a child I have prayed the line from the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation.” Too often my “temptations” have been of the trivial sort, such as whether to eat that second cupcake. My mother liked to quote New Yorker writer Alexander Woollcott, “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening.”
But the newer translation of this line is “save us from the time of trial,” which echoes Jesus’s words here to the disciples. Continue reading →
(For several days this past week I have been at my alma mater, Andover Newton Theological School, at a reunion for alums. I have seen some old friends and experienced some moving addresses and worship. The school is in the process of selling its historic Newton campus and de-camping to New Haven. CT, to become an “embedded school” within Yale Divinity School. About 165 of us alums gathered to have one last time together on “the Hill” as it has been known. I was part of a closing service that moved from place to place where we reflected and prayed before retiring to the chapel for the Lord’s Supper. I prepared the following notes, but spoke ex tempore, but these words are close to what I said. We were in front of Sturtevent Hall, and I was charged with reflecting on all the dorms, the halls and houses where we lived while we were there.)Continue reading →