Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon for the second Sunday in Lent, 3/5/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent2 Bulletin

The text for the sermon was the day’s Old Testament lesson. To read the Bible texts for the second Sunday in Lent, click here. 

The name for this Sunday in the Church Year is “Reminiscere.” Like most Sundays, it gets its name from the first words of the Introit, which is the portion of God’s Word read or sung as we enter the chancel, and which I practically never preach on. 

“Reminiscere,” which is where we get the word “reminisce,” simply means, “Remember.” 

Remember, O Lord, Thy tender mercies and Thy lovingkindness…

But Reminisce Sunday always feels to me like “wrestling” Sunday. Everyone you meet is in a sort of brawl. Jacob and God; Jesus and the Canaanite woman; St. Paul and everyone. 

Which also makes me remember about my wrestling days, which didn’t start in Middle School, but, if my mother is to be believed (she is), the womb. That’s where my twin brother, Michael, and I started duking it out. 

We aren’t foes like Jacob and Esau. Though there’s been plenty of discussion about the legitimacy of my claim as firstborn. And though there were a couple spicy years in High School that might’ve fooled you. We’re still very close. 

Because we’re twins, naturally we grew up together: side by side, pinching each other in the pews on Sunday morning; walking to school, memorizing the Catechism, playing baseball, and…actual wrestling. 

Hours on end of gruesome, brutal, absolute, WrestleMania bedlam. You couldn’t bite, but that was about it. It was buckets of sweat, bruises, sprains, and screams. It wasn’t malicious. We weren’t even mad. It’s part of how we related; how we sorted things out; how we learned about each other. How the other moved, thought, set up a throw; and the sound he made when he was actually hurt. 

Today’s story comes in the midst of another fraternal saga. If you don’t know Jacob well, I’ll sum it up briefly. Jacob is one of the sons of Isaac, who is the son of Abraham. Jacob, in turn, is the father of Joseph, who you might know for his fancy robe. 

Jacob’s problem was that he wasn’t the firstborn. That meant a lot in terms of inheritance, and what your future looked like. It was his older brother, Esau, who was supposed to get the blessing. So, if Jacob wanted to prevail, he had to scrap and be tricky. 

While his father, Isaac was blind and dying, Jacob put on Esau’s clothing and the skins of goats to trick his father. And there, on his deathbed, thinking he was blessing Esau, Isaac gave his irrevocable blessing to Jacob. 

Jacob fled to his uncle, Laban, to find a wife and get his life going. But uncle Laban was tricky, too. Though Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah. He could’ve given up, but he persisted. He kept struggling and working until he got the bride he intended. 

Fast forward: God tells him to return home, and he does, fully expecting confrontation with Esau, who remembers quite a few things himself. This is when a Man enters into his tent and wrestles him all night. 

Jacob figured out who this was when his hip was put out of joint. When the sun cam up, the Man (God) entreated Him: “Let me go.” Haven’t you had enough? To which Jacob says, “No. Not until you bless me.” Some things don’t change. 

As we remember, we sometimes imagine how different our stories could have been. What if Jacob had refused to wrestle? He would have forfeited his blessing, and forfeited his bride. He would have forfeited his broken hip, but then he’d have forfeited that blessed reminder of God’s mercy and lovingkindness. And he’d have to reminisce about his missed opportunities instead. 

God is revealing Himself here not only to Jacob, and not only to the Canaanite woman, but also to you. He wants you to wrestle with Him. And life is full of opportunities to do just that. Jacob’s matchup came in the wake of deceptions, lies, strife, and uncertainty. 

Where is God inviting you to wrestle with Him? Are you sick or dying? Do you lack wisdom? Are you anxious or depressed? Are your finances and priorities out of order? Are you beset by some sins that just don’t want to tap out and go away? 

God, in His unsearchable wisdom, may allow some of these things to challenge you, just as He put a thorn in St. Paul’s flesh and refused to remove it. But you won’t get anywhere at all while refusing to wrestle with God about your problems. Pro tip: That’s part of what prayer and fasting are for. 

But what if you refuse to wrestle? You will suffer more than your problems. You won’t know your Lord as well as you could. You will be beset by an unawareness of His blessings, and a lack of desire for them. 

When you wrestle with God, He might put your hip out of joint. He might say some things that you don’t like yet, but will treasure later as you remember His lovingkindness. He did it to Jacob, and He did it to the Canaanite woman. 

He’s challenging her. He’s wrestling her. And He’s delighted that she’s wrestling back. There, Jesus has  a disciple who will understand what she sees on the cross. As Jesus wrestles as a faithful Son with His faithful Father, in the words of the Psalmist, Jesus declares that all His bones are out of joint, but also that the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied, that those who seek God shall praise the Lord. Jacob and Paul, the Canaanite woman and her daughter. Plus you, plus me,  Plus Jesus, from the top rope. 

Part of the reason I wanted to preach on this text I haven’t even mentioned. It’s that bit at the end of the Old Testament reading, 

Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

This was their choice. There’s no rule against it in the Old Testament. It was their way of remembering. Jacob was renamed “Israel,” because he had striven with God and men and had prevailed. They were remembering that this was their calling. To remember and to keep wrestling. 

I still wrestle with my brother. Though I’m still a grappler, and he’s become a jiu jujitsu player. We’re both 6’2 and 215, so it’s still close; and we’ll go until someone’s bone is out of joint, or it’s time for dinner. Just like always. 

More importantly we both wrestle with God. We wrestle with Him over our callings, our sanctification, our difficulties, just knowing the Bible better. 

This is your invitation. It’s only Lent II. It’s not too late. Wrestle, strive, and grind. Wrestle with Scripture. Strive to understand it and apply it. Make it a Lent to remember. 

As Jacob was covered in the clothing of his brother, and received his father’s blessing, you have been covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism. God looks at you, and is not deceived. He sees His Son. Because He has won, you can’t lose. 

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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