This week’s sermon passage: Genesis 49:28-33
Alot of people live up to their names. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone named Scripture, Christian, Bible or Shepherd end up being a pastor:) Others tend to live down to their names. Jacob was clearly one of them. Jacob can best be translated “Grabber” because he was born hanging onto the foot of his older twin brother, Esau. Jacob spent his life, at least his early life, ‘grabbing’ things that weren’t his.
First he stole his brothers birthright by leveraging his brother’s hunger pangs. Then he disguised himself to smell like his outdoorsy older brother and tricked his aging, blind father into blessing him with the blessing of firstborn. He tricked his father-in-law, Laban, out of the best lambs of his flock. Later he would wrestle with God and refuse to let go until God, “blessed him.” All in all he certainly lived to the level of his name. Until God gave him a new one. Israel.
Then it can be said, Israel lived up to his new name. Mostly translated as ‘prince’ or ‘saved by God’, I prefer the hybrid of these two; Chosen. Given that new name, the patriarch joined the line of Abraham and his children are the children of Israel that we have come to know as this great people.
In the story of Joseph, the passing of Jacob/Israel is a notable one. It gives my older congregation the opportunity to look back on their lives and see that there is clearly a choice to be made. Do we choose to live by the name we’ve made for ourselves or do we live by the name given to us by God. Rarely at the end of life do we revel in the successes of work and play. The real celebration is in the gentle spirit that has visited us by grace. We revel in the love of our family and friends. We also can experience the joy of being loved by God. As I visited Jan yesterday in the last days of her life, she is joyful and unafraid. This is the joy that Israel experienced at the end of his life. These are the gifts of God that come with Him naming us as well.