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Sermon for August 6, 2023 – Proper 13

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5037 Prevailing with God
Cara Garrity

If you’ve ever spent any time in a park, you’ve probably observed a parent with a toddler who wants to race. The three-year-old doesn’t care that her legs are about a third of the length of her parent’s legs – she simply wants the joy of running and connecting with her parent. You may have watched the parent let the toddler get a head start and then take smaller steps to give the little one a chance. The parent may have even let the toddler win despite being superior in size and coordination. When I see something like this, it makes me think of how God approaches us with humility, compassion, and kindness, wanting us to boldly wrestle and engage with him. There’s no better story to illustrate this than Jacob wrestling with God as told in Genesis 32.

The chapter begins with Jacob receiving the news that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob is worried because he schemed to get Esau’s firstborn birthright, and he was sure Esau was coming to take revenge. Jacob divided his camp to make it look smaller, and he sent his wives and children ahead of him, along with gifts for Esau. That night, alone and in his solitude, Jacob wrestles with an unidentified man until daybreak. Let’s see what happens next:

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then [the man] said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So [the man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But [the man] said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed [Jacob]. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Genesis 32: 25-31 (NRSVUE)

Up to this point in his life, Jacob had relied on scheming and manipulation to get what he wanted. These methods weren’t without consequence, though. He was estranged from his family and fearful of his brother’s wrath. Jacob’s wrestling match with the man, whom Jacob identified as God in verse 30, resulted in his transformation because Jacob refused to let go of God, and God was willing to let Jacob prevail to help him change.

The evidence of this radical transformation is both physical and emotional. Jacob’s damaged hip caused him to limp, and though we don’t know how long his hip injury persisted, we do know that the Israelites would not eat that hip muscle of a sacrificial animal, out of respect for Jacob’s wound from God. We also see that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “one who prevails with God and humans.”

We can learn from this story that some of our transformations come through perseverance and wrestling with God. More importantly, God wants us to engage this way – boldly asking for blessing, unafraid, not because we deserve it but because we know God wants to give it. Jacob’s face-to-face confrontation with God shows us the intimacy God desires from us. God comes to us in humility, letting us prevail like a toddler racing a parent.

May we boldly wrestle with God when the mysteries of life confront us, like great beauty and great sorrow. May we offer the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the intimacy they desire by allowing ourselves to be sculpted, renamed, and transformed by the Love that won’t let us go.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15 • Genesis 32:22-31 • Romans 9:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21

The theme for this week is transformation through relationship. In this week’s scripture readings, we can understand that an encounter with divine love will transform us in ways we can’t anticipate. Psalm 17 contrasts our tendency to justify ourselves and our actions, whereas God wants to transform us through relationship. The story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32, illustrates that God is willing to let us prevail, ultimately blessing us if we have the perseverance to engage in relationship. Matthew 14:13-21 recounts the story of feeding the crowd with five loaves and two fish, revealing that God transforms who we are and what we possess to be much more than we think. Our sermon text comes from Romans 9:1-5 where we learn that transformation is the result of Great Love: a kenotic, self-emptying love.

The Transforming Power of Kenotic Love

Romans 9:1-5 (NRSVUE)

In this week’s scripture readings, we learn that an encounter with divine love will change (transform) us in ways we can’t anticipate.

Love can be a difficult word to define. We love pizza, but we also might love our mothers or our spouses. We might say we love human beings, and as Christians, we may hold sharing God’s love with others as a personal value. But what does love, specifically transforming love, look like, and how are we changed by it?

The New York Times bestseller Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a science fiction novel that tells an interesting story about transforming love. The main character, Ryland Grace, is a junior high science teacher who finds himself sent without his consent on a suicide space mission to save the earth from a single-celled organism that is threatening to extinguish the sun. Grace unexpectedly connects with an alien (whom he names “Rocky”), who is on a similar mission, and after they work together to develop a solution using a predatory organism called Taumoeba, they part ways to return to their respective planets with the Taumoeba. However, Grace discovers that Rocky won’t be able to get back to his planet because the Taumoeba can eat through the material of the container housing them, the same material that Rocky’s entire spaceship is constructed of. Grace faces a dilemma: does he leave Rocky stranded to die in space and head back to earth with barely enough food to make it or does he go after Rocky to help, knowing that he will starve to death with no way to replenish his food supply on Rocky’s planet?

When Ryland Grace was asked to participate in the suicide mission to save humanity, he didn’t want to go. He wasn’t willing to give up his life, even though he would say he cared about his students, humanity, and the state of the planet. But [spoiler alert] when faced with the prospect of his friend being stranded, alone, and destined to die in space, Grace goes after Rocky to save him. This is the power of transforming love, a kind of love that changes us and makes us willing to sacrifice ourselves to help the one we love.

This type of love is kenotic. The word kenosis is found in Philippians 2:7 which says in reference to Jesus, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness” (NRSVUE). This self-emptying love is a sign of great transformation, and proof of the Divine at work in and through human beings. We first witness Jesus, reducing his divinity to fit into human flesh and then willingly letting himself be executed to take human feelings and actions spurred by hate and isolation (i.e., sin) into himself to put them to death, free us from them, and include us in relationship with the triune God. Jesus shows that there is no evil in human beings that is too big to be encompassed and overcome by this self-sacrificing, divine love.

Our sermon text comes from Romans 9:1-5, and here we see Paul showing similar anguish as he expresses his deep emotions for the Jewish people who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

Read Romans 9:1-5, NRSVUE

What’s the context?

Romans 9:1 – 11:36 begins Paul’s discussion about God’s providence and the rejection of Jesus Christ by Abraham’s descendants (i.e., the heirs of the covenant). To prepare the readers for his exposition, Paul sets forth this theme in the first chapter:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is God’s saving power for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, NRSVUE)

Paul points out that neither Jews nor Gentiles possess a privileged standing with God, for all are part of the universal human reality that all have fallen short (Romans 1:18-3:20), and are subject to the egoic pull of the old self. Because both Jews and Gentiles benefit from being included in Abraham’s covenantal promise, all believers are free from God’s wrath (5:1-21), the control of sin (6:1-23), the law (7:1-25), and ultimately the power of death (8:1-39).

The first eight chapters of Romans set Paul up to explain how divine love transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to a believer and follower of Christ. It was relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit, not the law, that changed Paul’s heart.

A Closer Look – Romans 9:1-5

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. (Romans 9:1-2, NRSVUE)

Paul conveys the deep emotion he feels about the Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus as the Christ. Those Paul is writing to understand his personal history, so for a former murderer of Christ followers to express anguish over others’ rejection of Jesus, his readers must find it compelling.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own brothers and sisters, my own flesh and blood. (Romans 9:3, NRSVUE)

In this verse, Paul speaks of the kenotic love that only comes from a relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. He is communicating the very nature of Jesus himself because “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13, NRSVUE). This verse communicates how kenotic love behaves.

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs. (Romans 9:4-5a, NRSVUE)

Paul points out the advantages the Jewish people had: the rich history with the law; the Shekinah glory of the cloudy pillar and tabernacle; and the covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the promise of the coming of the Messiah. They had a special relationship with God as a called-out people, a benefit the Gentiles did not have at first. These advantages Paul applies to non-Jewish believers in Romans 4.

And from them, according to the flesh, comes the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:5b, NRSVUE)

He points out the honor the Jewish people had in participating in the birth of Jesus, the Son of God incarnate. Paul concludes his plea with acknowledging Christ’s supremacy over all human beings, the Son of Man (as Jesus called himself) AND the Son of God.


  • Realize that our transformation does not come through the rigid keeping of rules but from divine love connecting us to God and to others. Too often we fall into keeping score, comparing ourselves with others and then either feeling superior or inferior. Neither of these states lends itself to the transformation of our human hearts by kenotic Divine Love.
  • Recognize from Paul’s example that kenotic love comes from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not love that we can generate ourselves, much the same way Ryland Grace from the novel Project Hail Mary had no desire to go on a suicide mission to save the earth but didn’t think twice about giving up his life for his alien friend Rocky. Humanly speaking, we can’t drum up this kind of self-emptying love on our own, but we can trust that developing our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will put us in a position to grow in our awareness of the divine kenotic love at work in us and others.

Transforming love is difficult to define and impossible to generate on our own, though we know it when we see it. From reading Romans 9:1-5, we see that Paul understands that Jesus’ kenotic love has transformed him to the point that he also experiences self-emptying love on behalf of the Jewish people who rejected Jesus. May we know the depth of love God has for us, and may that love come through us to bless those around us.

For Reference:



His Mercy Is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W1

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August 6 — Proper 13 of Ordinary Time
Romans 9:1-5, “An Apostle’s Anguish”

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Program Transcript

His Mercy is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W1

Anthony: I’ll be reading our first passage of the month. It’s Romans 9:1-5. I’m reading from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 13 and Ordinary Time, which falls on August 6.

I’m speaking the truth in Christ—I’m not lying, as my conscience assures me with the Holy Spirit: I have great sadness and constant pain in my heart. I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters, who are my flesh-and-blood relatives. They are Israelites. The adoption as God’s children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises belong to them. The Jewish ancestors are theirs, and the Christ descended from those ancestors. He is the one who rules over all things, who is God, and who is blessed forever. Amen.

Jeremy, why is Paul so anguished about Israel’s condition? And, as an add-on, what ultimately becomes of Israel?

Let’s start off with a bang.

Jeremy: I love the way you’ve really got it in for me. But Romans 9-11 is really one of the trickiest passages in the New Testament. They’re a wonderful three chapters, but they are highly contested. I think some things are crystal clear, but there’s some things that are not a hundred percent clear.

And so, I kind of preface it by saying, these are tough, and I’m not primarily a New Testament scholar. So, there’s some things that others will listen to and say, I don’t quite go with you all in that detail particularly.

But anyhow, to answer your question, why he’s so anguished? Because the Jews have rejected the Messiah, because Christ came to his own and his own rejected him. And this absolutely stabs him because he wants to believe that Christ stands in the line of Israel, that Jesus is a Jew, and Paul himself is a Jew. And he was coming to his own people, so surely, they would’ve welcomed him.

And that just gets to him at the deepest possible level. So, the whole of Romans 9, 10, 11, which can be seen as a kind of minefield of doctrinal controversy, in fact comes out of a heartfelt anxiety. Now as far as what will ultimately become of Israel, and we might come on to that later.

He doesn’t answer in my own view. I don’t think he’s primarily interested in what will happen to each and every single Jew. I don’t think that’s his major concern. And I hope it’d be fair to say he lives in hope. He wants to hold out hope to the Jews, as well as of course, to the Gentiles. And he believes God has made possible the salvation for them, both for Jew and Gentile.

Just kind of backing off a bit here, it depends how you see Romans as a whole. We’ve tended sometimes in the [inaudible] world to see it as about: how does an individual get right with God? When it’s not that Paul wouldn’t care about that, but I think the main concern here is how can Jews and Gentiles live together?

And how do the Jews carry on believing they really are the Jews—Jewish Christians, that is. How can they really still think of themselves as Jews and how, of course, can the Gentiles get engrafted into the people of God?

So as the future of Israel, he lives in hope. He lives in hope.

Anthony: I think you’re right on. Romans 9 is so hotly contested in theological circles.

And maybe one of those contests is about what I’m going to ask you. This particular translation states that he, Christ, is the one who rules over all things. He’s sovereign, verse 5.

But in some theological schema programs, that would be interpreted that God is in control of all things, every jot and tittle. Can Jesus Christ theologically be the ruler of all but not in control of everything? And if so, how? Help us understand.

Jeremy: You really must have it in for me.

Anthony: You’ll never come back to this podcast, will you?

Jeremy: First of all, it’s extraordinary that he’s calling Jesus Christ the ruler that. It’s basic to Paul’s theology, but it is an extraordinary thing for a Jew to be saying (a monotheistic Jew) that Jesus is sharing in the full rule of God.

In my colleague and friend Richard Vulcan’s words, Jesus belongs to the identity of God. That’s what Paul is saying, that’s what the New Testament to saying, which means he shares in the full rule of God. And that’s an absolutely extraordinary thing. I was actually with Richard last night; we’re in the same Bible study group. And he reminds me of this regularly. What an extraordinary kind of claim being made here.

But then I think we need to say, what does rule mean? And you’re dead right. There’s a certain view, of course, of God as a kind of puppeteer or what would be called a highly deterministic view of God’s relation to the world, where God is manipulating the movement of every atom at every point and therefore denying, let’s call it, human integrity. The world becomes a kind of machine that’s built by and utterly controlled by God.

And that kind of control language can, of course, be devastating pastorally, after all. I remember sitting through a sermon once with someone whose child they’d lost. And I think it was not quite a [inaudible], but it was three months after birth or something, they had lost their child. And we sat through this sermon about God being in control. It was about 25 minutes, a very fierce sermon about God being Lord and God being in control.

And we were talking to the preacher afterwards. My friend just went for him basically. He said, “Do you realize what you’re saying then? So was God in full control when our daughter died?”

So, you have to be careful. Of course, there’s truth here. You have to be careful how you express it. One way through here is to speak, of course, about rule.

Who defines what rule looks like? And the answer is, Jesus. There is no rule that is not a loving rule that does not care passionately for the beloved. So, this is not a rule that’s dominated by what we would understand as kind of militaristic control. It’s the kind of rule that is dominated by love, the loving rule.

Of course, it’s there in the Old Testament. I think from the start, that’s what part of being in the image of God means, that we’re to have, as they say, dominion over the earth. But that doesn’t mean domination. It means a wise, loving rule. And so that God therefore in ruling the world will do nothing that compromises his love.

Nothing that overrides the good God that he is. So that’s how I would understand rule. And what’s happening in Romans 9, 10 and 11, is that Paul is saying, not as some interpretations of Romans 9 have that God is directly manipulating every last event, but that God is nonetheless working his purpose out in the world, very often against human resistance and against evil forces, but he is working his purposes out.

And those purposes are purposes of love and grace. And that’s how God rules or exercises his rule—Jesus, in other words. We keep coming back to Jesus. Jesus is the model of what rule is actually about.

Think of Jesus healing people, driving out the evil in healing miracles and teaching [inaudible]—that’s, I think, and the best model of rule that we have.

Anthony: Yeah, I think the Torrances, and Barth as well, have done such a service to the church in helping us understand that God can only act out of his being. He cannot contradict himself. So, as you said, Jesus who is the center of all things, he defines what rulership looks like, what reign looks like, and it looks like love because that’s who he is.

It is such good news, but sometimes we come to scriptures like this, and with our fallen imaginations, imagine something fearful that God is in control. And so, he did this to my child (referencing the example you gave) to teach me something. What kind of God is that? And so, we keep looking to Jesus, don’t we?

Jeremy: Absolutely. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be great mysteries. That doesn’t instantly answer every question. What it gives us is a perspective from which to look at the world. You’re right, of course, this was Barth’s great insight: you see everything through Christ. Barth didn’t think that he was doing anything terribly revolutionary or different there.

He was just trying to unfold the logic of the New Testament, what the gospels and Paul and the rest were actually saying. And on that I think he’s dead right. That was the great breakthrough for me theologically as well.

Anthony: Yeah, for me it’s realizing that really all theology is Christology. We look to Christ and then we go from there.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • As a result of his wrestling encounter with God, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, “one who prevails with God and humans.” Sometimes we give people nicknames to mark certain accomplishments or traits, like LeBron James being called “King James” or Kobe Bryant “The Black Mamba.” Can you think of a nickname you or someone else received, and did that nickname inspire you or the person to perform better? What do you think is the power of a name?
  • How do we balance proper respect for God with honest engagement and wrestling, especially when life doesn’t make sense? What does that look like?

From the sermon

  • Can you think of any examples of kenotic love, either in Bible stories or in your life? How did that self-emptying form of love transform the relationship?
  • How does rigid rule-keeping and comparing ourselves with others keep us at arm’s length from God? How can letting ourselves be loved by God, showing ourselves kindness and grace, enable the development of transforming, kenotic love for others?

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