Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7,15; Rom. 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
– I can’t hear today’s story of Jacob without remembering a quote from Lutheran pastor and writer, Nadia Boltz Weber. She was presenting on preparing sermons and said that like Jacob, she wrestles with the readings until they offer her and the community a blessing.
– I think this is a compelling image. And it’s faithful to what I experience again and again, the wrestling and the blessings. And we shouldn’t be surprised if we walk away with a limp.
– And maybe the same is true for all of us. There is wrestling with the Bible’s words, with God, with life, and hopefully there are blessings, for you and others, and maybe a limp.
– The Gospel for today begins with Jesus’ own wrestling. He wrestles with the news that John has been killed by Herod. And in grief and possibly for his own safety he withdraws to a deserted place – the wilderness, to be alone.
– The wilderness, it’s a place and pattern of withdrawal to wrestle like Jacob, with ourselves, with life, with loss, with God, for freedom, promise, purpose, to know God’s providing, and we hope and pray, blessing, for all people.
– Jacob’s there by himself because he’s returning to the brother and family he cheated, and wrestling, with himself? with his brother or dead father? with God? over what’s next.
– John ministered there and wrestled with people over a baptism of repentance, including Herod’s, and it got him killed. Jesus was compelled there by the Spirit to wrestle with the tempter and begin his own ministry. And he needs to be there again, to wrestle with John’s death, and maybe himself and God. But the people won’t let him go alone. Maybe they need to be there too; for their own wrestling, and for healing and hunger.
– It feels like the Bible readings over the summer have required our wrestling. From Matthew particularly, the parables, and Jesus’ own explanations have been a bit of a wilderness.
– Parables of the sower, the wheat and weeds growing together, the mustard seed and leaven, hidden treasure, great pearl, and fish caught in the net.
– Most have the themes of dividing, those who are included: the righteous and trustworthy blessed and welcomed into God’s dominion. But others, the evil doers, are cast out, into eternal fire, where there is that image and those words, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
– And maybe this wrestling is nothing compared to wrestling with life’s challenges, your own grief and losses, fears and failings, health concerns or personal struggles.
– And who isn’t wrestling with what’s happening in the wider community, fires and displaced people, wars that seem endless as the streams of people seeking safety and relief. And the insanity that continues south of the border in leadership and government that is not for its own people or for the world.
– Don’t we wrestle with all of this? In the heat of this week we decided to go in search of ice cream. We drove to Fernwood, to a little homemade ice cream shop. It was lined up outside, lots of people with the same idea, most of them more Fernwoood hip than us. Two of our group stayed in line while a few of us walked the dog around the block.
– We weren’t a few steps and there was a woman on the curb passed out or trying to relieve herself, or both. We weren’t certain enough to ask if she needed help.
– A little further and there was a house surrounded by steel fencing, obviously condemned, but in the back a party on a makeshift table of plywood used to board up the house, I assume by those who were using it as their home.
– A little further and we passed a family of what seemed like new Canadians walking with their children on a block that may have provided the only affordable housing for them. I didn’t sense they were headed for the gourmet ice cream.
– We rounded the block passing houses beyond liveable but lived in with homes all fixed up and looking good in between. And people sort of looking the same.
– A neighbourhood of greater contrasts, issues no less present further out from the core, but more hidden and cleaned up.
– We got back to the expensive ice cream – sour cherry and rosemary, rose water and raspberry, salted caramel and chocolate, but they all tasted a bit off to me, and I was poor company, because it seemed like a wilderness;
– And I was wrestling with the social and economic disparity.
– And I received no particular blessing as we drove away and limped back to our comfortable neighbourhood and home.
– We wrestle, like Jacob, like Jesus; with life, with God, looking for some kind of blessing, limping along.
– And today, in Matthew’s Gospel, in the same collection of stories and words with which we’ve been wrestling, there’s this story of people following Jesus in need of healing and food for their bodies and spirits.
– And Jesus, wrestling with his own grief, heals them.
– And when the disciples are concerned about the crowd of hungry people, Jesus tells them, you feed them.
– As they wrestle with and can’t see how, Jesus shows them.
– He takes what little there is and looks to God, blesses and breaks the bread, and gives it to them to give to the crowd.
– And everyone, 5000 not including all the women and children – such a strange phrase of Matthew’s, but surely indicating everyone is included, no one is left out, no divisions, not some who eat, and others not looking on weeping and gnashing their teeth, all are fed, in abundance, with leftovers! What a blessing!
– Wrestling as we have been, limping as we may be, we are healed and fed by this story of the dominion of God’s healing and feeding thousands, everyone! What a blessing!
– And today, as each Sunday here, and in many, many communities like it, amidst words and prayers and songs for healing, we take bread and wine, look to God, bless and break it in remembrance of Jesus, and share it with all who are here;
– that all are fed with this food of God’s grace and care in Jesus;
What a blessing!
– Wrestling as we may be, limping as we may be, we are healed and fed by this meal of God’s grace in Jesus, the dominion of God’s healing and feeding, right here and now, for everyone! What a blessing!
Blessing enough to go on, to go out, likely with a holy limp, to serve a world that continues to be sick and hungry, and wrestling as we will with life and the world and even God, but blessed, fed, healed enough, to bless, feed, heal this world in the love and peace and joy of God in the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
What a blessing! Amen.