Wrestling with God

Fr. Scott Trotter
St. Stephen’s, Blytheville
July 31, 2011
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Year A, Proper 13
Genesis 32:22-31; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob is in trouble, real trouble. For all his life he has schemed and connived his way and save once or twice come out ahead. And though he has two wives, a covey of children, a household full of servants and flocks beyond counting of striped and spotted critters, Jacob is in trouble. Two weeks ago, we read of Jacob fleeing home to his uncle Laban for a wife and to escape the justifiable fury of Easu, his older brother whose blessing he had stolen. Today, in obedience to God’s command, Jacob, with all his family and wealth, is heading home.

He sends envoys with gifts, bribes to Easu; and he knows Easu is headed his way … with 400 men. Jacob is in trouble. And tonight, of all nights, his sleep is interrupted by an attack from a stranger who wrestles with him to day’s break. The results of the match are curious,

Jacob wins a blessing, a new name – Israel; he also has a limp, that will remain with him forever, a mark, a sign, a reminder of his wrestling match. Yet as the sun breaks the dark horizon line Jacob is scared to death, he finally has to face the consequences of a life time of scheming.

I rather suspect the disciples are scared to death. Recently, it has not been a good time. First of all when Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth, they utterly reject him. They almost run him off a cliff top.

As their endless journey continues, they hear that Herod has taken an interest in Jesus. Normally they would be delighted that a wealthy, influential person is interested in Jesus. Perhaps it is a sign that their – his – message in gaining powerful support. But Herod, Herod is not known his good treatment of allies, never mind those who oppose him.

To top it all off, Jesus learns that John, his cousin, his soul mate, his fore runner in ministry proclaiming repentance, has been beheaded. Not good news. Tired, despondent, discouraged Jesus heads off into the wilderness, to be alone, to pray. It is his custom; its where he finds rest and sustenance. Not this time. Today the crowd follows them. And when Jesus sees them, he has compassion for them, and begins to heal them. As evening draws near, and the sun moves towards the dark horizon line, someone suggests he send the crowd to the nearby towns for dinner. Jesus, turns to his disciples; NO! You feed them. The disciples are scared to death. They have counted their resources, 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, no where near enough. They know crowds riot when there is not enough bread. They sense a disaster rushing towards them; we’d call it a train wreck, I wonder if camel pile evokes the same image of disaster. It maters not, the disciples are cared to death.

Today is July 31st. For quiet some time we’ve been told the Federal government’s authority to borrow money will exceed the authorized amount Tuesday August 2. Most authorities says it does not make any difference if it is a some days later, a disaster is in the making unless congress acts. I hope members of congress share in the same fear that grips Jacob and the disciples. I hope they recognize that years of scheming and conniving are coming to bear. I hope they have counted all the resources and realize there is not enough to keep the promises made, to provide the people, who followed them into the wilderness, with bread. I hope our leaders know that we are in the wilderness, not some lonely isolated place, not some quiet spot, where one can find respite. No, we are in the wilderness, a place of chaos, a place of evil, a place of danger, a place quite the opposite of creation as forged by God’s hands. I suspect they are afraid, afraid of home town primaries and rejection. I suspect they are afraid, all have seen one political icon or another die in the face of torrid political confrontation. I pray such fear leads them to confront their limits and die to their power to transcend them; as they, and we realize that salvation that abundance does not come from divine strength and muscle, but of poverty and the weakness of God incarnate. I pray such fear leads to that place where they dare wrestle with a divine stranger. I pray they have Jacob’s tenacity to wrestle through the hurt that will mark them for ever and to demand a blessing. If Jacob’s character was ever to change this is the moment. Even his dream of angles ascending and descending the divine ladder brought about no changes. Likewise, if there was ever a moment for a transformation in our governance this is it. And yes, it is frightening; it is always frightening to stand in the presence of the creative transforming energy of our living God.

I also pray, that as Paul does, our congress realizes that this is a moment to catch a glimpse of God’s faithfulness, to all people, even those who, as they have, as all of us have, have wandered away from God’s divine promises. That even as impossible solutions are put forth, they, we, can remember the story of God’s dealings with Israel, and recalling those central transformative moments, appropriate them as our story. And that in so doing they, we, may see, as the disciples saw, that God wants us healed, fed, nurtured, and whole. That in remembering all of God’s history with humanity, in particularly Jesus’ feeding 5000, they, along with the disciples, will notice that it is through red rimmed, tear stained eyes, through his emotional train wreck of loss and death that Jesus has compassion, the fiery zeal, to heal nurture and feed God’s people.

I offer the knowledge, that in the wilderness, a place of wild chaos, evil and danger, there is the opportunity to wrestle with, to be named by the presence of God. I offer the knowledge, that in the wilderness, a place of wild chaos, evil and danger, there is a green place, to offer God what we have, to know its blessings to observe its breaking and to participate in distributing it to all God’s people. I offer the knowledge that in such naming that in such feeding we are marked as God’s forever.