Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17: 1-7, 16, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
Jacob wrestled with an angel on his homeward journey. The enemy Jacob encountered turned out to be God’s messenger, one who blesses. Limping after the wrestling match, Jacob was finally ready to be reconciled with his brother, Esau.
When we wrestle like Jacob, God transforms our challenges into blessings. For example, we’ll celebrate another joyful marriage this coming week. When the honeymoon season fades, Olivier and Rebecca’s love will deepen through the challenge of hurt feelings and external adversity. If they simply blame each other or hold grudges, their commitment will not endure. On the other hand, if they assume the best of each other, forgive, and compromise opinions and wishes, their marriage will flourish.
You and I are blessed because we limp. One ancient writer described saints as those who are wounded by their longing for God. We long for God in deep ways, and know that the longing itself is holy and life-giving.
Friday I was entering the ICU department of CHOMP in order to visit Harrison Shields. A woman I had never met watched me approach, and threw her arms around me, saying, “A pastor, oh, a pastor.” I felt a little like Jacob wrestling with a stranger. She hugged me and began to cry. She was standing in the hall of the ICU praying for God to send a pastor, when in I walked. After crying and hugging she explained that she had just learned that her son has lung cancer. We prayed for her son, and then she cried and hugged me some more. She is limping like she has never limped before, she is wrestling with a messenger, but she also feels the deep and abiding blessing of God.
All Saints’ is limping because we choose to lovingly serve others. We see this in our education and outreach ministries, but especially in our stewardship, as we joyfully give our time, energy, and money to the glory of Christ. We recently limped through major staff transitions, and the through the challenge of a vestry consisting of mostly new members. We make a new beginning through the discernment process to which you are all invited. It is good to be wounded by love. Love causes us to listen respectfully to our disagreements, fears, and hopes. In discernment blaming stops. The August 17 conversation represents an important opportunity to wrestle with the angel about God’s next steps for All Saints’, and to be blessed.
The Gospel story today provides a powerful example of the abundance of God in the midst of scarcity. The disciples only saw scarcity, but Jesus opened wildly new realities. One of my few attempts at being a political pundit was when I opined that the only way South Africa would overcome apartheid was through a bloodbath. But God took my meager bread and fish, and broke open a new beginning for South Africa. Using Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Man- dela, and then president F. W. de Klerk, the nation was transformed. As one author commented,
Nelson Mandela was committed to a way totally devoid of bitterness. Mandela limped with the wound of twenty-seven years in prison, and he became God’s messenger of blessing by letting go of bitterness. Through reconciliation in which individual whites and blacks took responsibility for their sins and bitterness, a unified government was forged and a bloodbath avoided. Now every December they observe a national Day of Reconciliation.
Today we look at Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East with the same sorrow and fear through which I judged South Africa, and we long for God’s new beginning beyond human possibility. God’s reconciliation begins right now, with each of us rising above any bitterness, fear, and de- sire to blame. We become peacemakers by accepting our own wounds, by allowing Jesus to break open our pride, and by feeding on the bread of life. In this way we limp or march in the light of God. For each day is a Day of Reconciliation for Christians and for All Saints’.
A friend recently shared the following Franciscan prayer, which I commend to the memory of your heart.
O my God, you are here.
O my God, I am here.
O my God, we are here.
And always, always, always you love us.
Always, always you love us.
Repeat after me…
The Rev. Rick Matters preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel