August 2, 2020 – 9 Pentecost A, Proper 13
Genesis 32:22-31; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
If you take a bible and just open it right in the middle, you are likely to land at the beginning of the 40th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” It’s a message of great hope sent to the people of Israel in the midst of tremendous struggle. It announces a new beginning time of God’s grace. The people have been in exile in Babylon but now they are to be rescued and returned to their homeland, to their spiritual center that they have been cut off from for far too long.
Our lectern bible that you really can’t see from the pews and certainly cannot see on Facebook live or YouTube, is always open to that passage. Partly we do that because it’s where that large bible can comfortably rest with about half the pages on either side. Partly we leave it open to that passage because it is so uplifting and encouraging. Every day, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of great hope sent to us in the middle of whatever struggle we may be facing. That gospel of Jesus Christ announces every day a brand new beginning time of God’s grace.
In many ways our daily living in this world is a life in exile. The struggles in life take us away from our spiritual center. And yet always we live in that hope of being returned from exile to the warm center of God’s love for us. This holy place in which only a very few of us gather today is a spiritual center for many of us. We are in exile from this holy place. But the day is coming soon when we will be brought back and provided a new beginning time of grace. And even while we are in exile from this holy place, the message of the crucified and risen Christ is our true spiritual home. God comes to us to save us from sin, from death, from struggle and discouragement. We don’t have to climb out of our struggles. God climbs into our struggles with us. The Almighty God comes to us in human form so that we may know the depths of his great love for us. Last week Jamie told us that preachers have only one sermon. There is only one sermon worth preaching: God’s great love for us is given to us in Jesus Christ, it is given each and every day, and it is enough – more than enough – for whatever struggle we may face. The love of God is rescuing us from exile and bringing us home.
In our lesson from Genesis today, Jacob wrestles with the angel of God. In that struggle Jacob is wounded and blessed. The pain he carries forward is a reminder to him, not only of his vulnerability but also the blessing of God. Jacob engages the struggle assigned to him. He is touched by God. His life is spared and he is transformed. He carries a new name away from this turning point in his life, a new identity formed by the action of God.
In our Gospel lesson we hear about the Feeding of the 5000. The disciples and Jesus have just found out about the beheading of John the Baptist. They are tired and wounded and scared and they seek retreat. But the pain of the world follows them and calls out for healing. The disciples want Jesus to send the crowd away. But Jesus feels the hunger in the crowd and tells the disciples they must give them something to eat. “But Jesus, we don’t have enough.” “Bring me what you have,” Jesus says, “and God will make it enough.” Thousands of people are fed through their offering and God’s abundant grace. Twelve baskets full are left over. There is food enough, not just for this crowd but for the entire world.
There are various turning points in our lives, times when we wrestle with angels or demons, times when we are wounded, times when it is clear that we are being transformed, times when a new name is put upon us, times when we come face to face with new callings and new responsibilities, new opportunities that seem daunting and where we fear we do not have enough to meet our own needs or the needs of the world. In those times we are called to engage, to see our wounds as the blessings they have been turned into, to embrace transformation, to live into the new freshness that life is bringing, not to hide from the needs in the world but to offer our gifts and watch them be turned into more than enough. In those times we are called to be faithful and open ourselves to a new time of God’s grace. Search the scriptures, all the teachings of Jesus and all his holy deeds, and you’ll find the consistent message: engage the current time with its various challenges and God will give you all that you need and much more. Live hopefully and expectantly. This is the time of God’s favor.
Soon you will return to this holy place to worship and work. When you return a new leader will await you. A new time of God’s grace is upon you and it will be enough, more than enough. This past week John Leach accepted the call to become your next rector. He is beyond excited to come and lead you. I am beyond excited to hand things over to him. He and his wife Sarah, and their two daughters Poppy and Ann Townsend, will immediately put you at ease and warm your heart. You will quickly see the wisdom of the Search Committee and the Vestry. The Leaches will arrive in about a month. John has leadership energy, leadership character. He will merge with you and he will lead you forward. Get ready for all the goodness that will be.
You and I will have one more Sunday together – next Sunday – where we will make use of a liturgy for ending a pastoral relationship. We will say goodbye so that we may both move forward. The better you and I let go of each other, the better we will live into this new time of God’s grace. As we embrace this moment, our new identities will be revealed. We will be given new names. We will be called to give of our various gifts. And God will turn those gifts into all that is needed for St. John’s and the world around us. Don’t hold back. Don’t hide from what God is inviting you into. Soon you will be returned from exile, not to rest and retreat but to give and to serve. A brand new time of God’s grace is dawning. The glory days are not days gone by. The very best is yet to come.