Aug. 2, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 32:22-31

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 17: 1-7, 15

1Hear a just cause, O LORD; give heed to my cry; listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2Let my vindication come forth from your presence; let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3Examine my heart, visit me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4I have not regarded what others do; at the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

5My footsteps hold fast to your well-worn path; and my feet do not slip.

6I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7Show me your marvelous lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise against them.

15But at my vindication I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Two iconic scripture passages on the same Sunday – Jacob wrestling with an angel of the Lord and Jesus and the disciples feeding the 5,000. These two scripture passages have a lot to say about daily discipleship, each in its own way.

We encounter Jacob when he is terribly afraid that his twin brother Esau will kill him for taking his birthright.  He has not heard back from his messengers; he does not know if Esau has accepted his gifts. He does not know if his servants are even still alive. And yet he sends his wives and children into the path of Esau and his riders — without him.

Jacob has evaded his greatest fear up to that point. The danger is across the water from him. He is safe, for a while; so he thinks. But then, a person or personage he does not know (or does not recognize) grapples him to the ground. Jacob responds by fighting back and they wrestle for a long time.

There was a stalemate. And then, the person did something to Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint.  That part has always been a mystery to me.  Is God, who has been named by now, taking a cheap shot?  Surely not.  What matters most is Jacob’s fearless response.  Jacob demands a blessing from God.  The wrestler asks Jacob’s name and then gives him a new name, “Israel.”  Finally, as dawn is breaking on the Jabok River bank, God bestows the blessing itself.  That is only the first part of the story, because Jacob does go on to meet Esau face-to-face.

God has and may encounter people in conflictual times by taking the very form of the anticipated difficulty—a broken relationship, a hard transition, a new experience we fear.  Think of Moses arguing on Mount Sinai with God before going down to deal with the Israelites or picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying in agony even as he anticipates his death.

If we go through such a time with God, we experience a gracious rehearsal for the actual circumstance.  In simplistic words, we practice.  But of course we can turn our back on God.  To refuse to engage with God in that struggling moment denies oneself a God-given resource.  But going through it with God before we go through it with others can be a blessing.  It can provide resources of strength and blessing for whatever lies in the paths of life.

Jacob had a very real fear of his Brother Esau’s anger.  Jacob’s deliverance from God does not resolve the conflict with Esau.  Jacob still must face that.  But it must have been different for him having already wrestled with God.  In other words, Jacob was not just delivered from something.  Deliverance, a new name, and a blessing are not ends in themselves.  Jacob was also delivered for something—a new relationship with a human being.

Jacob’s later confrontation with Esau mirrors the encounter with God.  Jacob testifies that seeing Esau’s face is like seeing God’s face.  The opposite might be true in hindsight: Seeing God’s face is like seeing Esau’s face.  What Jacob had expected from Esau was hostility; he got graciousness.  What Jacob might have expected from God was graciousness.  He did get that but only on the far side of the attack.

In the waters of baptism, we say that we are washed clean from sin.  We drown in the waters, in fact we die, to the old way of life.  In the waters we meet God in a special way.  It is a preparation for all that this world will give us.  It is the beginning of a life-long practice of remembering who we are and whose we are.

We are called to give to God our fears and our failures, our setbacks and disappointments, our resentments and regrets. We are called to confess so that we might hear God’s response, “No. This is not the whole story. You are more than you can believe. In fact, to me you are Christ.”

And when we give God our fears and failures, we are called to do the same in our human relationships; to confess our sins not just to God but to one another.  What might that lead to?  Could we enter into experiences of reconciliation with others?  I hope so.  It can be so hard—as individuals and as part of whole community that has abused its power and resources.  The promise is that we are not alone.  Some of the hardest times in our lives are those in which we face one another and try to see there the face of God.

Jesus, we sometimes forget, was steeped in the stories of the Hebrew Bible. These were his people’s stories. We can never know what was going on his mind before he performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 14, one of the few miracles recorded in all four gospels. But the big “this” that Jesus heard about was the news of John the Baptist’s death at the hand of Herod. This is a huge hinge in the narrative. Jesus himself recognizes that he, like John, has been rejected by people in authority. Faced with the threat of death, he pulls back to a deserted place to rethink strategy.

This may not be Jesus praying in the Garden shortly before his death. But it is a pause, not unlike his ancestor Jacob. I do not want to draw too close of comparisons between trickster Jacob and Jesus the Messiah. At the same time, recognizing that Jesus needed a break recovers some of his humanity. I like imagining him thinking about Jacob, so many generations before him, who was terrified of the next chapter, who wrestled with God, received a new name, a blessing, and reconciled with his brother.

Jesus has heard this devastating news about his cousin John’s death. Up to this point in his ministry he has been doing so much teaching. He pulls back to a deserted place and something happens. When the crowd pursues him, Jesus is moved by compassion. He chooses their need over his own. He heals the sick. At the end of the day, Jesus’ disciples approach him with the logical suggestion that he dismiss the crowds so they may go find some food. But Jesus surprises them: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

There are two details in this story that I absolutely love, and think are so crucial for our lives today. First, Jesus cares about actual bodies. This is an important reminder to us now as people continue to protest against racism and white supremacy that value white bodies over black and brown bodies. Two research letters published earlier this week highlighted racial disparities in the COVID-19 burden—regardless of income level. And yet these disparities are not about DNA; it’s about lack of access to both healthy food and healthcare (CIDRAP).

As we continue to reckon with racism, we do well to keep in mind that black and brown bodies are not the only ones that are abused and undervalued. The larger church body Trinity belongs to, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has a social statement titled, “A Message on People Living with Disabilities.” It states, “This church believes that God, as creator and sustainer, intends that society regard all people as of equal worth and make it possible for all—those without and those with disabilities—to participate freely and fully as members of society in all important aspects of common life.”

When Jesus cured the sick and facilitated the feeding of the 5,000, he said with his actions that physical bodies matter to God. Of course, mercy, forgiveness, and love matter and he wanted people to be emotionally and mentally and spiritually well too. But you can hardly hear and take in “I love you” if you are hungry, beaten up, or sick. As we continue to navigate this new chapter of our lives as people of faith, we do well to remember that God, through Jesus, cares about physical bodies, ours and our neighbors.

The other detail I love in this story is this: Jesus insists that has disciples make compassion their own work as well. This feeding is not a razzle-dazzle spectacle to boost Jesus’ image with the crowd. It begins with the insistence that the disciples themselves give the people something to eat. This is a story of Jesus charging those who follow him to be agents of God’s compassion and power.

Ministry does not just belong to a few leaders. We end worship with the words “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” Sometimes I think we should begin worship, not with announcements but with a question, “How did that serving the Lord go this week?” (Tiede)

We are not the first generation of Jesus’ disciples to need continual reminders that ministry belongs to everyone. One of the great gifts of the Reformation is the Priesthood of All Believers. In 1520, Martin Luther wrote “An Appeal to the Ruling Class of German Nationality as to the Amelioration of the State of Christendom.” He did not have a good editor yet to help him with titles. We will forgive him that because of what he writes in the document. This was his document calling on the ruling class to reform the Church, since the Church was not reforming itself.

Luther wrote, “The fact is that our baptism consecrates us all without exception and makes us all priests. As St. Peter says, ‘You are a royal priesthood and a realm of priests.”” Luther goes on, “For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious class, and there is no difference among them except in so far as they do different work.”

Most of the time that work looks different, based on our various gifts and passions and callings. Many of us get to put all of the gifts God has given us to work in our actual place of work. We also do ministry, as Luther wrote about elsewhere, in various communities—families, friends, congregations, other nonprofits. Sometimes we come together, as Jesus and the disciples did in our story this morning, for some big joint venture.

Whatever God is leading us into right now, however the Holy Spirit is blowing, know that the work is going to take all of us, going in peace and serving the Lord in our daily lives. You were all made ministers in the waters of Holy Baptism—joined to Christ for a life with God. That life will not always be easy. If we are honest with our callings, there will be a cost to discipleship, to following Jesus’ way of love and mercy. But Jesus is Immanuel, meaning God with us. God was embodied in Jesus. God knows what it is to live here on earth, to serve, to change and grow. And in that there is hope and assurance. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

You take resources that appear to be meager, bless them, and there is enough. May your church trust that what you bless and ask us to share with the world is abundantly sufficient. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Your bountiful creation offers sustenance and life for all creatures. Protect this abundance for the well-being of all. Reverse the damage we have caused your creation (local needs may be named). Replenish ground water supplies, provide needed rains in places of drought, and protect forests from wildfires. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You offer yourself to all the nations and peoples of the earth, inviting everyone to abundant life. Bring the prophetic vision to fullness, that all nations will run to you and that nations who do not know you will find their joy in you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Hear the anguish of tender hearts who cry to you in suffering and satisfy their deepest needs. Bring wholeness and healing to those who suffer in body, heart, soul, and mind (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You offer freely the fullness of salvation. Give our congregation (name) such a welcoming heart, that our words and actions may extend your free and abundant hospitality to all whom we encounter. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You gather your saints as one, united in the body of Jesus. Bring us with all your saints to the heavenly banquet. We remember with love and thanksgiving the saints we have known (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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