The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
2 August 2020
Genesis 32. 22-31
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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 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.” 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. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Romans 9. 1-5
I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Matthew 14. 13-21
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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand:
bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.
Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell's destruction,
land me safe on Canaan's side:
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee,
I will ever give to thee.
Almighty Lord and everlasting God,
we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern
both our hearts and bodies
in the ways of your laws
and the works of your commandments;
that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever,
we may be preserved in body and soul;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride,
when we are needy save us from despair,
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What is God like? I guess that is a question many of us have pondered at various significant times in our lives?
Jacob seemed to be in the business of having life-changing close encounters with God. The dream he had at Bethel, when he saw the angels ascending and descending the ladder, must surely have stayed in his mind. After all, he concluded that the place where he had the dream was “none other than the house of God…the gate of heaven.”
He is now returning to Canaan, having acquired a large number of flocks and herds and extended his own family Having cheated his elder brother, Esau, out of his inheritance, he is understandably afraid that Esau, on his way to meet him, may kill them all. During the night, he encounters God again, as someone who wrestled with him until daybreak. Jacob refuses to let the one who wrestled with him go unless he blesses him. Jacob does indeed receive a blessing and concludes that he is truly blessed since he has seen God face to face and yet his life is spared. So, God, we conclude, is one who blesses, although not necessarily without a struggle.
We know that seeking or even discovering faith in God does not necessarily bring peace of mind. Paul is in anguish as he laments the quandary he is in. He believes that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, but it pains him greatly that his family does not believe that Jesus is the one. Indeed, he knows that his own people, the Jewish people, are the stock from which the Messiah is to come and yet so many of them do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.
God did not make it easy for the early believers any more than it is for us, 2000 years later. Having faith in Jesus Christ and respecting the beliefs of others is something we are all asked to do. The fact that Paul believed that the only valid way to God is through Jesus made it all the more difficult for him to hold in tension a respect for others’ beliefs.
Somehow, we who follow Christ believe that God has it all in hand, even if we cannot see the way forward ourselves. I believe that God does not want people to suffer. He wants us to be assured that, whatever we are going through, He is with us. This year, many of us must have wondered where God is in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. So many have died, so many have been bereaved and so many are still suffering and sadly will continue to do so.
So many people’s plans and hopes have been disrupted too. No doubt, many people’s career hopes have been dashed. For others, holidays have been cancelled. The Passion play at Oberammergau has been postponed for two years, thus dashing the hopes of many people who had saved for years to go. I had planned to go to the Holy Land in May. It was to have been a retreat, entitled “Slow Galilee”. Instead, I have been part of several online retreats run within Canterbury and Rochester dioceses. Many people have been blessed by these retreats, people who probably would never have gone to the Holy land. God certainly works in a mysterious way.
One of the places that I would have visited, had I gone to Galilee, was the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The original church, built in Byzantine times, contained the most beautiful mosaics. The mosaic showing a basket of loaves and two fish is still there. If you look at the mosaic you can see just four loaves in the basket. This is because the fifth one is on the altar – to symbolise that all taking part in the Eucharist share in anticipation of the end-time banquet symbolised by the miracle.
And what a miracle it was. Jesus had only just heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded. He had sailed with his disciples to a solitary place to pray. Even so, crowds of people sought him out. Yet, even in the midst of his anguish, when Jesus saw them, we are told that he had compassion on them. No matter who they were, they were all included. He realised how hungry they were, and miraculously, he fed them all. Not for him any exclusive small dinner just with his close disciples. No, Jesus welcomed and fed everyone, as He still does.
The miracle showed just how inclusive God is. Not only that, it showed how Jesus can help us transform our material goods into something for everyone. Above all, it showed that Jesus has compassion on people. He knows our every need and feels for us, so often actually meeting our need.
As we reflect on these passages, we can conclude that God is a god who blesses, even though we may struggle with belief. He is a god who loves us all unconditionally. As to whether or when we shall be free to resume our “normal” life, we have no idea. All we can know is that God is in it with us. Like those people gathered on that hillside by the Sea of Galilee, we know that God knows what the world is going through. We are not alone.