1st Scripture Reading: Genesis 32:22-31 & Psalm 17
“If you examine my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me...”
Jacob might not have been so sure God would find no wickedness in him. He had tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance, and had run away from his wrath. He had never returned, tho many years had passed.
But now Jacob heard God’s voice telling him it was time to return to the place of his birth. Jacob was afraid – nervous about how his brother would receive him. But he complied. He prepared his family and his livestock, and generous gifts for his brother. They began the long journey. As they got closer Jacob became even more anxious. He asked his family to move ahead without him so that he could spend a night alone, maybe to get his head clear, maybe to deal somehow with his growing fear. He tried to sleep.
“If you examine my heart, if you visit me by night...” Jacob wrestled with God all night the story goes. Might it be that he wrestled with his conscience, that he was confronted with the memory of all the bad things he had done? Might it be that our “conscience” is the Divine within us guiding us always toward what is right and what is good?
Some of us have had experiences just like this, haven’t we? I believe that this is how we confront the truth of our own mistakes, our bad behaviour, and this is how we are brought to repentence and forgiveness. This is how we are taught, guided and how we grow spiritually. Jacob grew into God’s promise that night: the promise that he would be father to a great nation. His name was changed in the story to “Israel” and that became the name of God’s people, all the people of Israel, the people who struggled with God to understand God’s promise. He was welcomed by his brother Esau, and knew by that that he had been forgiven and there was great joy and celebration.
Being a child of God is not a label – a one time thing you never have to renew. Becoming God’s people was a lengthy process for the Israelites, and it is a lifelong process for us too.
Hymn #703 VU “In the Bulb there is a Flower”
2nd Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus was very tired. He was pouring himself into this ministry of his to save these people from the darkness of their ignorance, and to heal them of their diseases of all kinds. It’s called KENOSIS in theological language, and it means self-giving love.
So he was exhausted, and needing a little time away from them to refresh and recharge his batteries! But their need for him was stronger and they followed him into the countryside, so he continued to teach them and to heal their sick.
Jesus was feeding them spiritually literally with his life’s blood – his energy. But they had no way to know that – no context into which to put that. They needed a demonstration of what God’s love could actually accomplish. And so we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand – and we remember that scripture says that did not include all the women and children!
Our understanding of the laws of physics and natural law do not allow us to see that this “miracle” of Jesus can in any way be seen to have actually happened. But I invite you to be open to new knowledge and new understanding of how God’s world works. We are only just beginning to grasp the enormity and the complexity of the natural world, of the mystery of Creation itself.
True or not, this story still has enormous power to inspire and to humble us. If we don’t get from this the awesome infinite nature of God’s great love for us, and the abundance with which that love is expressed in and thru us, then we haven’t been listening. For after all, the whole event hinges on the desire of a young person to share what he had , according to the version of the story found in the gospel of John. Jesus spoke in someone’s heart, and that love triggered a desire to give, to share, to serve others. That is the message folks and it is powerfully reinforced by this story.
I’m going to tell you about a time when I wasn’t like that young person who had the privilege of hearing Jesus teach about God’s Love. I was a teenager. I didn’t really know about the Way of Jesus. I was pretty selfish and self-centered. A young man I knew arrived at our home at dinner time. He was not invited. My family didn’t have a lot of money and often there was not much extra to eat at dinner time. I made him sit in the living room while we had dinner, and then I went out with him on the date we had planned. My mother was horrified at my callousness. It was not until many years later that I “wrestled with God” about all the bad things, the thoughtless things I had done in my lifetime. But do you know what the good thing about all this is? God still loves me – God will always love me – and I was able, knowing that , to forgive myself for the stupid things I did as a younger person growing up.
So Jesus continues to feed us spiritually – to be friend and brother to us as we grow spiritually. All we have to do is ask – to know in our hearts that we need his help and he will be there for us. We are each of us precious and beloved in God’s eyes.
So who is Jesus? Jesus has been called and is still called “the bread of life”. He is still feeding us by his Spirit.
Hymn #466 VU “Eat this Bread”