Whether you are following the continuous texts and have Jacob wrestling with God or the thematic texts and have the invitation to the table in Isaiah, you can’t go wrong. The sense of abundance that comes through these texts is undeniable, an abundance that is transformative and inclusive of all of humanity. What better message is there for a world in the midst of pandemic or a country on the edge of destruction (the U.S.)? These texts are brimming with hope and good news collectively and individually.
The Genesis passage is the very familiar story of Jacob wrestling with God. Under the cover of night, Jacob grappled with the Holy and would not let go until he was blessed. The blessing he received couldn’t have been foreseen. Jacob, the deceiver who had, in turn, been deceived came away from his sleepless night with a limp and a new name, a new future, a new life. The limp would remind him of his humanity and vulnerability as he fathered the 12 tribes of Israel. Many of us might feel that we are wrestling with God in these tumultuous and troubling times. Will we have Jacob’s tenacity to hold on until we are blessed? Will we share Jacob’s courage to go limping into the new life that is set before us, bearing the pain of being human and celebrating the joy of God’s abundant love?
The verses from Psalm 17 seem the perfect prayer for those of us in the midst of a sacred wrestling match. Crying out to God in the midst of suffering, especially the suffering of oppression and injustice, is healing. We can remind ourselves that we often do nothing to cause the pain that lands in the middle of our lives. At the same time, we might remember that God does not cause the pain in our lives, either. However, remembering God’s steadfast love, holding to God’s promises might just give is strength enough to hold on until the dawn breaks. There is no limit to the number of days in which the sunrise gives way to renewed hope and possibility; God’s love is limitless for every single one of us (even if we don’t exactly share the psalmist’s innocence).
Isaiah makes this promise explicit with the invitation for all to come and eat and drink and be satisfied. Those without money and those who have spent their money and labor on things which do not satisfy. Everyone is welcome. Everyone has a place in the covenant. Somehow this concept of radical inclusion remains elusive for the church. Now is an excellent time to ask ourselves who is not actively welcomed in our congregations? What group of God’s children do we suspect are unworthy of a seat at the table? Can we change our understanding of how God works in the world so that we may welcome all, especially those who are hungry and thirsty (literally and spiritually)?
Again, the verses in Psalm 145 underscore this need for radical welcome. We like the familiar verse that reminds us that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” However, we tend to gloss over the rest especially the next verse: God is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made. We are the Body of Christ. How might things change if we adopted this stance of being good and compassionate with all that God has made? How might this understanding change us? After all, God’s love is without limit as is God’s compassion. Can the church love without limits?
Paul might say that this is our goal. In Romans there is a call to recognize the sacred history of the Jewish people and how they are God’s people. If we update this call for our current times, it could be a call to treat all people as God’s people. That’s the way I hear it. If we can stop listening to the voices that tell us that some people are worthy and others are unworthy, that some are deserving and others are not, that some are good and some are bad… if we can stop listening to these voices of division, then we might hear more clearly God’s call to unity and inclusion, particularly of those who have been historically marginalized and excluded. Who in our communities could benefit from an act of kindness? Can we engage in those actions without expecting anything in return?
Now we arrive at the very familiar feed of the 5000. In Matthew’s version Jesus is heading away to a quiet place only to be met by a great crowd. Instead of ignoring their needs, he has compassion and cures the sick. The disciples want to send them away because there is no food readily available. Jesus tells them to feed the crowd. The disciples believe they cannot. Jesus takes their five loaves and two fish and feeds the crowd and has plenty left over. Let’s not miss the message hidden in the miracle. It is our responsibility to feed and nourish the hungry, the thirsty, the hurting among us. There is always enough of God’s love to go around. Sharing will not diminish the supply; it will only grow. Surely the time has come for us to trust in God’s abundance and step away from those who live in the fear of scarcity?
These texts are rich and each could inspire many sermons. What are you being called to preach this week? Please share your thoughts as we are all on this journey together.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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