Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 2 August 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31 (Jacob’s return home – wrestling with the angel, renamed Israel)
• Psalm 17: 1-7, 16 (Show me Your loving-kindness, O Saviour of those who take refuge at Your right hand)
• Epistle: Romans 9: 1-5 (Paul’s love for his people)
• Gospel: Matthew 14: 13-21 (Feeding the five thousand)
He was going home, having gained his wealth, two wives and a family. He should have felt secure and satisfied but the reality was that he was going to face a reckoning for his brother Esau still had some issues with him, and this Esau was a hunter.
He would stalk his prey and then kill it. I do not think that sentiment or fine feelings were too much part of his outlook, while Jacob had learned the hard way that the world did not owe him a living.
And so at Peniel, having sent his wives on ahead of him, Jacob again slept alone and uneasily.
He had had a broken sleep on the way from Canaan to Haran, and had received his vision of God during the night at Bethel.
This time there was a new struggle and we have come to see it partly as an internal struggle that we often have with God, as the demands of love and truth come against our own desires and preferences, and they stay there until the matter is resolved.
And so Jacob wrestled and struggled through the night. Yet it was also a life-changing time for he emerged with a new name and a new purpose. At Bethel he had vowed to worship the Lord and here at Peniel he found that this worship was going to be costly. Yet he would come out of it with a new direction in life.
The world has never been the same again for it carries his name for the land of the promise of God and the people of his descent. What God had promised to Abraham carries the name of Israel, and for all the ups and downs of the Jewish people, God does not deny or repudiate His promises, and they are as firm now as they ever were.
And this is the sense that Paul carries in his letter to the church in Rome. Paul has set out his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, founded on the goodness and initiative of God rather than any one’s own good works, as if these could ever place God under an obligation to acknowledge them.
But Paul still loves his own people and yearns for their acceptance of the message of Jesus, the Messiah. The message of God is for all the world, regardless of race or background or inclination and that cannot exclude the Jews.
Indeed, it was the Jews who provided the living community in which the Messiah was to be born and to grow up. Theirs was the custody for the whole world of the love and mercy of God, theirs was the worship and the law to be a first tutor in the things of God. Theirs were the songs of worship in the Psalms and theirs were the prophets and the makings of godly – and sometimes of ungodly statecraft.
God has never repudiated His promises, and if this is true for the Jews then it is also there for us. And the church has never replaced the Jews in the purposes and affections of God. It just resonates to them differently. Jesus Himself never ceased to be a Jew.
Perhaps it is in the feeding of the 5000 that we see something of the economy of God. Jesus had seen the need of the people, and had moved to meet it.
He did so by multiplying the loaves and fishes and He did it with an unbelievable abundance. Five loaves and 2 fishes became the abundance for 5000 men, not to mention their uncounted wives and children. And there was food left over.
Jesus took what was desperately inadequate and turned it around, and He fed the people with that offering. This is the kind of overflowing blessing that is in His nature to give, limited only by our ability to receive and to use it.
For the next thing was that He entrusted it to the disciples to distribute. They were to be the deliverers of His abundance. If they had failed in this then the loaves and fishes would have stayed in the baskets and the people would have been hungry.
And what was true then is true now. Jesus still entrusts His disciples with His abundance, to give to the world as He blesses it. They are there to give to the world the blessing that He has ordained, and not their own imaginations which can also be very fertile.
The disciples in every land and every era are there to serve their Lord and not their own agendas.
In this the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation has not changed, and in a world that is anxious and angry it is needed more than it knows.
It is still a message of the love and blessing of God, received but never earned. It is still a word about wherever we are God has been there before us, and in Jesus has also lived the same insecurities and fragility of life.
As we make ourselves available to God, perhaps despite our own difficulties and misgivings, struggling in a time when the message is essentially despised and rejected by the power and opinion brokers of our time, we will also find that He meets our hesitations with a new purpose and a new authority.
But the promises of God are never repudiated, and they are as abundant as the multiplied loaves and fishes on the mountainside.