August 3, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 13

Genesis 32: 22-31; Psalm 17: 1-7, 16; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14: 13 – 33, 44 - 52


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Many years ago our family went to the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon before, you know that the easy part of hiking is the beginning, because the trail head starts at the top of the canyon, and slowly works its way down to the bottom where the Colorado River is. We did not make it all the way down. The heat of the Arizona son was strong that day, and we turned around and started hiking back up to the top sometime in the early afternoon. 

As we made our way back to the top, I noticed that strangely, the backpack that I was carrying got heavier as the day wore on. This seemed odd to me because all I was carrying in my backpack were bottles of water and food. If anything, I thought that the backpack should become lighter through the day, not heavier, because we were drinking so much water. I attributed the increasing heaviness of the backpack to general fatigue from hiking that day.

That was until we finished at the top of the Grand Canyon, and I took the backpack off my shoulders and unzipped it to find that it was full of rocks! Unknowingly to me, my older brother placed rocks in my backpack at each water stop. I will hand it to my brother, Randall. He certainly was clever, and I was not nearly perceptive enough. 

Much time has passed since then, and that moment is all but an increasingly distant memory. Those of us with brothers or sisters know well the complicated relationships we have with our siblings. The Bible is full of stories about the complex relationships between brothers and sisters. This morning, we hear the story of Jacob and Esau, twin brothers whose relationship was anything but amicable. Jacob was the younger of the two, and prior to today’s reading, Jacob manipulated his older brother Esau out of his birth right, and subsequently manipulated their father, Isaac, into giving him the patriarchal blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Esau finally had enough of Jacob, and after their father Isaac died, Esau pledged to murder Jacob. Worried for his life, Jacob fled, and married a woman named Rachel.

After many years had passed, Jacob grew to realize how he had wronged his brother Esau. And so he returned home, and prepared to make amends with Esau. When Jacob discovered that Esau was on his way to meet Jacob with an army of four hundred men, Jacob was reasonably afraid. This was not to be the homecoming he wanted. So Jacob sent gifts in advance to appease his brother, and the night before he was to confront Esau, Jacob sent his family away, and slept by himself.

It was here, at the crossing of the Jabbok river Jacob encountered a mysterious adversary. Strange that Jacob desired this man’s blessing, having already received the blessing from his father Isaac. In any case, in place of a blessing, the man give Jacob a new name. His new name became “Israel,” which in Hebrew means “one who has struggled with God and prevailed.” When the sun rose that morning, Jacob realized the person whom he struggled with was Divine, and so he named the place “Peniel” which means “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” Though Jacob prevailed, he was not unscathed. His hip was put out of socket, and he would have a painful limp as a reminder of his struggle with God for the rest of his life. 

Jacob was blessed by God, but he was also wounded by God.

– a powerful image for us –

The pattern for blessing in this story is that it follows pain. There is no such thing as blessing without blood being shed. So think for a moment about the pain you carry now – is that all it is - just pain, or is it something more – is it a blessing? What is it that you struggle with most? That life should be fair, or that blessings shouldn’t hurt? AMEN.