8.2/3.14 The Golden Thread
8 Pentecost 2014 August 2/3
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever wondered why we have the readings we do on any one Sunday? It’s a very interesting question. As you may know we follow what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary, or RCL. It’s the schedule of readings used by the mainline denominations every Sunday. This whole year we read from the gospel of Matthew, mixed in with a little from John. We read through several of the epistles, or letters from the early church, and we do so in a continuous fashion. And so, we’ve been working our way through Romans for a good while, and will continue to do so through mid-September.
Now, what about the OT? Where do these readings come from? This summer, I’ve elected to follow the path of OT readings through the books that give us the histories—the stories—of ancient Israel. And now we’re working our way through the stories of patriarchs in the book of Genesis. The patriarchs are the fathers of the faith and of God’s chosen people. They are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And all of today’s readings, coming from diverse places in Holy Scripture, follow a goodly theme throughout. And that doesn’t happen that often, does it? So let’s explore that theme—the golden thread.
We’ll start in the gospel. It’s the story of the feeding of the 5000. 5000 men, that is. Did you know that this is the only story that occurs in all 4 gospels? …So you can guess it’s pretty important.
We read that after Jesus has his followers collect the few loaves and fishes in the crowd, he performs the ritual actions over the bread that we repeat every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass. There are 4 actions he does: he takes the loaves, he blesses them, he breaks them, and he gives them to the crowd. Taken, blessed, broken, given.
These words recur in our liturgy—St. Paul used them to describe the actions of the first Eucharist—the Last Supper—on the evening before Jesus died. These words also show up in the story about the disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus the night of his resurrection. He sits at table with them, takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it: and their eyes were opened in these actions.
Now, I was thinking about Jacob’s story in our first reading. He sends his wives and children and slaves and flocks and all his stuff ahead of him, and he crosses back over the stream to spend the night. He must have been wrestling with inner dread about meeting his brother Esau the next day---that brother from whom he stole the blessing. He must have had a lot of fear just thinking about the confrontation to come.
And what follows seems dream-like and mythical. Perhaps it is. We read that “a man” meets him on the riverbank, and they wrestle all night—Jacob will not give up; he sticks with the wrestling. The man tells him to let go when the sun is coming up—there’s more of that mythical stuff going on—and Jacob won’t let go until the man blesses him.
So “the man” gives Jacob a new name. He calls him Israel—which means in the Hebrew “he who wrestles with God.” And he blesses him. But “the man” will not tell him his own name, will he? The text implies that Jacob could have been wrestling with God himself. It’s not very clear—but instead imbued with mystery and possibility. And then Jacob moves on from that place to encounter Esau—and let’s not forget that now he has a limp—because the wrestling with “the man” has put his hip out of joint.
Let’s look at Jacob. He was taken. God chose him over his brother Esau to continue the bloodline of the chosen people. He was blessed by God as he fled to the land of his grandfather Abraham—blessed and protected and gifted with an abundance of wealth and wit—what we might call “street smarts.”
He was broken—not only in this encounter with “the man” on the riverbank, but also broken by his own tendency to deceit. He was heart-broken because of the deceit of his sons, who convinced him that his favorite son Joseph was slain by a lion in the wilderness.
And he was given to the world, Jacob, the trickster, Jacob the chastised, Jacob the patriarch. And the nation Israel, who carries his name, was taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world, to be a light to the nations. Israel is the source of salvation, as our reading from Romans says, the progenitor of the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.
OK if you’ve heard enough sermons in your lifetime you know where this is going. It’s going to us.
Each of us, too, has been taken, blessed, broken, given.
Taken in baptism or even before then, when we committed ourselves to live as God would have us live.
Blessed sacramentally, blessed by the abundance in which we live, blessed by health and wealth and favor. Blessed by God and each other.
Broken. Each of us has been broken many times. We’ve suffered in body and mind and spirit. And our suffering has given us gifts—gifts of compassion for others, gifts of patience, gifts of generosity and helping, and sometimes even the gift of a deepened faith.
Given. All our lives God gives us to other people and to the world, to take our places in the blossoming of God’s mission in the world—which is to bring restoration and reconciliation with God, with people, and with the whole created order.
So we’re not that different from Jacob in that we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. We’re not that different from Jesus or Abraham or King David or Saint Francis or Mother Theresa. We are all taken, blessed, broken, given.
Each of us is a sacrament—a sign of God’s grace—to the world. May we know at depth this sacred calling of ours: taken, blessed, broken, and given to a hurting world. And may our realization of God’s call upon our lives help us transcend our constant temptations to get stuck in self-absorption, to wallow in materialism, to forget the need all around.