Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 32:22-31; Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21;
Matthew 14:13-21; Romans 9:1-5

Our Genesis story moves from the stories of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah into the story of Israel through Jacob. While we have read of Jacob’s relationships with his brother, with his mother and father, and last week, with Leah and Rachel, now we read of his encounter with the angel of the Lord by the riverside. Paralleling the vision we read two weeks ago of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder, this time Jacob engages the divine presence by wrestling the angel and the angel is overcome, but Jacob is left disabled by this action. Is it possible for us, when we engage the presence of God so fiercely, that we, too, can no longer walk the same? When we seek to engage God, do we ever push God so hard with the questions of “why does child poverty exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the rich stay healthy and the sick stay poor?” that when we push hard enough, God rolls over, allowing us to push through with these theological questions, but we are left knowing that we, too, have a part of play in the poverty of the world. We, too, have had our share of good luck or bad luck that was not deserved. God blesses us with giving us part of the answer to our questions: as faithful followers of God, we are the answer to the world. We are the ones who have the power to overcome child poverty, improve health care, bring blessings to others in our lives. Our looking at the world, our way of walking in the world, can never be the same if we wish to truly engage God. Israel as a people will engage God in a way that will change them forever, and through them, change the world.

Isaiah 55:1-5 is a blessing of the life that God intends for the people. Above I mentioned the situation of child poverty in our world and how millions of children do not have enough to eat or water to drink or shelter. For those of us that do have those things, why do we waste what we have? The invitation by God through Isaiah is to a life of abundance in which we feast on the things that matter and we do not waste our resources on things we do not need. I am reminded of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 that shared what they had of their resources with all who had need. They sold their possessions and gave their proceeds to the poor, so that all would have enough. When we live with the Lord as our God–when we live in God’s ways, there can be enough for everyone if we are willing to part with the things that do not matter to life.

Psalm 17 is a prayer for deliverance for the one who is faithful. We are reminded that when we remain faithful to God, God remains faithful to us. Psalm 145 speaks of praise to God and that through God’s people, God’s ways will become known to all nations. The good news is that this is not only just through Israel, but through all who follow God’s ways.

Matthew 14:13-21 is the (in)famous story of Jesus feeding the Five Thousand (and we must remember that five thousand counted the men, not the women and children who were also present–vs. 21). When I was on a mission trip to Bulgaria seven years ago, the pastor of the church we visited said that Jesus did not feed the five thousand to just perform a miracle so they would know who he was–Jesus fed them because they were hungry. Jesus had compassion on the crowd–all these people came to see him and they were hungry. And as usual, the disciples did not get it, and they were concerned only for themselves. They had five loaves and two fish. Enough for twelve men to eat a bite, but not enough for all those others! There are many theories as to what happened next–the most popular among scholars these days is that the people were moved by Jesus’ act of compassion, and began to reach into their satchels and pockets and pull out the food they had saved for themselves and shared with all around them. And there was enough and more.

When we share out of what we have been given, as we remember from Isaiah, there is enough, if we let go of the things that don’t matter. How many of us spend money on things that don’t matter? How many of us have shelves or rooms of stuff that we are saving for another day or another time, things we do not use or need? What if we could let go of the possession our things have on us and share the proceeds with those in need? Perhaps, just like when Jesus fed all those people who were hungry, there would even be leftovers!

Romans 9:1-5 begins the second part of Paul’s theological discourse to the Roman church, a mixed Jewish and Gentile congregation. Paul begins by stating the importance of Israel and of the rich scriptures and history that come from this people, God’s “chosen” people. For through Israel the world is made known of God’s work through the prophets and the Law, but it is not the whole story. But we cannot discard that part of our story as the people of God. We must understand the relationship of God to Israel is a glimpse in the glass reflecting our relationship to God, individually and collectively as children of God. Our story is intertwined with the story of ancient Israel, and with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

As we read these Scriptures, from the ancient stories of the great family of Abraham and Sarah to the early churches in the first century, we understand the interconnectedness of all of our stories: encountering God requires risk and the acceptance of change, that we will never walk the same way in the world. Encountering God’s people who live in God’s ways models to us and inspires us to live the ways God has taught us–to love our neighbor as ourselves. The greatest and best example of this is Jesus, for who, attending that great feast that day long ago, could have left still keeping their lunch only to themselves? Who could not have had their heart broken and opened to those in need? This is still the call for us: to open ourselves to the encounter of God, and knowing that when we engage God, we will not look at the world the same way again.

Call to Worship:
Leader: Open our hearts, that we may see!
People: May we see our brothers and sisters the way God sees them.
Leader: Open our hearts, that we may hear!
People: May we hear the cries of our brothers and sisters the way God hears them.
Leader: Open our hearts, that we may understand!
People: May we accept others who are different than us, the way God accepts us.
Leader: Open our hearts, that we may listen!
People: May we listen to others, for we know God listens to us.
Leader: Come, let us worship the God who breaks open the Word!
People: May our hearts be broken open to the Gospel.

Prayer of Confession:
El-roi, God who sees, we remember that Hagar called you in the wilderness so long ago, when she felt lost and abandoned. Forgive us, El-roi, God who sees, when we fail to see Your children in need. Forgive us when we fail to see the oppressed and the wounded, the outcast and the poor. Forgive us when we fail to see how our actions harm others. Forgive us when we choose not to see and to ignore instead. Forgive us, restore our vision, open our hearts to follow You and to see the world as You see. In the name of Christ our Savior we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
God asked Hagar in the wilderness, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” God is concerned for our well-being and knows the trials of our heart. God forgives us when we go astray and seek God’s guidance and wisdom to return to the Way. Our hearts are renewed and restored. Go forth knowing God’s forgiveness and peace. Amen.

God of compassion, have mercy upon us and open our hearts to share Your compassion with the world. Give us the wisdom to know the ways to bring healing and hope in our community: to bind up the broken-hearted, to bring good news to the poor, to welcome in the lonely and the outcast. Grant us the courage to speak up and speak out for those whose voice has been taken from them, for those that feel powerless. Let us truly be brothers and sisters to those in our community and beyond who are in need of love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion. May we go forth, as we feast on Your word, with the guidance of the Spirit to be the hope and healing our community and world needs, in the name of Christ, who showed us compassion, mercy, forgiveness and peace. Amen.

Music suggestions:
“God of Grace and God of Glory” comes to mind for the lines “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.” A favorite hymn of mine that I have only found in a few Baptist hymnals is “Let your heart be broken for a world in need.” If your church celebrates communion, the Taize song “Eat this bread, drink this cup,” is appropriate in reflecting on the feeding of the 5000.

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