Monday, August 4, 2014

Homily On Matthew 14 & Genesis 32- Written

I'm going to begin by paraphrasing a piece of prose that some of you may be almost too familiar with, and others may not be familiar with at all. I feel like this was on the wall of every Christian household in America in the 80s and the 90s, but you don't see it as much any more. Footprints in the Sand? You know this story? This guy sees his life as a beach. And there are two sets of footprints, and God tells him that one set of footprints are His. But as the man looks back over his life, he realizes that at the worst times in his life, there is only one set of footprints. And the guy gets angry at God. He says, "how could you abandon me at those times?" But God responds, "No, you don't understand my son, it's at those times when I carried you." Beautiful, if a little too sentimental for my tastes. Recently, though, this comic strip made the rounds on the internet that was based on it, and I loved it. Jesus and this guy are standing over a beach, and Jesus has his arm outstretched and says, "where you see one set of footprints, that is where I carried you my son." Then he points the other direction and says, "That long groove? That's where I dragged you kicking and screaming." And that is my life.

Jacob is one of my favorite figures in scripture. He is a man whose life and experiences I've poured over and studied for over ten years. And in that time I've come to one irrefutable conclusion, and that is that Jacob... is not a good guy. I mean he's despicable. He's just not a good dude. Here is a man who swindled his blind, aged, dying father. Who cheated his brother out of everything he ever had. And who later on would do some pretty awful things to some of his wives and children. But Gawd reached out to this awful little man and granted He allowed Jacob to see Him working in Jacob's life and in the world. The first time He reaches out to Jacob He shows Jacob angels ascending and descending between Heaven and Earth on this ladder. A beautiful theophany, the kind of vision most believers in God wait for their entire lives. But how does Jacob respond? He says in essence, "Oh, I see there really is a God. And He can really do things, that's very interesting. So God, give me everything I ever wanted out of life, and I'll worship you."

I mean, Jacob just never, really gets it. He can see God and he can see God moving in his life and in the world, but this never fundamentally changes who he is. And in the long sordid tale that is Jacob's life, he finally comes to one thought that his truly holy. He decides to undertake one action that has the potential at least to be redemptive. He says to himself, "I did wrong by my brother all those years ago, and so I'm going to go back and apologize and make amends." Great! Wonderful! God had to be having a part in Heaven when Jacob thought these things. But the night before Jacob is going to do this thing, what does he do? He gets ready to run. He's going to run away. Now there can be no doubt Jacob was taking a risk. His brother was angry at him. But given all the mistakes he'd made, and the things God had done for him, you think he could've taken a risk on him once in his life. But nope, he's going to run away.

So how does God respond? He steps into the darkness of Jacob's cowardice, and makes Himself vulnerable to Jacob. He meets Jacob on his own level. He allows Jacob to hurt Him, does a little hurtin' of his own, and keeps Jacob in that place until the moment comes, almost all on its own. And the next day it's beautiful. It's glorious. Jacob says its like seeing the face of God. Truly, a moment in scripture when Heaven and Earth meet. And Jacob gets to be a part of it.

Why? I don't know why. What I do know is that this is the pattern of scripture. God reaching out to people who are not too capable...not too smart...not too good, and granting them grand vision and glory they neither understand nor deserve.

The disciples are the same way. The thing that really stands out about the disciples, when you study the Gospels, is that they are: kind of dumb, and very selfish. I mean, like Jacob, they could see: they could see that Jesus was the Messiah and that God was with Him, but they never fully understood what that meant. For them it was some kind of political ambition. They were going to stand with Jesus at the head of a worldwide Israelite empire, which would supplant Rome. And when they weren't plotting the takeover of the world, they would try to get Jesus alone all to themselves, as if divinity was Perrier and you could bottle it up and drink it whenever you want.

I mean in the Gospel reading today, the disciples are given a great opportunity to do all Jesus was about, and all God was calling them to do. In Jesus' terse statement, "you give them something to eat", you can hear so much. Jesus is saying, "Hey, this is what it is all about: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisone....ITS THE FIRST ONE! Feed the hungry! These people are hungry, now go and feed them."

And they could've. They could've done something. They could've at least tried. They could've gone to a nearby town and organized some kind of feast, stuff like that happened back then. They could've gone among the crowd and tried to see if some of them had food to share. They could've gone, FISHING! They were, FISHERMEN and there is evidence that they had their equipment with them. But what is their response? "Jesus it's too hard. There are too many of them. Just send them away and we can yet again bask in the glory that is you."

So how does Jesus response? He gets the food. He sets the table, and gives these men the honor and privilege of serving the bread of life to others. People dragged into a glory they neither understand nor deserve.

But, you know, I think every religious leader can identify with the disciples. I don't care if you're a priest, a minister, a pastor or a teacher, you never really feel worthy of teaching this stuff. And don't ever fall into the trap of thinking that because someone has a position of authority at a church that they are morally better than the average. The big secret is that we're usually below average. And that is because as a seminary professor once told me, "God calls to ministry those He has lamented of saving any other way."

I can honestly say of myself that I have no idea what I'm doing up here. I mean, I'm just despicable, I'm not a good guy. Yet, I'm one of the people of God. The worst kind of sinner, and a member of the communion of saints...unto myself on the one, and unto God the other. And that is my story. And the truth is it is all of our story. This is what we say of ourselves every time we confess our sins in the service.

And yet there may be one way in which I'm a little below the curve. One way in which I'm a little more Jacobian than most, there's a reason he's one of my favorite figures in scripture. And that is because like Jacob, there was a time in my life when I made a series of very stupid and selfish decisions. And the darkness that resides in every human heart spilled out and infected the totality of my life until it was all I could see or now. And I hope none of you make these kinds of mistakes, I hope none of you find yourself in that place, I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

But if you do, then I pray our Savior does for you what He did for me, and steps into the darkness with you, making Himself vulnerable to you and meeting you at your own level, and grabs hold of you tight, until daylight comes. Picks you up, dusts you off, and creates for you a life you neither understand nor deserve. Gathers the food, sets the table, and gives you the honor and privilege of serving the Bread of Life to others. Dragged kicking and screaming...into a better world. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Great sermon, Josh! Funny, moving, and well-delivered.