The Adventurous Lectionary – August 2, 2020 – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 13:14-21
In this time of pandemic, we all need a blessing. Many of us are depleted, worn out from zoom and livestream services. Eyes are tired from too many virtual meetings and stressed by constantly having to learn new things and, in this curious time of ministry, tempted to prove ourselves worthy of our salaries in a time when we have little personal contact with congregants. We may be creative but constant novelty and creativity is wearing us out.
To be blessed is to become right with the world and feel at home in our skin. It is to be affirmed and loved just as you are. It is to have a respected person, indeed a deity, call you beloved and pave the way toward the future. Without an authentic blessing, we look for faux blessings through consumption, adulation, power, and control. We can even reach the presidency and bereft of a blessing, thinking we can fill the blessing void with senseless bloviation and thirst for popularity and adoration. Blessing involves letting go of self-justification and trusting that there is a power that is on your side and seeks your well-being.
Encountering the Holy One can leave you feeling wounded as well as blessed. Jacob wrestles with a nocturnal stranger whom he believes to be God, refuses to give up, and receives both a blessing and a limp. Jacob is particularly sensitive to the Holy. Despite his ambiguous business dealings, there is something about Jacob that pushes him beyond the obvious. Perhaps the same energy that makes him a fierce and canny businessman also opens him to the influence of the Holy One’s “thin places” in Jabbok and Beth-El, spots where the boundaries between heaven and earth are permeable. Jacob is successful, but he still seeks a blessing. He was once blessed by his father Isaac, but that blessing was a false one, grounded in deception and usurpation. Now, cries out for divine blessing. Jacob is fighting for his life and for his future. He’s holding on for dear life in quest of the authentic blessing that had eluded him. He wants and needs an authentic blessing; not a blessing based on craft or guile but one based on grace. At Jabbok, he’s not contending with impulsive Esau, but the energy that gives birth to creation, part and whole. The fight isn’t fair, and the Holy One, allows Jacob to survive, departing before Jacob can see the divine, and then perish.
The Psalmist is also in search of a blessing. He needs a sense of divine vindication in the midst of persecution. He has sought to be faithful, but he needs the intimacy of God’s presence. He needs to feel God’s support and affirmation in a time of conflict; only God’s blessing can deliver him from the threats he feels. Like Jacob, he calls out in the night, awaiting God’s revelation, yearning for God’s blessing.
Paul is crying out for a blessing as well. In this case, he is seeking a blessing for the children of Israel and implicitly for himself as a child of Israel. Spiritually wayward, the people need to turn to God, and yet they do not, despite God’s loving relationship with them. He yearns for a corporate blessing, the blessing of belief and relationship with the Christ. He is willing to take up his own cross and to suffer that they might find wholeness. He believes that in Christ, his fellow Jews will discover the health and peace of mind for which they strive. Christ is the ultimate blessing for every seeking soul, whether Jew or Gentile. Wayward Israel reminds us of our current waywardness as a nation. We are choosing death with troops on city streets, harassment of persons of color, failure to address empathetically the casualties of the Coronavirus, and our disregard of the greater, more dangerous, pandemic of global climate change.
(For more on the spiritual well-being of spiritual leaders, see Bruce Epperly, “A Center in the Cyclone: Twenty-first Century Clergy Self-care” and Bruce Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly “Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.”)
Jesus blesses us with miracles that expand our morsel into a feast and out of these miraculous moments, we bless others, giving life and nurture. Miracle emerges from within the world, the natural order, chock full with divinity and ready to heal and transform. We all need a blessing, and from that heart-felt blessing we gain the energy to bless and heal the world.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of our 50 books, including HOPE BEYOND PANDEMIC, FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC, GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET, and PROCESS THEOLOGY: EMBRACING ADVENTURE WITH GOD.