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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reckless, ridiculous love

Proper 13, Yr A
Genesis 32:22-31, Matthew 14:13-21
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook
     I don't know if there's one in each family, but there's likely to be one in every group: the person who packs for every eventuality. Just ask those who have been to our parish community camp on Catalina with me, and you'll know that I fall into that category. Need clothespins or sewing kit? Check with me. Need practically any kind of non-prescription medicine or first aid supply? I'm likely to have it. Spare shoelaces, extra hat, more batteries--AA, AAA, C, or D?--an extension cord, emergency mirror, matches, water purification tabs, duct tape, or rain poncho? Most likely in my duffel, which is very neatly packed so that I don't exceed my baggage limit.
     So, given this inclination, I'm absolutely mystified as to how 5000 men plus women and children could possibly go to a deserted place far from town without at least snacks. Just the parents alone...that's like Parenting 101, that you never go anywhere without food. How could they be so irresponsible? And isn't Jesus enabling their careless behavior by making sure there's dinner even for those who rushed headlong out the door to follow him, without a thought for what they might need? He's robbed them and the disciples of the opportunity to learn an uncomfortable but important lesson about planning ahead! What have they done to deserve God's blessing?
     Then there's Jacob. Cheater, liar, scoundrel...those are the stories we've heard about him this past month. At least last week he got his comeuppance when his uncle Laban outsmarted him and got not just 7 but 14 years of labor out of Jacob in order for him to get to marry Rachel, the woman of his dreams. Now he's going back home to face his brother Esau, the one he tricked out of both birthright and their father's blessing, and he's terrified because word has it that Esau is heading toward him with 400 of his own men. Improved, maybe, but still not quite an honorable man, he sends his wives, his maids, his kids, and all his goods across the river so that Esau will run into them first, and he plans to spend the night camping in the rear. Then along comes this mysterious stranger, and Jacob has the gall to try to wrestle a blessing out of him, too. After all he's done, shouldn't God make an example of him and teach him a lesson about the consequences of bad behavior? What has he done to deserve God's blessing?
     I've said this before and I'll confess it again: I am far too quick to decide who is deserving and who isn't, who acted rightly and who screwed up, who ought to get a blessing and who...well, who shouldn't. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this tendency and in its corollary: being confident that I am on the right side of the equation most of the time. I wish it weren't so. I long to see others with a more charitable heart and mind. I try hard to do better, and over time maybe I even have made a little progress in that direction. But I find that part of my human nature is to imagine that God needs my help separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds, the truth from the scams, the properly prepared from the woefully remiss. After all, what have they done to deserve God's blessings?
     Maybe some of those parents were so busy rounding up their children for a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear Jesus that they forgot to grab the diaper bag. Maybe some of those men and women had their hands full already because they were assisting a person who no longer walked easily, or a friend who needed encouragement, or someone who might wander off the road along the way. Maybe some were skeptical that Jesus was going to have anything to say that was worth hearing and they figured they'd be back home before lunch...and then they allowed their minds to be changed and their hearts opened by his words and they stayed to hear more. Maybe others, in their absolutely completely over-the-top excitement at getting to see this miracle man they'd been hearing about, just didn't think beyond the moment of following him.
     Fortunately, none of that mattered. The ones who were empty handed and the ones who had duffel bags full of supplies were equally fed. The skeptics and the super-excited all received more than enough. No one had to prove anything, show any documents, pass any tests. The only thing Jesus was enabling was a demonstration of God's reckless, ridiculous love, of God's desire for everyone to be fed and filled.
     Likewise, God wasn't checking Jacob's credentials. Jacob wrestled 'til dawn, and we can believe that was a reflection of decades’ worth of wrestling. Are there any among us who haven't spent long nights struggling with the troubles of family or work, relationships, mental health, physical ailments, financial worries, fears of the future or regrets about the past? The price Jacob paid was forevermore manifested in his limp, but I think that was the cost of wrestling with life, not of the blessing. In that blessing, he was given a new identity, one that echoed all his past and offered hope for not only his future, but for generations to come. Like the rest of us, Jacob probably wanted that blessing on his own terms; what he got, after much struggle, was a blessing on God's terms, which I would guess are ultimately far different and better than any we might propose on our own. He didn't deserve it, and God indeed made an example of him, in God's reckless, ridiculous way of wanting everyone to be blessed.
     We shouldn't mistake our inclination to draw boundaries and borders, to evaluate who's deserving and who's not, to put ourselves on the right side of every opinion, with God's way of being. God desires to feed everyone. God longs to bless each of us. God holds arms wide open to include all the world. That means Jacob, limping from his struggles but walking away with a new name and a renewed future. That means the disciples and 5000 men plus women and children, who didn't know what to do when dinner time rolled around and in less time than pizza delivery had leftovers to spare. That means the woman wearing the business suit sitting in the corner office and the guy with a hat in his hand standing at the freeway off ramp, both of them hungry and hurting. That means me and you. None of us deserve it, and that doesn't matter a bit: come, be fed, receive the blessing, and embrace the reckless, ridiculous love of God.

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