Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13A (RCL)
Psalm 17:1-7, 16
The Windsor Continuation Group made its report at the Lambeth Conference yesterday. Reaction was mixed. They called for moratoria on cross provincial interventions and on blessing of same sex unions and consecrations of partnered gay persons as bishops. Nobody is happy.
I am glad that we have been reading the Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, Jacob/Rachel and Leah saga with the Revised Common Lectionary this year. I have not before paid much attention to what surrounds our reading this week from Genesis. We all know the story of Jacob crossing the Jabbok, and its outcome: no one comes away from an encounter with God unmarked. But, I’ve not before paid much attention to his circumstance. He has just had a meal with Laban in which they establish an uneasy relationship of detente. They set up a pile of stones and each promise not to cross it into the other’s territory. It’s the last time Israel and Aram (Syria) are on familial terms. The relationship degenerates into one of enmity. Jacob is cut off from his immediate past.
And he faces an uncertain future, from even further in his past. He is going to meet Esau, who has every reason to hate him. No wonder he spends the night wrestling with God: the results of all his machinations are about to come home to roost. Jacob grows up. He learns that he can’t scheme and deceive without consequences. His wound is of his own making. But, he does wrestle with divine and human beings and survive. He’s screwed up, he’s going to pay for it (and does so with a limp), but he’s alive.
The Episcopal Church will face some decisions after Lambeth. There will be elections for bishop in which partnered gay or lesbian persons are elected. Then what? Pastors of congregations will be approached by gay or lesbian couples asking for the relationships to be blessed. Then what? We will have to wrestle with God. Jacob can’t go back. He can only hope to reach some kind of peace with Esau.
The crowd in the wilderness fed by Jesus is in similar circumstances. They have crossed the stormy sea, been healed of infirmities (demon possession, death, etc.) which rendered them unfit for table fellowship. Jesus instructs his disciples to “give them something to eat” (the same instruction he gives to the crowd around the dead girl). Make a place for them at the table. They’ve crossed the sea and entered the wilderness. God must now provide bread from heaven. So, what boundary are we called to cross? What’s our Jabbok or Sea of Galilee?
Paul shifts his rhetorical emphasis at this point in the letter to the Romans. Up until now he has been arguing for a mixed community, Jew and Greek. Now, he laments the fact that most of the Jews won’t accept the offer. He wishes he could be cut off from Christ (literally, anathema, a word which can also mean a gift to a god). Are we ready to go that far in our relationships with others in our communion. Would I be willing to be cut off if I thought the Nigerian Church would join this wild party in the wilderness, where demoniacs, unclean and even the dead are raised and eat? I don’t think so, more’s the shame.
One way or another, we stand at a brink, and we are not going to walk away without a limp.