Looking for Light in Darkness
Aug. 2 “Looking for Light in Darkness” Genesis 32:22-31 * Psalm 17:1-7, 15 * Romans 9:1-5 * Matthew 14:13-21
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman who died on July 17; excerpt from an essay he wrote shortly before his death.
The people we generally admire the most are those who have made great personal sacrifices on behalf of the greater good of their people. This week, we honor the life of John Lewis. With this summer of discontent following the death of George Floyd and others and the ensuing protests and heightened awareness of the evils of our society, we pray that true change will follow, when systematic racism is dismantled and people of color can walk the streets of our great country without fearing violence, harassment, and discrimination. We are witnessing a historic time, in so many ways; let us be deep in prayer that God’s will may be done and we shall make great strides forward in making this land the Beloved Community envisioned by John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others who were willing to give their lives to make our world a better place. Jesus of course was the greatest of these and inspired so many who followed to stand up against injustice.
Our readings for today come at nightfall, during times of struggle. The people are settling down for the day, but God intercedes in miraculous ways. Jacob is on his way to meet his brother Esau, expecting the worst, and spends the night wrestling with God. He leaves with a limp, but goes on to reconcile with his brother, guide his family to their new home, and serves as a patriarch for God’s people, a foundation stone of God’s covenant with His people.
Paul’s words from Romans 9 express this tremendous longing from a leader for the salvation of his people:
I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Paul was also one who willing sacrificed himself for the betterment of his people, the Jews, and in doing so, brought the Gospel to untold millions of others. We may not be able to understand the struggles of people of color or identify with the Black Lives Matter movement, we may even feel at odds with it as we also seek to protect and support our law enforcement personnel, but this current racially motivated crisis affects us all. Along with the pandemic, this current unrest is transforming our world before our eyes, and only time will tell how many aspects of our lives it will touch. We will disagree about what is going on and what the way forward will be, but it is the struggle itself that will bring us to a new day. Some will win, some will lose, but we pray the result will be worth the heartbreak and sacrifices.
Through difficult times, we struggle to understand what is going on in our world and stay focused on following God. We are easily swayed by traumatic events and the rhetoric of those in positions of power and influence. But we remember from the stories of the Bible that it is in the midst of darkness that the light of God shines through, calling His people back to Him and providing their salvation.
Our Gospel story passage comes at the end of a long day. Certainly, Jesus is tired and seeks peace and quiet for some time alone, but his heart is for the people who need him. To make matters even worse, he has just heard the news that John the Baptist has been put to death:
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus must be tired and grieving the death of John the Baptist, but His infinite compassion for others keeps Him going when anyone else would be ready to stop. Certainly, He didn’t need to do anything, the people could just come back the next day, but He does what needs to be done at the time when the need arises. He cures the sick, laying hands on them, coming into their midst. He is not just feeding people miraculously, He is sharing the Kingdom of God with them, showing us that God is always there for us, caring for us, providing what we need when we think we have reached the end.
Even in the darkest of times and when we are exhausted and ready to give up, God is with us, blessing us miraculously and providing opportunities for ministry. When we sacrificially bless others, we show them the blessings we were given by the sacrifice of Jesus. The needs of others show us where we need to provide aid in Christ’s name. When we can overcome our own doubts and weaknesses, in Christ’s name, we show the world the grace that overcomes sin and death. We may never do something on the magnitude of the feeding of the 5000, but we can still point people to the love and power of God. From our struggles, both as individuals and as a people, we respond to the darkness and confusion by providing paths to God’s grace and light for the journey.
During tough times, we must cling to God with all our might. We seek Him more, pray harder, rest in His love, and seek to align ourselves with His ways and instructions. When we might be tempted into straying, we seek the fortitude with the Spirit’s help to resist what may temporarily bring relief but may lead down a path to destruction. We guard our words and our hearts to prevent becoming a source of evil, sometimes even unbeknownst to us when we do it, and seek to be conduits of God’s grace at all times and all places, to all people, even those we are at odds with. God is always with us, so let us live that reality. May we help bring the end to violence, aggression, oppression, and war, through Christ’s love and our faithfulness to Him.
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 A prayer of David.
1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.
3 Though you probe my heart,
though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
4 Though people tried to bribe me,
I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
through what your lips have commanded.
5 My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled.
6 I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
7 Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
15 As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.