Genesis 32:22-31

Matthew 14:13-21

“Hi. I’m Bartholomew. I was there when this happened, with the rest of the disciples. Jesus had tried to get away from the crowd, but there they were on the other side of the lake, thousands of them.

“I was the one to see the issue with this crowd. There were too many people, and we were too far away from the nearest town. So I said to Jesus, ‘Send them away to buy food, and you can have a little peace and quiet.’ But Jesus said no. He told me to feed them. And on top of that, we only had five loaves and two fish among us. There was no way to feed everyone!

“So Jesus sighed, and he rolled his eyes, and he said, ‘Give them to me.’ He blessed them, and he broke them, and we passed them around throughout the whole crowd, and then we gathered up 12 baskets of leftovers! Now, I’m too much like my ancestor Jacob: I don’t believe anything I didn’t see with my own eyes. I’m sure something sneaky must have happened there with all that bread. I’m not sure what it was, but I know that Jesus didn’t take our lack of food for an answer. He challenged me to do something bigger.”

God wrestles with us like that, just like God wrestled with Bartholomew’s ancestor Jacob in Genesis. And Jacob wrestled right back. In fact, he prevailed over God – he wrestled God to a draw, and he demanded a blessing for it. So God does bless Jacob’s journey of reconciliation.

Jesus wrestles with his disciples here: he wrestles blessing out of nothing at all. Unlike a lot of other moments in Matthew, here Jesus doesn’t give anybody grief about a lack of faith. He just gets on with showing the power of God at work. He grabs hold of whatever the disciples have – just five loaves of bread and two fish – and he doesn’t let go until their blessings have been multiplied. He insists, as God in flesh with us, that all God’s children have to eat, and he wrestles out enough for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with our order of worship. Today, those of you who are paying attention will notice that I’ve swapped the order of the offering and Communion, so the offering comes just before the Communion. This is kind of a question of tradition wrestling with theology. Our tradition, or the part of our tradition that our worship order today reflects, suggests that the gifts we offer are transformed in the Sacrament of Communion, so you present the gifts and then celebrate them in the Sacrament. That’s the basic worship order that’s used throughout much of the global church today, and it has some ancient foundations. The foundations go back to the early centuries of the church, but the service is constantly changing.

The theology, or at least this one piece of theology I’m dealing with, suggests something slightly different. Theologically, I like to say that our true offering is the life that we live on the other six days of the week, not just what we do here on Sunday mornings. The money we give to and through the church this morning is just a symbol or a part of the real offering of ourselves in life. And that offering, the life we live, is made possible because we’re fed at this table, in Communion – the Eucharist, the sacrament of thanksgiving. So the shape we’ve been trying for the past few months, with our prayers or Communion coming before the offering, suggests that Christ’s work in Communion is what creates our offering.

I doubt God will let go of me until I know something more about how this church worships, not just on Sunday mornings, but as worship carries over into the rest of our lives. Right now, I’m wrestling with the question of how we do that on Sunday morning, when we practice living the life of Christ in the world. The ancient church, the ecumenical church, our American traditions of church, and various theologies can all tell us different ways of doing worship on Sunday morning. There’s not necessarily any definitive answer, so we’re here wrestling with God, and God hasn’t let go of me.

Jesus didn’t let go of his disciples, either, until they had enough food to feed those 5,000 people. Jacob didn’t let go until God blessed the journey of reconciliation he was on. Maybe Jesus is better at those literal miracles than we are, but we’re called to go be Christ’s body in the world today.

Just like the gift of food and the feeding of all those people, our offering and Communion are tightly related. Christ feeds the people: with loaves and fishes, with Communion, with the gift of life. He insists on feeding the people with what the disciples already have. I don’t know how he does it, but apparently he gets it done. I don’t know how exactly these two things – giving and feeding – are related, but they are.

Our Communion, our Eucharist, is a memorial meal, a gift of the Spirit, a sharing of our church family around the table, a self-offering so we can go be Christ’s body in the world. We’re fed by Christ’s presence, and because of that we can offer ourselves in service. Or, our offering of ourselves and our means is how we share with Christ.

Really, they’re always connected to each other. Our prayers and our gifts of substance have to go together. That’s why we dedicate our offering with prayer, to dedicate ourselves through it. That’s why today’s service has the Eucharistic prayer after the offering, to dedicate all our gifts. But then, that’s also why I tried setting the offering at the end of the service, to enact the prayers we just offered.

This connection is why the service is shaped the way it is in general: we come together, hear God’s call in our lives, and respond. This is a sacramental moment, when we’re united with Christ, with each other, and with the world. In prayer, offering, and the Eucharist, we give thanks. In all three. With or without the bread and the cup, this is a sacramental moment. We can’t give without praying, and we can’t pray without giving of ourselves.

When Jesus wrestles with us here, he’s not asking us to do anything foolish, or unrealistic, or irresponsible. He’s just challenging us to become what we already are in our hearts. He’s not asking anything beyond our ability (remember, the disciples already had the food). He’s just stretching us in a way that makes us into more than we were. This isn’t just about how we shape worship, but how we shape worship is about how we live and who we are. And, it’s about what God is making out of us.

Amen.

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