|Pen and Ink Reflections||
As each of us comes to worship today, how are we going in our lives and faith? Are we ourselves wrestling with challenging things in our lives, and with God? Are we bearing wounds? Are we seeking blessing, or feeling blessed? In what ways are we perhaps ‘God’s Wrestlers’, ‘God’s Wounded’, ‘God’s Blessed’? These are but three different ways of approaching the great Hebrew story we encounter today in our lectionary (Genesis 32.22-31) - the story we may call Jacob’s Wrestling with the Angel, or alternatively, Jacob’s Wounding, or Jacob’s Blessing...
Jesus asks his disciples ‘Have you understood all this?’ and they answer 'Yes.” And I find myself saying, ‘really?!’ I rather think that in fact the disciples had the somewhat glazed expression that I had this week, when the NBN technician was trying to help me factory re-set my modem password! My 'yes’ really meant, actually I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about, but I trust you to work it out anyway”...
‘He told them another parable’. I love parables, don’t you? And one of the things I love about them is that there is never, ever a ‘right answer’; a single correct interpretation. Of course, that can be rather trying to those of us who like clear answers. But Jesus didn’t give any clear answers, and where he appears to do so, we can be pretty sure that the gospel writer is putting words in his mouth.
This morning we heard a little cluster of three parables – and a dodgy interpretation of one of them – did you spot them all? The wheat and the weeds, the mustard seed and the woman with the yeast. Sometimes they are known as parables of growth, especially as they follow on in Matthew’s version from the parable of the sower. But it seemed to me this week that we could call them ‘parables of patience’ – and as such very apt for our current situation, where the spread of COVID seems to be asking again and again for patience...
As a small child, one of the most wonderful things I remember my school asked me to do, was to grow a plant. Now it didn't appear to us children to start well. For we were each given a very unassuming brown bean and an empty jam jar. We were instructed on how to fill the jar with soil (whoopee!) and put the bean into it so we could see still see it, and we were told to keep watering and looking after it. To begin with of course, nothing happened, or seemed to happen. It was seemingly just a boring glass jar with dirt inside it, together with a seemingly even more boring brown bean. TV, and football, seemed much more enjoyable. Watering and caring for the bean seemed pointless. But I did persist. Then, amazingly, one morning, I woke to see a shoot beginning to break out of the bean, and then another, and another. These beautiful white strands of life then began to break through the surface of the soil into the light, sprouting even more gorgeous green leaves. For the small child I was, it was spectacular. TV was one thing, and football - well, maybe even football - was another. This however was a wonder, and a wonder I had myself helped to nurture.
Do we lose that sense of wonder as we grow older, do you think? Do we stop learning that new life is always possible - that it will break out extraordinarily by God's good grace, and a little human care? Do we fail to realise that we too are not destined to be boring brown beans in boring jam jars, imprisoned in dirt? The good news - our Gospel message - is indeed that we too are called to sprout, reach out and flourish in the light. Moreover, this morning, what a better way do we have to express that than in our prayers and blessing for Clara, as she sprouts into the authentic light of who she is, in God's grace, as a transgender person?...
I think Jesus had had a rough few days and was not feeling the best. By the time we reach the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel they had taught extensively about the kingdom, healed many and called disciples. But Jesus is feeling that they just can’t win – if they try to be an ascetic like John they’ll say, ‘he has a demon’; and, as it is they are accusing Jesus of being a ‘glutton and a drunkard’. So, Jesus is not feeling over happy, and from that place of discouragement he reproaches the cities that will not welcome them. It is perhaps a comfort to realise that even Jesus can have a bad day. For Jesus, the embodiment of God, experienced the full range of our human emotions and was not afraid of them...