Friday, 29 July 2011

Blessings in the darkness

Readings: Genesis 32: 22-31
Matthew 14: 13-21

I know I’m showing my age – but one of the first films I remember seeing was Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”. I loved the little flying Fairy Godmothers with their gifts for the little princess – and I shuddered at the appearance of Maleficent – the Bad fairy Godmother who came with the curse – the bad news that the little girl would prick her finger on her 16th birthday and die – although in fact she only falls asleep.

I feel a bit like Maleficent today – here we are gathered on this happy occasion of Nia’s baptism, when we celebrate God’s blessing of her: but I want to remind you of some of the bad news around, some of the many hazards and difficulties. How are we meant to make sense of God’s blessing in a world where so much can go wrong?

The funerals have begun for the 76 people who died in Norway; our TV screens are full of pictures of people

starving in Eastern Africa; and nearer to home this village has been shocked by the death of a young woman, Heidi, who was only 38.

It’s tempting to say ‘well let’s just shut the doors and forget the world outside and concentrate on the good and Holy things happening here’. But our Bible readings – and maybe our experiences of life, tell us that God doesn’t just bless us in the happy times of our lives, in fact we might even be more aware of God’s help when times are hard.

We heard about Jacob wrestling at the ford at Jabbok. Jacob is a pretty colourful character: he’s the father of Joseph (with the technicolour dreamcoat) and has four wives – Rachel & Leah, who are sisters & their slavegirls ZIlpah & Bilhah – and that’s how he ends up with 12 sons, including Joseph.

Jacob has been out of the country: a few years before he tricked his brother, Esau into giving up his rights as first-born, when Esau returned home from hunting desperate for the stew Jacob had made.

Then when his father Isaac was old and blind he tricked him into blessing him and not Esau. And so Jacob had had to run off to live with his uncle, Laban, to avoid Esau’s revenge. Still frightened of Esau, Jacob has sent 220 goats & 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows and 30 donkeys ahead as a gift for Esau, trying to fob off his brother with gifts, while he hides at the back. Then he decides to cross the ford back home.

That is when he meets and wrestles with ‘a man’ until daybreak. Some people have interpreted this story as being an encounter with an Angel, with a messenger of God. Jacob’s account is “I have seen God face to face” – he feels he has met God himself. And as he wrestles in the darkness and the fear, all alone, he knows he is blessed by God. It’s hard and it’s scary but God is there.

Now don’t panic, I’m not going to suggest that we build an obstacle course between here and the font, so that Nia gets a taste of what it feels like to struggle for God’s blessing. But I hope that when the struggles come in life (and they will, won’t they, because life is like that) she will know that God is with her however scary and hard it seems.

The people who came to listen to Jesus in that story of the feeding of the 5,000 learnt an important lesson about God’s love for them. They were hungry, and in the middle of nowhere and Jesus’ disciples were sure there wasn’t anywhere near enough food. But Jesus made sure everyone was OK: there was more than enough of God’s love to bless everyone that day – all 5,000 – no-one went home hungry.

When we think we can’t cope, when it’s scary, when it’s hard – when we’re desperate: God’s love is there.

So we should celebrate today – God’s blessing is here for Nia, and for each one of us, whatever life brings.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

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