A Reading from the Book of Genesis (2:22-31)
[Jacob got up at night] and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Psalm (17:1-7, 16)
1 Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.
2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.
3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.
5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.
6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.
7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, *
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.
16 But at my vindication I shall see your face; *
when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (9:1-5)
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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (14:13-21)
Jesus withdrew 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Thirty-five years ago this summer, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church gave its final approval to our current Book of Common Prayer. The decades of work that led up to it were essentially a continuation of the Reformation and of the work done on the first Prayer Book by people like Thomas Cranmer. Like the first book, the 1979 version greatly expanded the variety of Bible readings used at Sunday worship. Like that book, this one returns the liturgy to the everyday language of the people; Elizabethan English was the vernacular in the 16th century, but it obviously is not in the 20th and 21st centuries. And like the first book, this one tries to return both the form and the spirit of our worship to a form and a spirit of the worship of the church in its early centuries.
The Prayer Book that we have now been using for three and one-half decades focuses especially on the two great sacraments that we are celebrating here this morning: Baptism and Eucharist. Our Prayer Book returns the Eucharist to its traditional, central role as “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts” (p. 13). And it is at least in the process of restoring to our church an understanding and an approach to Baptism as it was seen and practiced in the early church, before the misunderstandings and distortions of the Middle Ages and of more recent times.
Until the 19th century, Baptism was celebrated as part of a church’s regular, Sunday worship. After that, it was gradually moved to what became to many of us a familiar, private setting. Our current Prayer Book corrects that deviation and returns us to the church’s long-time traditional approach: Baptism as a public event, an important event for the entire church.
From the Middle Ages until more recent times, the perceived meaning of Baptism had also continued to stray from the early church’s understanding. People had come to regard Baptism as something that needed to be “done” as soon as possible for newborns because, without it, the child would not share in God’s gift of eternal life, or “go to heaven,” if he or she died. It served basically as a personal insurance policy. This misinterpretation made Baptism appear just as magic and superstitious as any of the many rituals that the Reformers had rejected centuries earlier. More than that, it also terribly distorted the image of God. It subordinated God’s gifts to the vagaries of human scheduling, and it ignored the scripture’s portrayal of God as one who loves and freely gives the gift of life to all.
But now, thanks to the dedication and hard work of many people during the past century, we are gradually returning to a traditional and much more authentic approach to the sacrament of Baptism. We are once again coming to view it as the way that the church welcomes into its fellowship new members. It is the rite by which we incorporate others into the Body of Christ: that minority whom God has placed at the service of the majority in our world, to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world.
Being baptized is not just something that parents have “done” for their children, like making sure that they get signed up for their Social Security numbers and receive their vaccinations. Instead, the church baptizes adults who willingly commit themselves to the life and ministry of the church; and it baptizes children whose parents participate in the life and ministry of the church and who are ready to affirm solemnly before God that they will bring up their children to do the same. It’s is a solemn commitment: nothing to be taken lightly.
Baptism is about both our relationship with God and about our role as members of the church, serving all people in God’s name. This two-fold nature of the new life into which we are bringing Wesley this morning it reflected in today’s first reading and gospel reading.
Our first reading takes place at the conclusion of the long saga of Jacob. In this particular narrative, our spiritual ancestor finds himself wrestling with God. In doing so, he discovers that that is what a life of faith is all about. As morning is about to dawn, God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel”: a name that signifies “one who wrestles with God,” “one who struggles with God.” Both this one man and the people who are his descendants are engaged in a life in which they, and we, must struggle with God: eschewing simplistic approaches to faith and life, and entering into a lifelong, sometimes very difficult, conversation with our creator as we work out together the future of God’s creation.
But being baptized into God’s church is not just about our new relationship with God. It is also essentially about our new relationship with one another and about a new, shared responsibility for all of God’s people and all of God’s creation. In today’s gospel story, Jesus’ first disciples recognize the hunger of the crowds surrounding them. They come to Jesus and ask him to send them away to go fend for themselves. But Jesus turns the table as he directs them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples are naturally overwhelmed by the size of the need and by the few resources that they have. But Jesus soon leads them to realize that, with the help of God working with them, they can do far more than they ever imagined.
We who have been baptized have committed ourselves to a lifetime of wrestling with God and to a lifetime of feeding the people of this world in the many different ways that they need feeding. Baptism is not just or even primarily about us as individuals. It is about becoming part of something much greater. It is about becoming part of the entire people of God, those whom we call “the church,” and about the special role that we play and the special mission with which we are charged in the world. It is a mission to feed the other people of the world: to enable them to see and experience in their lives the presence and the love of God and the tremendous gift that God gives us in inviting us to live even now in the fullness of life.