24C Jacob Wrestling Genesis 32:3-8,22-30, St Mark's Episcopal Church, October 20, 2019

24C Jacob Wrestling

Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30.

St. Mark’s, October 20, 2019

In the name of our God, who wrestles with us and blesses us. Amen.

Just before my father’s birthday the day before Halloween,, I would always ask him, “What would you like for your birthday?” Every year he gave the same answer, “Peace and quiet.” /I learned at an early age the importance of the basic human need/ to control the chaos around us. We pray that God will bring order to our lives, restore the status quo, let us feel safe and comfortable again. That is how we know God is present and has blessed us, when all is peace and quiet. When our heart stops pounding and we can breathe normally again. We know God’s presence when we no longer are afraid,/// like that sigh of relief we experience when our teenaged children drive the family car late on Saturday night safely back into the driveway. /This viewpoint of knowing God’s presence is appealing, but unfortunately the Bible does not always support this perspective of our relationship with God. Many of God’s greatest blessings take place in total chaos, with people scared out of their wits:/ Mary, listening to an angel’s ambitious plans to plunge her into scandal; Paul, lying on the Damascus Road with his life’s mission wiped out in the dust./ Since we know the ending to these stories, we may forget the wrestling, the sheer terror, the collapse of the known world that accompanied these blessings.///

It has been twenty years since young Jacob ran away from home fleeing Esau’s vow to kill him after he steals his twin brother’s blessing from their father, blind Isaac, with his mother, Rebecca, as an accomplice. Soon afterwards in the wilderness north of Beersheba, our imposter dreams his famous vision of the holy parade between heaven and earth. Jacob names the place Bethel, and our King of Deals cannot resist cutting another one. Speaking to no one in particular, but loud enough for anyone at the top of the ladder to hear, he shouts, “If God will be with me,/ and will keep me in this way that I go,/ and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,/ so that I come again to my father’s house in peace,/ then /the Lord shall be my God.”/ We are so like Jacob, praying the Bethel prayer, listing the conditions for us to be in relationship with God./ We see God like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, answering the petitions of his subjects. But our God and the God of Jacob is not in the business of granting wishes. Our God is in the business of resurrection, of raising the dead, giving people new life./ Have you ever witnessed someone coming to a second life? It is a blessed, painful process. An alcoholic who has lost almost everything has a moment of clarity, seeks help and after many stops and starts, gradually becomes one of the most amazing women helping others in her community./// Doctors’ I Phones cry out “code blue.” You are having a cardiac arrest. Your lips are purple; there is a terrible pounding on your chest. The smell of fear is in the air. Finally, you feel the choked return of your breath, like a drowning person rising up for air./ For many this wrestling with death becomes a life changing event. There are people in our congregation who can validate these stories.// We would rather make this return to a new life like sleeping beauty by candlelight with the smell of tea roses and the cello in background, a soft kiss on the lips and gentle rubbing of our hands and feet until feeling returns. But this is not the way that new life comes. The birth of a baby constantly reminds us that new life is a blessed, painful process, often filled with chaos./

There is nothing wrong with letting God know what we want, but we must not mistake our list for God’s covenant./ God’s covenant is unconditional, not a deal. It is God’s promise to be our God not by consent, but because of love. It is a relationship. Our only choice is whether to believe it; but we are never in charge of the relationship. If we choose to believe in this relationship, we must give up our illusion of control. /

Jacob has been the poster child for the struggle to control. He poaches his brother’s birthright, flees with the stolen goods, picks up a dream along the way, and arrives in Haran, where he meets his deal-making match in Uncle Laban. He also meets the love of his life, cousin Rachel, and serves fourteen year’s hard labor for her hand. /The struggles of domestic life become life changing for Jacob; there is nothing like two wives, two mistresses, and eleven children to extinguish the illusion of control. Jacob changes, but cannot imagine that after over twenty years that Esau has. He fears that the brother he twice robbed will still want to kill him. In a last-minute effort to repay this debt, he sends hundreds of animals ahead of him, moves his family to another camp, and waits alone across the river./ In the darkness he meets what appears to be a new adversary, a muscular angel. They cannot see each other in the moonless night. They fight by feel until the rosy light of early dawn. Just as Jacob seems in control, the “angelic” stranger drops all his weight on Jacob’s leg, and “pops” Jacob’s hip out of joint. But Jacob will not let loose of the angel. He is in extreme pain and crippled but smells the scent of heaven. Then Jacob does what Jacob does best; he makes a deal. “I will not let you go,” he says, “unless you bless me.” Locked in each other’s arms, the angel asks, “What is your name?”/ If we really listen, we can hear the echo of the same question, another time when someone else who barely sees Jacob asks his identity. “I am Esau,” he said that previous time. “Jacob,” he answers this time, and the name falls away from him like a snake losing its old skin. He is no longer Jacob, the supplanter. He is Israel, the survivor, the one who strives, who struggles with God. Jacob limps to his reunion with Esau, in whom he sees the face of God for the second time in one day. His exile is over. He is home.///

Let us fast forward to several years and imagine that we are sitting around the campfire with old Jacob and his grandchildren and ask him the question we all want to know. “Why didn’t you let go of the angel when you had your chance?”/

Old Jacob’s eyes brighten as he whispers, “Because that was the most alive I ever felt. I have never seen anything like the light in that face and I could not let go.”

“But Jacob,” we ask, “what about the limp and the hurt leg you have for the rest of your life?”

“Oh my, it indeed hurts, but it goes with the blessing. They are a matched pair. Every time I lean to the right and feel that shooting pain in my thigh, I remember my new name, Israel, the one who strives, who struggles with God.”/

It is the answer to Jacob’s Bethel prayer, not the comfort and safety part, but the “God be with me” part. It is the end of making deals with God, the last act in his struggle for control. /

Of course, this is all a Bible story until we, ourselves, have some new life-changing event like a stranger with the faint scent of heaven on our back wrestling us for all it is worth. When it happens, do not let anyone tell you there is something wrong. Do not let anyone convince you that if it were really God it would not be scary and it certainly would not hurt. Hang on with every part of your mind, body, and spirit, even if it hurts. Insist on a blessing to go with your wound/ and do not let go until you have one. Then, thank God for your new life, LIMP AND ALL, and leaning on your cane slowly make your way home.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, “Striving With God,” in Gospel Medicine,(Cowley Publications 1995) p. 107-114.


St. Francis 12 step Eucharist

FRANCIS OF ASSISI (4 OCT 1226)

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock, Arkansas,12 step Eucharist, 5:30 pm Oct 2, 2019.

On October 4th we will celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. His early years were frivolous. He joined the military and was captured early in the Assisi-Pe/rug/ia war. A year’s harsh imprisonment and a lengthy illness, probably malaria, at age 19 lead him to reflect on the purpose of life. Like many people starting 12 step-recovery, he became “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and prayed that he could be guided and helped from returning to his old life. One day, in the church of San Da/mi/ano while looking at its now famous cross, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, "Francis, repair my falling house." He took the words literally sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to the church of San Da/mi/ano. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and Francis in turn renounced his father's wealth. A favorite account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked.

Later after hearing a sermon about Jesus’ command to go out and proclaim the kingdom taking no money or walking stick or shoes, (Matthew 10:9) Francis realized that God was not calling him to rebuild the building of his church but the people of his church, especially the poor, and the rest of his life was spent doing that.

Like people in 12 step-recovery, Francis made a dramatic change in the direction of his life and turned his life over to his higher power. There are so many stories for us to study about Francis, his life of absolute poverty, his love of the Eucharist, love of animals and his love and connection to God in creation and Nature. A now famous quote about the well know saint1 is that “Francis of all the saints, is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated!”

To honor St. Francis, our clergy will be here Sunday at 4:00 to bless all and any of your animals.

Tonight, let us concentrate on the prayer that is attributed to him. It is in our Book of Common Prayer on page 833, but there is a copy in your seat. This is a prayer asking God, our Higher Power to change us just as God did for Francis. It could be considered a third step prayer. Let us read it together.

PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. BCP 833

1Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 404.

Joanna Seibert joannaseibert.com


16C Healing of the woman bent over: Teaching Moment, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Gulf Shores , Alabama, August 25, 2019

16C Healing of woman bent over. Teaching moment

August 25, 2019. Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 13: 1-17 Holy Spirit

We are making rounds with Dr. Gregory House and his select group of fellows at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. House is unquestionably unconventional,/ but he is an expert teacher and healer. He is trying to explain basics of diagnosing and healing disease. Suddenly he becomes interested in another physician’s patient who has had a disease for 18 years that no one has been able to cure. The patient is bent over, almost in a fetal position, making eye contact only with her feet. The nurses whisper, “No one has visited her in the three months she has been in this hospital.” House seizes the “teaching moment”, diagnoses the condition, shows his fellows how to restore this woman to new life. In walks the patient’s real doctor who is furious that Dr. House has interfered with the workup and diagnosis of “his” patient. ///

But today we learn that Jesus is the real master of seizing the “teaching” moment. He is teaching in the synagogue in the south, not on his home territory, half way between Galilee and Jerusalem. This is one of two Sabbath stories occurring during this journey and Jesus’ last appearance in a synagogue.1 Which Hebrew scripture is he discussing? Is it today’s reading from Jeremiah? “The Lord touched my mouth; and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. Today I appoint you to overthrow, to build and to plant.”/ As he is teaching, out of the corner of his eye, Jesus sees on the periphery of the synagogue the bent over woman. He calls her to the center, does the unthinkable,/ talks to her, touches her, and cures her on the Sabbath no less. The leader of the synagogue is furious!/ Jesus then seizes that moment with that woman/ ignored for years in order to teach us, his disciples, his lay leaders, his vestry, what the scriptures say/ what should be our mission statement.. building up, planting new life/ especially for those that the world ignores and rejects. /

Now, certainly Jesus heals out of compassion for the sick, but notice that each of his healing miracles is unique. Some healings require faith, but not this one. The unnamed bent over woman never speaks. Some people are asked if they want to be healed, but not this woman. Sometimes Jesus heals by touching, at other times he is not even present with the ill person. Each healing is a “teaching moment,” giving us a specific lesson about how we are healed and how we are to heal others today, 2000 years later,// but all too often the teaching moment of the miracle is passed over because we do not get past the “miraculous” packaging of the healing and the endless issue of “did it really happen.” Each of Jesus’ healings and the reactions to them are lessons for change in our lives today. We must get inside the miracle, let the miracle get inside of us so that our eyes will be opened, our ears unstopped, and our bodies raised up.2

Jesus’ healing of the bent over woman is reminiscent of two other stories of Jesus healing on the sabbath which were opposed by the religious leaders: the healing a man with a withered hand (Luke 6:6-11) and the healing the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6). This story also points to a series of Jesus’ healings of every category of people whom society’s purity laws specifically exclude, label unclean, distance at varying degrees from worship: menstruating women, lepers, Samaritans, Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, adulteresses, women in general, children, people with physical and mental disease, the dead./ Jesus’ healing of today’s bent over woman is also one of many stories of Jesus’ liberating and startling attitude towards women. This woman’s ailment may be symbolic of a society that literally has bent over the spirit of women. That this woman finally stands erect in a male religious space represents not just a cure, but a healing. It reveals the dawn of a new world order.2

Unfortunately, in many countries our religious institutions still disallow equal status for women even if it is granted in the rest of the society. But the living Word can not be stifled even if it takes our church one century to include Gentiles, eighteen centuries to include slaves, or twenty-one centuries to include women. 2/

The teaching moment in each miracle stories remind us that the way things are is not the way they will always be, and that there is a greater power caring for all of us. We can all see miracles happening every day if we only are open to God at work continually in our lives. The most obvious miracles I see daily are people recovering from addiction to alcohol and drugs whose lives and the lives of those they love were destroyed by their disease. These miracles are living proof that God’s will for us is not chaos, but wholeness. /

The major problem, however, with miracles is that it is difficult to witness a miracle in someone else without wanting one for ourselves or our loved ones.1 Not everyone who prays for a miracle seems to get one, and some people get one without asking, like our bent over woman. Religious people spend much time looking for a formula for a miracle. Is it two parts prayer, three parts faith, one part good works?3 Instead of looking for the teaching moment in the miracle, we study the healing stories to find out who does what right, hoping we will become irresistible to God. Only this does not work. A major teaching moment in the healing stories is that God rarely does anything the same way twice.

One of the most frequent pastoral questions is, “why did the miracle not happen to me or my loved one”? One of the meanest things religious people do is blame the absence of a miracle on a lack of faith. Barbara Brown Taylor 3 writes that we tend to believe that miracles work along the same lines as those strength tests at the state fair, the ones with a big thermometer and red ringer at the top. It is all a matter of how hard we can hit the thing with a sledgehammer. If we are really strong, we can ring the bell and win the prize. In other words, miracles are something we control. Only this is idolatry, one more attempt to be in charge of our lives, instead of owning up to the truth that every single breath we take is a free surprise and miracle from God. To concentrate on the strength of our own belief is to practice magic. To concentrate on the strength of God is to practice faith.

I remember visiting Federal Judge Richard Arnold shortly before he died. Previously he had been on a short list for the Supreme Court. Clinton appointed RBG instead! A St. Vincent’s hospital chaplain visits Richard asking him what to pray for. The judge says he is hoping for containment of his cancer. The chaplain responds, “Let’s pray for containment.” No,” retorts Richard Arnold, “let’s pray for a cure.” At that same visit Judge Arnold is writing his obituary as a gift to his family. Here is a man, not giving up on the miracle, but turning the results over to God./

It also helps to remember that Jesus prays for a miracle on the night before he dies.3 “For you all things are possible,” he prays to his Abba. “ Remove this cup from me.” Only when he opens his eyes the cup is still there. Does Jesus lack faith? The miracle is that he drinks the cup, believing in the power of God more than he believes in his own. Living that kind of life is always a miracle, living constantly in a teaching moment, knowing that every miracle is a resurrection and believing that in every Good Friday experience where the miracle does not seem to materialize, God still promises a resurrection. We must be open to it. It is there in front of us./ One person’s illness brings the whole family together. A doctor whose mother dies of cancer spends the rest of his life working on a cure. A person who is ill as well as his whole family learn what is really important in life. A patient with cancer spends every afternoon sharing strength and hope with others recently diagnosed with cancer. A man who is dying is moved by the people he sees in the hospital waiting room who do not have the support system he has had. He tells his church who begins ministering to patients in that oncology waiting area to honor him after he dies. A mother whose son commits suicide starts an organization to alert people to the signs of depression and suicide. These stories go on and on.. This is the miracle…Every one of these healings, every one of these miracles is like a hole poked in the opaque fabric of time and space. The kingdom breaks through and for a moment or two we see how things will be,/ or how they really are right now in God’s mind. These are the miracles many people miss. Keep looking for them. And keep sharing your stories about them/… especially if those miracles occur on the Sabbath!./ /

1 Richard Swanson, in Provoking the Gospel of Luke, A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C, p. 183.

2Jeffrey John, in The Meaning in the Miracles, pp. 1-33, 203-213.

3Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Problem with Miracles,” in Bread for Angels, pp. 136-140.


12 step Eucharist St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, August 7,2019 Transfiguration

12 step Eucharist St. Marks, August 7, 2019

Tonight, at this 12 step Eucharist we are celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration which was yesterday. We are remembering when Jesus is revealed on a high mountain to three of his disciples as the incarnation of God. Anyone in 12 step recovery can identify immediately with transfiguration, seeing the light, a moment of clarity, encountering the God who has been there all along within us, but we never saw before because we were busy making “dwellings” for other idols, alcohol, food, drugs, work, etc.

Moments of transfiguration occur in our lives when we are transported from our deep unconscious sleep to a moment of conscious bright light when we see, feel, taste, and touch God. Transfiguration is also about experiencing our own true nature, the part of God inside of us. It is the moment when all else falls away and we are simply of God, and have the desire to turn our life and our will over to the care of God. It is that moment when we let go, and let God.

Richard Rohr believes we cannot see God in others until we first see God within ourselves. So, recovery is seeing God first within ourselves that then leads us to being able to see God in others. We encounter that person who once annoyed us, and we begin to notice a tiny glimpse of the face of God and our only response is now love./

“If we want to find God, then honor God within ourselves, and we will always see God beyond us. For it is only God in us who knows where and how to look for God.”1

Frederick Buechner reminds us that as we see God within ourselves, we begin to see God in situations we never saw before: “the face of a man walking his child in the park, a woman picking peas in the garden, sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just sitting with friends at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it's almost beyond bearing.”2

Transfiguration is the message and the promise of recovery, seeing the face of God first in ourselves and then in others. Tonight, we are gathered here to celebrate the transfiguration that recovery continually brings to our lives aa well as to the face of every person we will encounter.

1 Richard Rohr Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 159-161.

2Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark (HarperSanFrancisco 1988), p. 120.

Good Samaritan 10C, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, July 10, 2019

12 step Eucharist 5:30 St Mark’s July 10, 2019 Good Samaritan 10C

Why was the Samaritan traveler moved to stop and help and care for the man he saw who was near death on the road to Jericho? Perhaps had he or a family member or a friend been in that situation before and someone helped him?

Ken Burn’s television series on the Civil War describes a remarkable scene that takes place on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg July 3, 1913, when what is left of the two armies stages a reenactment of Pickett’s charge. The old Union veterans on the ridge take their places among the rocks, and the old Confederate veterans start marching toward them across the field below,/ and then something extraordinary happens. As the old men among the rocks rush down at the old men coming across the field, a great cry goes up, only instead of doing battle as they had a century earlier, this time they throw their arms around each other and embrace each other and openly weep.

In 1914 during World War I, German, British, Belgian, French troops in the trenches mingled with each other along the western front and sang Silent Night and other carols during a brief Christmas truce. We have seen this today at World II memorials where German and English and French and American soldiers weep together at Normandy and share their stories. We have seen it recently when American soldiers return to Vietnam to share stories with those who were their enemies. This repeated action of shared love and story with those who once were the enemy can tell us something about war. Many of those who have been there can be our strongest advocates against war. They know what they and those who once were their enemies have lost. They share a common awful experience that only someone who has been there can understand.

Those in Recovery from addiction also know how awful that life of obsession was for alcohol, drugs, sex, food, etc. They can relate to those who are still in their addiction. Most of all they can offer hope to those who are still suffering that their life can be different. They do this by sharing their story of what their life was like in addiction and now what it is like in recovery.

Those who have mental illness who are treated can be advocates for others who suffer this common disease as well. Those who were once homeless can offer that kind of hope. Cancer survivors reach out to others recently diagnosed and give them strength and hope. This story goes on and on and on. We are healed as we reach out of ourselves and share our story and listen to others in a pain we know all too well. This is giving thanks for someone who reached out to us. This is called paying it forward. This is called becoming a wounded healer like our friend the Good Samaritan.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com