Call to Worship
We gather here in anticipation,
seeking an encounter with our Holy God,
who comes among us when we least expect it,
who invites us to wrestle with our questions and doubts,
who richly blesses us and calls us each by name.
Let us worship God together!
Hymn 153 – Great is thy faithfulness
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Mysterious and merciful God,
we praise you for all the ways you offer us abundant life. When the sun rises and the earth blooms around us, we are thankful for your gift of a new day.
When evening falls and we find ourselves in a lonely place, we count on your presence for comfort.
For the times you show us the way and give us guidance, we praise you.
For the healing you offer when we are broken and hurting, we rejoice.
Jesus, Enfleshed Word, we bring You ourselves this day, longing to see You face to face, we cling to You knowing You hold us fast. Yet we know, that all too often, we try to let go of You, we struggle against what is good for us, turning our back on You, and looking away from Your face. But Your arms are always held wide open in welcome.
Holy Spirit, Abiding Presence, we feel You amongst us this day, helping us to see Your face, enabling us to love even when love is a struggle, helping us to love ourselves when we’d prefer to hate, inspire us, Holy One, to return to You, to hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for You, even as we struggle.
Like a mother eagle who tends her young; like a father who runs to welcome home the estranged; like a rock upon which we stand, God is loving and faithful, and forgives all our sins. God loves and forgives you, so have the strength to love and forgive yourself.
Readings – Genesis 32: 22-31 (Pg 36)
Matthew 14: 13-21 (Pg 981)
Hymn 348- Praise the one who breaks the darkness
Prayer of Illumination
Dear Lord, often we struggle to hear Your voice in the competing sounds of our world. Speak to us now that as we listen You will inspire us, that as we struggle You will strengthen us, and as we respond You will lead us. Amen.
John Bell, the Scottish hymnwriter, once asked a congregation which sport the Christianity could be most compared to. Is it like cricket, which from the outside looks dull, but enthusiasts are keen to assure us that it is really exciting. Is it like tennis, fairly predictable, but the word ‘love’ is used from time to time. Or maybe it is like golf, which looks easy, until you see the size of the hole and the size of the ball and the length they are away from each other. Or maybe it is like snooker, something which only a few can play really well, but there is a vast army of armchair critics. But John Bell concluded that the sport most associated with the Church was wrestling, because to be a Christian often means being involved in a struggle, whether it be a struggle with our faith or our consciences, a struggle even with life and death, as for many Christians in the world, to bear the name of Christ means persecution and discrimination.
Jacob famously wrestled with God. We have been following the story of the patriarchs, these towering figures right at the start of Israel’s history, but Jacob has not been a role model we would recommend to anyone. He wrestled with his twin brother Esau in their mother’s womb and he tricked Esau out of his birthright and had to flee for his life to escape Esau’s vengeance. He has been away for 20 years working for His uncle Laban, but even there he has put his cousins’ noses out of joint, as he has prospered at their expense. He had to make a hasty get-away. But word now reaches him that Esau is looking for him and is wanting to meet him, and Jacob is terrified. His life has reached a turning point, and he has to confront his past.
But he is still the same character, and he divides his sheep, goats, servants into two, so that if Esau grabs one lot, the others will escape. He also incredibly sends his wives and children ahead, so they are between Esau and him. He is absolutely terrified by Esau and has made him into a giant figure. Suddenly he is alone, and that night a figure appears, and wrestles with Jacob. Some commentators suggest it was Jacob’s greatest fear and rival – his brother Esau himself. Some suggest he is wrestling with his inner demons, the past catching up with him so he has to confront himself. In paintings he is shown wrestling with an angel, while Genesis even suggests he wrestles with God himself. He called the place Peniel, which means the face of God. Whoever it was, Jacob clung on until he was blessed. We are told he was even given a new name, Israel. It is as if in the wrestling match, he does confront who has been and doesn’t come through the experience unscathed, for he is wounded, he has a limp, but also has a new identity, though the new Jacob still has his faults.
The Reformer Martin Luther saw this story as one of wrestling with God – not surprising given the troubles Luther had with the Church in his attempts to reform it. John Calvin saw the story as a vision for all of us about the wrestling we have to do in life – the Lord, he said, exercises us with various kinds of conflicts. God tries our strength through these struggles. Calvin thought that it was, like Jacob, with God’s own self that we wrestle in order to be tested and strengthened. Charles Wesley, in a hymn, saw the figure that Jacob wrestled with as Christ. Wesley captures Jacob’s desire to know God “The secret of Thy love unfold; wrestling, I will not let Thee go, till I Thy name, Thy nature know.”
So many Christians go through difficult times in their faith – the ‘dark night of the soul’, including many famous Christians who have been assailed by doubts or fears, when bad things have happened to them or to those they love. But like Jacob, though wounded, they have persisted and ‘clung’ to Jesus, to God.
It is not easy to be a Christian – from the word Go, there were persecutions, and even today. The charity, Embrace the Middle east has been running a series of podcasts with figures from the churches in the Middle east. Jack Munayer is a young Palestinian Christian and he says, ‘We have seen more attacks, more harassment, more vandalism of church property over the past year, more than in the previous ten years combined’. It is a struggle to keep the faith, but like Jacob, though wounded, the Christians in Iraq and Syria and Palestine persist, show that tenacity of faith.
We struggle with wanting to live in harmony with earth and with wanting a fairer world where all have dignity and people can live at peace, but sometimes it seems like one step forward and two steps back, but we persist.
Jacob was wounded, but he persisted and was blessed. So in all our wrestling matches, let us hold on to our faith, for as we seek to be faithful to God, we too will be blessed.
Hymn – Canticle of the Turning
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
The sacrifice that honours God is a thankful heart. So let us present our offerings with thankful hearts, grateful for all God’s goodness to us.
Blessed are you, God of all creation, for all your good gifts. Use the gifts we offer to spread your goodness in Jesus’ name. Let your Spirit work through us so that your goodness will move through us into the world wherever we go. Amen.
O Most High, we pray today for those who struggle against the earthly powers and principalities that seek to rule our world; for those who seek peace in a world at war, for those who seek love in a world of hate, for those who seek justice in a world of evil; give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray today for those who struggle because they can’t pay their bills, for those for whom work doesn’t pay, for developing countries never out of debt to the new empires of capital give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray today for those who struggle with ill health, in mind, body or spirit; for those struggling with pain waiting to see a doctor, for those struggling to make the NHS work better, for those with mental health problems for whom there seems no hope; give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray for those who have lost everything in wild fire or flooding this year, and for growers facing drought, shortage of workers and uncertain markets.
Guide the leaders in our communities and our nation
as they face these complicated problems. Give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray for those who walk through our villages this summer. Keep us alert to the needs of visitors and strangers and open our hearts so that your goodness will touch those we meet.
We pray for all who have lost loved ones, with loneliness, with anxiety..
Lord Jesus Christ, you walk with us through all the days of challenge and celebration. Draw near to all who face unexpected sorrow this summer and join with those who celebrate happy occasions, too.
Be our Bread for the journey to sustain us and encourage us, whatever the days ahead holds for us.
Hymn 515- Soldiers of Christ arise
May the One with whom we wrestle, strengthen you in your woundedness. May the One who has guided our past and who will guide our future, assure you of His love and nature. May the One who hears the groans of the oppressed inspire you to action. And the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and all whom you love, now and always, Amen.