A sermon for Proper 12
Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Ever feel like you missed something? I mean last week Jacob was pouring oil on a rock pillar naming the place Bethel / House of God, and this morning he gets married ~ twice! What happened? Well not much and everything. Jacob continues his journey and comes across some shepherds, who tell him he is in Haran, and introduces him to his cousin Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Jacob falls ~ hard.
It’s interesting that this is the second of the patriarchs to meet a wife at a well, and Moses will meet Zipporah at a well, which make Jesus meeting the woman at the well all the more interesting. Back to Jacob.
Rachel runs and tell her father about Jacob, he runs to meet his nephew greeting him bone of my bone and flash of my flesh an acknowledgement of their kinship. (Menn) In a scene that seems out of synch, like we don’t know that Jacob has meet Rachel, and assumes we know of some agreement for Jacob to work for Laban we are suddenly at the end of a contract negotiation where Laban asks Jacob what should his wages be for 7 years labor, and Jacob asks for Rachel, and Laban, without hesitation or comment agrees.
In the space between sentences 7 years go by and Jacob asks for his wife. Laban gathers his family for the wedding feast. Only at the appointed time he sends Leah into Jacob’s tent. In the morning, when the great deceiver discovers he has been deceived, he confronts Laban, who simply says: This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the firstborn.
Jacob’s supplanting his older brother has been reversed. After a one sentence negotiation and the customary week long celebration, Laban gives Rachel to Jacob, for an additional seven years.
Some observations about marriages in this story. Having both daughters marry last year, I am glad the celebration time is two or three days, not a week. At this point in biblical time marriage is not a commitment between two consenting people; it is an alliance between two men involving the exchange of women. Also a man having more than one wife is acceptable; though in this case it’s a stretch skirting prohibitions about a man marrying sisters. (Menn)
Dana’e Ashley remarks:
that the mustard plant is a weed that grows like a bush and spreads. It’s a very invasive weed. (Ashley)
She further notes that:
[In that] time, leavening was something that people understood in scripture as unclean or evil. … leavening was done by letting some bread rot just enough in order to leaven a new batch of ingredients. (Ashley)
As I read reach of these, both times I immediately thought of both Jacob and Laban. Both behave as invasive weeds you’d just as soon they go away, and no matter what you do they have a way of hanging around. Both have a rotten dimension to their persons, that effects the people around them.
The mustard seed’s tiny size suggests an unexpected hiddenness, (Hoezee) to the Kingdom’s presence. The unexpected is also in the leaven parable, kneading dough is woman’s work and in 1st century, that’s not what one would expect God’s Kingdom to be compared to. (Hoezee) That Jacob is the progenitor of God’s chosen people is unexpected, and if we read the story, without knowing the end, divine intent is certainly obscure. And a dirty rotten scoundrel is not the one we’d expect to be the front line of revealing G0d’s presence and being a blessing to all the peoples of the world.
Beyond being a part of biblical history Jacob is a type of a parable about God how God goes about divine work, and what the Kingdom is really about. Remember to this point in the story Jacob has spoken to or about God once and then he hedges his bet. God calls people as they are, he walks with them, and in that journey people are transformed. Twice now Jacob’s plan has been disrupted: God comes to him in a dream, and he wakes up with Leah. The faithful response to both requires risk. (Carter)
This hodgepodge of story connection relates to us because: none of us saw this day, when Blytheville would be half the size it once was, and St Stephen’s less than that. Our plans have been disrupted. Is God in this? Yes! I don’t believe in a causal way, but God is present. Jacob’s story as parable, and this morning’s parables reveal truths about the way forward. Our future may well be hidden, and we will likely stumble across it. A faithful response will be risky. Those involved in revealing our role in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, may not, I’ll go so far as to say will not be from expected sources. As strange as it sounds “from invasive dirty rotten scoundrels the Kingdom comes” is a gleaning from today’s readings.
I’m not sure what to do with it except, as Ashley says that:
We must trust God.
The God that uses what others think is unusable.
The God that calls us to love others with reckless abandon.
The God that sees in us what others cannot see.
By living this way, we become of what the Kingdom of Heaven is made. (Ashley)
and ~ that nothing: invasive weeds, rotten bread, disruptions or surprises is ever between us and the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Ashley, Rev. Dana’e. Sermons that Work. 27 7 2014.
Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. 27 7 2014.
Hoezee, Scott. This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching. 27 7 2014.
Menn, Ester M. Commentary on Genesis 29:15-28. 27 7 2014.