A sermon for Proper 11, 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
So, Jacob is one the run, he’s left the land promised Abraham and is headed back to Haran where Abraham lived after leaving Ur until his father died, and then continues his journey. In covenant terms,
Jacob is going backward. Why? Well, the answer lies in the gap (Seddon) between last week’s tale about lentil stew exchanged for a birth-right. Lots happened (pardon the pun). Esau marries a couple of Hittite wives and life in Isaac’s family gets even tenser. When Isaac gets older, and his eye sight begins to fail, he calls Esau and give him instructions on how to prepare to receive his blessing. Rebekah calls Jacob, tells him of Isaac’s plan to bless Esau, instructs him what to do so he can fool his father, and steal his brother’s blessings. He does as Rebekah says and steals the blessing that rightly belongs to the oldest son, Esau. This time Esau doesn’t cool down, he plans to kill Jacob. Again Rebekah scheming saves the day; she complains to Isaac about the Hittites wives expresses concern Jacob will marry a Hittite woman and ask Isaac to send Jacob to her father’s home, Harran, to get a wife. Isaac does as Rebekah asks, and Jacob’s escape begins, which is where we pick up the story.
An interesting aside; Esau notices Rebekah’s displeasure with his Hittites wives and goes to Ishmael, remember him? and marries one of his daughters. But back to today’s story.
Jacob travels for the day, at evening using a rock for a pillow settles in for a recuperative sleep. He has a dream he sees a ladder, it’s like one of the ziggurats tall pyramid structures with outside stairs reaching to the sky, think tower of Babble. (Menn Genesis) It’s surprising; angles are going up and down the steps from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven. Suddenly God is standing beside him.
I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, …
It’s the same promise God made to Abraham [i] Now, having duped your brother out of his birthright and just stolen his blessing God is not the first person you’d want to see. (Menn Genesis) But notice, God does not judge Jacob. God will keep working with Jacob just he did with Abraham and Isaac and company after they took things into their own hands. And even though this is the first time Jacob speaks to God or honestly invokes God its likely his world view is shaken up. All those bed time stories he father tells may be true. Heaven may be much closer to earth and God much closer to people to him. (Hoezee , Genesis) It appears as if Jacob is converted, setting up the pillar naming the place Bethel, house of God.
The next few verses, that we don’t read, tones that down a bit, as Jacob inserts some conditional ‘if’’ language; (Hoezee Genesis) however it may just indicate Jacob’s cautious discernment, (Menn Genesis) and I can vouch that most folks are cautious about discerning a divine call; I was. Moreover, the ‘if’ reveals that Jacob is living in the gap: between where he is and where he is going, where God is leading him; between now and the keeping of the covenant promise that will bring blessings to all the families of the earth.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time living in the gap. If I understand the schedule I work with it, but here the promise is, either nearly 2,000 years old, as we await Jesus’ return in glory, or something like 6,000 years old since God made the covenant promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations/families/people of the earth. I believe Jesus knows this. More importantly for us this morning,
I believe Jesus knew this, and he’s trying to teach the disciples how go to about living in the gap.
You know weeds, surreptitiously planted, are growing among the wheat. You may not know the weeds are darnel, and if not separated will totally ruin harvested wheat when milled. (Hoezee Matthew) The standard practice of the day is to pull it all up. Jesus/God says “Not now, the hired hands will take care of it at the harvest.” One more instance of how divine thoughts are not our thoughts. And notice we ~ are not the hired hands; so even if it were time, that sorting is not our responsibility, it’s an angelic responsibility.
So what’s Jesus teaching? Scott Hoezee writes: “At bottom line this parable is about patience.” (Hoezee Matthew) Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit is around to help us with this patience thing. It’s harder than we realize.
Warren Carter writes:
The field where Jesus sows is identified as “the world,” the realm of everyday political, economic, social, and religious life dominated by Roman imperial power. Jesus’ activity invades this sphere of empire to sow “good seed” … [Jesus] forms a distinct community. This community comprises “the children of the empire” who live lives shaped by God’s empire and committed to doing the will of God. (Carter Matthew)
Rome was the dominate: political, military, and economic power of her day. Through the centuries in this part of the world that role has past to and from, many powers primarily European. Today, we fill that role, we are empire. And it affects us and others in ways we cannot see, because our world view is empire.
These last two weeks I was in Memphis for my fist D.Min. class. Our professor is a biblical scholar who was born and raised in Africa. He shared a story he learned from his father and grandfather passed down by their ancestors:
When the colonist arrived we had the land they had the bible. When they left, we had the bible, they had the land. (Niang)
The effects of empire are generational, and that includes here, today where the generational effects of slavery continues to impact peoples’ lives.
This does not make us anything other than what we are: children of God’s kingdom, living in empire, just as the early Christian were. What it does do, is to teach us to learn patience, to teach us not to rush to judgment, because all people are created bearing the image of God. (Carter Matthew)
So, ~ what does it all mean about living in the gap? For me and my ten thousand foot world view, it means naming empire; it means offering teaching moments for those who wish to adjust their lens so they can see the generational effects of empire, allowing them to make different kinds of decisions; it means constantly, prayerfully seeking divine guidance for my own vision. For my and others ground level world view, it means taking the risk of exploring how you see the word; it means beginning the process of adjusting your world view lenses; (and yes this is another gap) it means beginning to discern how our behaviors, especially towards the least of these needs to change; it means to seek the wisdom to withhold judgment, even as we speak the truth; it means being earnest and patience, with ourselves, with each other, and with those who have not yet been lead to clearer world view. It means ~ trusting God will answer our prayer to
Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; … (BCP 216)
[i] Genesis 13:16
Carter, Warren. “Commentary on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.” 20 7 2014. Working Preacher.
Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Genesis 28: 10-19a.” 20 7 2014. Working Preacher.
—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.” 20 7 2014. Center for Excellence in Preaching.
Menn, Esther. “Working Preacher.” 20 7 2014. Commentary on Genesis 28:10-19a.
Niang, Aliou Cisse. “Faith, and Public Health: A Framework.” Memphis Theological Seminary DM 100001. Memphis, n.d. notes.
Seddon, Rev. Matt. “6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014; Groaning: The soundtrack of creation.” 20 7 2014. Sermons that Work.
The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.