Wiggle your toes in ʾadāmâ.

A sermon for Proper 17

Exodus 3:1-15 , Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

I’ve wondered, have you ever wondered, how long that bush burned? Not before someone walked by, although it is in the wilderness, but how long it was before someone saw it? How long was it before someone paid enough attention to see that it didn’t burn? How long it was before someone was simply curious? How long? We don’t know, we can’t know. We do know Moses came by, saw the ever burning bush, and was curious. (Fretheim) You know what they say about curiosity and cats; well Moses survives, but his life is forever changed.

As soon as Moses turns aside, the bush starts talking; telling him to take his sandals off, and revealing its identity as the God of his father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses in an act of submission removes his sandals;  (Brueggemann) {I know a bishop, who removes his shoes at the altar, wearing simple slippers,} he also hides his face, honoring God’s holiness and sovereignty. (Brueggemann)

And then his bare feet touch the ground. There is nothing between him, and the ʾadāmâ (Strong’s) the ground from which he, we, are made. This is the ground of life, hosting the trees of life and knowledge, binding him, and us, to each other, to all creation. It’s the ground humanity’s envy caused to be cursed. And it’s the ground that welcomes us back after out last breath. It’s ʾadāmâ. In some sense Moses stands reborn in the presence of God As his bare feet feel the ground, he knows he’s released from what bound him; he is free to accept new life, a new calling. (Portier-Young)

The burning bush continues: I have seen, I have heard, I know, I have come to deliver them; and to bring them to a good and broad land. So, come, I am sending you to Pharaoh. Moses understand at once what is happening. God is making all these grand promises, and he not God, is the agent on the ground, he will face all Pharaoh’s imperial power. (Brueggemann) Whoa! stop, send me? to Pharaoh? you know he wants my head? Besides, who am I? God reassures him, “I’ll be with you, and one day you and your people will worship here.” I don’t know about you, but someday sounds a bit noncommittal. (Hoezee)

Moses has a second objection. Who am I to tell the sons of Israel is sending me to them; surely they will ask me for a name? The bush replies: I am who I am! ~ “I am who I am?” What kind of name is that? (CEP) The Egyptian gods have names like: Isis, Horus, Osiris, Ra, and Anubis. Those are divine names. “I am who I am”

Ever since then, we’ve been trying to figure that out. And we haven’t, and yet we have. The grammar etc. doesn’t get it done. But the promise does the context of the revealing evokes enduring fidelity, and presence. It connects the ancient story of Moses’ people, to their future, a new future no one could envision. (Brueggemann) Just as Moses removing his saddles, and hiding his face honors God’s space, God’s name gives Moses, ~ gives us, space to join the conversation about the future. (Fretheim) If nothing else Moses has a new inkling of who he is, and of who God is. (Fretheim)


I don’t know how long it’s been present. I don’t know how long or if you’ve seen it. I don’t know how long I’ve really seen it. I know this morning is that we are called to turn aside. We are not enslaved, not trapped, with no vision for a future as the sons of Israel are. However, just like the sons of Israel we are at a point of transition. We are not who we remember ourselves to be. Blytheville, Mississippi County, NE Arkansas, the entire Delta region is not what we remember it to be. The truth is no one and no place is, change is a reality of life in every age. In some times and in some places the changes are perceived as good. The changes here are well difficult, long in coming, and complicated. Like the Delta St. Stephen’s has been at a point of significant transition. What was, isn’t going to be again. What is, ~ well no one knows. And in that respect, we are a bit like Moses. We’ve been called to turn aside, to take our shoes, or boots, off and wiggle our toes is the ground, the ʾadāmâ from which we are made, which connects us to each other and all creation. We’ve been called to claim the freedom from whatever binds, and hinders us. We’ve been called to stand reborn in God’s presence. We’re being invited to participate in shaping our own future. And no, I’ve no idea what it looks like; I’ve no idea how to get there; I’ve no idea how long it will take; all I know is the invitation is there and that we will not journey alone. Wiggle your toes in ʾadāmâ, find your footing in new life. Amen.



Works Cited

Brueggemann, Walter. The New Intrepreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Exodus. Abbingdon Press, 2003.

Fretheim, Terence E. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 3:1-15. 31 8 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Portier-Young, Anathea. “Commentary on Exodus 3:1-15.” 31 8 2014. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2136&gt;.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.





Dancing Miracles

A sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16

Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

About 70 sons and grandsons of Jacob, now named Israel, and all their families moved to Egypt. Jacob is buried with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Leah in the cave in Machpelah. Undisclosed years later, with three generations of his own grandchildren at the ripe old age of 110 Joseph tells his sons to bury him in the land promised to their forebears, and dies. The Israelites, better translated sons of Israel, proliferated in to a strong people; a nation. (Hoezee) (Strong’s) So much so they terrified the new Pharaoh, probably Seti I, (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa) who set out to destroy them.

At first he tried to over work them. But the harder and more oppressive the work, the more the sons of Israel grow. The Pharaoh tells the midwives Shipharah and Puah to kill all the baby boys, but allow the baby girls to live. They fearing, or honoring God, more than Pharaoh allow all the babies to live. When challenged they tell a tale of vigorous, or lively, women.  (Howard) (Young’s) (Strong’s) Plan B; Pharaoh instructs his army (Hoezee) to throw all the baby boys into the river. It must have met success; at least enough for a Levite couple to attempt the radical plan of floating their infant son to safety, in a basket, literally ‘an ark’; (Harrelson) in direct defiance of Pharaoh. The boy’s sister joins in the defiant act by watching the basket. Pharaoh’s daughter joins in the defiance, by having her maidens (Young’s) (Strong’s) fetch the ark from the river. Believing the crying child to be a Hebrew, and though the efforts of his sister, she arranges for a Hebrew woman to nurse him for her, and when he is weaned, give him to her to be her son. She names him Moses, meaning drew or pulled out” in Hebrew, and a possible derivative of the Egyptian “to beget a child.” (Ellingsen)

Scott Hoezee poses the question “Where is God in these two stories of the sons of Israel post Joseph?” (Hoezee) There has been enormous divine energy expended in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, now Israel, Rachel, and Leah and Joseph. After the patriarchs, plus Joseph, plus three generations, so after seven generations has God finally had enough? But why now? especially when the current crisis, unlike all the preceding ones is not of their own making but is the consequence of Seti I fear of a prosperous, people ~ nation, with-in his own borders. Where are: the miracles of birth, or the hand staying death, or the dreams, or the improbable appearance of a caravan (or two) headed toward Egypt? Where is God?

The names of Foley and Ferguson; the continuing drama of Ebola, the tension surrounding a convoy of white trucks, the drought ~ a trillion gallons of water gone, enough so that the earth’s crust has measurably risen, (Lewis) individually could and collectively do raise the question “Where is God?” Within my own tiny sphere of existence: fear of necessary but sudden change, fire, theft, the possibility of familial abuse, and someone discharged from prison with AIDS, multiple prescriptions but no resources, and unexpected death likewise raise the question “Where is God?” Where are the miracles? In this day and age of science, and the measurable, where do we even look for miracles?

One place may be quiet differences. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” He then asks “Who do you say I am?” First I noticed that Jesus refers to himself differently; why? Then I noticed ‘I am’ is the how God refers to God’s self “I am who I am.”  A note of caution; it always dangerous to make inferences across languages. Yes ‘I am’ in Exodus are the same words as ‘I am’ in Matthew. However, Exodus is written in Hebrew and translated, and Matthew is written in Greek, and translated and my linguistic skills and resources are not up to the task. Nonetheless, the shift in how Jesus refers to himself, points to how language effects perception. What we call something effects how we relate to it and how we understand it. I.E. we may not see a miracle, because we do not refer to it as a miracle. We do not see it as a sign pointing to God because we do not call it so. We do not see our many gifts as miracles, signs pointing to God because we do not call them miracles.

I’m not sure Paul would call gift miracles. I am sure Paul understands the diversity of human skills are gifts of God by the Spirit. I am also sure Paul believes God intends us to use our gifts for the benefit of the community, at large, and Christian in particular. It’s not far from here to believe that we are to use our divine gifts to reveal the glory, (John 9) the presence of God, making them at least something like a miracle, even if they are not wondrous.

The presence of God in this morning’s Exodus stories is in the ordinary. Midwives Shipharah and Puah being midwives. Parents being parents. A person treating a stranger with the respect. A sister helping her sibling. All of these are ordinary actions. All of them are people using their gifts for the benefit of another. All of them reveal the presence of God, because they all act against the prevailing human power structures choosing instead: civil disobedience, compassion, and life. (Harrelson)

I cannot speak to the use of ordinary gifts to reveal divine glory and presence on the international and national stage, those stories have not yet been shared. I can speak to the use of ordinary gifts that reveal divine glory and presence this past week, where people in this community, in this parish gave of themselves for the other from compassion. I see God’s glory and presence in their actions. I know the other sees God’s glory and presence in their actions.

Last week I mentioned holding the sovereignty of God in tension with human action. Today’s stories from Exodus show divine sovereignty and human action jointing weaving a history few could see. They help us to see last week’s local events as another sequence in that same dance. They help us to trust that similar dance sequences are in the making amidst tragedies in far flung places. They help us to name miracles – miracles. They help us to ask “How shall we dance?”

Works Cited

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 11, Cycle A. 24 8 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. This Week Exodus. 24 8 2014.

Howard, Cameron B.R. Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10. 27 8 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169&gt;.

Lewis, Tanya. US drought has literally raised the ground, say scientists. 22 8 2014. <http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/0822/US-drought-has-literally-raised-the-ground-say-scientists-video&gt;.

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

Young’s Literal Translation. Olive Tree, n.d.




Robin, Joseph & a Canaanite

A sermon for 10th after Pentecost, Proper 15

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 1; Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

I expect all of us heard of Robin Williams’ suicide last week. Some of us grieve his death. I was surprised and not; I’ve been aware of his depression and other mental illness, for a long time. So this news has always been a possibility, no matter how small, and it generally is small, nonetheless, it was a surprise.

I was also surprised by the public response. Many expressed how deeply his work touched them; others revealed the Glory of God in this tragedy by articulating the truth about mental illness and depression. All of us likely know someone who has depression or a mental illness. You know about Edwin; you may even know about his father’s, mental illness and subsequent suicide. Depression and other mental illnesses are not something that will pass with time. If you have a family member or friend who has depression or mental illness encourage them to get help, as they would with any disease. If you have depression or mental illness please get help, as you would with any disease.

I was really surprised and angered by the torrent of ugly comments towards his daughter; how some tried to build up their own status by using, actually abusing the tragedy. There have been significant boundary violations that have done harm to those already grieving. These trespassers also harm themselves; for as you denigrate another’s humanity you denigrate own humanity; when you deny another grace you deny yourself grace. Beside grace is God’s and no matter how we may want it otherwise we have nothing to say about how and to whom God dispenses Grace.

In healing the man born blind, in John 9, Jesus teaches us to proclaim the glory of God, in any tragedy we encounter. We can proclaim the glory of God in the tragedy of William’s death, by taking a look at ourselves in how we handle our and our family’ mental health; and ~ how we manage the boundaries in our own lives. Joseph’s story has a lot to teach us.

Since last week Joseph is falsely accused of impropriety and imprisoned. He correctly interprets Pharaoh’s cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams. Two years later, Pharaoh dreams; and no one can interpret them. The cupbearer remembers Joseph’s interpretation, and tells Pharaoh. Joseph interprets dreams about fat and skinny cows and ears of corn, is promoted to high office, and essentially runs Egypt preparing for and into the time of famine.

When food gets scarce Jacob sends 10 sons to get food. Joseph plays with them; he demands Benjamin (his only full brother) come to Egypt and that Simeon stays as surety. Jacob refuses until food run out; then he relents, it’s either that or everyone starves to death. Again Joseph plays with his brothers, this time by setting Benjamin up; as he was setup by Pharaoh’s wife. Benjamin is arrested for theft, and sentenced to serve Joseph as slave for his offense. Judah pleads for his life and we enter this morning’s story.

In a theophany like scene, Joseph identifies himself, tells his brother not to fear, and reveals what God has done, and is going to do.  (Fretheim) Joseph says all this is God’s doing. But is it? There are all sort of boundary violations, beginning with Jacob’s extreme favoritism towards Joseph, then the brothers’ murderous scheme, which ends in blatant profiteering by selling him into slavery; and finally, Joseph, who now has all the power, maliciously plays with his brothers, manipulating them for all he is worth. There is no question God is present in all this; but to place all the causality on God, effectively relives, Jacob, the brothers and Joseph of all their responsibility for the harm they’ve done to each other, and likely others. To glean the truth, we have the arduous task of holding human free will and the sovereignty of God in dynamic tension with each other. God does not manipulate humanity. And yes, Divine will prevails, but that is because of God’s indomitable strength, known as perseverance. Ponder God as the widow in Luke’s story of the unjust judge!

In the end, Joseph breaks down. Stepping out of his veneer of Egyptian royalty (NIB, Interpretation) and crossing the boundary back into his place of intimacy and vulnerability of family, he reveals who he is, and the process of reconciliation ~ begins.  (Brueggemann) (Fretheim) There is more to come, finish reading the rest of Genesis and witness the drama unfold.

The Joseph story cycle, shows us both the harm of inappropriately crossing boundaries, and the good of repentance, changing directions, and moving back across the boundary to begin healing the bonds of shattered family relationships. However, there are boundaries outside our families, as a woman from Canaan teaches us.

Before we get to the story of pagan-land, (Hoezee) there is Jesus’ encounter with Pharisees about washing hands. We are all concerned about washing hands, as a matter of hygiene. Keep it up, that is not what this story is about. Washing hands, is really all about a priestly, probably Pharisee priestly discipline. There wasn’t an expectation on the general Jewish population, to wash their hands. This discipline is about cleanliness and uncleanliness, which is all about being pure, or impure, which is all about being holy, and able to enter into God’s presence.  In short, the Pharisee / priest are saying: “We keep this strict doctrinal discipline. Why don’t you?”  (Brueggemann) (Fretheim)

Some Christian scholars read this as Jesus trashing Jewish purity laws; Jewish scholars do not. (Interpretation) Jesus is crossing boundaries, placing ethical behavior, heart stuff, above legal behavior. (Brueggemann) Now we cross a geographical boundary into Tyre and Sidon, and what a difference we see. 

Jesus and his disciples are in thoroughly Gentile territory. To Jewish people it is a spiritual slum. (Hoezee, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 15:10-28) They encounter, are accosted by a woman with a very sick child, she is demon possessed. She uses proper Jewish divine language; “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Strange for an unclean outsider to know. The only time Jesus ignore a cry for help, he ignores her cry. (Hoezee, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 15:10-28) The disciples tell him to send her away. Speaking to himself, or answering them he says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman recognizing his authority and power, (Carter) following proper custom paying homage to him, kneels and once more asks for help. (Hoezee, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 15:10-28) In one of the most uncomfortable lines in scripture he answers: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Somehow knowing the “Son of David has so much power that there is enough power for the house of Israel and more than enough left over for her,” (Carter) she replies “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus acknowledges her faith, and pronounces her daughter healed.

A couple of things:

  1. Jesus calls her and her children dogs; it’s an insult; there’s no way around it.
  2. The Canaanite woman appears to know about the feeding of the 5000; more than disciples, who were there.
  3. To get caught up in a discussion about what Jesus knows or doesn’t and why he says what he says is a convenient way of avoiding the striking truth revealed here.

Remember what we learned about what defiles? Jesus puts ethics above law in putting emphasis on what comes out of the heart via the mouth. The Canaanite woman’s heart: knows who Jesus is; her heart is clean, and pure. (Carter) She shatters the doctrinal boundary between Gentiles and Jews; and Jesus acknowledges it. The Canaanite woman challenges all our boundaries: around women, around race, around sexual orientation, around nationality, around education, around how we worship or understand God, around any and everything by which we declare that they are unclean, impure, or otherwise unworthy to be in God’s presence. (Fretheim) My colleague Steve Pankey cast the Nones, the twenty percent of largely younger Americans who are spiritual but not religious, as the Canaanite woman. If we want to know where they are, we should look at our behavior first.  (Pankey)

We have crossed many boundaries this morning. I want to be clear that not all boundaries are bad, many protect us. Moreover, you can cross a boundary causing harm, but also to restore hope and begin healing. In the end whenever we approach a boundary we’ve only two questions to ask:

  1. In crossing this boundary do I move deeper into God’s presence?
  2. In crossing this boundary do I invite others into deeper relationship with God?

When the answer is no, stay put. When the answer is yes, mimic a Canaanite woman.


 Works Cited

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation. Ed. Patrick D Miller Jr and Paul J Achtemeie. Vol. Genesis. Louisville, n.d.

Carter, Warren. “Commentary on Matthew.” 17 8 2014. Working Preacher.

Fretheim, Terence E. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Genesis. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. 1. 2003. 12 vols.

Hoezee, Scott. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 15:10-28.” 17 8 2014. Center for Excellence in Preaching.—. This Week Genesis. 17 8 2014.

Pankey, Steve. “A house of prayer for all people.” n.d. Draughting Theology. Word Press. <https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/27985378/&gt;.








Dare to Dream

A sermon for 9th after Pentecost, Proper 14

Genesis 37:1-4; Psalm 105, 1-6,16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

When we left Jacob last week, he was settling in Shechem. Since then, there has been a very unpleasant conflict with the neighbors about the treatment of one of his daughters and her brothers’ violent response. At God’s instruction he has moved to Bethel. Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin; and later Isaac dies. Jacob and company end up in Canaan, where Isaac once lived.

We know Joseph is his father’s favorite, being the oldest son of Rachael, his favored wife. His demonstrates his favoritism by giving him a robe; we’ve heard of it as a coat of many colors; which is a mistranslation; though we really don’t know what the words mean, (Brueggemann) we do know it is long, with long sleeves, in a time when laborers coats were sleeveless, (Sermon Suite) and is certainly a sign of special favor.

Joseph doesn’t exactly get along with his brothers. Giving his father poor reports about them doesn’t help. Neither do his dreams.

He has two dreams: one about sheaves of grain harvested by his brothers, bowing down to the one he harvested; a second about the sun, moon and eleven stars, his father, mother and 11 brothers, all bowing down to him. Even as Jacob reprimands him about the dreams, you get the sense he wonders; after all Jacob knows the power of dreams.

Some undisclosed time later, Jacob sends Joseph after his brothers, who are way out in the field tending sheep. You wonder what he was thinking, or was he just hoping for the best. Whatever the reason he regrets it, for the rest of his life.

As Joseph comes over the horizon, his brothers instantly recognize that long robe with its distinctive sleeves. They plan to kill him. Ruben, the oldest, and therefore the one accountable, tells them not to shed blood and suggests putting him a dry well, planning on rescuing him later. They do, and settle down to lunch. In the midst of lunch Ishmaelite traders appear on the horizon. Judah appeals to their financial interest (Brueggemann) and suggest selling Joseph to the traders, and they all agree. When the Midianite traders pass by, they sell him for 20 pieces of silver. Sound familiar? Joseph is taken off to Egypt. When Ruben discovers the empty well, he rages about what to do. They all scheme to drench the robe in goat’s blood and send it to their father. Jacob instantly recognizes it, and begins to lament his son’s death, declaring he will mourn until he goes to Sheol, the Jewish place of death. In the meantime, today’s story ends as Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt.

There are several intriguing points in this story. One of which comes from the curious bit about Ruben and Judah saving Joseph from their brothers’ vengeance; made all the more curious by the plan to sell him to Ishmaelite traders, who turn out to be Midianite. Many scholar believe this is two traditions woven together (Brueggemann), (Fretheim) from the tribal descendants of the brothers. Also note the traders are descendants of Ishmael and Midian, Abraham’s sons by Hagar, surrogate mother, and Keturah, his second wife, whom he married after Sarah’s death. There are lots of competing interest here.

There is also Genesis’ theme of the younger son first that begins with Isaac, continues with Jacob, and is taken to extremes with Joseph (Schifferdecker) but it lays the ground work for David’s selection as King.

As a reminder, we know Genesis is written when Israel is in captivity in Babylon. They know about grief, disorientation and the collapse of what they thought was their dream, (Hoezee) just as Jacob laments, they lament.

And thus we come to the centrality of dreams. It’s unfortunate the lectionary leaves the dreams out. While it’s true their subject matter foreshadows events many years and a few chapter later and aren’t necessarily central to today’s story line, the existence of the dreams is core to seeing what’s happening. From now until the end of Genesis we see the theme shift from stories about individuals, to the story of a people.  (Fretheim) The dreams are the first key to this transition, because they are the first reference to political power. After hearing Joseph’s dreams his brothers question the idea that he … would reign over us? … have dominion over us? The Hebrew for ‘reign’ and ‘dominion’ more often translated ‘rule’ (Strong’s) are overt terms of political power. The dreams are about political power, political change.

The other aspect of dreams is the inherent conflict between those who benefit from the established order, like the older brothers, and a vision of another way. It’s a debate about hope, more precisely where hope is to be found. The conflict in Babylon is: is hope for the future in cooperating with their captors, or in the hidden hand of God? In Genesis the conflict is: is hope for the future in political structures of surrounding city/nation states, or in the hidden hand of God? Jacob believes hope, the promise of the covenant is gone, with Joseph’s death; if he even thought of it. The older brothers resist the dream with all they have. Kill the dreamer, and kill the dream.  (Brueggemann) It sounds so very familiar  ~ ah yes ~ familiar to the parable of the vineyard, where the workers kill the son, to sustain their benefit of working the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1, Mark 12:1, Luke 20:9)

We get a glimpse into the future in the last verse: “Meanwhile the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt …” Is the dream of the covenant over? Joseph, the youngest son, of the youngest son, of the youngest son, is in Egypt! God has not abandoned the covenant, God has not abandoned them. By the waters of Babylon, the story that flows from the dreams is a source of hope the Jews need to hear.

Today the waters of Babylon are threatened by militant extremists. Hawaii is recovering from the waters of hurricane Iselle, and threatened by hurricane Julio. The west is threatened by shrinking waters everywhere. Stable political, economic, and ideological structures are no longer so stable. There is the tendency to double down on what once was, from whence we think our security came.

But then, there are the dreamers, who see the world differently, who offer entirely different: views of power, ways of relating to each other, and understandings of justice, righteousness and salvation. The dreamers call for changes; some small, some big, some inconceivable. The challenge we face is do double down?  or we risk chasing the dream? I for one, place my hope in the hidden hand of God.

Works Cited

Brueggemann, Walter. INTERPRETATION. Ed. Patrick D Miller Jr and Paul J Achtemeie. Vol. Genesis. LOUISVILLE, n.d.

Fretheim, Terence E. The New Intrepreter’s Bible, Genesis. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. 1. 2003. 12 vols.

Hoezee, Scott. “Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28.” 10 8 2014. Working Preacher. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id&gt;.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Working Preacher Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21. 16 June 2014. PDF. 18 june 2014.

Sermon Suite. Proper 14 | OT 19, Cycle A. 10 8 2014. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/newsletter.html&gt;.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.





Wrath – Down – HWW – Heaven Wide Wrestling!

A sermon for Proper 13, Pentecost 8 (14 A)

Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17: 1-7, 16, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Welcome! to Wrath – Down; HWW – Heaven Wide Wrestling!

The story of Jacob wrestling with an unnamed persona till dawn is to often read a contest with winners and losers. But listen closely, it doesn’t read that way. As easily as he disables Jacob, a single move and his hip is disabled, you get the sense Jacob’s protagonist could have done so at any time. On the other hand you have to give Jacob credit, his hip is all messed up yet he hangs on asking the protagonist for a blessing. It’s a curious thing to ask for, especially for a guy who stole his brother’s blessing. Even more significant is the blessing is actually a name change, Jacob to Israel, which means – “God strives,”  “God rules,” “God heals,” or “he strives against God.” (Holman Bible Dictionary) And you remember that in the Old Testament when there’s a name change like Abram to Abraham or Sari to Sarah it’s time to pay attention, transformation is about. So what is going on? It will help to take a few steps back, and a couple of step forward to catch a fuller story.

When we left Jacob last week, he’d gotten married, twice. Between then and now: Leah has had 4 sons; Bilhah, Rachael’s maid has 2 sons; Zilpah, Leah’s maid has 2 sons; then Leah has 2 more sons; and finally Rachael has a son, Joseph, remember him. Once again Jacob makes an effort to leave but Laban makes it difficult there’s some negotiating about flocks and herds that Jacob seems to deceptively turn to his advantage. Laban’s sons notice, Jacob is increasingly eager to leave, and lo and behold he has a vision, God tells him to go home. He does so, not quite in the dark of night, but secretly enough that Laban chases him down, perhaps motivated by missing household gods. (Remember this is, a generation or so before Moses.) The short story is Laban catches Jacob; after a few arduous and difficult debates, they forge a covenant that basically says: you stay on that side of this rock pile and I’ll on this side of it.  Laban’s pursuit seems to be over. Jacob and company are safe. Right?

Now if you recall, 20 years ago when Jacob left home he was fleeing because he had stolen his brother Esau’s blessing. He’s justifiably concerned his brother will still be angry so he sends messengers ahead; they report: Esau a’ coming ~ with 400 men. Jacob immediately beings developing plans. First he divides his company into two so if Esau destroys one the other may escape. Then he prays, he appeals to the God of his father, acknowledging he’s not the most worthy person, but that God did tell him to return home, which he is doing, and he seeks divine protect, more like a guarantee. As night falls, he creates sets of goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys, each with herders, who get specific instructions for delivering the gifts to Esau. Jacob is hoping the sheer magnitude will appease him. Finally he sends what is left of that company and his family across the river Jabbok, which curiously enough means pouring out. (Strong’s) With that done with all aspects of his rather complex plan is in place, Jacob is alone, a rare thing for him,  (Hoezee Genesis) last time we know he was alone we slept on a rock, and dreamed of a heavenly ladder.

Suddenly, he is wrestling this unnamed persona. Whoever it is, wrestles with Jacob till the earliest red of dawn begins to streak the sky. It’s the time for epic transformations. (Willis) This has been a different encounter; there are no slick plans, no turns of trickery, no fleeing in the night, this time Jacob stands he fights, openly, with all he has. (Willis)

This time Jacob is fighting for something, for a blessing, an honest blessing. When all is done, as Jacob is limping around he names the place “Peniel” which means “face of God,” because, as he says: I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.

Now that we have caught up to ourselves, we just need a step or two forward. In the morning Jacob arranges his company to meet Esau: Bilhah, Zilpah and their sons Leah and her sons, finally Rachel and her son. Just when we think Jacob might have changed, more scheming oh well. (Pay attention to the order.) But Jacob is surprised, Esau runs to meet this brother, he embraces him, greets him with a kiss. They banter back and forth about all the gifts, Jacob insisting, and Esau declining, because he has more than enough.

In some ways it traditional back and forth. In other ways its two brothers talking past each other. But, in the midst of it all Jacobs says: … for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. (Genesis 33:10) Shortly afterwards they make arrangements for Jacob to complete his journey, and Esau returns home. Jacob is to follow, but cuts his journey short, and settles in Succoth.

Notice: near a river named emptying out, where he wrestles with some divine persona at a place he names “face of God” he tells his brother seeing your face is like seeing the face of God. Perhaps Jacob is maturing into the person God wishes him, wishes us all to be. Just perhaps he is learning compassion.

Yes, and no; it is the compassion Jesus shows, when he heals the sick, and feeds 5000 men and their families, as he is grieving his cousin  John the Baptist’s death. Yes, it is the same emotion. No, it’s not the care for, or response to someone’s hurt, the sympathy we and Webster associate with ‘compassion.’ The Greek root means to be disturbed in your gut. It’s the same root as spleen, because the ancients believed the emotions are seated in one’s bowels, not as we do in one’s heart. The Latin root helps us more, it means ‘to suffer with.’ In short to have compassion, you share in the same emotion; as Fredrick Buchner say’s it’s living in someone else’s skin.  (Buechner) (Pankey Proper 13) Jesus is feeling John’s death, he is feeling the illness of the crowd, he is feeling the hunger of the masses who are chronically under-fed, another less than well-known truth of Pax Romania. (Carter) He has compassion, and acts. Jacob is feeling Esau’s joy. Perhaps he is feeling God’s presence, in ways beyond his permeate limp. He; well, at this point the story is still in process.

One more note: So far we’ve put all our attention on Jacob. But there’s another character who deserves our attention ~ God.  Amy Merrill Willis writes:

the story also challenges any attempt to domesticate God and make the deity fit into some easy mold, whether that is “the wrathful God” or the “God who meets my needs.” … . It attests to the complex reality of a God who is intimately engaged with humans, who seeks them out, and blesses them, it even reminds us that this God is wily, unpredictable, and dangerous. (Willis)

Jacob’s is the story of a man’s journey with God, and how he is transformed. It’s also the story of our journey, how we are in process of transformation. Most importantly of all it’s the story of God who journeys with us and transforms us once in Jesus continually in the Holy Spirit. In a world full of planes, tunnels, and Ebola, it is easy to get distracted, to make our own plans to secure our own future. Perhaps we are to have compassion with God, to live in God’s skin, to be the divine reflection we are made to be. How? I don’t have a clue, except its unfolding for us right here, right now; I just hope we don’t have to wrestle till dawn to learn, but then again … to see the face of God.



Works Cited

Buechner, Fredrick. Beyond Words. n.d.
Carter, Warren. “Commentary on Matthew.” 20 7 2014. Working Preacher.
Hoezee, Scott. This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching. 27 7 2014.
“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse , n.d.
Pankey, Steve. “Draughting Theology.” n.d. Word Press. <https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/27985378/&gt;.
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.
Willis, Amy Merrill. “Commentary on Genesis.” 2014. Working Preacher. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2149&gt;.