Changing Hearts

A sermon for Proper 15; Genesis 45:1-15., Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 

 

Is Joseph right God is involved in his story. A question today’s Genesis reading raises is, well it is lots of versions of the same question, how is God involved? Did God cause his brothers to sell him into slavery? Did God cause Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce Joseph, who refused, enraging her to the point of accusing him of seduction leading to his being thrown in Jail (Gen 39)? Did God cause the baker and cup bearer to behave suspiciously causing their arrest and imprisonment? Did God send them dreams? Did God give Joseph the interpretation? Did God cause Joseph to share it (Genesis 40)? Did God send Egypt’s Pharaoh dreams? Did God send Joseph the interpretation of this dream also, and cause him to share it (Genesis 41)? Did God inspire Pharaoh to give Joseph power over all Egypt (Genesis 41)? Did God direct all of Joseph’s instructions about how to prepare for a famine? Did God send the famine to Egypt and all the surrounding area? Did God direct the back and forth between Zaphenathpaneah; (Joseph’s Egyptian’s name) and his brothers (Gen 41-44)? Did God lead Jacob to make the crushing decisions to send Benjamin to Egypt, and to move the whole clan to Egypt?

We read this morning that Joseph believes God caused it all. We do not read if his brothers believe him. However, it is reasonable to believe they should have, because, in the day, gods were the causal agents of the cosmos; they were responsible for everything from sun rise, to eclipses, to the stars of the night sky. The question now becomes, how do we think God acts today? We no longer believe in a host of godetts controlling all the cosmos. So why would God micromanage human behavior? I do believe God is intimately and actively present in the world and in our lives. I do not believe God causes anything. I believe God/Spirit suggests many things from all imaginable to many things unimaginable. But it is up to those who hear the divine whisper it is up to those who receive divine inspiration to act. To believe in a God who is intimately and actively present, but is not the active causal agent of anything at the same time makes every bit as much sense as believing in a God who is God the Creator, God incarnate, and God the continuing Holy Spirit presence at the same time; which, as you know, is a basic tenet of our faith.

More than raising the difficult question of how God is present in the world, this morning’s reading is also a source of hope. No matter how badly Abraham’s 4 generations of misfits mess up following God’s call, God does not abandon them. Paul says it powerfully,

God has not rejected God’s people. … the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Folks, God isn’t going to let you, or me, or anyone else go.

The Gospel reading for this morning is another source of hope. There is some considerable debate as to what is really going on here. Is Jesus as insensitive as it appears? And no, we cannot take away the insult of “dogs” by insisting it really means household puppy pets; it is an insult. And yes, it is not the picture of Jesus we so cherish; none the less, it is Jesus. This is a story of the fully human Jesus. We do not tend to read Gospel stories this way, this one is clear. One way or another, Jesus and his disciples have ended up in Canaanite territory; which for us would be like being in North Korea, or ISIS territory, or some other geography we consider to be the domain of an existential enemy. A woman asks for help healing her daughter. Jesus is silent. The disciples tell him to send her away. In a position of reverence and worship, she asks again. Jesus speaks an inconvenient truth, he has been sent to the house of Israel, the gifts he has are not to be wasted on Israel’s enemies, the dogs. The woman says, “even the dogs eat the crumbs.” The human Jesus is inspired, recognizes a truth he had not previously seen, Canaanite’s are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) so all people are God’s people, and then he grants her daughter wholeness, shalom. In the process Jesus knows shalom; he now has a more complete, a whole, or closer to it, image of God’s people and the love of God. He has it as fully human. This means we can have a similar experience, we can learn a more complete image of God’s people, and the power of God’s love.

In this morning’s collect, we ask to

receive thankfully the fruits of [Jesus’] redeeming work.

We now realize they may come to us in the image of crumbs, discarded leftovers, and that is more than enough to bring us Shalom. All this is important because of the events prior to, of, and that have and are following Charlottesville.

This morning’s Gospel story reveals the ugly truth of Israel’s superiority relationship over the Canaanites, we are better than you. Charlottesville reveals that there continues to be in the United States those who believe white people are superior to other people, we are better than you. Jesus learned that thinking is wrong, and acted on his learning by bringing shalom to a mother and daughter. We must learn white supremacy is wrong, and we must learn the as Jesus did, we must also act. God is our inspiration, but God will not be the causal actor bringing healing and shalom to the errors of white supremacy and other forms of racial discrimination and oppression. We are inspired to see the truth. We are called to act.

Drawing on Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry points the way. He wrote

 the way through the chaos … is the way of love … the way to be right and reconciled with God … and each other.

The life, ministry, and death of Jesus teach us that the way of love does not confront violence with violence (Curry). We must not confront armed Neo Nazi, White Supremacist, KKK hate with arms of our own; and there were Antifa counter protesters in Charlottesville who were armed. We may have to practice keeping a nonviolent manner, which includes the nature and tone of our speech, in the face of a demeaning, violent charge, as the Civil Rights movements of the sixties practiced. We will have to remind ourselves, that like generations Abraham’s people, we will mess it up; but that God will never abandon us, the Great Shepherd walks with us through every valley darkened by shadows of evil intent. We will have to remember Jesus healed the Canaanite woman after he was healed from a limited view of God’s people; so, our first step may be to look deeply into our own hearts. Remembering, not only did Jesus have a change of heart, so did Joseph; in the previous couple of chapters, he is abusive and highly manipulative towards his brothers, including Benjamin, and his father. We too can see and repent of a less than divine heart.

I do not know if you have realized it, and I have not read much and haven’t heard anything about it, nonetheless, there were three armed opposing groups in Charlottesville, the Police, who should have been, some of the Alt-right, and some of the Antifa of the counter protestors. Not a shot was fired. Just maybe all sorts of people followed the Spirit’s whispering guidance; who knows, I don’t know; but, I find it both hopeful and just may be a sign of how the Kingdom of God is present. Which means we have nothing, nothing at all, keeping us from joining our neighbors, of all races, nations, and creeds and powerfully, peacefully, and lovingly face down the forces of racism and discrimination that we face right here, right now; and by that, I mean right here in Blytheville, in Mississippi County, in Arkansas. And remember God is with us to the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20).


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 15A Genesis 45: 1-15 . 20 8 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “On Breaking Boundaries, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.” 20 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Curry, Michael. “Presiding Bishop reflects on Charlottesville and its.” Episcopal Church Public Affairs. New York, 17 8 2018. web. <publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 15 A Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28. 20 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Learning How to Preach Again.” 20 8 2017. Working preacher.

Lose, David. Pentecost 11 A: The Canaanite Woman’s Lesson. 20 8 2017.

McLaren, Brian. What I Saw in Charlottesville. 14 8 2017. <http://auburnseminary.org/what-i-saw-in-charlottesville/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28. 20 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Tanner, Beth L. Commentary on Genesis 45:1-15. 20 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

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3,2,1

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

I rarely title a sermon at this point; however, today’s title is 3, 2, 1; 3 news stories, 2 bible stories, and a revelation.

We start with the continuing Bible story of Abraham’s family and the state of the promise. A lot has happened in two weeks. So much so we’ll simply have to leave it at Esau and Jacob reconcile, jointly attend Isaac’s burial, and go their own ways. Jacob’s sons are grown the youngest are in their teens. Joseph, the first son of his favorite wife Rachel, is his favorite son. Jacob shows it, giving him a long-sleeved robe, which is a public sign of favor (Gaventa and Petersen). Joseph doesn’t help by telling the story of two dreams. We do not read those verses this morning, but both dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him and that they and their parents will bow down to him. Once again, the younger is favored over the older. We pick up the story with older brothers out tending sheep. Jacob sends Joseph to check up on them. It seems like a silly idea given the public nature of their strained relationship. And through the help of a stranger, he finds them. They see him coming and plot to kill him. Ruben, the oldest brother intercedes and convinces them to put Joseph in a pit for now; because he plans to rescue him later. However, led by Judah they decide to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midian traders. Judah, may have seen a rescue opportunity here, or he may have been motivated by profit, we cannot really tell (Fretheim). In the end, Joseph is sold by his brothers to his cousins (remember Ishmaelites and Midianites are descendants of Abraham) (Fretheim) Joseph is sold to his cousins for 20 pieces of silver. We don’t read it; but, the brothers take Joseph’s special coat, rip it up, drench it goat’s blood and use it to tell Jacob that Joseph is dead. What was a sign of favor has become a sign of death. Yet again egregious, terribly frightful behavior puts God’s promise at risk. For the next 13 chapters, God is silent (Bratt).

We have 1 grim bible story. Now for 3 news stories.

On August 4, Religious News Service published a commentary about how Trump’s evangelical prophets are curiously silent about the RAISE Act, to reform immigration by deemphasizing family relationships. Their silence is curious because in 1980 Jerry Farwell wrote

The family is the fundamental building block and the basic unit of our society, and its continued health is a prerequisite for a strong and prosperous nation. It appears that the President’s house prophets either tell him what he wants to hear or forever hold their peace.

Mark Silk goes on to explore the story of Israel’s King Ahab’s effort to get King Jehoshaphat of Judea to join him in waging war against Ramoth. They consult Ahab’s 400 prophets who say God supports the plan. Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced and asks if there isn’t there another prophet. Well, there is, but Ahab doesn’t like him because he never says anything in his favor. Nonetheless, Micaiah is consulted. He too supports the plan. Strangely enough, Ahab insists that he tells the truth, which he does, painting of a picture of sheep without a shepherd. Stranger yet

19 Micaiah continued,

 “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.

20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that.

 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

 22 “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

 “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

 23 “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings)

Ahab doesn’t believe the truth he asked for, imprisons Micaiah, goes off to war and is killed (Silk).

On August 8, the Washington Post prints a story about Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical supporters, releasing a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He cited Romans 13 giving the government authority to deal with evil doers. It is a complex rationale. Christians in Germany debated this same passage about supporting the Nazi government in WWII. They split some supporting the government, others forming a resistance (Bailey); including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the author of Cost of Discipleship who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, two weeks before it was liberated by US soldiers, and a month before the end of the War in Europe (Wikipedia). By the way, Romans 13 can also give Kim Jong Un the authority to govern (Bailey).

On Friday David Brooks, a New York Times columnist whom I greatly admire wrote a column arguing Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, should resign over the firing of James Damore, the author of the controversial memo about women and technology. His reason is not that he supports the memo, the reason is Pichai failed to stand up to the mob. It turns out Damore cited multiple credible scientific sources about the difference between men and women and how our brains are formed; the measurable differences in how men are interested in things, and women are interested in people. It involves the continuing conflict between the debate over environment and genes in shaping human behavior, which it is turning out to be far more complex and far more interrelated than first anybody ever thought. Multiple credible scientist backup Damore’s summary of the research.

Moreover, Damore makes sure to write that the research applies only to populations not to individuals. Brooks goes on to note that we live our lives as individuals, and it is true women in the tech world face a difficult challenge. He continues, there is real tension here between the competing truths of population science versus gender equality. Brooks acknowledges that the media did a terrible job of covering the complexity of the story and its competing truths. He states that Damore was hounded just as mobs on college campuses have been hounding speakers whose positions they disagree with. It doesn’t help that Google’s diversity officer also ignored the scientific subtlety of the memo and declared it to advance incorrect assumptions about gender.

For Brooks, Pichai fails when he chooses not to wrestle with the tension between population research and individual experience. Instead, he followed the mob writing

To suggest a group of our colleagues, have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.

which Brooks writes is “a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo.”

The risk Brooks sees is that

We are at a moment when mobs on the left and on the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats (Brooks).

Brooks is right. It is as Matt Skinner wrote

We’re talking a lot right now about preaching in a culture of fear stoked by media, political polarization, and cultural panic (Skinner).

Now to connect the five dots. The story of Joseph, the whole story of Abraham’s family, raises the difficult question of how God works in the world (Fretheim). Is God the single cause of every action? Or is everything random? Or does God just make do, with halfhearted, risk free action or with the evil intentions of the likes of Joseph’s brothers, or the selfish intentions of Joseph, or the biased actions of Jacob, or the failed efforts of Ruben, or the profit driven efforts of Judah to avert death and gain wealth (Epperly) (Fretheim)? In part, we learn that evil and or sinful behavior can disturb God’s plans, but they cannot stop them (Fretheim). But, that does not mean we can ignore the abusive, oppressive, self-absorbed, greedy evil, sinful actions we see.

We also see in this story that if everyone one is guilty we ignore the role of family and community (Fretheim). There is such a thing as social / community guilt. If we turn God into an all controlling deity we negate our responsibility and encourage passivity in the face of evil (Fretheim). Neither Godly determinism nor Godly noninterference, or interaction grasps the truth. The truth is in the fifth dot; the boat.

Jesus has sent the disciples across the sea. After his prayer time, he sets out walking across the sea to catch up with them. They see him and are terrified he is a ghost. Jesus tells them “I am, ~ take heart, ~ do not be afraid.” They recognize him; well maybe. Peter asks, “If it is you” which is so close to what Satan says in the wilderness temptations. Jesus says “come” and Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus, until he sees the wind, his heart is transformed, and he panics and cries out for help. Jesus reaches out for him and gets both to safety.

Once they are in the boat Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?” We always presume Jesus is talking about Peter’s misadventure on the water. However, living with an artist, who favors icons full of images that suggest the true story, I was caught by the realization that the boat is an ancient symbol ~ of the church (Hoezee). It is plausible Jesus is asking Peter, Why, did you step away from your faith community? Why did you step away from the church (Richter)?

We can glean that when we face the winds of a tempestuous world, and as we have explored, they are wildly stormy at the moment, the place from which we should operate is from the God/Jesus/Spirit’s spigot of the strength the church. A further gleaning is that Jesus did not hesitate, immediately he reached out. In this, we learn that Jesus will never let you go. God has not, is not, and will never give up on you, will never give up on his church (Epperly).

 I had completed my writing Friday evening. Saturday morning as the news from Charlottesville broke, I knew I should add a post script. So, this is my post script, albeit, not following the previous end. However, before Charlottesville, a story from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Earlier this year a protest arose over the Seminary’s decision to award Rev. Tim Keller the Kuyper Prize,

because the Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals.

After multiple phone calls including protesters and Rev Keller, Dr. Craig Barnes, president of the seminary, decided it was more important to hear Rev. Keeler speak than to award a prize, so the awarding the prize was set aside. Additionally, a preaching event featuring female and LBGTQ+ voices was organized. People were invited to attend both events. There were no disruptive protest on the days of the event.

Dr. Barnes notes that people who disagreed spoke to each other were a significant factor. He also believes that Princeton is a Christ Centered community, that we all belong to Christ, and as long as we are clear about that there can be disagreements, but everybody still belongs (Barnes).

Now to Charlottesville. If you do not know, White Nationalists organized a protest over removing a statue of Gen. Lee from a city park formerly named for him, now known as emancipation park. There was a large counter protest. For unknown reasons, the barriers separating the groups began to come down, the police retreated and the two sides engaged in a fight, in which people were injured, including a police officer. Later a car drove into a group of counter protesters. Everybody condemned the violence. Jeff Sessions, Melina Trump, Gov. McAuliffe, his Republican election opponent Ed Gillespie Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, and President Donald Trump condemned the actions. But, no one is acknowledging how their previous language and behaviors contributed to the problem. It does. The white nationalist protesters chanted Nazi-era slogans and phrases like

 “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke said

We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back (Tiefenthaler).

How we act in response to events or words that offend us ~ matters. What we say in the face of what we oppose matters. Our actions that denigrate, exclude, or harm others is never helpful.

Charlottesville is not a single one-off incident. It is not the sole responsibility of the alt right or the left or whatever position we see the other as. Charlottesville is only the latest example of the breakdown in civil discourse lead by our National legislators who will not even speak to each other. It is the result of decades of increasing separation of people with opposing views. It is the result of the failure of the Church to take a stand in the public square, putting our theological differences aside, and proclaiming that everyone belongs to God in Christ. The result is we are losing the ability to talk to each other. And if we cannot do that; how can we negotiate our differences; if we cannot talk to each other how can we work for the common good of all God’s people?

So yes, we live in stormy times. And yes, we are called to be prophets, and speak the radical truth in the face arrogance, discrimination, oppression, and especially mob “they versus us” think. For there is no they, everyone is made in the image of God. And yes, we are called to courageously mediate the tension between complex conflicting truths of divergent views of the world. This means we are also called to listen respectfully and deeply to what “they” have to say and to be open to be changed. For there is no absolute truth, other than God’s love for all creation. And yes, we are to stand between any mob, to the left or to the right and their intended scape goat, bringing them, by our hand, into the safety of our boat, into the safety of the church. For there is no moment when God/Jesus/ Spirit is not by our side, is not by their side.

Finally, our 1 revelation. In our opening collect we ask for the wisdom and strength to think and do what is right. And we can always make the effort so long as we Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face (Ps 105:4) for his strength faileth never and his face is always shining upon you.

References

Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. ‘God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says. 13 8 2018. <washingtonpost.com /news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/08/god-has-given-trump-authority-to-take-out-kim-jong-unevangelical-adviser -says>.

Barnes, Craig. What I learned from our seminary’s conflict about hosting. 16 8 2017. <christiancentury.org /article/what-i-learned-our-seminary-conflict-about-hosting-tim-keller>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 14 A Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28 . 13 8 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O. 11 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/11/opinion/sundar-pichai-google-memo-diversity.html>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 14 A Matthew 14: 22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 10 A: Something More. 13 8 2017.

Richter, Amy. “Our Faith inside the Boat, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.” 13 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Silk, Mark. Keep up the good work, evangelical prophets! 4 8 2017. <religionnews.com /2017/08/04/keep-up-the-good-work-evangelical-prophets/>.

Skinner, MAtt. That Sinking Feeling. 13 8 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 14:22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Tanner, Beth L. Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tiefenthaler, Ainara. Car Hits Crowd After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Violence. 12 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-protest-white-nationalist.html>.

Wikipedia. “wikipedia.org.” n.d. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 13 8 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder&gt;.

 

 

Persistence and Resistance

A Sermon for The Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36, Psalm 99

 

Let’s see I graduated college in 1975, meaning I graduated high school in 1972. No, I didn’t do four years of college in three, I simply got High School credit for college Freshman English. This means I finished the 6th grade in in 1968. So, sometime between 1963 and then one of my sisters, came home from school and told my mother she would get an “A” in health if mom quit smoking. There is nothing quite so persistent as a child on a mission for an “A”; unless it is a newly reformed smoker. By the way, there is nothing more resistant than someone threatened by change. Our mom did quit smoking, but it was many years later, and it had nothing to do with a child’s health grade. The readings from both Exodus and Luke this morning have elements of persistence and resistance.

The story we heard from Exodus is best read with the story of The Golden Calf in the back ground. God established the covenant with Moses; but before they can even get it finished Israel breaks it. Moses convinces God not to obliterate Israel. And they renewed the covenant (Yarchin)

By the time it is all over Moses has spent so much time with God his face is either filled with horns, near eastern iconography often depict divinities with horns, or his face shines with the glory of God’s presence (Gaventa and Petersen). We don’t know because the word ‘shine’ or qā-ran seems clear enough, except that nowhere in scripture does it have either meaning, so we don’t really know what they are trying to say (Fretheim). But whatever it is the Israelites recognize that Moses mediates the restored covenant (Yarchin). It doesn’t matter if Moses’ face is shining, or covered with horns, his face is a reminder that God is close; perhaps too close for comfort. Moses and God are persistent, but Israel is resistant.

56 Books, and a many more centuries later Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He takes Peter, James, and John with him. They see his face change and his clothes become brilliant white, and witness Moses and Elijah appear and begin speaking with Jesus. They get a behind-the-curtain glimpse of Jesus’ glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter wants to make dwellings or tents for them. Typically, we have been told Peter is trying to keep Jesus in the box he is comfortable with. We see Peter as being resistant. But that is not necessarily what is happening. It is possible that Peter does understand that something transformative is happening. Remember that just a while ago he proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah (Luke 9:20b). He may only partially grasp the significance of the event. Nonetheless, Peter recognizes this is a turning point, (Lewis). So far, no resistance. What he wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place (Culpepper). He wants to capture it, to capture the feeling, and hold it forever (Lewis).

A past mentor of mine Fr. Gray Temple wrote Molten Soul. The idea he presents is that to be changed by the Spirit requires that our soul be malleable like molten metal so that, they can be shaped like molten metal. It is a powerful experience, it is invigorating, it is energizing. The experience changes everything, it changes everything about ourselves, it changes everything about how we see the world around us, and where we see God’s presence in the world. It is so strong that often our initial reaction is to try to hold on to that moment, in part so we can pass it on. Just like Peter tries to do. The trouble is that when we do that, we often freeze our souls, and what we try to pass on is much more like a hard metal bar, and in passing it on, it is like hitting folks over the head with it. Have you ever been hit in the head by a metal bar? So maybe Peter and the other disciples show a kind of resistance.

Peter has had a molten soul experience on the mountain top. He wants to freeze it. Temple points out the danger. Alan Culpepper writes:

that the dangers of close encounters of the divine kind are that we fail to learn from them, we reject the experience, or we try to make them the norm and either withdraw,

 or as Temple writes assault others with it (Culpepper).

It would appear, from this story, that there is always a temptation to stay on the mountain top, or in glory’s light and to use that sacred space as a hiding place from the problems of the world (Cox). Peter recognizes that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed. He knows he can never be the same, and maybe, just maybe he doesn’t want that (Lewis). Once again resistance of some kind. Israel wants to distance themselves from the presence of God; they recognize that if they are too close they can be changed, not exactly like Moses, but changed nonetheless. They are either repelling, or rejecting, or claiming it can wait, or really it isn’t necessary, and you know that this is just not the right time (Lewis). Israel is definitely resisting. We also resist change that comes with divine encounters, or many other kinds of encounter.

The disciples wanted to build booths and stay on the mountaintop. But they could not stop time and live on in the radiance of that moment (Culpepper),  Neither could Israel; and neither can we stop time.

We cannot stay on the mountain top, we cannot continuously bask in glory’s light. God needs us to go down from the mountain and away from divine light and go out into the world, taking with us some of God’s transformative love with us to share with others (Cox). Discipleship involves following, and going on. Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading us and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced (Culpepper). Divine persistence.

Temple encourages us to encourage each other to keep our souls molten so we can continue to be shaped by the presence of the Spirit; but also, so we can share the presence of the Kingdom that is, as it always has been, right here, right now.


References

Cox, Jason. “Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration.” 6 8 2017. Sermons that Work.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Lewis, Karoline. Why We Need the Transfiguration. 8 2 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Temple, Gray. The Molten Soul. Church Publising Inc, 2000.
Yarchin, William. Commentary on Exodus 34:29-35. 6 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

Old Testament Parable

A sermon for Proper 12: Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 

This morning’s story is complex, and we only hear just a part of it; but, it is important to get the bigger picture, so here is Jacob and his Wives, the shorter story.

Jacob leaves Bethel heading to Laban. He comes to a well, and whenever we hear about a well we need to remember wedding bells. Remember Abraham’s servant finds Isaac’s wife at a well, it happens again and again (Gaventa and Petersen). And you are right, Jacob meets Laban’s youngest daughter at the well. He and Rachel fall in love. She takes him to meet her father, who takes a liking to Jacob. The next thing you know Jacob asks for Rachel.  We heard that story this morning. Jacob does not have a bride price, yes, in those ancient days men literally bought brides for a bride price; and it is not likely Isaac will give Jcob a bride price, given their recent history. So, Jacob suggests he works seven years for Rachel. It seems strange to our modern-day ears no matter what. And seven years sounds like a really long time; but, it does indicate the depths of Jacob’s love, and his valuation of a dowry for her (Fretheim). The deal is done. Seven years later, Jacob asks for his wife. Laban throws a big wedding feast. And in the morning, it was Leah! Jacob is stunned. He wants to know what happened. Laban tells him that here, the younger daughter is never given in marriage before the older daughter. However, Laban offers Jacob another deal, just seven more years for Rachel. Jacob accepts.

Some observations about this story. Jacob favoring Rachel over Leah is yet one more instance of the Genesis’ tradition of the younger over the older (Gaventa and Petersen). And at the same time Laban’s trickery results in a reversal of Jacob’s deceit of Esau, here the older replaces the younger (Harrelson). Even though he was clever and accomplished at deception it is not completely a surprise that Jacob is deceived, (Tanner). The ancient Near East custom was that the bride was brought veiled to the bridegroom. And it was a wedding with customary festival drinking (Ellingsen, Fretheim). There is an element of turn-about, Laban takes advantage of Jacob’s vulnerability just as Jacob took advantage of Esau. The cheater is cheated, the deceiver has been deceived (Fretheim). It may cause us to wonder if a birthright and a blessing are worth fourteen years of indentured servitude (Bratt). It may cause us to wonder if Jacob feels something of what Esau felt (Fretheim)? I also wonder how Rachel feels that her father replaces her with her older sister. It may be custom, nonetheless, as we shall hear, Rachel deeply loves Jacob. I also wonder how Leah feels that her father agrees to another marriage before her week of wedding celebration has barely started (Tanner).

 What follows is as disturbing a story as, well the whole story of Abraham’s family to this point. Jacob makes no effort to conceal his love for Rachel. However, Rachael, following the custom of wives in Abraham’s family is barren. But Leah, Leah is a bit of a baby factory, and has four sons (Bratt). Rachel not wanting to be out done and seeking the honor of bearing children and following Sarah’s example gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob to be a surrogate mother for her (Harrelson). She has two sons. Leah notices she is no longer producing children so she gives her maid Zilpha to Jacob to be a surrogate for her, and she has two sons. Rachel discovers that Leah has some mandrakes which are supposed to improve fertility (Harrelson). Leah isn’t likely to give those up so Rachel makes a deal with Leah and gives her access to Jacob, and Leah has two more sons! and a daughter. And then, finally, Rachel conceives and gives birth to Joseph, who we will hear much more about him. And some years later Rachel has a second son, Benjamin, who we also hear about.

This competition to produce the most child for Jacob, by any means sets up one more dysfunctional set of family relationships and conflicts (Gaventa and Petersen). The whole ugly story is deeply rooted in Abraham’s family history; and foreshadows the conflict between Joseph, a child of Rachel, and his ten brothers who are children of Leah and the surrogates (Fretheim). Maybe, the only redemptive aspect of this story is that, finally, we are introduced to Jacobs twelve sons who become, the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is tempting and rather easy to judge Leah and Rachel for their maternal competition. It may be easy to judge Jacob and Laban, for their deceitful manipulative ways. But we judge we miss the point of the story. Beth Tanner writes They are not “them.” They are us (Bratt). Which brings us to the question of how we glean real wisdom from this or any other of the many sordid, despicable stories in the Old Testament.

We tend to, and we have been taught to read it as history, and there is value here. But there is also other deep source wisdom to recognize. It might be interesting to read the Old Testament stories as parables. There is an old saying that the key to success was to care enough about your objective not to care (Epperly). If we can resist seeking historical accuracies or explanations or definitions then perhaps we can allow these stories to tease us into a different kind of active thought wherein we may just catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, we would otherwise miss. Even in Jacob messes, the ones he is in, and the ones he created, we can see the Spirit, we can see God’s purpose moving forward, overcoming obstacles one by one. We can see God’s abundance strewn, seemingly recklessly, everywhere (Epperly). After all, with twelve sons the promise finally seems to be on track (Bratt). Throughout Abraham’s family’s story we have seen and we will see how God’s presence continues to quietly sneak in unannounced influencing the movement of the story of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you seen God’s quiet presence sneaking around St. Stephens? I have. In a time when large congregations, in much larger cities struggle to find an organist, in one week two parishioners find two separate organists; and now St. Stephen’s two organist to succeed Ruth; or to follow Ruth, I don’t know if anyone can succeed her. I’ll be honest this is not the outcome I expected. Not only could I not find a pianist, I couldn’t find the little MIDI musical boxes that have these things pre-recorded, I’m relieved.

Another trait of reading the Old Testament as history is that we know all the decisions the characters have made; we know where all the characters have gone, we know the path they have trod. So, imagine for a moment any given Old Testament story is a context, a setting for decisions we face, for paths we have yet to trod, for ventures we are in the midst of, or perhaps have yet to begin (Skinner). They can be the source of imagination that allows us to catch a glimpse of God’s grace, of God’s abundance, of God’s remarkably continual presence, especially when we can’t feel it.

There is one more gleaning truth in the story of Jacob’s children’s birth. Beginning with Abraham and Sarah and through to Jacob, Rachael, and Leah there has been confusion about the story, confusion about who the story is really about. Abraham and Sarah thought it was about them, they thought that they were first. Hagar and Ishmael thought it was about them that they were first. Rebekah and Jacob thought it was about them that they were first. Isaac and Esau thought it was about them that they were first. Rachel thought it was about her and her kids, that they were first. Leah though it was about her and her kids, that they were first. We think it is about us, that we are first, we are being told, again and again “America first.” Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are all wrong. The Kingdom of God is first. We are wrong, the Kingdom of God is first. Only when we begin with the Kingdom, first and foremost, that we can see how a tiny seed will grow, how leaven can work its way through the entire mass, how a hidden treasure is truly present, how everything will be sorted out (Skinner). Only when the Kingdom is first can we live believing that nothing has been, is, or ever can be, between us and the love of God in Jesus Christ that is right here, right now.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 12A Genesis 29: 15-28. 30 7 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Clavier, Tony. “Training for the Kingdom of Heaven.” 30 7 2017. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 30 7 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Lose, David. Pentecost 7 A: On the Question of Evil. 30 7 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Skinner, Matt. Hide Away. 30 7 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Tanner, Beth L. “Commentary on Lamentations 1:16.” 30 7 2017. Commentary on Genesis 29:15-28. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

 

 

Where Are You in Jacob’s Story?

 A sermon for Proper 11: Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

 

We continue following Jacob’s story. A lot has happened since last Sunday, and at least a bit is important for setting the stage for today. Last week Jacob took advantage Esau’s fierce hunger and bullied him into selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Between then and now we read that Isaac is old and nearly blind. And while Jacob had successfully taken possession of his older brother’s share to his father’s estate, he does not have his father’s blessing, which includes the passing on of God’s promise and covenant.  Rebekah over hears Isaac telling Esau to go hunt game and prepare it so he may bless him. She schemes with Jacob to disguise him with lamb’s wool and a lamb stew to deceive Isaac into thinking that he is Esau and bless him. Yes, the plan is to steal Esau’s blessing. Taking the birthright was an opportunistic action. This is just plain deceitful, no matter how acceptable it might have been in matters of dynastic succession, think Game of Thrones, it is not justifiable. But the plan works, Isaac blesses Jacob. When Esau returns and discover s the ploy he is fiercely angry and promises to kill Jacob; which, of course, Rebekah over hears, and she warns Jacob and sends him off to her brother Laban, on the pretense of getting a wife, which works in part because Esau has a Hittite wife, which displeases both Rebekah and Isaac.

Rebekah watches Jacob set off on a journey that basically reverses his grandfather Abraham’s original journey. She believes it will only take “a little while” which literally means just a few days; (Schifferdecker). We will see. It will be a hard journey, with at least one night out under the stars (Ellingsen). Jacob is vulnerable, alone in dangerous territory (Schifferdecker). He is essentially banished from his family; which in those days is about the worst thing that could happen to someone. It is virtually a death sentence (Bratt).

This is also the first time Jacob appears by himself,   and it becomes a new beginning that comes to him in a dream (Fretheim). It is significant that at the moment that he is most vulnerable in his life, God appears not to judge, but to confirm that he is the one who will carry the promise (Fretheim).

I think it is a wonder that Jacob wants to or can sleep, but he does, and in his sleep, he dreams and in his dream another reality to slip into his life (Bratt). God communicating through dreams is common in Scripture   (Harrelson). Mary had a dream, Joseph had a dream, perhaps we should wish each other something more significant than sweet dreams.

Ladders are associated with judgment. Psalm 75, verse 7 reads:

It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Butterworth).

Ladders, which are more like a ramp, or stairway (Bratt), (Harrelson) are a bi-directional connection heaven and earth (Fretheim). Think of them as a sort of divine portal; they are holy places, not built by us, but are places in time and space that are revealed by God (Gaventa and Petersen). They provide an avenue of communication between heaven and earth. Angels, the divine intermediaries, or messengers, going up and down the ladder, or stairway; their motion reveals the reality of divine – human communication. It’s interesting that in this story these messengers never speak (Fretheim). They and the ladder are another sign that we are not alone (Bratt).

In Jacob’s  dream,   the angels may not speak, but God does (Fretheim). God confirms that Jacob is the heir of the promise and the covenant and that his descendants will be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Ellingsen) a repeat of the blessing he received from his father with Isaac. Then God adds to the promise (Schifferdecker)

Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.

Jacob wakes up, remembers the dream realizing that

Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” awesome -! it is none other than the house of God, and the gate to heaven (NRSV Genesis 28:16-17)

He takes his pillow rock and makes it a pillar, which is a common religious symbol, then pours oil on it and names the place Bethel, which is literally beth – house and el – of God, “the house of God” (Schifferdecker), (Harrelson). You know from other stories whenever we hear something named in scripture it is a significant event, and that makes this story significant. This particular time it emphasizes the continuity between the immediate experience and the ongoing significance of receiving God’s promise. In this place, in this time, ordinary place and an ordinary rock have been divinely transformed to become a sacred symbol. Pouring oil on the rock is a form of anointing, which you know sets it apart for God’s use. It also stains the rock so that anybody who comes by can see and know it is a sacred place (Fretheim).

But I have to wonder; is all of this, that Jacob does, is it simply actions of grandeur? I wonder that because the very next thing Jacob does is to revert to his old self, as he makes an if- then bargain (Schifferdecker).

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, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you. (NRSV Genesis 28:20-22).

 In short,  if God keeps the promises, then I will remain loyal accepting Yahweh as his God, he will construct a sanctuary, and offer a tithe (Fretheim). It makes you wonder how or if Jacob really changed? The bargain reveals that Jacob still thinks he is on his own (Schifferdecker). It’s true Jacob’s proclamation and actions about Bethel indicate that he has moved from not knowing to knowing about God’s presence. However, his grand bargain reveals his knowing is just a little bit shallow; sort of like the shallow soil of Jesus’ parable of the sowers and the seeds.

Kathryn Schifferdecker notes that this story isn’t really about Jacob; this story is really about God. Jacob’s dream comes entirely at the initiative of God. The world continues to be a place of meetings and times, like Bethel, which dreams come in a troubled night’s sleep, and God uses both that place and that time to get through to us (Fretheim).

We intuitively know that there is a transcendent, or otherworldly, quality of God. And there is some thought that if we get to close to God we compromise the divine perfection. Jacob’s story assures us this is not so. The story assures us that God is mysteriously able to be both transcendent and awesomely present at the same time; as you hear me say the Kingdom of God is right here right now (Fretheim). The story also reveals how this interaction affects God; because from this moment on, from this story on, God self-identifies as “the Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Schifferdecker). Our relationship with God matters ~ to God and it matters for God’s presence in the world.

So, I am wondering where we might be in all this? We tend to believe that how God is present to us is how is present, should be present to everyone. It’s not true, if we read Abraham’s family story, we will see how God is present to everyone in Abraham’s family, differently. Every person has a different relationship with God.  When I was doing my work at MTS, we were discussing how God acts in the world through physical manipulation, moving molecules and stuff around, or does God work through inspiration that makes use of required human participation. I disagreed with every one of my classmates. I came to understand I didn’t need to push my argument; we understood how God acts differently because I needed to believe that God to act one way and my classmates needed to believe that God to act another way. Mysteriously, it is not a contradiction of God’s being.

A lesson from the stairway to heaven is that like Jacob, we often believe, or think, or act as if we are alone, all by ourselves (Bratt). We assume we too have to clamber up some sort of ladder to make ourselves successful. Notice, no matter the words to the song we sang, notice that Jacob never climbs the ladder; no human is on the ladder. That ladder is a pathway for the divine messengers between us and God; which is a role Jesus now permanently fills. But the ladder still assures us that we are never alone; we never have been, we never will be. We may be slow to accept God’s gracious promises to make us a blessing. We may be slow to accept that we don’t have to do this all by ourselves. We may be slow to accept God’s promise to make it for us ~ and with us. We may be just like Jacob in thinking that we are alone , he was not, God was at his campsite, and at his side forever.  And he is for us. We have our own campsites, they look like the places where we work, and they look like our homes, and they look like parks, and they look like churches, and they look like church camps. God is present in every one of those places and all sorts of other places, just as God is present in communion we are about to celebrate. We take common bread and we take we common wine and then we profess, we do not make, we do not put in, but profess that God/Jesus/Spirit is present in them. We don’t even know how it happens, we can’t even agree how it happens, but we all know that God/Jesus/Spirit is present (Bratt). The is true wherever you are, God is present.

I believe that deep – deep -deep down we know this. And it is one reason why we   value all sacred spaces; no matter where they come from, or who makes them sacred, we value all of them. We value them because they reflect one way that we are connection with God. Our experience rudely tells us that our life’s being moves up and down, and left and right, and all over the place, but in this story, we are assured that regardless of all that action God is with us. No place is forbidden to us, every place can be, ~ every place is, ~ that place where we can be certain of the God’s presence. You know those special ones, Will, just got back from one, Camp Mitchell, it is one of those thin places we deeply cherish (Fretheim). This story of Jacob nurtures our awareness of consecrated space and the certainty of our eternal relationship with God (Butterworth). It affirms that Heaven is not just connected to the earth, but is also interested in the earth; that Heaven is not just connected to us but is interested in you. God/Jesus/Spirit and angels don’t just have access to the earth, God/Jesus/Spirit wants to be involved in both your life’s circumstances, just as God is involved with Jacob’s (Bratt). None of us, I don’t think, none of us are as scheming as Jacob is; but scheming doesn’t really matter there is no divine criterion about that, but his story gives us hope that God will ~ no ~ that God has blessed us, and will continue to bless us.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 11A Genesis 28: 10-19a. 23 7 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “Stones, Wheat, and Weeds, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.” 23 7 2017. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 23 7 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 28:10-19a. 23 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah is right

A Sermon for Proper 10; Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

A classmate of mine was once a caterer. Enough of her clients were from the high social circle that she has some great stories. My favorite is a lady who was jealous of the old families with long genealogies, so, she decided to have hers done. She spoke with her friends to learn how this work is done. She contacted the local library to learn who was worthy of such an enterprise. She interviewed several candidates who were willing to research her family genealogy and settled on one. She made her decision and eagerly awaited her family’s long-lost story. The final project arrived in the mail. She eagerly began looking at all the material, beginning with an amazingly detailed generational fan chart, and she was pleased to see how old her family is. Then she began reading the history. She stopped ~ suddenly ~ at an unexpected bit of family history that she’d just as soon stayed undiscovered. One of her great-great-grandfathers had been hung as a horse thief! She carefully put the beautifully bound family history on the shelf. The consequences of her great-great-grandfather’s actions would be more than her social status would bear. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago, when Sarah put Hagar and Ishmael out? Sarah is right; family squabbles interacting with God’s promise can cause troubles.

We have heard a lot of family dysfunction, recently. Abraham’s and Sarah’s impatience with God’s timing of keeping his promise of an heir, never mind the rest of it leads to the decision for Hagar to be a surrogate mom. Family troubles. On Isaac’s behalf, Sarah gets into a conflict with Hagar and Ishmael, and Abraham is caught in the middle. Family troubles. You might wonder if there is some conflict between Abraham and Sarah as Abraham and Isaac set out to the mountain of offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Family troubles. Today we hear about the conflict between Esau and Jacob, that expands to be a conflict between Isaac with Rebekah as part of the conflict that Rebekah and Jacob have with Isaac and Esau. It is an important story; it is the beginning of Jacob’s story, which is about half the story in Genesis. One way we know it is important is that Israel gets her name from Jacob become Israel (Bratt).

Isaac and Rebekah have been married for 20 years but they have no children. Once again, is the promise at risk again? This time, Isaac prays, Rebekah gets pregnant, great, with twins, better yet, until they start wrestling with each other while Rebekah is still pregnant. It is unsettling and painful enough that Rebekah prays. God answers in an oracle that explains what the struggle is; that it is a sign of the future; and that it is not the results of divine action, which raises the importance of human activity (Fretheim). Her two children will be two nations; just like Isaac and Ishmael are becoming two nations. The elder will serve the younger is another example of the common Genesis theme of the selection and favoring the younger sibling over the elder siblings (Gaventa and Petersen). Again, Ishmael and Isaac set a precedent. Rebekah knows the broad shape of her children’s and her future.

Her twins are born. The first, named Esau, is all red which is a word play on ‘Edom’ the nation Esau’s descendants become. He is also hairy, “se’ar,” the Hebrew for hair, is a word play on “Seir” (se’ir) which is where Esau eventually settles (Gaventa and Petersen). Jacob, the second child is born holding onto Esau’s heel.    ‘Jacob’ come from the same word root as “heel”, and also “to supplant” or displace and also to “cheat”. The boys grow up to be what their names imply and as different as their names imply (Fretheim). Esau enjoys the outdoors and is a skilled hunter.   Jacob is a quiet man, who prefers tents to the open range. Genesis tells us that   ). This family relationship structure established the relationships that lead to the conflict to come (Fretheim) . You can see how this family dispute is similar to the dispute around Ismael and Isaac (Fretheim).

The next story is the first of the continuing conflicts that define Esau’s and Jacob’s relationship. We shall see in the weeks to come how many relationships that dispute affects. You remember the story. Esau comes back from hunting and is really hungry.   Jacob is cooking some red stuff; probably Lentil soup (Bratt). True to his name Jacob take advantage of the situation. Unlike Abraham, he does not show generous hospitality; although he does cover his legal bases (Fretheim). Is this about Jacob stealing or is this story about Esau’s distaining his birthright (Bratt, Richter)? Why would he distain his birthright? It gives him two-thirds  of his father’s estate. But it also comes with the responsibility of leadership (Fretheim).

On this point, Scripture is silent   We do know Esau is ravenous, all he can think about is filling his hunger. We also know the conflict grows. It defines their lives and the lives of their descendants (Harrelson). Esau is the father of the Edomites, who were enemies with all of Israel’s Kings (Sakenfeld). Not unlike Ishmael’s descendants the Ishmaelites who also skirmished with Israel often, but occasionally were Israel’s ally (Sakenfeld).

The last phrase of this story is powerfully revealing; it framed around the verbs ate, drank, rose, departed, and despised. It reveals that perhaps Esau realizes his lapse in judgment is more significant than it appears (Fretheim) . There is no question that Jacob took advantage of his brother. His actions were legal, but not an act of hospitality. There is also no question that Esau bears a responsibility for his indiscretion (Fretheim). Stepping back, we can see that both are guilty. Jacob ignores the expectations of hospitality and his familial responsibility and sets in motion a family conflict that will last generations and threatens God’s promise to Abraham. Esau is careless, neglects the responsibility of his birthright, and conceivably sets aside God’s call for the sake of convenience (Fretheim). You are justified is wondering why God would choose either Esau or Jacob to be heirs of the divine promise and covenant.  Then again, God always seems to choose human weakness over human strength (Fretheim).

Two quick asides before exploring some of the depths of family dimensions of all this. First, in the Oracle response to Rebekah’s prayer, God reveals the future of the promise and the covenant.    We would expect that to be given to Isaac. It may suggest God is more confident in Rebekah than Isaac. I suspect it is another example of God turning things upside down, by empowering women as much as empowering men. And it is an example of God’s response to prayer, not by creating the twins’ temperament, but by explaining to Rebekah what is going on.

The second aside is, there is a strong caution here for anyone who believes that they are among God’s elect. As one of God’s chosen, it is easy to justify Jacob’s actions as consistent with following God’s will. This is dangerous thinking. It can lead to justifying acting as we please because we say it is God’s will (Fretheim). At times, I wonder just how common this behavior is in today’s religious and political driven conflicts; and I am talking about conflicts within the United States.

Now, what about the family dynamics in all this?  In Exodus (20:5), Numbers (14:18) and Deuteronomy (5:9) we hear that God punishes three or four generations for the iniquity of parents, or who reject me. We hear from Ezekiel (18:20)

A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.

These appear to be conflicting statements; however, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy make it clear our actions have lasting consequences, And Ezekiel reminds us the grace of God is always present and therein has lasting consequences.

How we deal with conflict, our behavior in general, in our families, business, friendships, community and/or church makes a difference, it has lasting consequences. We will see over the next several weeks how this continuing family conflict emerges in different forms; we will see how these conflicts shape the Oracle, the Promise, and the Covenant of God. God is faithful and always present. Our daily lives, including conflicts, interact with, and can be influenced by God’s presence; they also interact with and influence the shape God’s promise takes, in a moment in time, and over time, with lasting consequences.

Sarah’s solution is not so thoughtful; however, she is right family conflict is a dangerous thing that can influence how we and others experience God’s presence. The socialite reminds us that the behavior of our ancestors may not always be what we believe or want them to be; and that while they are influential, they are not definitive. There are other forces influencing our personal, social, political, and economic lives, including the ever-present grace of God; i t is influential in time and forever.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 10 A Genesis 25: 19-34. 16 7 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 16 7 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 16 7 2017.

Richter, Amy. “The Good Sower, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 16,” 16 7 2017. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 25:19-34. 23 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Living a love song

A Sermon for Proper 9; Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

 

There’s a wren in a willow wood
Flies so high and sings so good
And he brings to you what he sings to you
Like my brother, the wren and I
Well, he told me if I try, I could fly for you
And I wanna try for you ’cause

I wanna sing you a love song
I wanna rock you in my arms all night long
I wanna get to know you
I wanna show you the peaceful feelin’ of my home

Summer thunder on moon-bright days
Northern lights and skies ablaze
And I bring to you, lover, when I sing to you
Silver wings in a fiery sky
Show the trail of my love and I
Sing to you, love is what I bring to you
And I wanna sing to you, oh

I wanna sing you a love song
I wanna rock you in my arms all night long
I wanna get to know you
I wanna show you the peaceful feelin’ of my home


In a culture where all marriages are arranged, why would anyone introduce the story of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah with a love song, never mind one titled “A Love Song.” But, maybe I’m more creative than my choice of songs; let’s see.

Sarah has died at 127; Isaac is all grown up, but is not yet married; at 136 Abraham yet again, ponders if God’s promise is at risk. So, he tells his servant to pack up, go back to the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, his home and find his son a wife from his father’s family, really his father’s home town. He takes ten camels loaded with gifts and heads off on the first impossible mission. I mean what desirable young lady would leave her father and mother, her friends, and move all the way across the dessert to marry a man she has never met, even if he is supposedly the son of one of her father’s relatives, who’s been gone for 136 years. But, she may not have had a choice, in these ancient days all marriages were arranged, and if the bride price is right, well (Schifferdecker, Fretheim). Ten camels can carry a big bride price.

Abraham’s servant gets to the village. Now what? Where would you start? Abraham’s servant starts in prayer, asking God for a clear sign of who Isaac’s future’s bride is. He is bold enough, or trusting enough, to name the sign: the woman will offer him something to drink, and also water the camels (Bratt, Schifferdecker). Almost immediately a young lady does exactly what he asked. And it is a bigger task than you think, each of these ten camels can drink 20 to 30 gallons of water; that comes to 200 to 300 gallons of water, from a pitcher (Schifferdecker, Genesis)! Reminds me of the thousand plus bottles of wine Jesus produces at that wedding in Canna. Both are signs of abundance. When the servant asks who she is, and if they have room for a guest she gives her father’s name and also invites him to stay. The servant immediately gives praise and witness to God (Schifferdecker, Genesis).

At Rebekah’s home, after proper introductions, the servant tells Rebekah’s father and brother the whole complex story. A deal is agreed to. In the morning, there is a customary attempt at delay; this leads to Rebekah being asked if she chooses to leave now or later. Showing the same courage as Abraham does all those years ago, she chooses to go now. Her mother and brother bless her:

May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.” (Genesis 24:60).

which is very similar blessing to what Abraham receives when he left home (Gen. 12:3, Harrelson). Then Rebekah heads off to her new life.

As they approach Abraham’s camp, Rebekah looks up and sees Isaac walking in a field. She slips off, the literal translation is she falls off, (Schifferdecker, Genesis). her camel, before she even knows who he is. It’s starting to sound like a love song.

And you know what? We have heard two this morning; the one cleverly titled A Love Song and the other a poem from Song of Solomon. Yes, there are love songs in the bible. They are about silly, frivolous young people going all starry-eyed over each other (Hoezee). They are full of lush and sometimes sensual imagery you don’t think about being in the Bible, but they are there (Schifferdecker, Song). And even if the couple is all playful and lighthearted, the poems’ message is a significant revelation of the divine vision of human love and relationships. The poems revel an egalitarian, non-hierarchical relationship. The couple express their love for each other’s physical bodies, which are beautiful and beloved, no matter how Greek thinking influenced early Christian thinking (Gafney). The couple declares their exclusive affection of their mutual belonging My beloved is mine and I am his. (v. 16) The poetic riddles and references to foxes and vineyards divulge that they belong together; they belong to each other (Weems). The poetry in Song of Solomon describes a love marked by fidelity and mutuality – loyalty and like-mindedness; the couple is faithful to each other, they have eyes for no other (Weems).

The poems frame the life God desires for every couple. It is the life Isaac and Rebekah have before them. Although it gets all caught up in tents, and Sarah’s death, we should not overlook that this story specifically says Isaac loves Rebekah. We hear from both Genesis and Song of Solomon that

Life in God’s good creation involves more than divine promises and religious practice; it includes such creational gifts as the love two people can share (Fretheim). But the gleaning is more than this.

These stories reveal a depth of divine presence in ordinary life, like falling in love, or setting out to accomplish your bosses impossible mission.

So just what do these stories say about God in everyday life? God is never mention, but is always present in the poems of Song of Solomon. Although invoked by Abraham, his servant, and Rebekah’s family, God does not speak, and God does not intervene. God’s will is discerned in prayer and observation. God’s presence and love is seen in human actions. The servant’s model is: to prepare, pray, wait, watch; and then to be quick in praising God and witnessing to those around you. The servant knows the boundaries of whose job is what; he does what he can and then leaves the rest to God (Schifferdecker, Genesis). Notice how God’s presence does not diminish the servant’s ability to do as Abraham asks; God’s presence enables him to be an active divine partner in healing the world, in making the world whole (Epperly). by taking this one next step in fulfilling the divine promise.

These stories show us that divine love and human love are not mutually exclusive. They show us how human love, at its best, can be a glimpse, a reflection, of God’s love for all of us (Schifferdecker, Song). It is what we see in the servant’s actions. It is what we see in Isaac’s loving Rebekah. These stories also show us that interpersonal relationships, like person to divine relations, must be cultivated, nurtured, safeguarded, and cherished. Take your beloved on a date. Later, take your kids on a special outing. Observe Sabbath, keep your one on one time with God; and whatever works for you, works for you; being with God is far more important than the form that takes. Also come to church, and share your personal and divine relationship stories with each other. Your neighbors need to hear yours and you need to hear your neighbors’ stories, for all sorts of reasons. And by the way, coming to church is not the same as Sabbath; church is community time, Sabbath is just you and God. And while you are at it, make sure your kids and your neighbors witness you nurturing your love it will teach them to nurture the love they share.

At work, or at play or with family, or at church, Mark Zuckerberg notwithstanding, all the world is relationship, and all relationships, just as does all creation, need tending. The servant’s model of prepare, pray, wait, and watch works. But I have suspicion it is all the better when prepare, pray, wait, and watch sounds like a love song.

Amen


References

Bowron, Joshua. “Taking on Jesus’ Yoke, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A).” 9 7 2017. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. 5th Sunday after Pentecost Genesis 24:34-38,. 9 7 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 9 7 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gafney, Wil. Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 9 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

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

Hoezee, Scott. 5th Sunday after Pentecost Song of Solomon 2:8-13 . 9 7 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-. 9 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Weems, Renita J. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections Song of Songs. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.