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;.

 

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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.

 

The commitment of Isaac as hope for today future

A sermon for Proper 8, 3rd after Pentecost

Genesis 2, 2:1-14, Psalm 12, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

Focus: The commitment of Isaac as hope for today future

May 18, 1980 after many hours VGT came into the world and changed our lives forever. Thursday afternoon after many hours LPF came into the world and will change our lives as only grand children can, a new venture I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait to spoil LPF rotten.
LPF’s birth with its remembrance of VGT’s birth brings a poignancy to the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. It brings home in unexpected ways if not the horror, then at least the fear of child sacrifice. However, to get stuck here is to miss-read scripture; it’s a failure to honor its context; the story’s connection to Ishmael and it’s origins in Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Most importantly it is a disservice to our children and grandchildren.

I want to explore four aspects of Isaac’s sacrifice:  the opening conversation, burnt offerings, Ishmael, and the Babylonian context and see how this sacrifice provides hope for today’s children and grandchildren.

We don’t know how long is has been since Ishmael and Hagar left, or since God has spoken to Abraham. But God does call and with a little imagination the conversation goes like this:
Abraham
Here I am
Take your son.
I have two sons.
Your only son.
Each is the only son of his mother.
The one whom you love.
Is there any limit to a father’s love?
[Take] Isaac ~ (Schifferdecker)
[and] go to the land of Moriah,
and offer him there
as a burnt offering
on one of the mountains
that I shall show you.
Imaging the opening verses as a conversation allows us to hear that Abraham remembers his older son, that God told him to let Ishmael go, and that he does not want to lose Isaac. Two other notes: Abraham is directed to go to Moriah but to yet another unknown location; when he and Isaac leave the attendants Abraham tells them:
… the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.
Abraham knows what God is asking, yet here is says we will come back not I. It seems there is more that Abraham is aware of than we are aware of.

Burnt Offerings are one type of sacrifice in the Temple Cultic sacrificial system. That system hasn’t been established yet (more about this later); however, the idea of brunt offerings is well established in the story’s time line. The Hebrew ʿōlâ is most frequently translated burnt offering; it is also translated to ascent or to go up. It’s root ʿālâ means to come up, to ascend.  (Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary)
Easton’s Dictionary notes burnt offerings were regarded as ascending to God while being consumed (Easton). It is at least conceivable that Abraham has a notion that he is shepherding Isaac into God’s presence, and perhaps to commit him to God’s service, as all first born will be after the Passover, or as Nasserites will be (Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:11).

I was surprised the connection between Ishmael’s story and the story of Isaac’s sacrifice was mentioned only once, and there was no commentary. A quick review of Ishmael’s story. Sarah decides Ishmael is a threat to Isaac and tells Abraham to take Hagar and Ishmael into the dessert. God tells him to do as Sarah says, lso that Ishmael and Hagar will be okay, that God will make a nation of him. (Genesis 21:13).
He does as God tells him. Genesis tells us Ishmael does well.

We do not know how long it is between Ishmael’s and Hagar’s dismissal and Isaac’s journey to sacrifice. It must be some years, because Isaac walks the distance, carries the wood for the sacrifice, and engages his father in knowledgeable conversation about the sacrifice, so he would be at least in his early teens. Time enough for Abraham to know of Ishmael’s life. He knows God keeps God’s word. So here’s the logic. Abraham knows God’s logic is incomprehensible. Abraham knows God keeps God’s promise. Abraham knows God promised him an heir, knows Isaac is that heir: it is through Isaac that offspring will be named for you. (Genesis 21:12 b) so even though this journey to sacrifice Isaac makes no sense Abraham makes the journey in faith that God will do as God always has, keep his promise, Isaac will be his heir.

Finally Babylon. You may remember from a couple of weeks ago that Genesis was written when Israel was in captivity in Babylon, over against competing creation myths. Isaac’s sacrifice may well be oral tradition; however, it too is written over against the oppressive and corrupting conditions in exile. Terence Fretheim’s writes: Exilic Israel may have seen itself in both Abraham and Isaac … (Fretheim 494)
Fretheim continues:
God has put Israel to a test in which many children died, has called forth its continuing faith, has delivered it through the fires of
judgment and renewed the promises. (Fretheim 494)

Visualizing Israel as Abraham assure leaders of a captive people that God is faithful and has not abandoned them. Visualizing Israel as Isaac assures the future. Both encourage Israel to keep the faith, to remain obedient to God, which will not speak to sacrificial rites, but rather keeping their allegiance to one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I mentioned earlier the cultic sacrificial system was not established in the story’s time line. But, as it was written in Babylon exile, the sacrifices, though not available are part Israel’s lore. They know what burnt offerings are. They know about: the Passover commitment of all first born to God, and Nasserite commitment.

There are all kinds of gleanings in the story of Isaac’s sacrifice. Is Isaac the heir God promises? God does not know what Abraham will do.
Will Abraham be faithful? They are all about relationships:
God and Abraham (and Sarah),
Abraham and Isaac,
Isaac and God,
God and Israel,
God and us.
For VGT now VGF and LPF and PF the story of Isaac’s sacrifice is not about brutal sacrifice. We must move beyond that fear to gleanings worth sharing:
Always engage God in conversation, it will lead you to insight.
Never be afraid to shepherd your beloved into God’s presence.
God is frequently inscrutable, but always faithful.
Life is full of trials and desperate times, that may separate you from all you believed crucial; Paul say it best:
38  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV))
Amen

Works Cited
Easton, Matthew George. Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Wordsearch, 2008.
Fretheim, Terence E. The New Intrepreter’s Bible, Genesis. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. 1. 2003. 12 vols.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Genesis 22:1-14 Commentary by Kathryn Schifferdecker – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL).” 24 6 2014. Working Preacher. web. 24 6 2014. .
Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.