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;.

 

From invasive dirty rotten scoundrels the Kingdom comes.

A sermon for Proper 12

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

 

Ever feel like you missed something? I mean last week Jacob was pouring oil on a rock pillar naming the place Bethel / House of God, and this morning he gets married  ~ twice! What happened? Well not much and everything. Jacob continues his journey and comes across some shepherds, who tell him he is in Haran, and introduces him to his cousin Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Jacob falls ~ hard.

It’s interesting that this is the second of the patriarchs to meet a wife at a well, and Moses will meet Zipporah at a well, which make Jesus meeting the woman at the well all the more interesting. Back to Jacob.

Rachel runs and tell her father about Jacob, he runs to meet his nephew greeting him bone of my bone and flash of my flesh an acknowledgement of their kinship.  (Menn) In a scene that seems out of synch, like we don’t know that Jacob has meet Rachel, and assumes we know of some agreement for Jacob to work for Laban we are suddenly at the end of a contract negotiation where Laban asks Jacob what should his wages be for 7 years labor, and Jacob asks for Rachel, and Laban, without hesitation or comment agrees.

In the space between sentences 7 years go by and Jacob asks for his wife. Laban gathers his family for the wedding feast. Only at the appointed time he sends Leah into Jacob’s tent. In the morning, when the great deceiver discovers he has been deceived, he confronts Laban, who simply says: This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the firstborn.

Jacob’s supplanting his older brother has been reversed. After a one sentence negotiation and the customary week long celebration, Laban gives Rachel to Jacob, for an additional seven years.

Some observations about marriages in this story. Having both daughters marry last year, I am glad the celebration time is two or three days, not a week. At this point in biblical time marriage is not a commitment between two consenting people; it is an alliance between two men involving the exchange of women. Also a man having more than one wife is acceptable; though in this case it’s a stretch skirting prohibitions about a man marrying sisters. (Menn)

Dana’e Ashley remarks:

that the mustard plant is a weed that grows like a bush and spreads. It’s a very invasive weed. (Ashley)

She further notes that:

[In that] time, leavening was something that people understood in scripture as unclean or evil. … leavening was done by letting some bread rot just enough in order to leaven a new batch of ingredients.  (Ashley)

As I read reach of these, both times I immediately thought of both Jacob and Laban. Both behave as invasive weeds you’d just as soon they go away, and no matter what you do they have a way of hanging around. Both have a rotten dimension to their persons, that effects the people around them.

The mustard seed’s tiny size suggests an unexpected hiddenness, (Hoezee) to the Kingdom’s presence.  The unexpected is also in the leaven parable, kneading dough is woman’s work and in 1st century, that’s not what one would expect God’s Kingdom to be compared to. (Hoezee) That Jacob is the progenitor of God’s chosen people is unexpected, and if we read the story, without knowing the end, divine intent is certainly obscure. And a dirty rotten scoundrel is not the one we’d expect to be the front line of revealing G0d’s presence and being a blessing to all the peoples of the world.

Beyond being a part of biblical history Jacob is a type of a parable about God how God goes about divine work, and what the Kingdom is really about. Remember to this point in the story Jacob has spoken to or about God once and then he hedges his bet. God calls people as they are, he walks with them, and in that journey people are transformed. Twice now Jacob’s plan has been disrupted: God comes to him in a dream, and he wakes up with Leah. The faithful response to both requires risk. (Carter)

This hodgepodge of story connection relates to us because: none of us saw this day, when Blytheville would be half the size it once was, and St Stephen’s less than that. Our plans have been disrupted. Is God in this? Yes! I don’t believe in a causal way, but God is present. Jacob’s story as parable, and this morning’s parables reveal truths about the way forward. Our future may well be hidden, and we will likely stumble across it. A faithful response will be risky. Those involved in revealing our role in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, may not, I’ll go so far as to say will not be from expected sources. As strange as it sounds “from invasive dirty rotten scoundrels the Kingdom comes” is a gleaning from today’s readings.

I’m not sure what to do with it except, as Ashley says that:

We must trust God.

The God that uses what others think is unusable.
The God that calls us to love others with reckless abandon.
The God that sees in us what others cannot see.
By living this way, we become of what the Kingdom of Heaven is made. (Ashley)

and ~ that nothing: invasive weeds, rotten bread, disruptions or surprises is ever between us and the love of God in Jesus Christ.

 


Works Cited

Ashley, Rev. Dana’e. Sermons that Work. 27 7 2014.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. 27 7 2014.

Hoezee, Scott. This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching. 27 7 2014.

Menn, Ester M. Commentary on Genesis 29:15-28. 27 7 2014.