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.

 

A spurious drop of ink and the wooing of Rebekah

A Sermon for Proper 9 – A, 4th after Pentecost

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a,
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The wooing of Rebekah (Fretheim) seems to be a story about signs, Abraham’s servant is always looking for one sign or another. That’s not always a good idea.
There was a person who wanted to know God’s will and so he flipped open the Bible, blindly jabbed his finger at the text, and then read the verse, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Since that didn’t seem to provide quite the direction he was looking for, he tried again, this time plunking down on the verse, “Go and do likewise”! (Hozee)

And while there is plenty to be learned about preparing for, praying for and waiting (Schifferdecker) for divine guidance, it’s the interplay of hesed (kindness)and ʾemet (faithfulness) (Strong’s) where we will begin our journey this morning.

The unnamed servant makes a very intimate pledge to Abraham to get a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s home country. The servant goes to Abrahams’ home town, and settles in by the well. There he asks God to show hesed, steadfast love, for Abraham, describes the sign he will look for, and waits. Rebekah shows up and offers him and his camels water. That’s the sign. The servant immediately gives thanks God has shown hesed. As the servant recounts his mission from Abraham, to Rebekah’s family he mentions God’s hesed again.
He is always giving The Lord credit. We have also developed a habit of giving God all the credit in bible stories, such as this.

And while the author of this tale makes it clear that without God’s steadfast love there would be no success (Fretheim), the ’emet faithfulness of the servant also plays an important role. Although success may well depend on God, the activity of human beings may bring about the failure or success of God’s intention. Fretheim) The servant’s faithfulness is apparent in two ways: one – his insistence on offering prayers for guidance and thanksgiving; and that he does not take the easy out Abraham’s gives him, if he cannot find a willing bride among his people. (Genesis 24:8) Without divine hesed Abraham’s vision is thwarted. Without the servant’s ʾemet Abraham’s vision is thwarted. It’s the interaction between the two by which Rebekah follow Abraham and leaves her family for unknown lands that bears fruit, ensuring the covenant continues for future generations. So when we set about mission and ministry let’s prepare for, pray for and wait for divine guidance, a form of hesed; and be prepared to act or not as we perceive a sign, or not.

All of this has curiously relevant timing. Friday we celebrated July 4th, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We all know the phrase:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

There are many who fear for these rights. So, it may be coincidence or divine guidance that Thursday’s New York Times ran an article about the question of a period. (Schuessler) Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. believes there is an error in the typical punctuation, of the Declaration, caused by an errant ink spot, that’s been interpreted as a period.
Allen, cites many sources that do not include the period. Unfortunately the original Document is so faded to make an exact determination isn’t possible. (Schifferdecker) What’s the big deal? The phrase that follows is:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Allen says:
The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights … You lose that connection when the period gets added. (Schuessler)

At this point the ancient wisdom of Genesis sheds light on the implementation of the divine insight given our fore fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, we have been endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among [them] … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (no period) … However, we also have a divine sign to secure these rights by governments [that] are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, … Just as it took hesed and ʾemet for Abraham’s vision to bear fruit; it takes unalienable Rights and Governments … instituted among Men for the vision of The Declaration of Independence to bear fruit. Without both hesed and ʾemet we cannot glean the fullness of divine revelation in the story Rebekah’s wooing. Without both unalienable rights and governments we cannot glean the fullness of independence revealed in our Declaration.

I fully recognize the difficulty of holding both unalienable rights and governments in dynamic tension. That is one reason I pray for all our elected leaders, by name in my daily prayers. I fervently believe if those elected and charged with the responsibility of governance begin every day with prayer, not for their position to win out but for:
thy Kingdom come,
thy will [to be] done
on earth as it is in heaven.
and waiting for hesed and ʾemet, then relationships among them will change and governance of the people for the people will be a vision fulfilled.
The results is the same as in the story of Rebekah’s wooing the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for generations to come will be secured.
Amen


Works Cited
Fretheim, Terence. The New Interpreters’ Bible. Vol. Volume 1 General Articles on the Bible; General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus. Abingdon, 1995. 12 vols. CD.
Hozee, Scott. Genesis 24:34-67. 6 July 2014. .
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67. 6 7 2012. .
Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Period Is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence.” New York Times 3 7 2014. web. .
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. n.d.