Sermon by The Rev. Alisdair Smith, July 27, 2014

Published on 28 Jul 2014

Sermon by The Rev. Alisdair Smith, July 27, 2014

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 27, 2014
The Rev. Alisdair Smith
Christ Church Cathedral

Click here to listen to an audio mp3 of the sermon

Holy One, for all that has been thank you, for all that will be, yes.

Well it has been quite a week, has it not. I am so sorry to have missed Dixie’s sermon last week. I read it on line and am still reflecting on it. And Chris Lind’s memorial yesterday. Courage, justice, strength, vision and God as the Heart of the Universe. And then, and then, we get to hear all about Jacob and his uncle bartering over the uncle’s two daughters! No wonder so many people shake their heads in wonder about religious texts. Let me live my life with the courage and compassion of a Dixie or a Chris and I’ll be ok. (and frankly, that is pretty good advice!) If you want to play Angry Birds for the rest of the sermon, feel free!

Or, we can dive into this story, and discover first a huge challenge to each of us as women and men, and secondly a challenge about what we think justice might mean. I’d like to explore both of these challenges with you this morning. But first some context.

As many of us will know, taking the bible literally is actually missing the whole point. As 2nd Testament Scholar John Dominic Crossan has so correctly pointed out, it “…is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” The journey of Jacob that we’ve been hearing about over the past few weeks is just such a story. The basic premise of the stories in this part of Genesis are focused on what is called by theologians, the Abrahamic Covenant. Walter Brueggemann, that brilliant Hebrew Bible scholar and a dear teacher of mine, often says that resident in the Hebrew Bible is a tension between two basic covenants. The first, and heard most loudly in Genesis, the Abrahamic Covenant between God and humans that says, you and I are loved in spite of our faults and failings. The second, often described as the Moses or Mosaic Covenant, is a covenant between God and humans that says, you and I are loved if we follow the rules. The Abrahamic covenant then describes an unconditional love from God, the Mosaic Covenant is about a conditional love from God. And Brueggemann then will say that Jesus is a follower of the Abrahamic Covenant. I want to stress that this is a tension within the texts. It is not ok to say that Christianity is better than Judaism because of this debate. In fact it is a debate that continues to this very day in both Judaism and Christianity. This story though, is most likely a story from the Abrahamic Covenant and needs to be read and heard as such.

So Jacob’s story is another example of the unconditional love of God,, what Ellen calls the indiscriminate or promiscuous love of God. In the first episode from two weeks ago, Jacob breaks the law of the first born, and steal’s his brother Esau’s ‘blessing’. In last week’s episode, we heard the famous story of Jacob’s Ladder. I was at the cathedral in Kelowna last week and the Dean there, Nissa Basbaum gave a wonderful sermon exploring Jacob’s internal struggles. If you recall, Jacob had been sent away by his father, and finds himself laying down to sleep and of course, he has a dream. Now, NIssa’s thinking is that we can look at this from a psychological perspective, we all find ourselves in dark places, especially after we have behaved badly. And what might we discover in those dark places? We might discover that “God is in this place and I, i did not know” Gen 28:16 And so Jacob, even though he stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his own father, is still loved, unconditionally, indiscriminately, promiscuously, by God.

And then, this weeks episode describes that Jacob meets Rachel, his uncle Laban’s daughter! He strikes a deal with his uncle, working for seven years in order to marry Rachel, who just happens to be, wait for it, the younger sister of Leah! Think birthright. According to tradition, it is Leah who should be married first. And so, we have a little trickery on the part of Laban, who sends Leah into the tent with Jacob. A certain pay back maybe for Jacob? Clearly the two deceits, Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright and Laban putting the older daughter in place of the younger daughter are linked in the narrative. And what I wonder, given the Abrahamic covenant, is what might it mean?

Well, as I said I think there are two challenges for us 21st century western people. The first is about how we think about gender. Both Rachel and Leah in this part of the story are silent. Now we can do some historical apologetics and name the misogyny of the time, and pat ourselves on the back about how far we have come. Or, we can do what I believe we are called to in this story. I believe that we are called to examine our own behaviours; how many of our stories (movies and TV shows) include silent, or largely silent women? How many meetings are we participating in where it’s the men who speak first, who speak the loudest and occupy most of the airtime. How many women fail to speak up for fear of being shut down? And when they do speak up, how many of us fail to listen. Deeply embedded in this story is a call for us all, especially when we are in positions of power, to be silent so others may speak, and to advocate, to speak up, and to demand respectful room to speak.

The second challenge has to do with our understanding of the word justice. Frankly, the idea of Laban’s trickery with his daughters and Jacob being Jacob receiving justice, in the form of payback seems too easy. Such a quid pro quo kind of thinking, especially after the dream, where Jacob is blessed, seems a little too much like the Moasiac kind of thinking; Jacob was bad, Jacob should be punished, or at least get his. Isn’t that what justice is all about?

But what if God’s justice might be a little less tit for tat? Well, Ellen was alluding to an important point in her sermon a couple of weeks ago, talking about Jacob and Esau. She said, “having an awareness of the love of God and the indwelling Spirit does not miraculously make us nice, kind, loving people…” Nor I submit, does it guarantee that we will receive only good thing in our lives. What happens to Jacob is life. The fact that we are all blessed by God, the fact that we are all loved by God is not a magic pill that will protect us from bad stuff. We get sick, we can get very sick. We can die, way before our time, we can do our best and still bad things can happen to us. We are loved by God, and that raises the questions, what am I going to do about that? Given that, who am I going to be? Jacob could have jumped up and down (he does a bit, he is only human), but he chooses to move forward. Life in all it’s diversity is a gift, and we are all loved by God. And sometimes, bad things happen. And God is there. And that dear friends is where we find God’s justice. Just because we are blessed by God does not make us any better than anyone else. We are all loved by God. Whomever we are, what ever we have done. Whatever our state, what ever our beliefs, whom ever we love. Whether we are silent or loud, hairy or smooth, rich or poor, fortunate or not, we are all loved by the Heart of the Universe.

The challenge is how do we live into that? How do we find a heart big enough to pick ourselves up, like Jacob does, even after tripping up, and move forward? Perhaps the genesis of God’s justice is finding the strength to forgive ourselves, to find the strength to then keep going, even in the midst of the frustrations and even terrors of this life.

I’ll close riffing on Ellen’s final words as she explored Esau and Jacob a couple of weeks ago. “These …passages all ultimately point us in the same direction – away from the limited, conditional love of the human heart to the freely given and unconditional love at the heart of God. They call on us to relax into the certainty of the divine love and act out of a place of abundance not of scarcity. So may we celebrate [a God] whose love is without limits, may we welcome the indwelling transformative Spirit who breaks down the barriers between us….” And in doing so, find justice for all peoples, everywhere.


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