September 22, 2013 - Narrative Lectionary - Year 4, Week 3
I always thought the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bracelets were asking for too much. It certainly would be a lot easier to hold ourselves accountable to a ‘What Would Jacob Do’ bracelet.
What would Jesus do? He’d sacrifice himself in order to overthrow the evil in this world.
What would Jacob do? He’d trick people so he could get what he wanted.
Maybe the world is so challenged because everyone is reading their bracelets wrong.
In two weeks – three Sundays – we have catapulted from Creation to Abraham to Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac as a child to now Isaac as an old man, on his death bed. His twin sons, Esau and Jacob, have been at each other’s throats since the womb when all of their jostling and pushing caused their mother, Rebekah, to say, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”
And the LORD said to her,‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided;one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. (Genesis 25:22-26)
Esau was a hunter, Jacob was… well, according to the Bible – he liked to hang out in the tents.
Isaac, the father, loved Esau, but Rebekah, the mother, loved Jacob.
Esau was forthright and simple.
Jacob was sneaky and conniving.
If this family was around now, they’d have their own reality show.
Interview with Esau:
“I went out hunting for days and it didn’t go well. When I came back I was so hungry I couldn't even think straight and Jacob was hanging out in the tent cooking red stuff. I wanted the red stuff.”
“It was a lentil stew with coconut milk, tomato and cilantro.”
“It took a lot of effort to make and I knew Esau was just going to gulp it down so why not get what I could for it. I went for it all, asked for his birthright – that I would be considered the firstborn son – and he gave it to me. “
“No one was there to hear it though, so really the whole thing didn’t matter anyway.”
And this is what eventually leads to Jacob tricking his father, Isaac, into giving him a blessing instead of Esau.
The thing is, even with all of that conniving and manipulation, the outcome was not a Jacob who was obviously blessed. Instead the outcome was an Esau who was obviously ticked – and when one is used to hanging around in tents and cooking lentils, it is best not to anger the one who can hunt you down and kill you.
Jacob had to run from home and in between there and his next stop on the Biblical Family of Deceit Tour, he spent the night unprotected in the wilderness and fell asleep using a stone for his pillow.
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And the LORD stood beside him and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
Along Beach Boulevard in Gulfport, Mississippi there is St. Peter’s Episcopal Church by the Sea. For a long time after Hurricane Katrina you could stand under St. Peter’s roof and see the Gulf of Mexico and the beach, not through a window, but through the gaping holes where walls used to be. The walls of the church’s lower half were completely ripped off by the force of the storm, windows were blown out, pieces of the altar were heavily damaged or missing. Inside, the baptismal font was knocked over either by winds and water or debris striking it. Even a substantial granite sign at the end of the church's driveway was damaged… toppled like dominoes and broken into three large pieces.
In the days after Hurricane Katrina, parishioners returned to St. Peter’s by the Sea and found hymnals and Bibles, church records, robes, and stoles strewn outside the building, just part of the rubble and debris.***
Many churches rebuilt, but they did so on higher ground, across the highway. The Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the other Episcopal Church – all of them left. It made sense, really. Except that those who still live in the downtown neighborhoods of those beaten shores needed a church.
I give thanks for the Old Testament and its stories of real people and real families. This is not some Legends of Israel comic book where the patriarchs have no sin and God loves them only because of their perfection. Family systems then and now are riddled with strife – both from natural and human causes.
Whether it’s the winds of disaster or the trickery of humanity – things get destroyed - and nothing is more devastated than a church that has been blown away by a storm.
What Would St. Peter’s Do?
In a Mississippi business magazine, the building chair of St. Peter’s tells their story:
“After the storm, nobody knew at first what to do. We survived the first year dealing with our personal lives,” he said. “Then we met and prayed about it trying to figure out what to do. We’ve always been a downtown church. We minister to downtown and will remain a downtown church… We saw a need here and chose to stay.”
Despite the destruction and the heartbreaking trauma of a natural disaster, the people of St. Peter’s by the Sea stayed by the sea and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
MPC is blessed – we have faced no natural disaster, there has been no building destruction. But the winds of secular apathy are howling, and the forces of family dynamics can threaten.
What will MPC do?
We will continue to build on the faith of those who have come before us.
We will stay and look around and see… the Lord is in this place… How awesome!
- Over 300 pounds of fresh produce delivered to New Hope Ministries in one summer;
- Vegetables prepared week after week and paper products crowding the stage for CROSS;
- Sunday school hallways and classrooms bubbling with laughter and fresh understandings of the Word of God;
- Dozens of youth and adults sent out to serve by this congregation locally, nationally and abroad;
- Brand new Bibles placed in the hands of our 3rd graders and our Confirmation Class this morning;
- Our voices filling the Sanctuary giving thanks and glory to God through song and praise.
Surely the Lord is in this place…
How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Preacher's Note: I've been brushing up on my family systems theory lately, and especially how it relates to church dynamics. Edwin H. Friedman is the genius on such things and his last book reminds leaders to avoid getting caught up in other people's anxiety, but instead respond by giving their I Have a Dream speech. This is mine.)