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Recent Sermons

Faith in Action ~ A Microcosm Touching Lives

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
July 16, 2017

Why do we study these old stories? Our Bible Study group was more than happy to be done with the Hebrew Scriptures after one reading. Even the very personal stories, like this one, seem so harsh and problematic. We don’t know Hebrew and have no history of reading them symbolically or as archetypes. What metaphorical meaning could they have for us anyway?  Can we see here any “faith in action”? Certainly Jacob and Rebekah pray for a child, but would we think God would tell us to favor one child over another as Rebekah does?

Genesis is one of the five books of the Pentateuch or Torah. To this day rabbis study and Jews wrestle with the meaning in all these ancient texts with the hope of discovering what God is calling forth from us now, in this place and time. Jesus would have known these stories better than Greeks and Romans knew their gods and goddesses or the mythological histories they gave their rulers. For Jesus this might have been a microcosm touching life. He might have seen the rivalry between brothers as a challenge to find a way to heal broken relationships between Samaritans and Jews or even Gentiles and Jews. Since he is not quoted on the subject, we don’t know.

What would Jesus have made of this story? What do we? Isaac is 40 when he marries Rebekah who is likely in her teens. She, like Sarah before her, struggles to conceive, and during her preganacy with twins she wishes she’d never          been born! Can you imagine how hard that pregnancy must have been in those ancient times? But God intervenes, tells her she’ll have sons and the older will serve the younger. Seems God supports her preference for Jacob and her lack         of love for Esau. (I don’t buy it!)

But the two sons are certainly very different. (Aren’t all children very different?) Dad favors Esau and they have a lot in common. Both love to hunt and eat meat! Mom favors Jacob and supports his trickery. And somehow Esau is blamed for being hungry and tricked.

The conflict between these two sons is meant to explain a conflict between two nations born of them. Edom is the land of Ishmael, what would become the Arab nations. Esau will eventually marry one of Ishmael’s daughters. The name Esau is said to be short for Edom of Seir. Edom (which means Red), of Seir (which is in the land of Edom).

I find myself angry with both parents in this story, but rather than focus on a past I can do nothing about, perhaps it is better for me to ask myself, what conflicts in my own life mirror this family dynamic?

So that is my question for us today: What conflicts are we experiencing that mirror this grand division between Jacob and Esau?

I have come to realize that there is no such thing as a fully functional family. All of us have people in our lives who push our buttons, drive us nuts and generally make life difficult. If we are lucky they live on the other side of the country (in their own separate nations, so to speak). But many are sharing the dinner table with us every night. Our children do not always get along. We try to never favor one child over another, but…

Church is like a family. If we are too homogenous we might never have conflicts, but learning to respect and honor our differences is the real work of being a church community. And the question of who is missing at our communion table is an important one. Where are the hungry, the homeless, the people of color? Our neighborhood church may be too comfortable for us to really see God’s family and our work within it.

Our nation is now perhaps more divided than at any time in history. We may try at all costs to avoid political discussions, but the deep divisions in our perspectives are amplified by whichever news we listen to and watch each day. And thanks to algorythms used by our internet providers, we tend to see and have reinforced the stories we already want to believe.

In “Days of Awe and Wonder,” Marcus Borg tells us he sees Jesus as a fully human being with three important qualities: First, Jesus was a Jewish Mystic. He experienced God’s presence as real. He heard God’s voice and felt guided by God’s Spirit. We are called into a relationship with God that is intimate and real. It is not enough to simply believe in God or Jesus; we are invited to experience the sacred within and around us. We are learning to pray and to listen to God’s law of love as Jesus taught us.

Second, Jesus was a Wisdom Teacher. He knew his Scriptures. He could draw on their wisdom and translate their meaning in ways that inspired others. We are invited to study and learn from his wisdom as well.

Third, Jesus was a Social Prophet. He began his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah and declaring that the prophetic work of justice and compassion was being fulfilled in their midst, that the kindom of God had come near. He rejected the dominant culture of his day that said the rich are important and the poor and oppressed aren’t. He stood in the long line of Hebrew prophets who condemned those who did not care for widows and orphans and        all those in need!

Jesus wasn’t killed for being a mystic. He wasn’t killed for being a wise man. He was killed for challenging the social and political order of his day. The cross he died on carried these words: King of the Jews! We are called to serve his Kingdom of compassion and care. How do we today, work to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?

Jacob and Esau stayed alienated from each other most of their lives. I know we can’t all become best friends. The alienation in our families is real. The prayer of Jesus “that we may all be one,” is still a distant dream. But we can work together prayerfully, ask ourselves how we can grow in understanding and acceptance, find concrete work we can do together to strengthen our world, because as Jesus so clearly reminds us, “a house divided          against itself cannot stand.”

He prays for us and with us and I hope we can pray together and work together to build bridges of understanding. As Karen Georgia Thompson said so clearly in our Quiet Meditation:
         “Looking inward and then looking outward, individually   and    collectively, allows us to find our place in the midst of the good and the bad, of living in right relationship. We can be bridge builders   or creators of the breech. How can we bring unity into places where         fault lines exist in relationship?”

Jacob and Esau failed and the nations they founded continue to fail. May we find ways to follow the law of love, to live for justice and mercy, to find the humility within and between us, to bring unity into places where fault lines exist! This is the faith in action God calls us to now. It calls each of us to be a microcosm of the love and justice we hope to see fulfilled in our wider world. May it be so. Amen.