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Pentecost 7 Proper 12A RCL July 27, 2014

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

In our first reading, Jacob has cheated his older brother, Esau, out of their father’s blessing and Esau’s birthright as the elder son. He has fled to Haran in Mesopotamia, where his ancestor Abraham had lived before he followed God’s guidance and journeyed to the land of Canaan.

Jacob’s kinsman, Laban, graciously says that Jacob should not have to work for nothing and offers to pay him. Jacob has fallen in love with Rachel and offers to work for seven years in order to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.

The seven years pass and Jacob asks to marry Rachel. Laban appears to be keeping his agreement, but he tricks Jacob and gives Leah in marriage. In those days and in that culture, there was a great feast for the wedding, the bride was clothed in layers of veils, and she went into the bridal tent in the dark of night. When morning dawns, Jacob realizes that he has married Leah instead of Rachel.  

Laban now explains that it is their custom to give the elder daughter in marriage first, but he generously offers that, if Jacob will work seven more years, he can have Rachel, and that marriage can take place in a week.

This is a culture in which women were viewed as possessions to be given away by their fathers, and the patriarchs held absolute power. But it is a part of the history of God’s people. The story also involves a reversal for Jacob, the Supplanter, the crafty cheater.  He is outsmarted by Laban. On the other hand, he is not eager to return home, where Esau is still hunting him to kill him. He is happy to spend fourteen years accumulating wives and livestock.

In our passage from the Letter to the Romans, Paul reaches the height of his theological and literary powers. We can all identify with what he is talking about. How many times have we tried to find words to pray in the face of events and situations which make us speechless? When we think of children risking their lives to get from El Salvador or Guatemala or Honduras to the borders of the United States, riding “The Beast,” the train that can carry them to new hope but from which they can fall to a horrible death; or when we think of an airplane being shot down over Eastern Ukraine and innocent people dying; or when we think of people being killed in the struggle between Israel and Hamas; all of these things can and do overwhelm us. Then, when we add personal situations in which people are struggling with illness or tragedy, we simply cannot find words.

Paul tells us that God is so close to us, God’s Holy Spirit is so much with us, that the Spirit “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Paul also reminds us that “All things work together for good for those who love God.” Sometimes there seem to be so many bad things happening that we find it almost impossible to see the good.  In our own lives, we can look back on an event that seemed so full of brokenness that we wondered how good could come out of it, but we find that it has made us stronger. It has deepened and tempered our faith and made us better people. Indeed, “All things work for good for those who love God.”

And, finally, Paul assures us so powerfully that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ. These words are so central to our faith that they are placed in the burial service. This passage is one of the scriptures we can chose for the burial of a loved one. These words give us so much hope in the face of so much brokenness in our world.

We end with some wonderful parables of Jesus. We could spend hours on these parables alone. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds and yet it can grow into a bush, a shrub, that is as high as the eye of a horse. That is a pretty impressive shrub. Big things and good things can start very small.  I have no doubt that Jesus would agree that small is beautiful.

The kingdom is like yeast. It is hidden. You cannot see it. Yet it turns a lump of flour into delicious and nourishing bread. The shalom of God is like treasure hidden in a field or like a pearl of great price. When you find it, it is so precious that you will give everything you have in order to get it. The image of the net takes us back to the wheat and the tares growing together. God will sort it out at the end. Our job is to leave the sorting to God and just follow the good every step of the way.

What are these lessons telling us? Well, Jacob is on a learning curve. He isn’t the only shrewd guy around. He is learning patience. He is learning love. He is growing. He is being transformed, slowly but surely.

Paul is telling us that we have nothing to fear. God is with us. God helps us at every turn. God loves us with a love that goes beyond our understanding.

The kingdom of God, the shalom of God, is growing all the time. It is not splashy. It does not take out big ads. It does not do a lot of self-promotion. Wherever people are given a drink of water, wherever and whenever people are valued and cared for, whenever someone chooses honesty over trickery, integrity over shiftiness, compassion over tyranny, the shalom of God is advanced. It almost happens without our noticing. Good news does not usually hit the front page.

Slowly and often silently, the shalom of God is growing and transforming the world, like a mustard seed, like yeast.  Let’s do everything we can to help God build that shalom. Amen.

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