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Pentecost 7 Proper 11A RCL July 23, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43

In our first lesson today, we are continuing the story of Jacob. Last Sunday, we looked on as Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, that is, Esau’s right to be the leader of the family and to receive a double inheritance. When Esau came in from hunting, Jacob got him to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

Between that point and our reading for today, much more has happened. Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, realizes that he is going to die very soon. So he sends Esau out to hunt for game and bring it home and prepare it in Isaac’s favorite way so that Isaac can have this festive meal and give Esau his blessing, another right of the eldest son, before Isaac dies.

Rebekah, who loves Jacob more than Esau, cooks up a scheme with Jacob. She gets him to kill “two choice kids” for her to cook, and she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, which are hanging right in the closet, Because Esau is a hairy man, Rebekah puts the skins of the calves on Jacob’s arms and hands. Before Esau gets home, Jacob goes into his father’s room, pretends to be Esau, and receives Isaac’s blessing.

When Esau gets home with the game for his mother to cook, he finds out what Jacob has done. He vows that he will hunt down Jacob and kill him.

In today’s reading, Jacob is running for his life. He is on his way to Haran, his father’s home, where he hopes to find shelter and support. But night is coming. He takes a desert rock, puts it under his head, and has an amazing dream. There is a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and there are angels ascending and descending on it. God stands beside him and renews the promise God made to Abraham many years ago.

Herbert O’Driscoll says of this dream, “In some strange way it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness. It shows Jacob a much bigger reality than our Western culture has seen in the last few centuries. In Jacob’s dream there is a door between realities. Humanity is no longer a prisoner of the world.” (O Driscoll, The Word Today Year A, Vol. 3, p 56.)

Jacob wakes up and he knows that God is real and that God has chosen Jacob to carry on the blessing God gave to Abraham. God has also told Jacob that God will be with Jacob always. For the first time in his life, Jacob realizes that he is not the center of the world. He has met God. He sets up a  monument to this moment and he names the place Bethel—beth-el—house of God.

God uses the most unlikely people to carry out God’s plans. Here is Jacob, the supplanter, the heel, the cheat, the schemer. He has fallen into the hands of the living God. God has chosen him.

Our psalm for today, number 139, tells us that there is nowhere we can go, that will take us away from God. God is everywhere, and God’s love and grace will follow us everywhere we go.

In our epistle today, a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Paul is continuing his thoughts about life in the flesh, life based entirely on humans goals and needs and visions, and life in the Spirit, life rooted and grounded is the love, joy, peace, grace, and power of God. Life in the Spirit is a life based in hope.

One of the most powerful parts of this reading is the sheer fact that, thanks to our Lord Jesus, we are children of God. This relationship is so close and so intimate that we can now call God Abba. Abba is a term of endearment and intimacy. It can be translated “Daddy,” or  “Papa,” or “Dad,” or, in more inclusive language, “Mama,”  or “Mom.” We are that close to God. We are God’s beloved children.

In our gospel, Jesus tells another parable. Someone sows good seed, but in the depths of night, someone comes in and plants weeds. When the grain appears, the weeds grow up along with it.  The point of the parable is that we are going to have to let the grain and the weeds grow together.  If we try to pull the weeds, the tender little wheat plants will come up with them. When harvest time comes, the wheat plants will be sturdy. We can come along and pull the weeds and then harvest the wheat. The interpretation of the parable and the furnace of fire are not something our Lord would have said, They are later editorial additions. We recall that Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A D. in a time of persecution and great fear and turmoil.

This parable is saying that we have to let the weeds and the wheat grow together. So often, in the Church and in the world, we want to do the sorting ourselves. We want to root out this bad thing or that bad thing.  But in God’s garden, often we need to have patience. In time, it will become clear which are the weeds and which are the wheat. Sometimes, we are a bit confused as to which is which. If something bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it is of God. God is the ultimate judge.

I think of the Civil War and the issue of slavery. There were good people on both sides. Church people argued on both sides of this issue. When I was much younger, there was great turmoil and suffering over simply allowing people of color to go to a bathroom, use a drinking fountain, or be served at a lunch counter. We are still working on that issue.

Tragically, we humans have a tendency to think that we have the right to exclude some people. We find excuses to do this. We say that people of color are inferior. or women are inferior or gay people are inferior or Muslims are inferior—the list goes on and on—and then we try to shut these people out. And God says, “You are all my people, and you are all my beloved. Live together in my love.”  Amen.

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