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Pentecost 7 Proper 11A July 19, 2020

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Jacob is on the run. Last week, we read about how he manipulated his older brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. This means that Esau will no longer be the head of the family when their father, Isaac, dies, Nor will Esau receive a double portion of the inheritance, which usually goes to the older son. Jacob has robbed his older brother of his birthright.

Meanwhile their father, Isaac, who is now blind, has realized that he will die soon. He wants to give Esau his blessing. He tells Esau to go out and kill some game, bring it in, prepare it, serve it to his father and then Isaac will give Esau his blessing.

Rebekah has listened in on Isaac’s conversation with Esau. Because she loves Jacob more than Esau, she hatches a plan for Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. She kills two kids and makes them into a savory stew. Then she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes and covers his hands and neck with the skins of the kids so that, he, who has smooth skin, will seem as hairy as his older brother. Jacob pretends that he is Esau, serves his father the savory stew, and gets Isaac’s blessing, which cannot be revoked.

When Esau comes to see his father, offer Isaac his savory stew, and get his father’s blessing, he finds out what Jacob has done and vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah advises Jacob to go to their family in Haran, some 600 miles away in what is now Turkey.

Our reading takes place on the first night of Jacob’s journey. Jacob stops to rest. In Hebrew, Jacob’s name means “He supplants.” He has always thought of himself first, last, and always. He always wins. Now his older brother has vowed to find him and kill him.

Jacob takes a stone and uses it for a pillow, and he has the most amazing dream. There is a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels are going up and down the ladder which links heaven and earth. Herbert O’Driscoll says. “In some strange way, it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Volume 3, p.56.) This amazing vision is granted to Jacob, the cheat, the scoundrel.

And then God speaks to Jacob and renews the promise that God first made to Abraham. Jacob will have descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. God says, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” And God tells Jacob that God will be with him always and will keep him wherever he goes and will bring him back home.

To his credit, Jacob, the cheat, who would rob his own brother of the birthright and the blessing, seems to realize what is happening. He knows that God has spoken to him. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he says,”and I did not know it!” 

He actually is afraid. He senses at last that there is someone more powerful than he is. He sets up a monument to God and names the place Bethel—Beth—house, El, the first part of the word “Elohim,” which means Lord or God.  Bethel—house of God.

This story, which oscillates between the sublime and the soap opera, tells us some very important things. God does not always choose perfect people to do God’s work. God often chooses frail, fallible, flawed humans to receive huge blessings and carry out important missions. Most of us are only too profoundly aware of our weaknesses and imperfections. The story of Jacob’s encounter with God assures us that we can help God build God’s shalom, too. Last Sunday we noted that great bumper sticker—“Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God is definitely not finished with Jacob. Thanks be to God, who has finally gotten through to Jacob, at least to some extent.

Our gospel for today is the famous story of the wheat and the weeds, in earlier translations called the tares. The point of this parable is that there are good and bad things happening in our world. In Matthew’s congregation, scholars tell us, there were some people who took their faith very seriously and lived their faith, and there were others who were quite lukewarm followers of Jesus. There may have been some folks who wanted to throw those nominal followers out. But the message is, let God be the judge.

If we see good things happening, such as our food shelf, let’s pitch in and help those good things in every way that we can. Let’s focus on the good things and help them all we can. If there are bad things, certainly we will not support them, but we will not focus on them and get discouraged. We will do all we can to help good things grow, and we will let God do the sorting. 

There are times when we do have to take action against evil. The rise of Hitler was such a time, and thank God for all those in the Greatest Generation who gathered together with profound courage and stopped him. But we have to be very careful about labeling things good and evil. Our own Civil War was a time when people on both sides quoted the Bible in defense of their positions. We are still working through the issue of racism.

If something shows the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it is of the Spirit. If it does not show these qualities, God will guide us as to how to respond. Most of all, let us work on the side of the things of the Spirit.

In our epistle for today, we read that we are God’s own beloved children. We can call God “Abba.” “Abba” is an intimate familiar term for a father. We can call God Daddy or Dad, or Mom or Mama. St. Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains to bring forth God’s shalom of peace and harmony. He also says, “For in hope we were saved.”

We are a people of hope. We are a people of love. We are a people of faith. Amidst all the struggle and ambivalence and confusion in our world, we are a people of faith, hope, and love who are constantly working for the good things we see God doing in this world. And our loving God is saying the same thing God said to Jacob all those centuries ago: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  Amen.

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