The Burden to Bless Others – September 24, 2017 – Genesis 28: 10 – 17

There’s a shorter leap from last week’s text to this week’s story than there was the previous week. This week we jump ahead just 6 chapters. Last week, we read the story of Abraham and Isaac. Today, we read the story of Isaac’s son, Jacob. First, we need a review of what has happened with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau to bring us to today’s reading.
• Abraham bound Isaac to the altar, but God intervened and provided a suitable ram for sacrifice.
• Sarah died and was buried in a field.
• Abraham’s servant went to Abraham’s country to find a suitable bride for Isaac. Isaac marries his cousin, his father’s niece, Rebekah.
• Abraham dies. Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father in the field where Sarah was buried.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah had twins, Jacob and Esau. They were like warring nations in her belly. The Lord told her that the 2 sons would be 2 separate nations and people. Esau was born red and hairy. His name Esau means hairy, not the shortened form of Harold; Esau literally means hairy as in he has lots of hair all over his body. Jacob was born next grasping Esau’s heel. Jacob’s name means he grasps the heel.

Esau became a hunter and a man of the country while Jacob enjoyed time with his mother in the home tents. As much as parents shouldn’t have favorites, Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. One day, Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright over a bowl of stew.

There was a famine in the land. Isaac wanted to go to Egypt for food, but God told him to go to the land of the Philistines. God affirmed the covenant He made with Isaac’s father Abraham to give Abraham’s descendants the land they lived on. God promised to be with them and provide for them.

In Genesis 26: 4, the Lord affirms the promise to Abraham and confers the promise to Isaac saying:
“I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…”

Isaac lied to the Philistines about his wife Rebekah saying she was his sister, not his wife, just as his father Abraham had done with Sarah in Egypt. Isaac’s flock and wealth grew so much that the Philistines kicked him out. Isaac found land to settle in and the Philistine king came to Isaac to make a treaty because he saw God was with Isaac.

Esau marries a foreign girl which upsets his parents. We’ll find out in a few chapters the labor Jacob goes through to find his wives Leah and Rachel who are cousins.

Isaac is old and dying and prepares to give Esau his inheritance and blessing. Isaac asks Esau to go hunt for an animal to make some stew for his before he gives Esau his blessing. Rebekah overhears the request and plans to trick Isaac. Rebekah pulls an animal from the flock and makes stew for Isaac. She dresses up Jacob in his brother’s clothes and hair goatskins so that Jacob would smell like Esau and his arms would be hairy like Esau.

Isaac whose eyesight was failing him seemed to have some questions about what was going on thinking the stew came too quickly and he didn’t recognize the voice as Esau’s voice, but he was relieved to feel the hairy arms of his son and the smell of his clothes. Now, I imagine Esau as a teenage boy who’s going through all the stuff with body odor and body hair where Jacob had not yet reached that maturity even though they were twins.

So, Isaac gives Jacob, who he thinks is Esau, his blessing. In Genesis 27: 27 – 29, Isaac says:
“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be curses and those who bless you be blessed.”

Jacob left with his father’s blessing and shortly after Esau came in from hunting with some tasty stew looking for his father’s blessing. Isaac told Esau he had already given his blessing to Jacob. Esau was angry and pleaded for a blessing. Esau was rightfully angry as Jacob had tricked him out of his birthright and had now stolen his blessing. Esau wept and asked for a blessing. In Genesis 27: 39 – 40, Isaac blesses Esau: “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But, when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”

Esau was angry with Jacob for deceiving their father and stealing his birthright. Esau vows to kill Jacob as soon as their father dies.

Isaac asks Jacob to take a wife from his own country instead of a foreign wife like Esau. Rebekah and Isaac send Jacob to their ancestral home for Jacob to find a wife among his people. Esau realized his wives weren’t approved of by his parents so he went to Ishmael’s family and got himself another wife.

That brings us to Genesis 28: 10 – 17. We needed to understand all the dysfunction of this family to get to the part of the story that is today’s reading.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Jacob had nothing but a rock as a pillow. He was fleeing from his brother’s wrath in search of a wife that would please his father. He had tricked his brother and lied to his father. He is headed to his mother’s brother’s home. God meets him on his way in the midst of Jacob’s suffering to affirm His promise to Jacob’s family and bless Jacob.

God says, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God has promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a blessing of many offspring, a great nation and land for their people. God’s covenant includes, “you will be blessed to be a blessing.”

There’s a lot of inbreeding, lying and deceit in this family, not just among Jacob and Esau. This dysfunction goes back to Abraham and Sarah, down through Isaac and Rebekah to Jacob and Esau. If you follow the story, it includes Jacob’s father-in-law and carries on to Jacob’s 12 sons. Yet, God has promised to bless them and He is faithful to that promise regardless of what they do to show they are unworthy of that blessing.

God will remain faithful to this family, because God is capable of working out His plan in spite of our best efforts to make a mess of it. God can work through our past to bless our future. God’s will is to alter the course of destruction we set and set us on a new path.

I think my favorite part of this Scripture is God’s saying to Jacob: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” I hear that as God’s promise to a broken man who’s messed up. God is saying, “I’m not going to be done with you until I have blessed you.” Aren’t those words assuring? No matter how bad we mess up, God won’t be done with us until He has blessed us.

The challenge is: that promise of a blessing comes with a clause that says “by you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” That means that when God blesses you you must be a blessing to others. There are lots of ways to be a blessing to others whether it’s a visit to a lonely friend, a card to a sick church member, a gift to families afflicted by the hurricanes, food to the food pantry, a tithe to the church, being a dedicated parent, being a loyal friend, being a faithful spouse. There are so many ways to be a blessing.

Your burden is to live up to the challenge of blessing others. As tenacious as God is to blessing you, may you be as persistent at being a blessing to others.

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The Burden of Sacrifice – September 17, 2017 – Genesis 22: 1 – 13

As we’re reading the Bible as a narrative or story, we can’t read every story in one year so we skip some stories to keep up a pace to make it from Genesis through the prophets by Christmas. We’ll read some important stories along the long narrative of the Old Testament. Each week, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of what’s happened between last week’s reading and this week. I’ll include some important details about a character’s story that may not be included in the day’s reading but is important for us to remember if we are to understand the reading.

Last week, we read the Creation stories from chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis. This week, we jump to the story of Abraham and Isaac in chapter 21 and 22. Here’s what you need to know.
• Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed Abel and Cain’s descendants populated the earth.
• God found humans to be unrighteous. God flooded the earth killing all it’s inhabitants but spared Noah and his family. God promised to never again destroy the earth by flood. Noah’s descendants re-populated the earth.
• Then, begins the story of Abraham. Abraham’s story spans 13 chapters of Genesis. Many of us remember the children’s song: Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham…couldn’t help but leave you with that ear worm that I’ve had all week. Continue reading

The Burden of God’s Image – September 10, 2017 – Genesis 1

This is an ancient hymn that would have been very familiar to all who gathered in God’s Name for worship. We celebrate the Creator when we read this first chapter of Genesis and first chapter of the Bible. We start the work of the Hebrew Scriptures identifying who God is and remember throughout the Bible, even into the book of Revelation in the Christian Scriptures, that God is the Creator and we are His beloved creation.

This first chapter of Genesis is not an historical account about when God created the world or a scientific explanation about how God created the world – we have science and history books for that; this chapter in the Bible is a theological statement about who created the world. I know we can get hung up in a debate about how God did what and when, but that’s not what this text is. I am concerned with the theology of the creation narrative and interpreting what it means to be created in God’s image.

As we read through the liturgy, we start with God. God was before all creation. He is not part of creation and was not created. We start with the creation of Earth – it was formless and without shape. Notice, that this starts with Earth. In this narrative, Earth is the center of creation, but we know Earth is not the center of the universe. If we take this narrative literally, from the beginning there are flaws in the story.

God’s wind swept over the primordial soup and called forth light. “God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared.” Everything was already there – all the things God needed to create the order of this world. God was giving the chaos purpose and setting everything in motion. As God went about His work, He called things into being, they responded and came forth or appeared.
• God separated the waters and dry land appeared. The water was already there – God separated it for land to appear
• God called for the earth to grow plant life. The earth responded in growing what God told it to grow.
• God said let there be lights in the sky to separate night from day.
• God said let the waters swarm with sea animals and let birds fly above the earth. The waters became habitable for the sea animals and the birds found space to fly. And, they responded when God told them to multiply.
• God called for the earth to produce every living thing and through the earth God created every living thing.

Everything was being called forth, was placed in order, and responded to God’s command.

After all was called forth and set in place, God formed the humans. We were created to take charge of all of creation and made in the image of God. Here’s how the English is translated: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created him, male and female God created them.” (CEB) Here’s a little about the Hebrew. God is called Elohim in this text. Elohim means gods – plural. God was called Elohim before being known as Yahweh. The people’s understanding of God evolved over time and what they called God changed. The word translated as the human is a-dam which means one from earth or maybe earthling. A better translation may be: “Elohim created the earthling in the image of Elohim, he created him, male and female he created them.”

Chapter 1 does not tell us how or from what God created humans. Based on the root word for human in chapter 1, we know the human is related to the earth. It is not until the telling of the creation story in chapter 2 that we find out that God formed the human or A-dam or earthling out of the fertile topsoil. This is how the English is translated in chapter 2 about the creation of man: “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.” (CEB)

The name for God in chapter 2 is Lord God. In the Hebrew, it is Yahweh Elohim. God did not give Moses the Name Yahweh until the time of the Exodus (chapter 3); so, this telling of the story of creation in chapter 2 is a later version of the story that is more of a story than a hymn and does not include God’s work being done in the same order or specific periods of time. Chapter 2 does not say the earthling was made in God’s image; however, it does say that the female was fashioned from the man well after the other creatures of the earth.

What this tells me is that we have 2 relationships that are inherent to our creation: to the earth and to one another. There is a teaching from a 19th century rabbi named Simcha Bunim Bonhart from Peshischa Poland. He said:

“Everyone must have 2 pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and there, find the words:
Bishvili nivra ha-olam “For my sake was the world created.”
But, when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words:
V’anokhi afar v’efer “I am but dust and ashes.”

Both notes call us to an awareness about who we are as created earthlings. We have a responsibility to the earth because we came from the earth and we have a responsibility to one another because we were formed from one another. We need to find a balance between our responsibility to the earth and to the other. We also need to find a balance between power and humility.

When God created us, we were given the purpose of caring for His creation. We need to remember that we have a job to do and we have been given the power and authority to have dominion over His creation. Power and dominion does not mean we use and abuse the earth for our gain and pleasure. We have the responsibility to care for what is God’s and humbly treat it as a gift given to us. We are to cultivate it for growth; then, there will be an abundance for us to share. That is our responsibility to the earth.

We also have the responsibility to one another because we were given the purpose of helping each other. Genesis chapter 2 says the woman was fashioned as a helper for the man. I don’t want to get into men and women stuff. I want to focus on our responsibility to help one another, not as a subservient wife; we are called to help each other, as in all the other earthlings.

As we’re coming away from summer, the days are getting shorter and we’re moving into fall, we’re holding on to a few more days in the sun or at the lake or in the woods. Sometimes, we say we find God in nature and skip church to go find God among the creepy crawly things. If we’re not careful, we end up worshipping creation.

Creation is not God. We say we find God in creation but creation was not made in God’s image. We may find moments in creation that remind us of God’s goodness, created order, and beauty; but we should more easily find God in the face of our neighbor no matter how different he or she is from us. God is not a white man and Adam and Eve made in God’s image were not white as is depicted in most art whose subject is creation. God’s image is black, white, brown, Asian, bi-racial, male and female, gay, straight, queer, transgender, brown-eyed, blue-eyed, green-eyed, many shades of hair color, many shapes of noses, ears, chins and cheeks.

The beautiful trees casting their shadow on the lake were not made in the image of God. All of our brothers and sisters uniquely beautiful were made in the image of God. Seeing the image of God as lovely in all people is the burden of bearing God’s image. As one made in the likeness of God, we are called to be like God in celebrating all of His beloved children as perfect / as they were created. We are called to treat them with respect and dignity regardless of their abilities or age. We are called to welcome them regardless of their race, religion, creed or origin. That is the burden of being created in the image of God. We can bear it in bane or as a blessing. That is up to us. We can begrudge those who are different from us or we can love each individual as they are.