Jul 10, 2011
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So, were talking about Abraham again. Well, his kids at least. When last we saw Isaac he was a young boy caught in Abrahams nightmare. In our story this morning hes all grown up. He has two sons of his own and just like him and his older brother, Ishmael, there seems to be a bit of a family rivalry.
Abraham had passed away. His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, were there at the funeral. Im not sure what kind of reunion it was. Though, I imagine it was awkward. You understand, Abraham had remarried after Sarah passed away and he had other children. I always seem to forget that part of the story.
Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokoshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
He had other children by his concubines as well. According to scripture, he sent those away to the east after offering them gifts when they came of age. Abrahams children were indeed without number
apparently, in his lifetime.
So, Isaac and Ishmael saw each other at the funeral, but as far as we know they didnt see one another again. Theres no word on reconciliation; though there are other stories that speak of reconciliation, scripture is unclear. The men honored their father and that is all. They go off on their separate ways and their descendents settle in different parts of the land.
Family, it would seem, has always been a little messy. Rivalries emerge. Marriages come to an end. New relationships are formed. Love emerges, too, in all manner of ways in the midst of the relational chaos. Theres always love and theres always a mess.
What a curious spiritual heritage. For a Divine Covenant about being a people together, about belonging to one another in such a profound way, its very messy. Im constantly surprised by the stories about the mess.
Jacob and Esau fight in the womb! Its that messy. These boys were born scrapping with one another and Jacob, who becomes the inheritor of Gods promise to Grand Pa Abraham, cheats his older brother Esau out of his birthright.
Esau is an oaf. Again and again the ancient authors will find a way to speak ill of Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. Over the years, brotherly rivalry will become tribal rivalry and that will become national rivalry.
But Jacob is no Boy Scout either.
Hes not trustworthy. Hes conniving.
He spends his life deceiving others
working some angle.
And yet hes the inheritor of the promise God gave to Abraham.
Its a wreck. The whole thing is like something from the Maury Povich show.
So much for the Biblical ideal of the family.
That makes me wonder what our nations struggle is really about. What rivalry lies beneath the surface of that debate?
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who will later become Israel, were imperfect people. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel were imperfect people. So too were their rivals. Abraham left an entire city-state behind. Ishmael and Isaac barely made peace with one another. Jacob and Esau will reconcile, but will have to go their separate ways. The damage was done. Take some time to read about their lives. The narratives echo one another. Its really quite remarkable. Their lives were a raging mess of familial dysfunction repeating itself again and again.
We see this truth about rivalry play out in families.
It plays out in villages, neighborhoods, on cul de saqs,
in towns, cities, and between nations.
Were seeing a lot of rivalry at work in our political community right now.
(I wonder what would change if they knew that they were a community and not rivals?)
Political obligations. Political maneuvering.
It gets us nowhere fast.
Its all rivalry.
The good news, however, is that God doesnt love us less because there are rivalries.
No. Of course not.
But they are the great distraction.
They are signs of how we confuse our longings.
What do we long for?
Who do we long for?
Why do we get our longings all mixed up?
I think its because we forget whom we belong to. We think we belong to ourselves. Or we think we belong to the future
or the past or to the city
to the night/Livin' in a river of darkness/Beneath the neon lights" (Thank you, Glenn Frye).
But time and time again, God reminds us that we actually belong to God (You are my people and I am your God) and to belong to God, and for God to belong to us, is to discover the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts.
What do you long for?
Who do you long for?
Why do you get your longings all mixed up?
Im always longing for peace
peace of mind and soul and just a little gentleness, and someone or a community that will help me be at peace with myself and others. Sometimes I feel so conflicted inside. My thoughts are a muddled heap and I lose my sense of self.
My soul is uneasy. I cannot pray.
And I cannot accept the prayers of others.
Sometimes. Sometimes my longings are that mixed up.
Do you know this place? I call it isolation. I set myself outside of everything hoping that will bring me peace. Maybe if I cut myself off from all the things that bring me frustration or anxiety, then peace will come. That doesnt work, by the way. Theres a fairy tale if there ever was one.
Have you ever noticed in fairy tales that isolation is always a curse?
Theres some wisdom for you.
Theres a lot of anger in this for me, too. Rage, really. And thats where my sense of rivalry comes from.
I wonder if Jacob had that kind of rage. He could not be alone. That wasnt going to work, but he did not know how to be a part of something without being at odds with someone in it. Even from the womb he was at odds with Esau. Rage.
Esau will also discover rage eventually, a killers rage before this mornings story comes to its fruition. Its so utterly absurd, the things well do to one another to make peace, to find blessing, to end the rage and frustration of our own sense of isolation.
Well cast about everywhere hoping, just hoping that Gods blessing will emerge. We take and we fight and we scrape and we seek approval from everywhere but from the one place, the one Person who matters most. We cast seeds into the eye of a storm hoping fruit will grow. Well talk about that next week. Seeds. Casting about. Thats next week.
The truth in the story this morning that I hope you hear is this: God is not interested in your birthright.
We long for God and Gods Grace but sometimes we end up confusing it with some material birthright. So we cheat one another thinking that victory will bring us closer to God somehow, that our victory will be a symbol of our blessing.
We become rivals for what we think defines us. We get hung up on all the details forgetting that Grace is for everyone. Perhaps we believe that our identity depends upon our birthright, or our successes in life, in family, in school, in business, and even in being a congregation. But what the scriptures tell us is that God is in the midst of the mess
our successes and our failures,
our peacefulness and our rancor,
our generosity and our rivalry.
There is no success that can bring you Gods love.
There is no failure that can take it away from you.
What we can do, however, is give ourselves over to God. To do that we have to give ourselves over to one another, our family, our friends, neighbors, strangers, and enemies alike. We can become people aware of when were choosing rivalry and not sharing in faith. We can learn to let go of the things we think we need or think we deserve. We can learn to be the People of God, the People we have always been through the promise given to our Great-great-ever-so-great grandfather Abraham.
There is an old saying, If you have a heart, you can be saved.
Its a way of saying that the grace of God, the promise of belonging to God, fall upon all. Its not about our goodness. Its not about our success or failure.
Its simply recognizing that we belong.
We belong to God.