Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pentecost 7A

Jacob was on his way home. He simply wanted to make things right. Guilt-ridden over the way he treated his twin brother Esau in stealing his birthright and snatching the blessing from their father Isaac, Jacob just wanted to say sorry for everything he had done to them.

God had asked him to return and seek forgiveness from his family. While it wasn’t his idea, Jacob knew it was the right thing to do.

And he was going to do it himself. He didn’t ask God to solve his problems for him. Nor did he ask God to protect him against his brother Esau. Nor does he devise yet another clever trick to fool his brother into forgiving him.

Jacob merely prays for the strength to do the right thing. He prays for the courage to reconcile with his brother. He prays that he will have what it takes to set things right between him and Esau, who is understandably angry with him. Jacob simply prays that Esau will find it within himself to forgive his brother.

And it is at that moment, that moment in prayer, that Jacob is attacked. It’s night and Jacob can’t see his attacker. And all he can feel is a sharp jab to his hip, knocking it out of its socket. They fight all night and Jacob could barely stand the pain.

Then the attacker says, “Let me go, the sun is coming up.”

But Jacob says, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

Interesting request.

Does this mean that Jacob knew his attacker? From whom is he looking for a blessing?

It’s hard to say. No one really knows who this attacker is. Some say it’s an angel. Perhaps even Esau’s guardian angel. Others say it’s a demon out to prevent Jacob from reconciling with his brother. Still others see him as the personification of the dangers lurking in the darkness. And yet others say it’s actually God.

But I like what Rabbi Harold Kushner says. Rabbi Kushner notes that Jacob is alone. And that the attacker is exactly as strong as Jacob. No stronger, but no weaker. Which is why they can’t beat each other and they last all night.

The rabbi says, “The attacker, the angel, is Jacob’s conscience, the part of him that summons him to rise above his bad impulses. The struggle is between the part of him that wins by cleverness and fraud, and the part of him that feels summoned by God to climb a ladder to heaven, to become someone exemplary.” (Kushner, Living a Life That Matters p. 26)

In other words, Jacob is at war with himself. Yes, he is clever and gets what he wants through craftiness and deceit. He’s very smart. Perhaps too smart. And he’s really proud of his abilities because they have given him the life he’d been looking for, and helped him walk the path that God put in front of him.

But he also knows the cost his cleverness and deceit take on his relationships with others. Especially his brother Esau and his dad Isaac. He regrets what he’s done to them. He feels cut off from his family. Estranged from from his past. He’s lost. Without a home.

So Jacob finds himself wrestling in the dark with an adversary that is his equal, because that adversary is himself.

“Then the man said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So the man said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

What Rabbi Kushner doesn’t notice, however, is that it was God who put Jacob in all those impossible situations, knowing that the only way out of them was deceit and cunning.

Jacob clearly was the right person to receive the birthright, the inheritance of land and leadership, from their father Isaac, but Esau was the first born, and not up to the task. And since the birthright went to the oldest son, Jacob had to manufacture a way to obtain what was legally his brother’s, but divinely appointed to Jacob.

And Jacob, with his mother Rebekah as an accomplice, needed to receive the blessing from his blind father, so they schemed to steal the blessing away from Esau, the official passing of the reigns of authority, to Jacob and not Esau. So Jacob tricked a blind old man into giving away something meant for someone else. This was the only way he could do the work that God had given him to do.

So, Jacob had been wrestling with God long before the midnight encounter at Jabbok. He’d been wrestling with God since before he was born. God wasn’t making it easy for Jacob to receive his destiny as the one to be called “Israel.” Jacob was always at war with himself, and with God.

“You have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” And he could also add, with striven with himself and prevailed.

But that win came with a cost. Jacob was left with a limp that would remain with him for the rest of his life, reminding him of that night, reminding him of the battle between his worst instincts and his best self. But also reminding him that he can be hurt by life and he can survive.

His limp, which would follow him for the rest of his life, was why he was now Israel, meaning “one who has striven with God” would be a constant reminder of the cost of being chosen by God.

This is a new day for Jacob, now called “Israel.” With a new name comes a new life, a new identity, a new way of seeing the world and his place in it. It was an affirmation of the victory of his better self over his worst impulses.

God had given him the name Israel, perhaps in admiration, and maybe even as a reward. Because in losing that battle, Jacob had won the war against himself.

I think that’s a war that we all fight. We all live in constant struggle, battling between our worst impulses and our best selves. Sometimes, like Jacob, we can’t tell the difference between the two. Sometimes, like Jacob, we wrestle with God’s call on our lives.

We wish that being a person of faith were easier. We wish faith was something we could simply get up and do, much like brushing our teeth or eating breakfast. We wish we could see God’s plan for us and lives so clearly that we could follow it and never doubt nor stray from God’s path.

We wish that our best selves drove our lives and our choices all the time. But we know that we are - at best - a muddle of mixed motivations. And we trust that God works within us and through us, as our lives go in directions we don’t expect or anticipate.

My divorce is something that neither I, nor Rebekah, nor God intended when we got married. But the separation experience has taught Rebekah and I the power of a reconciliation that allows us to part ways blessing the other’s future.

A friend’s cancer came as a shock, while it was a treatable form of melanoma, he said it helped him to see the world with new eyes. The disease opened to him the generous preciousness of life. He actually calls his cancer “the gift” because, he says, because of his cancer, he’s become more loving, and can live in joyful gratitude for his time on this planet.

The same-sex marriage debate in our church has created division and acrimony. But it also gives us the opportunity to learn how to disagree as Christians, and to show the world a different way of disagreeing, a way of disagreeing that is marked by compassion, grace, and healing.

I’m sure you all have your own stories. Stories of victory from failure, and life from pain. Stories of survival.

This is why you ALL can be called “Israel,” you who have striven with God and with others and you have prevailed.

This is why you can be proud of your struggles. This is why you can be proud of the journey your life has taken. This is why you can be proud of your bruised and battered hearts. Because you have striven with God and with life, and you have survived. You have prevailed.

I know that you have prevailed because you are here. You are still walking the path that God put in front of you. You are still following the voice that calls your name. You are still communing with God among fellow survivors.

Like Jacob, you may walk with a limp, but that pain is a constant reminder of your victory. That pain is a constant reminder that God can create something new and beautiful out of the ugliest circumstances. That pain is a constant reminder that you are stronger and better because of your battles.

And today, Jase, or maybe I should call him “Israel” because who knows what God has already done with him? And who knows what God will do with him in his life? But we do know that Jase will face struggle and failure, victory and joy, and everything in between.

And we also know, that because he has been chosen by God, named and claimed in the waters of Holy Baptism, that Jase will wrestle with God and with life, and he will prevail. He will survive.

He may walk with a limp that life gives him, but that limp will be a constant reminder of his strength, a constant reminder that God will raise him up from any defeat, and at the end, God will give him - and all of us - the final blessing.

And may this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6A

I don’t know which cliche to use to describe what happened to Jacob in today’s Old Testament reading. I’m not sure if this is a case of “the devil being in the details” or “what comes around goes around.” Or both.

But we do know, that whatever cliche we use to describe Jacob’s situation, we recognize that he received the “short end of the stick” because Laban, being “crazy like a fox” indeed “drove a hard bargain” (to conclude my list of cliches).

Jacob had an agreement with Laban, but he should have paid close attention to what his boss DID and DID NOT say. He needed a good lawyer to glance over the contract to read the fine print.

After asking Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage, as a reward for seven years of hard work, Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man. So...we have a deal!” And they shook on it.

Notice what he DIDN’T say. He didn’t say “I will give RACHEL.” He merely said “HER.”

That’s why when the seven years were finally up, and Jacob climbed into his wedding tent, lifted the veil over his bride’s head, and the sun came up the next day, he was in for big surprise. And the surprise was, of course, that it was Leah, not Rachel, who was waiting for him.

Understandably angry, Jacob tracks down Laban the next morning, “Hey! I thought we had an agreement! I was supposed to get Rachel NOT Leah!”

Pretending to NOT be devious, Laban responds, “O c’mon, you know better than that. The oldest daughter always gets married first. It’s custom. Tradition. The way it’s done around here. So stop being so silly. But I’ll tell you what. Give me seven more years, and you can have Rachel as well.”

Seven years later, Jacob takes Rachel for his wife. And later, since Rachel couldn’t get pregnant, Jacob marries Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, with whom he had a son. And then Jacob married Leah’s maid Zilpah who became pregnant and had more children.

That’s a lot of wives. And a lot of children.

But this wasn’t a case of Jacob philandering. In fact the bible tells us that there was much rejoicing at each of those births from all of Jacob’s wives.

This was the way it was done. It was custom. Tradition. And I won’t even get into the issue of a wife being payment for work accomplished.

So, when we talk about the “traditional” or “biblical view of marriage” what are we talking about?

We tend to think that the bible defines marriage as one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others ‘till death do us part, amen. And yes, the bible DOES say that.

But the bible also DOESN’T say that.

The bible provides examples of MANY forms of marriage. The bible writers were not of one mind on how human beings are to enter into marital covenant. Which makes me draw the conclusion that the various forms of marriage that the bible gives are born from culture and tradition rather than divine edict.

Of course, this brings me to the the business of the national church in convention who passed a motion allowing pastors, in consultation with their congregations, to preside over same-sex weddings. And I know there’s been concern and anger from some people. And rejoicing from others.

Some of you are concerned that we’re changing the definition of marriage and family. You’re worried that what was decided in Saskatoon deviates from what is presumed to be the one and only biblical model of marriage.

But as we see from this story of Jacob, the definition of marriage and family has never been static or fixed, either in scripture or in society.

For example, our own Martin Luther said that polygamy was permissible, and that if a Christian man wanted multiple wives he, “he may do so in accordance with the Word of God” and suggested that the pressure from society for a man to have only one wife was irrelevant to scripture.

To our ears that sounds insane. (Personally, one wife was PLENTY for me). In fact during the same-sex marriage debates many Christians argued that same-gendered couplings was a greasy pole to allowing polygamy. But it shows that marriage is always born from multiple factors, including faith and experience.

I say this not to support or defend one side of the debate and admonish the other. I bring this up to tone down the rhetoric, and to show that this issue may not be as cut-and dried as we may think.

I want us as a congregation, to explore where this change came from, and not to merely assume that those Christians who support same-sex marriage are simply genuflecting to the culture.

We can talk about we are going, and whether or not that is an appropriate place for us to go. But we can’t assume that our understandings of marriage and family come straight from scripture. Because they don’t. They are INFORMED by the bible and our experiences.

And we can talk about how to include our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers into the life of our congregation. And it’s important to remember that gays and lesbians ARE our sisters and brothers in Christ. Just as they are our sons and daughters, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and fellow believers. Gays and lesbians are not “them” out there, but in here among “us.” And they have been with and among us for a long time.

We are going to talk about these issues. And we are going to disagree. But I want us to talk as Christians. I want us to talk as members of Christ’s family, trying to discern together where God is taking us.

I don’t want us to talk to and about each other as enemies who we are trying to defeat. I don’t want any US verse THEM. That’s not what Christians do to each other. That's not how Christians behave. Christians love each other.

We Christians don’t just love each other when it’s convenient.

We Christians don’t just love each other when we agree.

We Christian don’t just love each other when we are right.

And we Christians certainly don’t hold our love conditional on a final outcome that’s to our favour. Anyone can do that. As Jesus would say, “Even the tax collectors and sinners can love when its easy.” We’re called to a different loving standard.

As followers of the crucified and risen Jesus, we love each other even when we thoroughly disagree. We love each other even when it hurts. We love each other even when, and maybe ESPECIALLY when it costs us something.

That’s the Christian way. That’s the Christian challenge.

And this is our opportunity to show the world a different way of being in deep disagreement, a different way of relating to people and ideas who make us crazy, a different way of coming to a common discernment.

As followers of the one who would not lift a finger against his enemies because he came to save not to destroy, revealed to the world what real divine love looks like, we are going to show the world that this love of God in Christ, this self-giving, reconciling love of God, who lives within us by the power of the Holy Spirit is stronger than any of our disagreements.

We are going to discuss. We are going to debate. We are going to disagree. But we are going to do so as Christians.

Some of you say that we should have been talking about this months ago. That we should have been talking and discussing sexuality long before the convention. That may be true. And you may be right.

But that ship has sailed (and you can tell I’m back to the cliches), and it would not have changed the outcome of the convention.

But what we have now is an opportunity to be the church in faithful disagreement, because there are people on both sides of this debate who have VERY strong feelings. If you have a strong opinion on this issue, please remember that there is a sister or a brother on this other side of the debate who has an equally strong opinion as yours. And that divide needs to be recognized and respected.

God is now calling us together as sisters and brothers, bound by baptism, joined to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to figure out together, how to move into the future that God put before us.

We are going come together as a people who are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 4A

I understand twin brothers, since I am one and have one. I understand both the friendly rivalry and bare-knuckled competition between twin offspring.

My brother Keith was born 10 minutes before me, and you’d think, by the way he talks about those 10 minutes, that during that extra time, he’d gained a world of experience that I’d never possess.

Growing up we’d wrestle and fight. We’d tussle. We’d race. We once we competed for the same girl (I won). And when we started our careers we tried to “one-up” the other in terms of salary and status.

Most twins I know are the same way. That’s why I immediately understood what was happening between Jacob and Esau.

As most often in stories of twins, Jacob and Esau were different in every way you could imagine. It’s almost as if they needed each other to be a complete person.

Esau was a big hairy brute who liked to spend his time rummaging around in the woods when he wasn’t playing football. He worked with his hands and hated every moment he spent in school.

Jacob was the smart, articulate, smooth-skinned bookworm who was probably president of his school’s math club.

Esau was Isaac’s favorite because he probably lived vicariously through his son’s ultra-masculine accomplishments. Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite perhaps because she saw a lot of herself in him.

Jacob and Esau never got along. Rebekah could feel the fist fights in her womb. And at the moment of their births, Jacob grabbed hold of Esau’s heal in an apparent attempt to “trip” his brother on his way out the door. Which is why Isaac and Rebekah named him “Jacob” which means “heel” or “leg puller” or “tripper-upper.”

They were as different as wine and petroleum. They fought because they wanted to show the other whose path was better.

And today’s Old Testament story tells us just how far their competition and animosity went.

Esau comes home empty handed after a long day of hunting, and he’s famished. He hasn’t eaten all day because he hadn’t caught anything. He finds Jacob cooking lentil stew, and since he’s starving, he asks his brother for some.

“I’ll give you some stew if you give me your birthright,” Jacob offers, which is quite the stunning condition to put on a simple bowl of lentils.

“What good is a birthright if I die of hunger today?” Esau answers. As if people ever die from missing one meal.

Some commentators call Jacob “shrewd.” But I think this tells us more about Esau than it does about Jacob. And this is the narrator’s way of taking the birthright out of Esau’s hands and putting it in Jacob’s.

The birthright, which traditionally went to the oldest son, was their inheritance; the majority of land and wealth that was promised to them after their dad died.

And not only the land and wealth, but position and power. Esau was in line to take over the leadership of God’s people after Isaac went to his grave. Esau, presumably was being groomed for this job, since Isaac showed such favoritism toward him.

But as you read the story, the narrator clearly wants to the birthright to go to Jacob. The narrator can’t FATHOM Esau taking over the reigns from Isaac. Jacob is clearly the right one to lead.

“What good is a birthright if I die today of hunger,” Esau says. And that’s the punchline.

Esau reveals himself to be a person ruled by his appetites, someone who has no vision for the future. Someone who can’t look beyond the moment to see what can and will be.

Esau is clearly not up to the job. He’s not interested in living up to his family and community obligations. He find comfort in the present moment, and lacks the capacity to envision a new and better life for himself and those he is called to lead.

“I’m going to die anyways, so what do I need of a birthright? So, please pass the bowl.”

It’s easy to hate Esau. The bible goes to great lengths to describe how dumb and ugly he was, just in case you were starting to feel badly for him.

Which is why I have trouble taking my eyes off of him. Not for the fascination with the abomination, he’s not some sideshow freak that I can giggle and point at.

I keep staring at him because I see something of him in me. And in us. He’s like a mirror reflecting back at us those parts we’d not admit about ourselves.

For me it’s the constant struggle of living according to my appetites rather than according to the vision of life and health that God wants for me. Working harder and harder with less and less to show for it. Of being in constant competition with those who are supposed to be my partners.

For us I see in him our sense of worry for the coming years. Overall church decline. The battle to include all people into the life and ministry of our faith community. Decreasing influence in society. Diminishing resources. We’re slowly and painfully fading away.

We’re going to die anyways, so what do we need of a birthright? So please pass the bowl.

Please pass the bowl of comfort to help us feel better about our challenges. Please pass the bowl of minor squabbles to make us feel like we’re still doing something that matters.

Please pass the bowl of blame so I can point my finger at the cause of all our troubles. Please pass the bowl of the past, so we can remember when the churches were full, money was flowing, and outreach was thriving.

We’re going to die anyways, so what do we need of a birthright? So please pass the bowl.

That, I think, is our greatest temptation.

Esau hovers over us as we talk about who we are and where we’re going.

Conversations about our future are often more about bringing back what once was rather than building something new. We keep looking to the past for inspiration rather than to the future to see what God has in store for us. We’re looking for restoration or resuscitation, rather than resurrection.

That’s what I hear from certain sectors as we prepare for the national convention. “If those motions are passed that will mean the end of the church!” they scream, as if God is waiting for a certain amount of moral purity to restore our church to it’s former glory. As if God chooses only the holiest and most righteous saints to build Christ’s church. As God will be boxed into a corner from which God cannot escape. As if our birthright was born from our obedience.

But if we look closely at the story we see something very different at work. While the narrator seems relieved that Esau was deprived of the birthright, the narrator isn’t at all pleased by the way Jacob obtained it. And as we shall see in the coming weeks, the narrator of the story becomes less and less impressed by Jacob’s behaviour. It’s a pox on both their houses.

Jacob didn’t receive the birthright, the opportunity to lead God’s people because he was handsome, smart, and smooth-skinned, where his brother was ugly, hairy, and dumb.

Nor did Jacob receive the birthright because he was the virtuous one and his brother was a moral midget. This was a game both of them lost.

Jacob received the birthright because he knew what to do with it, and his brother didn’t. Jacob received the birthright because he could see God’s vision for the future.

Jacob could see God’s promises unfolding around him, and he trusted God to lead him and his people into the life that God had chosen for them.

God gives the birthright to those who have vision, to those who look forward in faith, to those who eyes are fixed on the future, those who grab God’s promises with both hands and run toward the finish line that God puts in place.

God does not want us to settle for what is. God fixes our eyes on what COULD be.

God does not want us to stay stuck in the present moment, filled with worry about the future. God gives us eyes to see beyond the troubles of this day and sets our gaze on what CAN be.

God does not want us to keep looking back to once was, God turns our faces to the direction of what WILL be.

And this isn’t easy. Especially when world is changing so fast and we have trouble seeing what’s coming next.

Some see change as unbridled chaos and long for a simpler time when everything seemed fixed. When our lives were fixed and ordered, we knew our places, and the future looked just as stable as the past.

But instead of mere change, others see creation unfolding faster than in any other time in history. And we have been chosen to witness to God’s future vision here today.

This is OUR time to bear witness to God’s love for the world. This is OUR time to tell God’s saving story. This is OUR time to be God’s healing presence.

This is OUR time to share God’s mercy, to bring relief to the suffering, to live God’s compassion for the world. This is OUR time to live God’s resurrection life.

This is not a time to stop the clock or to turn it back. God is calling us to march forward into the future, proudly proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, the good news that God’s reign of justice, of mercy, of forgiveness, of freedom, of peace, and of healing is HERE - right now - in Jesus Christ.

By the grace of God, we are not children of Esau. We are sons and daughters of Jacob. We have been chosen for this holy task TODAY. We have been called by name and anointed by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to God’s promised future TODAY. God has given us eyes to see and mouths to proclaim the great and mighty deeds of God.

That is our calling. That is our birthright. May this be so among us. Amen!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Pentecost 3A

Today’s Old Testament reading begins in the middle of a story. Actually, it starts in the middle of a sentence, and we only hear part of the conversation that sets the story in motion. And in this reading that we’re told to hear only bits and pieces, as the lectionary folks suggest that we leave out a few verses.

It’s as if they’re in a hurry to get to the point of the story, they want to rush to the end, bypassing some conversation along the way.

And I guess it makes sense. After all this story is about the next generation taking over. It’s a passing of the torch. An opportunity for fresh blood and new ideas to emerge. And as we all know, the younger generation tends to be in more of a hurry than their elders.

Genesis chapter 24 starts out by saying “Abraham was now old, and advanced in years...” This may sound like an innocent enough saying, but we have to remember that Abraham was almost 100 years old when God called him out of retirement to be a father of nations.

But everyone is called home at one point, no matter how many years they’ve put on this earth. And when that happens, someone new needs to take over, a new leader needs to step in and take charge.

And Isaac, for better or for worse, was that person.

Isaac can be, at best, described as a placeholder leader. He’s in between two towering figures. His father Abraham and his son Jacob.

It’s not that greatness was not in him, he was simply uninspiring. While his father Abraham is said to have “hungered and thirsted for righteousness,” Isaac seemed to hunger only for his lunch

Even next to his brother Ishmael, Isaac seemed small. Ishmael was the motorcycle driving bad boy who probably got all the girls, while Isaac stayed home and played video games all night, never giving any thought to his life or his future.

You might remember that Isaac and Ishmael were half-brothers. Ishmael was born of Hagar, a maid that Abraham impregnated; while Isaac was the miracle child that Sarah bore. And even though Isaac was the fruit of God’s faithfulness, he never really lived up to expectations. After all, if you’re born from a barren womb, how to do top that?

It wasn’t that Isaac was lacking in brains or potential. He was just unambitious. He was passionless. He had no direction. He simply floated down the current of life, not really thinking about where he ended up.

He even waited until he was almost forty before getting married. While I’m sure that Abraham and Sarah were dropping the occasional hint about how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, Isaac probably came home from work each day, crashed in front of the TV, and let the days and evenings slip into weeks and years, with little to show for it.

So when Rebekah agrees to be his wife (the first time EVER in the bible where the bride actually gives her consent to be married), it’s like an alarm clock had woken him up, and he wanted to get married RIGHT away, even though both their families suggest that they wait a while before rushing into a lifetime commitment.

Isaac’s anxious to get going. This was HIS time! Maybe he knows that his dad is sick. Maybe he can see his mom slowing down.

Maybe he looked around and saw that all Abraham and Sarah were asked to do was accomplished and realized that it was his turn to lead.

And he was right. Although the story doesn’t come right out and say it, Abraham does die, as does Sarah. And now Isaac is left alone, trying to figure out how to take charge of a people looking for guidance.

But his initial enthusiasm soon fizzled into settled mediocrity. If you follow his career you’d probably give Isaac a B or B-. He enjoyed some success and endured some failures; but accomplished nothing of note. He was involved in some shady business dealings and lost a lot of money, but gained most of it back.

He ruled competently but charted no new course, he had no new vision for his people, and inspired no devotion. It wasn’t the force of destiny that compelled him to grab hold of the leadership reigns. It was like he was just taking over the family business and lacked the passion that gave rise to its institution. If Isaac weren’t Abraham’s son and Jacob’s dad, we probably would never have heard about him.

His personal life was also troubled. Like his parents, Isaac and Rebekah had trouble getting pregnant. And when they did have kids he couldn’t control his sons, Jacob and Esau. He even fought with his wife over who was the favorite. Rebekah favored Esau where Isaac favored Jacob. That must have made for interesting dinner conversation.

Isaac was a leader, but he was not a role model. He is the bridge between his father Abraham “The Father of Many Nations” and his son Jacob whose sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel. He was a transition. An interim. No one to admire or hate.

So what can we learn from Isaac? What does he have to teach us?

I think Isaac represents what most of us are.

The point of Isaac’s life wasn’t that he was an uninspiring, mediocre, leader who didn’t quite live up to expectations. The point of Isaac’s life was that he was a promise fulfilled. He was a child of Abraham and Sarah, the miracle child, who has his own place in salvation history.

He is the father of Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, who led Egypt through a terrible famine, and brought prosperity to the region.

Isaac may be the middle-child of history, but he did his job the way he was supposed to. To me that’s bac-handed good news

When I worry that I haven’t lived up to my potential (and I know I haven’t) I know I’m in good company, and that God can and does use me for God’s own purposes just the way I am.

This doesn’t mean that I can stop striving to be better at what I do. 

It doesn’t mean that I can float through life until my days come to an end and have nothing to show for it. 

It doesn’t mean that I can stop and rest on the laurels I’ve inherited from other church leaders. 

It doesn’t mean that I can stop flexing my muscles to help Christ’s church become stronger, looking for new and better ways to share God’s love with the world.

It DOES mean that I can fail, I can be human. It means that I don’t have to worry about God’s promised future for the church or the world, because I’m not in charge of that future. I’ll let God worry about that future instead.

And for US it means that WE know the future is in God’s hands, not ours. We know that some days we will succeed and some days we will fail. But our every days, the daily moment-by-moment encounters of our lives may seem small and insignificant, but they add up to a larger vision of what God wants for us and the world, and moves God’s salvation story forward.

So today, we can remember Isaac not as a cautionary tale of ignored potential, but as a parent of grace, an example of God choosing the wrong people for the right reasons, as evidence that we are not in charge of the world’s salvation.

And for that I can say, “Thanks be to God.”

May this be so among us. Amen.

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