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.


Blogger Rev Lori Pilatzke said...

thank you for this gift Kevin. What you have been able to say here, is something that soooooo many of our ordained brothers and sisters cannot or will not preach.
we have throngs of broken lives wanting to know the peace of Christ and as the church, I think the church needs to be responsible to witness and evangelize to the needs of God's people!??!!
let's help others get their minds off of sex, and focus hearts on being In Mission for Others!!!
peace to you brother + amen!

8:18 AM  
Blogger Paul Arnold said...

Great words, Kevin.
seems infantile to keep running to a musty lot of outdated writings to understand the contemporary social needs of modern christians. doesnt the same scripture repeatedly speak of the "Christ" within us all?? Maybe we need to grow up and look to that source of "godliness" for our guidance today. the human heart has all of the answers, if only we would consult it fully.

1:27 PM  

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