Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - Year A
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Let us pray: O God we gather as searchers and seekers, coming to find comfort in your presence as we find it in the words of our scripture, in each other and in creation which surrounds us. May these words be ones which guide our reflections and meditations this day, as we seek to discern the many ways. tangible and unfathomable, that you surround and inhabit us. Amen.
Last week I began with a rhetorical query in which I wondered which family values some of the more conservative Christian commentators (often politicians it may seem) long to go back to. Last week the story was about the way that Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of the family birthright. Today we heard how the trickster himself was tricked.
The story cycles we find in the book of Genesis are not great examples of so-called "biblical" family values - at least in the eyes and minds of those who advocate for a return to them, and frankly I have a hard time finding any examples anywhere in the bible of the kind of values that those people seem to think fill the biblical record.
However, that is not a reason to discard them. Far from it. No, while they are not shining examples of the best way to live in family relationship, they are wonderfully complex and earthy examples of just how complicated it is to live wholly and faithfully in relationship with each other and in relationship with God.
That makes them real and real is a pretty good way to be, even if it is ever so much more difficult than trying to live in some kind of a make-believe world in which it seems convenient to create situations that don't exist or refer to examples that just don't play out as some would have us believe.
I took for my title today a lovely little phrase in Eugene Peterson's great paraphrase of the bible called "The Message" from the gospel reading. In his version of the reading from chapter 13, Peterson has Jesus say these words after the series of parables that we heard: Are you starting to get a handle on this? The disciples answered "yes" and Jesus continued: "then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new., exactly when you need it. "
I love that phrase well-trained in God's kingdom. It conjured up for me the idea of a series of courses in a university curriculum. There would be the introductory course at the one hundred level - God's kingdom 101, and then for those looking to become well-trained, the second and third year courses - God's kingdom 205 and 314.
Of course I modified it a bit - as I also suggested last week, a growing number of people are hoping to recast the ideas of Jesus in talking about the kingdom of God from the hierarchical image of an inaccessible monarch to that of a relationship builder by taking the "g" out of the word kingdom - moving God from being on high into the circle of relationship which describes us as sisters and brothers in Christ for Christians and as sisters and brothers in faith with those in other faith expressions.
As the story cycles of Genesis remind us, this striving to be part of the kin-dom is not an easy thing. As Jesus suggests, it takes some time to become well-trained in God's kin_dom. Part of the training is to spend some time reflecting on just what it is all about. Is it indeed a recasting of the metaphor from on high to in circle? As I make my way through my faith journey I know that this distinction has been helpful for me, bringing God down to be among us from a place where God is over us.
It's a journey that is not always easy. When we really struggle with new images and metaphors for God and our relationship with God there will always be the self-appointed arbiters of the faith who call into question these changes - like the spouters (for that's really the way I perceive them) who unwisely, unsagely, make pronouncements about the way the bible must be understood and whose words only seem to verify their lack of knowledge and understanding.
I believe that the life of faith is a constant journey of searching and seeking. There is always more to know about the ways in which God is present in creation and in our lives. There are ways in which God is not only creator but creating and that for me signifies an evolving and changing understanding of our relationship with God, not just because we are continually learning and understanding in new and deeper ways, but also because dare I say it, that God is also evolving and changing. No vital relationship can rest in a static condition, in order to be alive it must be dynamic with a continual action, reflection, new action circle of learning and understanding. So, if we are to be in relationship with God, and with each other as kin folk, then we must be ready to grow and change in the ways we are with each other and with God, and God must also be ready to grow and change as well.
Two things come to mind from today's readings - namely that God does change. I cannot believe that the deceptive actions of Jacob in tricking Esau out of his birthright would be condoned by God, yet as the story continues there is an acceptance that despite the way in which Jacob received the authority to carry on as a leader for the Hebrew people that God uses the situation to continue the story and to describe the continuing and complicated relationship among the people and God. Just as we are encouraged in our faith journey to make the best of whatever happens, I would suggest that God does the same - makes the best of all that happens with imperfect people in an imperfect world. That's the first thing. The second thing is the reassurance from Paul that regardless of all that happens we can count on God to be with us. Nothing can separate us, Paul writes, from the love of God.
We are all in a journey of discovery, as seekers and learners on the path towards deeper relationship with God. We do this as imperfect people, which only serves to make us more real, but we do it as God's people - searching what it means to be in deeper relationship with each other and with God - seeking to become well-trained in God's kin_dom. Amen.