Aug 242014
 

Introduction

We’re wrapping up our summer series on the family of the matriarchs and patriarchs today. We’ve seen how God was with Abraham’s descendants – God’s family – and gave them joy. Hopefully we’ve learned a little about how God is with us, because we are God’s family as they were.

We’ve made it all the way through our Genesis readings, and come into Exodus. As Genesis ended the Israelites were welcome immigrants to the Goshen valley in Egypt, invited there by Joseph and the Pharaoh.

They had lived in Egypt for 350 years by the time the book of Exodus began. That’s a long time! That’s the amount of time that European-Americans immigrants have lived around here. By way of comparison the city of St. Louis was founded west of here 350 years ago in 1664. The Israelites had plenty of time to get established. As a community, they both feared the Lord and were loyal subjects of the Egyptian empire. I supposed they believed they were very powerful in that time. Things change, though. The new king, needed to build himself up by knocking somebody else down. We rejoin the Israelites as this is happening.

Audio


Sermon

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

My friends, I confess I have had some struggles this week. There are three recent deaths in our church family: Rob Warner’s dad Richard, Eldeen’s mom Dorothy, and Paula (our bookkeeper’s) brother Dana. These deaths come after Mark’s mom Ida’s earlier in the summer. I know we’re supposed to rejoice that these people lived full lives here with us and are now resting in the everlasting arms of Jesus. I know that, but it’s still hard.

And, as long as I’m lamenting, there’s a lot of trouble in the world. There are swarms of child refugees coming to get away from violence in Central America. There’s a plague in West Africa. The long-standing blood feud in the biblical land of Israel and Gaza gets worse and worse. Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq) is full of grisly genocidal violence, claimed to be in the name of God. And the shooting of young Michael Brown near St. Louis and the violence afterwards breaks my heart. In the meantime politicians spend their time and money insulting each other instead of building up our communities.

Where is God, I wonder, in the midst of all this fear and struggle? Why is life on earth such a violent mess? What does any of this have to do with God’s kingdom? I am shaking my fist and saying, “What a mess! God, why? God, how long?”

But then, the point of the complicated story of God’s people in Egypt starts to sink in. Let’s wonder about that together.

How can you tell if a young person’s life is going well? The comedian Michael Junior said, “just ask her about her life and see how long it takes to tell what’s going on.” One person will answer, “I’m a junior at Salem State. I’m studying to be a high-school teacher.” Great. Good for you. Another person will answer, “Well, I’m taking some classes at the Community College, while I try to pass the math class and work and save up some money, so I can maybe transfer to UMass, but my mom needs the car to get to work so sometimes I can’t …” Guess which one of these people’s lives is not going so well. …. Right, the one with the long messy story. It sounds like Michael Junior knows some of the same people you and I know. We all know that both these folks have a real shot at doing well.

Now, it is good to have a short and tidy story. How long is your story this week? Are you privileged to be able to tell a short story? Or is your story a little bit longer and more complicated? Does it have some twists and turns, and setbacks, in it? God is present with us for our short and tidy stories, and with our long and messy stories. Long stories are as just good as short stories. When we hear, and tell, our stories, let us embrace them as evidence of the courage of the Holy Spirit in us and between us. Short or long.

In Exodus we got to hear a hint what the story of Moses’s childhood might have been, if it were short and tidy: “His mother conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she and her husband gave thanks to the Lord. The child grew in stature, in years, and in wisdom, and walked in paths of righteousness.” A nice short story.

But that is not what happened – well, we can guess that some of it happened. His mother DID see that he was a fine baby. If she’s like any mother I’ve ever met, his little presence filled her with rejoicing. But it also must have filled her with dread, because of the Pharaoh’s cruel program of genocide. So their family story was messy. She hid the baby as long as she could, then she threw him into the river, but put him in a basket to preserve his life.

The Pharaoh’s family story also was messy, wasn’t it? Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby, knowing full well that she was defying the program of genocide. She used her power: she paid Moses’s mother wages to care for her own baby. She must have known what she was doing: every day she was hiding this child and caring for him. She probably wasn’t shouting “no!” to her father’s systematic cruelty out loud, but she was subverting it.

Is God’s realm tidy or messy? In our Gospel reading we Jesus gave Peter the keys to God’s kingdom. Peter: the guy who didn’t always understand Jesus. The guy who got out of the boat and sank. Do you suppose that when Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom, he expected him to keep things well-ordered and tidy? It seems unlikely: Still, Jesus chose him, not some other person who was somehow better qualified to do everything right and keep order.

God gave those disobedient midwives Shiphrah and Puah the keys to God’s kingdom. God gave the keys to Moses’s mother, and sister, because they were willing to live out the long and messy story of God’s kingdom.

God gave those keys to Pharaoh’s daughter – yes, even to the daughter of that genocidal monster – because she too was willing to resist evil and live out her part of that long and messy story. God entrusted every one of those people with the keys to the future of God’s people. God wanted, and needed, them to have the keys and live with confidence in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.

Notice that God gave them all strength, joy, and love in the midst of their struggles. God favored Shiphrah and Puah. Moses’s mother’s heart filled with joy. Pharaoh’s daughter’s heart was filled with love. That’s all God’s work.

I am not saying that the evil they resisted is from God. But the joy they received, and the strength they received to resist it is from God. The resistance in their lives clarified their senses of justice and righteousness. I wonder if it was God’s way of bringing something holy from that evil mess.

Why are things so messy? Did Peter forget to lock some door or other, so the evil got out? No, that’s not it. Jesus lived and died to give us live beyond the evils of this world, not instead of the evils of this world. Peter’s job, using those keys, is to unlock the gates of our minds and hearts. When our minds are open, God’s justice, God’s righteousness, and God’s love can get in. And then we can, like Miriam, Shiphrah, Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’s parents, resist the evil of the kingdom of this world and live joyfully in the kingdom of God at the same time. Unlock our minds, do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

That’s easy to say, but not easy to do (for me, this week, very hard to do). In fact, we can’t do it ourselves. St. Paul’s advice to his Roman congregation reminds us of this.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Do not be conformed to this world, he says. You don’t have to have short tidy stories in your lives.

Be transformed, he says. Notice he doesn’t say “transform yourselves.” That’s not what the kingdom of God is about. It’s about God renewing our minds and unlocking our hearts. God unlocked all those minds in Exodus and made all those courageous women able to be holy, to discern the will of God, and to have a clear vision of what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In a few minutes we’re going to baptize young Jace. As you can see, this little guy is a fine baby. Baptism is one of the keys God gave Peter. We’ll talk about Jace being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is messy! People get splattered. But we pray, and we hope with certain hope, that God renews our minds in baptism, and we may live transformed and courageous lives. We hope Jace, and all of us, may live in the kingdom of this world and always work towards God’s kingdom of justice and mercy.

Amen.

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 The Courage to Live a Messy Life: Sermon for Aug 24, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 24-Aug-14 Sermons Comments Off on The Courage to Live a Messy Life: Sermon for Aug 24, 2014
Aug 232014
 

Here are online resources about the ongoing crisis of refugee children from Central America. You are invited to contribute other resources by leaving a comment or by sending email to oj@stpauls-nbpt.org.

Organizations

Refugee Immigration Ministry in Malden, MA

Foundation Cristosal and their Twitter Feed and Facebook page

Episcopal Migration Ministries and their Twitter Feed

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service  and their Twitter Feed

Kids In Need of Defense — a legal assistance NGO.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas offers commentary and perspective.

Handouts and Materials

Cristosal Child Migration flyer

Sermons and Homilies

July 20, 2014 at St. Paul’s Newburyport

General Background Information

Linda Garrett writes a fine monthly dispatch called El Salvador Update / Informe mensual El Salvador for the Center for Democracy in the Americas. Her articles conclude with lists of recommended reading.

Cristosal’s Noah Bullock wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the child migrant crisis.

Fulbright Fellow Elizabeth Kennedy‘s research posted at the Immigration Policy Center.

#RefugeeChildren at the Border – NYTimes : Fact sheet from July 23.

Cristosal’s Special Edition Newsletter of June 2014, which includes a listing of government position papers.

The Guardian’s Michael Paarlberg on the root causes of gang violence in El Salvador.

Lynette Wilson’s recent Episcopal News Service article

Cristosal Conference Call from July 14, 2014

 

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 Resources for #ChildMigrants #RefugeeChildren crisis  Posted by on Sat, 23-Aug-14 News, Ollie's Blog Comments Off on Resources for #ChildMigrants #RefugeeChildren crisis
Aug 172014
 

Audio Sermon


Introduction

This week’s reading takes place twenty years after last week’s, when Joseph’s brothers decided to sell him into slavery instead of murdering him. A lot has happened in the meantime. After some downs and ups in Joseph’s life, he has become the most powerful person in Egypt: he’s acquired the title “Father of Pharaoh.”

How did he do that? By powerful leadership. He has experienced strong vision, and he has put that vision into action. He interpreted the Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams and predicted seven years of bountiful harvests followed by seven years of famine. He famously suggested that part of each good harvest be saved for the coming famine, and Pharaoh gave him the job of making that happen. His prediction has come true; they’re two years into the widespread famine. And now he controls the royal storehouse of food. Like lots of powerful people, he’s surrounded by a gaggle of hangers-on and security people.

His brothers, the same ones who sold him into slavery, have heard that there’s food stored in Egypt. They’ve come hoping to buy some to keep their families from starving. Joseph’s childhood dream that they would one day bow down to him have now come true.

We rejoin this family just as Joseph has sent away his bodyguards. Just like he was twenty years before as they threw him into a pit in the desert, he’s by himself among them now.

Genesis 45:1-15

Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, `Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there– since there are five more years of famine to come– so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen.

Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Sermon

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Joseph must have had a tough job. We hear in our Genesis reading that we was unwilling to shed any tears – unwilling to show any sign of weakness – before the Egyptian people. He was the very face of the Egyptian institution that fed the hungry population. His frown meant death and his smile meant life. That’s a lot of responsibility. It’s no wonder that he might think everything would fall apart if he fell apart. He steeled himself to mercilessness to preserve his institution: the storehouse of food to preserve the people.

Things had already fallen apart in the lives of those sons of Jacob / Israel, those half-brothers of Joseph. Those starving brothers from Hebron did not know Joseph’s vision, share his agenda, or even recognize his face. Here they were on their second journey to beg for food. Remember, these are the ones who 20 years earlier had said “we’ll see what becomes of his dreams” and sold him into slavery.

When they disposed of Joseph 20 years before, they thought they were making peace in their family. But that peace didn’t last. And the food they bought on their first trip didn’t last. Now they’re out of food again so they’re back. They’re at the mercy of this Egyptian bigshot.

Let’s look at the situation from Joseph’s point of view. The scriptures tell us he continually gives glory to God for his abilities. He continually acknowledges that his ability to understand dreams comes from God, not from him. He obviously has the God-given talents of a great leader: he’s persuaded people to do something very hard: save food in times of plenty. He’s guided them to do that successfully. And now he’s entrusted with the power to feed or to starve people.

Genesis tells us Joseph wept when he saw his brothers and heard their regrets for what they did to them. Twice, we learn, he hid his face to weep, to not show any weakness. To show weakness would be to undermine his institution. With the institution undermined, wouldn’t the people risk starvation?

Joseph is living the challenge of institutions whose purpose is to care for people, hold them in love, and keep them safe. The reputation of the institution is vital. Leaders need to defend that reputation, because weakness and dishonor can damage the institution, and that is bad. But losing the vision of the institution’s purpose is worse.

Here’s a small example that strikes very close to home. There’s a lady who’s a member of a church near here. She can get outdoors once in a while, but she has trouble with steps and with walking long distances. She called that church’s office and asked for someone on their team of Eucharistic ministers to bring her communion at home.

And the priest of that church said “no.” He wrote a note to the Eucharistic ministers saying “I’ve seen her on the street. She’s perfectly able get to church, so don’t bring her communion at home. We have to avoid making it too easy for people to get home communion or we’ll be overwhelmed.”

Now it’s true that home communion takes a bit of work. That ministry stretches the church a bit. The church asks: “What would if we said yes to everybody who wants home communion?” Answer: a lot of people would experience the presence of Christ. Bringing him into peoples’ lives is the reason Jesus Christ founded the church. It’s the reasons Jesus commissioned the apostles, and you and me, to spread and sustain it. Feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, without judgement, is at the heart of what the church does.

The institution asks why bring worship to people who ask for it? The Spirit responds, “the care of souls.” The institution says “by saying yes we set too-high expectations among our neighbors” and the Spirit answers “by saying no you deny your reason for being.”

Something like that must have been going on with Joseph when he didn’t want to weep in front of all his hangers-on and security people. “If I show compassion to these rascal brothers of mine, I’ll lose control of the storehouse, and of the food that people need to live on for five more years.”

But he also knew that grain hoarded is worthless, and grain eaten gives life. He was the most powerful man in the world but something was missing. His tears, uncontrollable as Pharaoh’s dreams, taught him that.

What was missing? Not power, not glory, not wealth. He had that stuff. There certainly was enough food. We read that they had so much grain stored that they stopped trying to measure it. Not compassion. Out of compassion he had created an organization capable of overcoming a huge natural disaster. He was running that organization compassionately. He even gave his own family members their money back when they bought the food they needed to live.

What was missing from this strong institution and this powerful person? Human relationships. Grace. Forgiveness. Maybe even weakness was missing.

In our reading, by his tears God drives Joseph to send away his peeps and face the strangers unprotected. By those same tears God drives him to reveal himself to his brothers. He’s driven by God to tell them that their attempt to make him a scapegoat and get rid of him failed. Their attempt failed, he tells them, precisely so they themselves might survive the famine.

It wasn’t easy or quick for him to take the risk. But he did it. By embracing his weakness, by taking the risk of tempering his institution’s proud reputation with generosity and love, and by tempering his own heart with forgiveness, Joseph moves from glory to glory and carries his institution from strength to strength, and, by the way, saves his family.

Our Gospel reading shows that even Jesus was called on to move from institution to mission.

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15: 21-28)

He understood himself as serving the house of Israel when he happened to meet a foreigner. She, like Joseph’s brothers, said “help” and didn’t give up. Her plea opened up Jesus’s own view, and the disciples’ view, of their ministry. She called them to temper the pride of the house of Israel with generosity and love.

How about each of us personally? Do we dare to ask for help even when it challenges an institution? Do we dare to help when people ask? How about our churches? Do we stand on our rules, or do we bring communion to people who ask? How about all our institutions – schools, supermarkets, police forces, governments, churches? Can we too take the risk of tempering our proud institutions with mercy and love? I hope so. I pray that our institutions, and our hearts, may give and receive mercy and love, and be carried by our weakness from strength to strength. Amen.

 

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 Strength out of weakness: Sermon for August 17, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 17-Aug-14 Sermons Comments Off on Strength out of weakness: Sermon for August 17, 2014
Aug 152014
 

I once heard Martin Smith SSJE speak about baptism- he extolled the merits of full immersion baptism saying something to the effect of,”Full immersion tells us that from the very beginning there is no shallow end with God- in Christ we are fully immersed in God who buoys us up on all sides.”
 
 For the last two weeks our family has been fully immersed in French here in Sancerre, France. From the very start our teacher, Beth, spoke only French to us. There was no wading in via a shallow end- it was right into the deep end. After the initial “etat de choc” I was amazing by how each day it took only a matter of minutes for my mind to flip into hearing, understanding and producing French when there was no emergency exit of my mother tongue. 34 class hours later Marcella, Nicolas and I have made good progress.
 
 We now rise out of this immersion and begin to weave this newly strengthened lingual thread into our continuing journey.
 
 I pray these weeks have allowed you to be immersed in endeavors that bring you strength and joy!
 
 Faithfully,
 Martha+
 
 


The L shaped building with the turret is Coeur de France Ecole de Langes where we have been studying French- this picture is taken from the top of the medieval tower of Sancerre
 
 Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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 Weavings on the WAy  Posted by on Fri, 15-Aug-14 Martha's Blog Comments Off on Weavings on the WAy
Aug 102014
 

Audio Sermon


Introduction

Our cycle of Genesis readings continues today with a hard-to-hear story of sibling rivalry. This story begins the great saga of Joseph that takes up the last quarter of Genesis. This saga – Chapters 37-50 – is worth reading through when you have an hour or two to spare.

In the past few weeks we’ve heard about Jacob (now called Israel because he wrestled with God). We’ve heard about his four wives – Rachel whom he loved, Leah whom he was tricked into marrying, and the servant wives Zilpah and Bilhah. By now he has fathered thirteen children. Leah bore six sons and a daughter. Zilpah and Bilhah each bore two boys. His favorite wife Rachel bore this Joseph we will hear about, and died giving birth to her second son Benjamin. God promised to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars and the dust. That’s all coming true in this messy household! We join this family in Genesis Chapter 37 as the brothers’ irritation with their spoiled younger brother Joseph boils over.

Genesis 37

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt

Sermon

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The world is full of destructive family conflicts. Look at the local supermarket chain as well as Israel’s family. Let’s meditate on what this is about, and where God is to be found in these messes. You probably noticed that God’s name did not appear in our Genesis reading.

A few weeks ago some volunteers got together; we went to the recycling center on Crow Lane that Molly Ettenborough runs. We picked out some recycled bikes from the enormous supply Molly has, and we got some donated bikes as well, and we brought them over to Park Circle, the family public housing project. And so it was “bike fest.” We were working to show kids how to fix the flat tires, adjust the brakes, and generally make the recycled bikes safe. Aaron, the owner of Riverside Cycles, was with us.

The event was fun. The kids were learning useful skills and having a good time. I’m here to tell you that people in Newburyport recycle some very nice bikes.We had a general sense of joy and abundance in the moment.

And we got to see family dynamics in action. We had a reasonably shiny little-kids bike to give to young Joe, and a dirtier one that was the big enough for his older brother Hector. Joe said, “Ha ha, I got a better bike than you!” Boy oh boy, Hector was annoyed. He said “you always get the better stuff, it’s not fair, I’m gonna run you over!” And Joe said, “I’ll tell grandpa on you!”

Aaron (the bike dealer) said, “chill out, that’s a fine bike!” to Hector. It didn’t help. I offered to oil the chain, wipe off the dirt and rust, and help Hector spiff it up. It didn’t help. Offense was taken. The words of violence – I’m going to run you over – were spoken, only partly as a joke.  The little kid teased the big kid, and the big kid got angry. You know this isn’t the first time this has happened in this family, even if you just met these two boys.

We know this kind of stuff happens in all our families. It happens in the Bible, and in our nations and cities and workplaces and sometimes even in our congregations.  We look at others and the things they have. We want them. We become jealous.

We become afraid that life is a win / lose proposition: that I have to suffer for you to thrive. It’s a short step – a well-traveled step – from “you always get the better stuff” to “I’m gonna run you over.”

It happens in our families: none of us are strangers to it. Who doesn’t recognize this behavior: “Joseph brought a bad report of his brothers to their father.” “You’re throwing rocks at the goats to make them bleat, I’m telling Dad!”

Who’s blameless in this epic Biblical family squabble? Nobody. Father Israel did his part to stir things up, visibly playing favorites, giving Jacob better clothing than the others (that’s the long-sleeved robe, traditionally translated as “the coat of many colors”).

Young Joseph was, it seems, a spoiled prig. It’s clear from his story that he was the family’s dreamer, thinker, and planner. Even his name, ya saf, means “May God add.” It means he’s the accountant – the technocrat – of the family. He teased his brothers by saying he dreamed they’d bow down to him. It stings. It has the ring of truth mixed with kid-brother arrogance. Israel doesn’t intervene gently and supportively, saying “Joe, cool it.”  Was it right for Israel to spoil this son of his? Was it right for Joseph to lord it over his brothers? Like his father, he had a big part in the family’s discontents.

And his brothers certainly played their part. Together they decided to restore order in the family by murdering their annoying brother. It would be the perfect crime: the murder would be secret, the blame would fall on a wild animal, their parents would wail and mourn, and then the unfairness would vanish from their lives.  A couple of thousand years later the high priest Caiaphas spoke aloud the violent principle driving this family. “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:50)

These brothers said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

If you were there with them, what would you have said upon hearing this?  …

We all know the “right” things to say –  “Mercy! No more of this! He’s our brother! If we murder him we will see what becomes of OUR dreams!”

But we all know the right thing to say is hard to come by in the moment.

And so it was with Reuben. He couldn’t quite manage to say “No! Stop!” The same was true of Judah: he too wanted to save his brother’s life, but he had to rationalize it by asking “what will it profit us to shed blood?” Neither one could quite say the right thing. They had the courage to intervene to save their little brother’s life, but not the courage to say “no” to the murderous intent of the others.

Turning to our Gospel reading:  The disciples are caught up in a storm. They are afraid. And Jesus comes to them, confidently walking on the water, ignoring the storm, proving that the storm has no power. No power. The storm is real, but it has no power.

Matthew 14:22-33

[After feeding the five thousand,] Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

That’s how brothers Reuben and Judah might have confronted the violence against Joseph. All they had to do was say “no!” and the violence would have lost its power. Their jealousy and irritation would still be real, but it would have no power.

But they couldn’t quite do that. They could deflect the power, but not deny it.

And so it is with Peter. He has courage enough to face the violence of the storm. But for him the storm still has its power. So what happens? Jesus reaches out his hand and lifts him up.

I confess the same is true of me. I couldn’t quite say the right thing. When Hector, in his jealousy over his brother’s shiny bike, threatened to run him over, what did I say? I tried to comfort him by offering to shine up his bike. Aaron told him his rusty bike was a treasure.

The right thing to say was “Hector! Stop! No more of this! He’s your little brother. Rejoice in his good fortune!” But neither Aaron nor I quite had the vision or courage to say that.

At least Reuben, and Judah, and Aaron and I said something. At least Peter got out of the boat. Dr. King said “the arc of moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I hope each of us was helping that arc bend toward justice, however feebly.

I pray that each of us may have Peter’s courage, and Reuben’s, and Judah’s courage, to face the storms – big storms and small storms – of jealousy and violence in our lives and bend that arc of history toward justice.  And I hope, with certain hope, that Jesus is with us, to lift us up. I hope, with certain hope that with his blood and his body he proves to us, over and over, that the storms of jealous violence in our lives have no power.

In the strong name of + Jesus I say these words to you.

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 Deadly Violence Fails! Sermon for August 10, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 10-Aug-14 Sermons Comments Off on Deadly Violence Fails! Sermon for August 10, 2014
Aug 042014
 

Le premier jour et fini et le Famille Hubbard-Brucher est fatiguee mais contente!
 
 Sancerre is a lovely hilltop town amid rolling vineyards. Our apartment is lovely with splendid views:
 


May your first week of August be richly blessed!
 Faithfully,
 Martha+
 
 Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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Introduction

In the past few weeks we’ve followed Jacob as he fled from Esau, the brother whom he cheated. We spent the night with him when he lay his head on a pillow of rock, saw visions of angels going to and from heaven, and awoke to see that the Lord was in that place. We saw him as a dedicated suitor of and then husband of Rachel, as well as her sister Leah. And now, twenty years later, he’s traveling, with his big family and vast flocks, back to his birthplace and back to his brother Esau. He brings extravagant gifts hoping Esau will forgive him and receive him. As our reading opens he’s sent his family and flocks on ahead. He’s hanging back by himself because he’s scared: he wants to avoid infuriating his brother. We join them as the sun sets.

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he 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.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Genesis 32:22-31

Sermon

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jacob had a memorable night! You know, he’s a twin. Twins don’t get to be alone much. We’ve seen him alone twice … twenty years before when he slept on the rock pillow, and this time.

Both times alone he encountered the living God. Both times alone he was transformed. Last time he saw a vision of the ladder, the connection, between heaven and earth, between God and God’s creation. He heard God’s hope for him. He awoke from his sleep to realize that the Lord was in that place.

And he emerges from this night alone with God exhausted, sore, limping, and bearing a new name. He’s no longer known to God as Jacob the heel-grabbing rascal, but yisra el, the one who grapples with El – with God. In this hour he takes on the mantle of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham, and becomes the father of a great nation. He already has ten sons and a daughter; two more sons will soon be born – one for each of the twelve tribes of the great people of God to be.

For our Jewish neighbors, he’s the important patriarch. He’s the one most often mentioned in scripture. His descendants are the Israelites. St. Paul –one of those descendants – describes them accurately: “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.”  Jacob (now named Israel) and his descendants are the ones first adopted by God. To them God first gave the great covenant promises and the law.

To Jacob! (to Israel!) To this scheming, sneaky, very human, very ordinary person God gave all these things. God didn’t choose the most promising, perfect, pious person. God didn’t choose the person who got straight As in school, who never cheated, whose house was always spotless, whose children were all above average, and whose business never had a bad quarter. No perfection. God chose this Jacob. Jacob wrestled all night in the desert with God. He got beat up, but he didn’t give up. God blessed him and named him Israel.

Listen to the first part of today’s Psalm

Weigh my heart, summon me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
I give no offense with my mouth as others do; I have heeded the words of your lips.

This is no Psalm of Jacob.  Like the rest of us, Jacob has his struggles and his brokenness. He does give offense with his mouth. The Lord does find impurities in him, and in me, and I daresay in you. We’re like Jacob: we do give offense sometimes.

However: fortunately for Jacob, and for you and me, the life of faith doesn’t start with our perfection. The second part of today’s Psalm is Jacob’s prayer, and ours.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words. Show me your marvelous loving-kindness

Like Jacob, you and I may call upon God, in spite of, or maybe because of, our imperfection. God is the perfect one, not us.

Like Jacob, it’s our fears that drive us into the wilderness, into God’s presence. In Jacob’s case it was his fear of the brother he cheated years before. He feared rejection. He feared punishment. Many of us carry those fears.

In the life of faith we wrestle with the holy, sometimes until dawn. And like Jacob, after our encounters with the holy we limp a little. This happens to us all.

I have an old friend, I’ll call him Adrian. Years ago his first job out of engineering school was to work on a very difficult project – his employer was trying to make and sell a piece of equipment for use by rock’n’roll musicians.

At first Adrian thought the hard part of the project was designing the device. So he scrambled to get the right designers. He had to be ruthless – he had to fire people who couldn’t hack it and hire new people. Finally they finished the device, only about a year late, not too bad. They started selling it, and their customers loved it.

For a while. Then Adrian found out that rock’n’roll musicians are very hard on their equipment. Who knew? They toss their stuff onto their stages and into their trucks. The devices began to break. So he had to be ruthless again, fire more people, and hire mechanical engineers. They finally got a durable product that their customers loved. But the human cost was high: lots of hardworking dedicated people didn’t get to keep their jobs. Adrian, like Jacob, had done some unpleasant things in his life.

Finally, the owner decided to sell out to an Asian company. The new owners came to Adrian and said “whose fault is it that the next product is late?” He said, “Nobody’s fault. Everybody is doing their part.” But the new owners continued to demand to know whose fault it was.  It dawned on Adrian that they wanted a scapegoat: somebody they could blame and punish.

And he told me he had a long sleepless night. He realized he was being called on to make a decision. It was up to him alone. Should he hand somebody over to be fired like he had done so many times before? In his own way he wrestled with God all night. Every time he thought he had the answer, his conscience (the hand of God) pinned him down in some new way. Surely we all know about those nights of wondering. At the break of dawn, he, like Jacob, was exhausted but not defeated. He knew he could not point his finger at anybody.

He went to work and told the new owners that. And they made him the scapegoat: they pointed the finger at him and fired him. Like Jacob he was left injured by his night of wrestling with God. And like Jacob he was changed forever. Since then he has been an extraordinarily compassionate engineer. He’s been wonderful at getting people to do good work without exploiting them.

Most of us have had that kind of experience of wrestling with God. Many of us have been transformed by it like Jacob and like Adrian. We can ALL hope to be changed when we’re confronted by the living spirit of God.

Almost all our lives include nights of wrestling until we’re exhausted but not defeated. Like Jacob, and like Adrian, we are not perfect people. Like them, we may not recognize, until daybreak, that it’s God we’re wrestling with. It’s my prayer that each of us, when that long night is upon us, may have the courage and strength to make it all the way to dawn, and that our hearts, like Adrian’s and Jacob’s, will be open to being changed. Amen.

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 Exhausted but not defeated: Sermon for August 3, 2014  Posted by on Sun, 3-Aug-14 Sermons Comments Off on Exhausted but not defeated: Sermon for August 3, 2014