For several weeks now we have had readings that discuss sin, sin and more sin--especially from Paul’s letter to the Romans. (You'll be thrilled to know we only have 8 more weeks of Paul's Roman letter to read--isn't the Lectionary great!) Today we up the ante a bit more, with the Old Testament reading about Jacob fleeing from Esau because he had stolen his birthright and blessing, and the Gospel reading with Jesus talking about weeds (living in and around sin).
A few years ago we had a mostly Pentecost season of readings talking about King David and his exploits, both great for the people of Israel, and his not so great activities that were very sinful in the eyes of God. David is looked at as one of the great and faithful figures in the Jewish faith, both in their Hebrew scripture and in their history. But as I discussed in a couple of sermons then, David was not without his many flaws and failures (sins!), and they played out in his life if one looked at everything, and not just the great things that moved forward the kingdom of Israel. God saw David as a great and faithful leader of his people who he could count on to do his will, even if he strayed off course with his own personal life. David ended up having to deal with some of his poor personal life choices and they affected his own legacy, although in the overall it still was a great one, ending up with his son Solomon becoming the greatest Jewish king of all.
Jacob was another one of those David type figures much earlier in Jewish legacy. He was, however, not a person of ongoing total faith in God, and sinless by no means. His name, as one writer describes its meaning as “schemer and usurper”, says a lot about the type of person Jacob was. His story of the stealing of Esau’s birthright and blessing provides a lot of insight about how Jacob operated in his own life. In his later life his challenge with finding a wife (and then two—Leah and Rachel), shows how his own types of scheming ways were used against him just to obtain the woman he really loved for his wife.
Today, though, he is enroute to Haran to leave behind Esau, who wanted to kill him because of his stolen birthright and blessing. While on his way, he stopped at a place he ended up calling Bethel (House of God) where he had a life changing dream.
This dream revealed a ladder (steps) up to heaven with angels moving back and forth on this staircase. (Babylon, a city whose name means “gate of the gods, looked like this, with its mud mountain staircase design.). God said to Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and figured it out/he got the message, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. Then Jacob realized that he was especially blessed if he would have faith in God, and made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.” Hey, a tithing reference!
I added a few more verses to what we read to make my point about Jacob continuing to being a bit of a schemer. He actually made a deal with God, saying that God must do these things for him for Jacob to be faithful to God. Again, not a real enduring example of a Godly man, but chosen by God nonetheless. (You wonder what everyone else living then much have been like if Jacob is a great example of humankind picked by God.)
In today’s world and time, I cannot think of a more Godly person than our own President Jimmy Carter. As a president he is not considered one of our greatest, I think mostly because he served during a tough time in our history, just post Vietnam War and Watergate, and he was somehow expected to be perfect in how he conducted himself and also politically and foreign policy savvy. He got voted out of office ironically by another more polished politician who used the Christian Right/Moral Majority to help him. This was really baffling, as Carter was a true practicing Southern Baptist.
Anyway, after Jimmy Carter’s presidency is where he became the real example of his faith in God to all in the world, through everything he has done—diplomacy, stances against human rights violations and especially against minorities and LGBTQ and women over the years (enough to leave the Southern Baptist Convention). And of course, his efforts with Habitat for Humanity for these many years has been extraordinary and shows his God driven faithful caring for his fellow people. (He also still teaches church school on occasion back in his home of Plains, GA when he is around.)
I’m not saying much about the Gospel reading today because I’m not that excited about farming techniques or parables referencing them. I will talk a bit about weeds, though, as I have more experience with them that I want to know about. As we prepared to get our house ready to sell, I had to deal with weeds in a huge way--our yard was choked with them from about 2 years plus of neglect from before my heart surgery and after, as I attempted to recover health wise. It was clear that drastic action needed to be taken if our house was to be fully ready to sell. So I worked hard myself but also paid someone else to deal with our weeds problem—total death and removal of them and a fully cleaned up and rebarked yard. As a reminder about possible weed problems that can occur, our daughter made us a sign that reads (and is next to our front door)—“Ring doorbell. If no answer, pull weeds.” Today’s Gospel worked out in our house sale prep is that we are at the end of our time there (maybe), and it is time to pull up the weeds and move on with what is fruitful (the proceeds of our house sale as an asset!) to do what God calls us to next in our lives.
Canon Lance Ousley looks at the message from the Gospel today this way: “The reality of our lives is that we co-exist with good and bad all around us (even within our own selves) and the lines are not always so clear cut. So there is much work to do in being identified as "children of the kingdom" through doing Christ's work in the world. A life that focuses on sowing seeds of God's kingdom bears the fruit of love and grace and peace and mercy. Faithfully spending our time being bread for the world helps to keep us from spending our time entwined with the weeds of the world, and it stems the tide of those things antithetical to God's kingdom. This is time well spent which helps to remove the weeds in our own lives, too.”