get more The Sunday Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 21, 2016

buy Lyrica from mexico Scripture:  Genesis 32:22-21, 33:1

Hear the audio: Reconciliation

Since the last week in July we’ve come to understand two things, at least: The first is that we were created in God’s image and the recipients of “Original Blessing.” Long before the scriptural story of what has come to be known as our “fall” and our “original sin,” there was the original blessing. At our creation, humanity was born into the image of God, according to the divine’s “likeness,” and blessed as very … good. That’s the first thing.

The second thing we’ve come to understand is that we messed that blessing up. We’ve messed it up, we’ve learned, not as much by anything we “do,” there’s forgiveness for wrong actions sincerely regretted. No, we mess things up because we refuse to do something, namely, to admit that it’s our fault. Adam and Eve passed on the blame for their situation to one another and to other parts of creation, and last week we listened as Cain actually blamed God, the Creator. We continue to refuse to acknowledge, to honestly admit, that we eat the forbidden fruits of the world because we want to dominate and control, move ahead and move on. We; as we continue to refuse our responsibilities, kill our brothers and sisters and so much of the created order of life so dependent on us.

Not an easy thing to hear, let alone accept. My guess is that some of you don’t. We pray, we come to church – come to worship, we give our time, our talents and our money … We do. And we’re better for it and so is the world, I believe that, too. But we’re still East of Eden, wandering in the Land of Nod. Our whole life, not just an hour on Sunday morning, must be lived in service to our return. Alas, we just don’t want to do what it takes.

Last week I quoted theologian Walter Brueggemann, who never had a thought he didn’t publish! (No, no, I love Walter. Katie and I named a dog after him once.) In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Brueggemann notes that “Life is perpetually skewed when the one thing required of us seems too much.”

What is that one thing? (Anyone?) I’ll give you a hint: It’s the title of the sermon this morning!

“Life is perpetually skewed when the one thing required of us – Reconciliation – seems too much.” But we’re trying again, to make it right, to understand our lives and our call better this month.

After the first week of trying to make ourselves feel good by lifting up our original Blessing, by learning that God created us “good,” we’ve spent the last two weeks beating ourselves up. Identifying ourselves with Adam and Eve and then, of all people, the “brother-killing” Cain. I told you we were going to spend August in the book of Genesis learning about ourselves, again, and I think it’s time to meet the selves we hope to be; the selves that we do catch glimpses of from time to time in our lives together.

This morning we move to the back of the book, from chapters three and four, to chapter thirty-two, to find out how we just might do that one thing required of us: reconcile ourselves to one another and to all of creation.  Pray with me … Now listen for the Word of God through the story of one of the most familiar wrestling matches of all: Genesis 32:22-31, 33:1 (The Word of the Lord)

Immediately after his wrestling match, Jacob looks up and sees … his Brother, Esau. Three verses later Esau runs to meet Jacob and embraces him, “falls on Jacob’s neck” and kisses him, and they both weep.

Of course brothers would be glad to see each other and would embrace, right? Well … if you’re thinking this would be the natural thing for these two men to do, then you’re not remembering the history that these two particular brothers have shared. We’ve jumped from the opening chapters to the final chapters and lot has happened in-between.   The wrestling match began long before Jacob reached Penuel.

Abraham and Sarah birthed Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah birthed Esau and Jacob, twin brothers, in that order. Esau was first to arrive and next, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel the story goes, came Jacob. As the boys grew Esau was a skillful hunter, “a man of the field,” loved by Isaac and Jacob was a quiet man, “living in tents,” loved by Rebekah.

When Isaac was old and with “dim eyes,” he asked the oldest brother, if only by seconds, to go and make ready for the blessing that was Esau’s birthright. But Rebekah knew Isaac was preparing the blessing and equipped Jacob, the younger brother, to deceive his father, covering him in goatskins and giving him the meat to offer Isaac. The deception worked and Jacob received the blessing that was Esau’s birthright. Esau came into Isaac’s tent right after Jacob left and was told that is was too late, that Jacob was now his Lord. Esau was furious with Jacob and at the end of the twenty-seventh chapter in Genesis Esau vows that since “the days of mourning” for the death of Isaac, are close, he will soon kill his brother. (Sound familiar, this fratricide?)

Well, once again, mother Rebekah intervenes, sending her son to her brother, Jacob’s uncle Laban, in Haran. Jacob flees for his life, deathly afraid of Esau. You remembering all this?

The “Laban narratives” that follow – Jacob and his wives, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah and the eleven sons and one daughter that they bore him to this point (Benjamin has not yet been born) are important to what comes much later in the book of Genesis, Israelites journey to Egypt (in fact, that will be our final Genesis story this summer), but these narratives have little to do with the “wrestling match” between Esau and Jacob begun so long ago in their father’s tent. Nothing has changed in the brother’s relationship even after all the years that have past, in spite of new wives and sons and land and prosperity. But after many years away, many years of running away in the verses just before our passage this morning, Jacob is told by God (Genesis 31:13) to return … to return to Esau. He is, as you can imagine, very fearful. Jacob has struggled mightily with humans for many years, brothers, fathers uncles, brother in law’s, wives, children – wrestling with the world, trying to get ahead. Jacob is fearful, but he is also obedient. And he begins his … return.

It is the way with our scriptures, that often when we are presented with the remarkable accounts of anxious, human reconciliations, we simultaneously come face to face with our reconciliation to God. Human reunions in our bible are paired with, are combined with, reconciliation to God. We are being told that one can’t happen without the other; that the latter won’t occur until the former is realized; that we will not be reconciled to God until we are reconciled to one another.

The set-up for this particular reunion and reconciliation just couldn’t be more dramatic. Jacob is completely without aid from family, servants, even material possessions, “left alone” with no weapons of any kind. He must be reliving his entire life. He was returning home, after all, and he must have been remembering that home: his parents, his birth – surely he knows the origin of his name, “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants.” He is reliving his childhood with his brother, surely they had fun together growing up. He is remembering his deceit, and his leaving, his forced departure, his exile. Sitting alone on the banks of the Jabbok River, and perhaps for the first time, he is facing the fact that no matter how well he has convinced himself otherwise, he has not accepted responsibility for the actions he has taken in his life. He has blamed others, deceived even his father, and run from it all.

He has wrestled mightily with humans all his life: Isaac and Rebekah, Esau, Laban, Rachel and Leah, Laban’s sons. His whole recorded life to this point has been one huge “human machination.”   He’s prayed, spoken to and heard from “the God of his father,” true. But up to this point, all that “divine guidance” has kept him out of trouble, led to greater prosperity, and kept him on top. Jacob attributes his safety and wealth to God throughout, but you have to wonder who’s been serving who in this relationship. There has been little or no sacrifice on Jacob’s part. Little or no recognition of other’s feelings, needs or desires. Little or no turning to God except when he’s in trouble and wants guidance to keep him from encountering his own harm. Until now.

He is alone. Remembering all he has been and all he has done. Anticipating the wrath of his brother come daybreak. No sound but the muffled conversations of his family’s camp across the river and the river itself lapping at its banks. He is alone … and it happens. Frederick Buechner adds some flesh to our slim scriptural account:

“Out of the deep of the night a stranger leaps. He hurls himself at Jacob, and they fall to the ground, their bodies lashing through the darkness.”[1] There’s only one verse in our reading that describes this encounter, but we’ve learned to “fill in the eternities between verses” in Genesis. In the middle of the night these forms merge and overlap. For eons they struggle and battle, neither able to gain the upper hand, neither giving in. Is the adversary God or Esau, himself? Is it Isaac or Rebekah? Is it Laban or his own children? In the night, our “antagonists takes on the features of others with whom we struggle in the day.”[2] All his life, Jacob has fought for survival. The second born son, the quiet one, sent away by his mother, deceived repeatedly by his uncle, implored by his wives and his children. All his life he has fought. And tonight he is in the greatest battle of his life. But who is he wrestling?

One whose face is as hard to recognize as his brother’s. Or as his own, the face he has never seen. One who must be faced. One who needs to be wrestled.

Fortified by a lifetime of struggling, Jacob will not give in. All the rest of this night he exerts his strength and almost wins this battle, too. But, the story goes, in an instant, as day is breaking all is reversed. His adversary merely touches the hollow of his thigh and in a moment he is lying there crippled and helpless, realizing that the s”known-unknown” had simply been holding back until now. He holds on, he still does not release his grip. But, as Buechner continues in his beautiful exposition on this very scene, his grip is now “not of violence (like the grip of a victor), but of need, like the grip of a drowning man.”[3]

The darkness is fading, the day is breaking, and for the first time in his life, lying there wounded, holding on for his life, Jacob begins to feel his connection to, his place in, the world around him. He is as intricately wound into the fabric of creation as he is with this stranger whom he holds. Lying there on the sandy shore of the Jabbok River, entwined, he seeks to understand more. We read it. Did you hear it?

“What is your name?” He asks.

“You don’t need to know my name,” is the reply. “You have experienced my blessing.”

And Jacob has. He is a part of it all, again, in a way that he hasn’t been since his birth. He has returned, he has reconciled himself to life, to his family, to himself – to who he was created to be. And as the sun rises behind him, shining across the river into the land that is his promise, he dimly sees his adversary’s face. The one he’s been fighting with all night, the one he’s been fighting with all his life. It is stronger than hate and more terrifying than fear. It is the face of Love. It is his father and his mother. It is his uncle and his wives. It is his children and all those who care for them. It is his brother. And more … It is the river and the sunrise. It is the land that awaits his care and all those who will be helped by his new found compassion. It is … “God.” The name we give to the sacred, the divine, the Holy, the “More” that is as real to us as anything we can touch. And nothing, 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 can separate him from it now.

We just read it. Did you hear it? Reconciliation?

The scriptures puts it this way: Jacob looks up and sees … his Brother … running to meet him, embracing him, kissing him and weeping. And Jacob himself weeps. 33:4 His tears, like our own, remind him of where he has been and where, if his soul is to be saved, he is to go.

“Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, and joy, and love come only from Reconciliation with our Creator, the creation, and the people we were created to be.

We are all of us wrestling. We are all of us, like Jacob in this story about ourselves, are trying to understand, trying to move on from our past – to move forward, trying to reconcile our lives with those we love and with whom we share life, trying to give a face and a name to the mystery we call “God” and how this God is at work within us and though us and far beyond us. We’ve been wrestling for as long as we can remember. “One whose face is as hard to recognize as our brother’s or our sister’s? Or as our own face, the face we rarely, if ever, honestly see.”

We will stop only when we are truly Reconciled – to our brothers and sisters, to our world and to ourselves. For in that moment we will be reconciled to our God of the Garden..

May it be so. Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 21, 2016

[1] Buechner, Frederick. The Magnificent Defeat. 17.

[2] Brueggemann, 267.

[3] Buechner, 18.