Sunday, July 16, 2017

Models for what?

PROPERS:          PROPER 10, YEAR A 
TEXT:                 GENESIS 25:19-34

ONE SENTENCE:        It seems that the key component in relationship to God is `        not holiness of life as much as faith.

            Over the last few weeks – and in the coming weeks, too – we have heard stories about the patriarchs from the Book of Genesis.

            You may or may not have gotten the message:  These folks were interesting – not perfect at all.

            Today we have the story of the birth of Jacob… and of his manipulating of the birthright from his brother Esau.  This quid-pro-quo – trading birthright for food – is typical of their relationship.

            We have now seen the patriarchs… Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

            Abram – called out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to leave his people behind and travel to a land that God would show him.  Under a starlit sky, God makes a covenant with Abram.  Even though he has no children at an advanced age, God tells him that his descendants will number as the stars.

He later, of course, was renamed Abraham – the patriarch of the patriarchs. He is also told by the desert God he encounters, by your name all nations will bless themselves.

            Then we have Isaac – son of Abraham, nearly sacrificed by his father.  Other than being duped by his son, Jacob, and claiming to a king that his wife was actually his sister, Isaac is unremarkable.  He is primarily a connective patriarch – serving as a link between his father, Abraham, and his son, Jacob.

            Finally, there is Jacob – the third of the patriarchs –  the most interesting.  His was a life of subterfuge and duplicity.  As we saw in the first lesson, from his birth he supplanted his older brother Esau.  He traded stew for Esau’s birthright.

Later, assisted by his mother, he will manipulate his father into giving him the patriarchal blessing, which was due his brother.  He was crafty in his dealings with his uncle, Laban.  And he ultimately took the name of Israel, after wrestling with God, a name that means “the one who strives with God.”

            It is from these three patriarchs that the 12 tribes of Israel come.  And if you follow the story closely, Abraham is the father of the other Arab people, through his relationship with slave-girl Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael – the ancestor of the Arab nations.

            So, I guess you could say we can blame everything on Abraham.

            Each of these men – these three patriarchs – had multiples spouses and concubines.  Each had many children.  But we – in the Judeo-Christian tradition – recollect only the three, and Jacob’s 12 legitimate heirs.

            These three men – blemished as they are – are the foundations of our faith.

            What does that say to us?

            Why do we remember them if they are not models for us – if we are not meant to emulate them?

            Well… we are meant to emulate them.  The challenge is how.

            Let me be clear:  We are not called to have multiple partners at the same time, generating multiple offspring.

            We are not called to send our children into exile in the Wilderness, as Abraham did with Hagar and Ishmael.

            We are not called to place our children on a rock to be sacrificed.

            We are not to favor one child over another.

            We are not to defraud our family members.

            There are numerous other things that the patriarchs did that we should not emulate, but that is for another time.

            There is, however, a passage early in the story of the patriarchs that is very important. It is important to our understanding of these stories.

            In Genesis, chapter 15, we are told that God renews his promises to Abram. The key words are in verse 6:

“And [Abram] believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

            What exactly was it that God reckoned as righteousness?  What was it that stood out in the lives of the patriarchs – such as they were – that was so commendable?  What was it that should impact and inform our lives?
Abram trusted in God’s promises to him – promises that included descendants that would number as the stars, even though he was childless with his wife; and that those descendants would lead to all nations blessings themselves by their relationship to him.
Abram trusted God – even though he had no evidence to confirm those promises.  Trust – a synonym for faith. That faith – that trust – was seen as righteousness.

            Much later, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews would write this definition of faith:

11:1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval.

            The key aspect of the patriarchal narrative we need to keep in mind is faith.  We know beyond a shadow of doubt – through stories recorded in scripture – that Abram, Isaac, and Jacob were not perfect people.  Far from it.  But they were people of faith. They are exemplars of trust in God.

            You have heard me say this before, but I believe that if I say it a few more times, the message might get absorbed:  Perfection is not the goal.  It is not even attainable.  Faith is the goal.  Trusting God is that which is “reckoned as righteousness.”

            The gift of faith does not mean that we go about living our lives, however we wish.  Faith is meant as a transformational agent – something that courses through our being to make us a New Creation. That faith will be reckoned as righteousness.

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