August 9, 2020, Trust The Spirit: Working Through Trouble, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Genesis 32: 6-12; 33: 1-4 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”
9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’”
33: 1-4 we’ll finish the reading a little later.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Let’s take a moment to settle in to ourselves, to breathe and to receive the words that God has prepared for us. May we face what we need to face and feel God’s presence always.
August 9, 2020 Trusting the Spirit: Working through Trouble St. Luke
I was scared, terrified really. I sent my brother ahead of me to try to ward off punishment and I went and hid behind our back yard. I gave my brother a silver dollar that was one of my prized possessions and asked him to give it to our mother to make amends for the coins that I had been stealing off my father’s dresser, for a good while, to buy comic books. I don’t know what brought me to the point of feeling I had to confess. Maybe my brother found out about what I had been doing. That’s usually what makes us confess - when we get caught.
I gave my brother my prized dollar and told him to give it to my mother - not the one I harmed we might notice. He shrugged and went off into the house. I went to hide out back.
My silver dollar was not worth nearly as much as the coins I had stolen. I don’t remember that occurring to me. I was like Jacob, trying to put some distance between me and the trouble I was in, trying to find a way out, even if there wasn’t a way out. I wasn’t confessing my transgression directly. I wasn’t owning up to it to the person I actually stole from.
I’ve told the story a few times in sermons, because it so often occurs to me as a sermon example to illustrate the way sin and forgiveness works - often not like we think it’s going to work. I tell it today because it has a new relevance for me in relation to our passage and because I have a new coda I haven’t told - if anyone happens to remember the story.
This week the story came to mind again as I reflect on Jacob stealing from his brother and from his father. He didn’t just steal some money off of a dresser. He stole the birthright, the blessing of his father, the rights of the first born.
At the beginning of the summer, we started reading and studying this ancient story cycle of Jacob. The stories are some of the oldest in the Bible. collected 600 years before Jesus. Some of the stories, like the story of Jacob wrestling with God, clearly go back hundreds of years before that. These oral legends are tales of ancestors told around a campfire, passed down generation after generation, until they finally got written down 2,600 years ago.
The lectionary that we have been using as our guide for the readings this summer starts with Jacob stealing the birthright and ends with the story from last week about Jesus wrestling with God. In between Jacob has had dreams and realized God’s presence and promise. He has worked for his uncle in exchange for the hand of both of his daughters in marriage. He has had a dozen sons with servants and wives. In other words, he has seen his share of trouble and blessings and changes.
Then this week, the lectionary moves on to the story of Joseph without giving us the end of the story of Jacob. Jacob, whose name got changed to Israel when he was wrestling with God - we miss the climax. Since I just have this one sermon before I take off for a few weeks at the end of the summer here, I decided not to start in on the new story of Joseph. I really think you deserve to hear the end of the story of Jacob/Israel, to think about what it means for us.
So today we have read that Jacob after all these years is going to meet his brother Esau again, decades after he stole his brother’s birthright. So many things have happened, so many children have been born. Jacob has become a wealthy man with a large family and livestock. Now as he is going to reunite with his brother, he has anxiety dreams, meeting God in the dream and even sustaining an injury to his hip as he wrestles with God.
He is so scared about meeting his brother, imagining the beating he is going to get, the scolding he deserves. Tricky Jacob comes out again and he decides to send his servants ahead of his family, telling them to tell Esau that the animals and servants are a gift from his servant Jacob. He divides them into two groups so Esau will be slowed down and be offered gifts from his “lowly, humble servant” twice.
We haven’t heard any of Esau’s side of the story, but Esau evidently just wants to get to his brother. He rushes by one group of servants offering him gifts and cattle, and service. He rushes by the other group offering the same.
Finally, he gets to his brother and let’s go back to our reading. It’s more powerful if you hear the whole story of Jacob all at once, but here we go back to Jacob’s terrified perspective: “Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
Doug in our Bible study commented about the similarity between this story and the the story of the Prodigal Son, where the father rushes to hug, cry, forgive, celebrate. The Hebrew scriptures are full of God’s grace and love. Every week we have heard the legacy of trusting the Spirit, knowing God’s presence….
I was waiting in the backyard, hiding, worried about what my brother was telling my mother, worried about what I would tell her, hiding, full of anxiety. My brother came out and saw me hiding. He doesn’t remember anything about this of course, but I imagine him saying, “you might as well go inside.” And I went inside and fell into my mother’s arms crying.
I don’t know if she ever told my father. She didn’t remember any of this either when I asked her about it before she died. But a few years before she died, she asked the four boys to divide up some things of hers that she had saved for us. The four of us and our wives got together with these lovely keepsakes in front of us - pictures and photo albums, jewelry, things from my father, coins. Coins. I asked my brothers if I could have one thing our of the collection. It was a silver dollar.
It is very precious to me. I don’t know if it’s the same one I gave to my mother all those years earlier, but it is a beautiful symbol to me of the power of God’s grace, the free gift of God’s forgiveness personified by a warm hug from my mother, by a forgiving and forgetting, by a love that never let me go.
During these difficult times when everything is turned upside down by the pandemic and the profound changes in our lives and our world, we may have time to reflect on times of trouble in our lives. We may indeed be in a time of trouble - either on our own or with family with whom we may be isolating and spending more time than we are used to! It can be stressful and difficult. We may not always act as our best selves.
We may feel like we’re out in a little boat in a storm of trouble rising up around us, like the storms we have dealt with this week. It’s a good thing to face into the trouble in our lives. It doesn’t always lead to falling into a loved ones arms with forgiveness offered. Situations are sometimes more difficult than we often want to admit. But when we face into the storms we may notice Jesus walking calmly across the troubled sea, offering us a hand when we feel like we’re sinking, giving us a hug when we move toward him, claiming us as a long lost brother or sister, crying together because we have come home.