Monday, July 7, 2014

Looking Forward to July 13, 2014 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10A

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Genesis 25:19–34
  • Genesis 27:1-41
The sermon title is Sibling Rivalry

Early Thoughts:  Twin brothers, at odds since the womb.  And it doesn't help that the younger twin appears to have a faulty moral compass.

Jacob (whose name means he takes by the heel or he supplants according to the footnote in the NRSV) is an interesting character to say the least.  As the story progresses he will be renamed Israel (one who strives with God), he will have 12 sons (by 4 different women) and will become the father of a nation -- the people of Israel.  But he gets there by trickery, deceit, and (almost) outright theft.  He is, at best, a flawed hero.  Or maybe he is a chance to reveal that God chooses to use the oddest people.

First he extorts the birthright, the inheritance of the firstborn, from his brother Esau.  Yes maybe Esau shows signs of poor decision making in trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, but who does that to a hungry brother?  Then with the support and urging of his mother (apparently Rebekah has a favourite son) he deceives his blind aging father to steal the blessing that was supposed to go to Esau.  Is it any wonder that Esau threatens to kill Jacob?

Not that Jacob seems to learn from his fear.  His relationship with his father-in-law is one of mutual distrust and deception.  So much so that when Jacob leaves that household many years later (stealing the family idols at the time) his father-in-law's parting words are a threat/curse/warning [though it sounds like a blessing] "May God watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from another".

The strange thing is, for all the talk in Judaism and Christianity about loving your neighbour, about brotherhood, about family, there is no family in Genesis that actually seems to get along.  Brothers are constantly at odds with each other, wives are jealous of each other.  Yes later Jacob and Esau reconcile, but before that happens, as Jacob is returning home, he is terrified about what his brother will do when they are once again together.

So what is there in here for us?  Well we all have times when we have trouble getting along with our brothers and sisters (both the blood relatives and the metaphorical relatives).  If we are honest there are times when we have not dealt properly with our siblings.  There are times we have acted like rivals instead of family members.  And sometimes we reconcile like Jacob and Esau do.  Sometimes we don't and the family or the community is split.

How will we deal with our petty, and our not so petty, disagreements and rivalries?  If we are all family (blood or metaphorical) ho will we grow the family stronger despite the times one of us acts like a jerk?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July Newsletter

It must be getting close to vacation time. As I sat down to write this I heard a voice saying “write something about Sabbath” over and over again.

And since I have, sort of, learned that I should sometimes listen to the voices in my head, and because I have no other ideas, and because sabbath time is such an important thing....

How are you taking Sabbath Time this summer?

Note that I assume you are. Which might well be a big assumption – and assumptions are always dangerous – but it is an assumption I am making intentionally. For many of us, particularly those of us with school-aged children, summer is a bit of a slower season. Many programs have gone on hiatus, we have more free time, and so we find it a season of “taking it easy”, or at least of being busy in a different way.

So how are you taking Sabbath Time this summer?

There is another assumption behind the question. The assumption that sabbath time is a good thing, that it is something we should be doing. In fact my assumption is that sabbath time is mandatory for our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Why else would it be a commandment?

Because look at the 10 Commandments. There it is in black and white, chizelled on the stones that Charlton Heston carries down the mountain. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Take time off. Don't work all the time.

Scripture gives us two reasons for keeping sabbath. One is that we rest because God rested. God rested on the seventh day and so should we. Later in the Scripture story we find the Jesus also takes sabbath time. He also disappears to rest and pray and rejuvenate himself. The other reason we are told to rest, to take sabbath, is because we are no longer slaves. Slaves don't get to choose if or when they get to rest. People who are not slaves DO get that choice [and Scripture then enjoins salve-owners to also ensure their slaves do not have to work all the time].

I think in modern culture we understand the need for rest. We understand the bit about it being good for us. I think we have trouble with the slave/freedom part.

One of the (bitter?) ironies of life is that all these “labour-saving” improvements we were promised have in fact made us work harder. One of the (bitter?) ironies of life is that the more easily we can be connected to the world the harder it is to intentionally dis-connect from the world. And in my experience, if we can't disconnect we don't really do a good job of taking time to rest, time to just “be” with each other. Think of the last time you went somewhere and forgot your phone, or were in a place where there was no phone coverage. How did that feel? Anxiety-producing, or freeing, or a bit of both? It is my contention that we have become enslaved by the devices that were meant to make life easier. It is my contention that it has become too easy to keep working even when we are not “at work”. And it is my contention that we suffer as a result.

So how are you taking Sabbath Time this summer?

I freely admit I am not good at this. In the past I have spent time during my vacation doing things like watching the live feed from the General Council meeting, or getting a start on worship planning for September, or checking my work e-mail, or getting into church (often church-geek) conversations with colleagues on social media, or attending Presbytery Executive meetings by phone, or even stopping by the office “to do a couple of things”. It is my plan/hope/dream that this year between July 18 and August 17 I will do none of those things. I am going to try harder to cast off the slavery of needing to feel that I have to remain connected. How successful will I be? Time will tell. But I am trying because I believe true sabbath time is important. I want to do it because I think I will be healthier and happier when I get back.

What about you? How will you make time for sabbath this summer?