June 20, 2010
Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu
Genesis 28-33 (Newell Summary/ Translation)
1 John 4:11-12; 20-21
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. Those who say, “I love God and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do no love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Who are you..who who who who? This week during youth week we have been exploring very important existential questions: Who am I? Who am I becoming?
Who am I? Well, I’m Chester. Such a maligned name raises eye-brows. And not just here in the US. It’s a cigarette brand in Guatemala, and, in Brasil what do you call a chicken crossed with a turkey? A Chester. Who am I? Let’s talk about occupation? A Presbyterian minister. What a conversation killer. “Oh that’s nice, Excuse me, I have to go the the restroom. See ya.” Who am I? Yesterday I tried to wear my hair in a different style from usual. “Chester, that hair do is not you.”
So, Who am I? I am cool, I’m a nerd. I am beautiful, I am ugly. I am legal, I’m illegal. I am smart I am dumb. I am a jock, I’m a member of glee...
What is our true identity? Who we are in community? Who we are in relation to the world, particularly people of a different faith? Who we are as part of God’s creation? What does it mean to be claimed as children of God? These are the themes we touched on this week…we’re going to need a few more weeks..
For some reason God put on my heart this story of Jacob as the lesson for today. Jacob knew what it meant to struggle with identity. Sibling rivalry. Who can relate? Parental pressure: Go lie to your dad and backstab your brother Jacob! “But mom”. You do what I say young man (reaching for her shoe). Living up to parents’ expectations. Who can relate? He struggled with his relationship with God. What did God want with him? What did God think of the things he had done? Ever considered these things?
Who was Jacob? And who was he becoming?
I wonder this about Ruby sometimes. My church tells me they can’t get enough Ruby stories. I think Phillip Newell is on to something when he says, when you look into the face of a newborn child you are looking into the face of God.
And it’s been easy to see that face of God in Ruby for most of her nearly 17 months of life. Her innocence and openness, curiosity and wonder. We were at a restaurant in April eating at a booth, and we were close to the end of our meal when another family came in with a little girl who also was sitting in high chair. Ruby saw her and demanded to be put down. (waving her arms). So we put her down, and she looked at the little girl, and picked up a crumb of cornbread off of her high chair and walked over to the girl with her arm extended, an offering of friendship to a stranger.
Is this how we are created? Is this how God desires us to be and act with others in the world?
So What happens?
How is it that we come to believe the world is not safe;
That we must fend for ourselves, and take what we can get while we can get it.
We turn against our brothers and sisters…We become convinced that God is not real; And it can start at an early age.
Last fall I coached an under 6 soccer team. Those kids were a trip; running around, chasing after the ball, laughing, crying when they crashed into each other. A game, for fun, we didn’t even keep score. We were the bubblebees; naturally we wore a yellow colored shirt. It was during our first game, that the youngest player on our team, four, looked at the other players and said with conviction, just before the second half kick-off, “I hate the blue team.”
Hate the blue team…. Was this his true self?
From innocence and trust to being against others. Others who are different. Others who become a threat to us. Wars and battlefields everywhere, domestically, globally. Jacob lies to his father, and backstabs his brother.
Maybe we hear the good news; but we don’t remember we are loved and forgiven.
We experience baptism, but we forget we are called to be disciples…And so we have to reinvent ourselves every day. And face the daily pressures to achieve, accomplish, and impress: our parents, And then, our teachers; and then, our peers; and then, our significant other.
And then and then and then, “it is never enough; Because then, then, the next day it has to be done all over again, until we’re simply exhausted and left in despair.” (Bruggemann)
It’s not hard to imagine that Jacob had become exhausted and was in despair during his time away. He’s struggling to cling to something in his world that makes sense. Was he hoping to meet God? We don’t know, but he definitely wanted to be safe. Especially safe from his brother. And it’s while he’s asleep; vulnerable. God takes the initiative.
First, a ladder, angels ascending and descending. Promises of God: I am with you. I will keep you. I will never leave you.
And if that wasn’t enough; a river: a fight, a wound, and a blessing.
You are free Jacob, Be who I have created you to be; you don’t have to feel threatened by your brother, you don’t have to live up to your mother’s expectations. You are free to now go and seek the peace you need.
Jacob’s story reminds me of baptism. I love the promises we proclaim and cling to when we celebrate baptism. We are made one with Christ and God says: "This one is mine! I see my image in her! Don't you see my image in him? And here comes my Spirit, my Spirit to sustain you as you become who I have created you to be, to guide you as go about doing what I put you on earth to do." (J. Adams). “Where can we go from God’s spirit? (Ps 139)” It was after all God who chose to bring us into the world. “God knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Ps 139) And God's grace claims us and reclaims us over and over again and again. Our true identity, our true calling. Free to be you and me.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu a freedom fighter in south Africa, knows about freedom. You should have seen him doing some free form dancing last week at the World Cup, when South Africa scored a goal...Back and forth. I heard him on one of my favorite radio programs recently: Speaking of Faith. He was talking about the days of Apartheid, and how it tried to rob people of their true identities.
He said: "Apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity; and the scriptures say [our value is found in the fact that] we are created in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our circumstances may be, no matter how awful, no matter how deprived you could be, it doesn't take away from you this intrinsic worth.
Tutu continues: I was working... in a small parish in Soweto. Most of my parishioners were domestic workers, not… well educated. The white employer most frequently didn't use the person's name. They said the person's name was too difficult. And so most women would be called "Annie" and most black men "boy." But I would say to [the people in my congregation], "When they ask who are you, you say, 'Me? I'm a God-carrier. I'm God's partner. I'm created in the image of God.'" And [when I told them this] those dear old ladies walked out of church as if they were on cloud nine...with their backs slightly straighter. It was amazing."
It was amazing to see you youth hike up to box canyon yesterday. Time was spent contemplating struggles, inner struggles and struggles at home. Then going up to the cave, entering it on hands and knees—penitence, humility—and there they released the thing they were struggling with, whatever it was, and came out to a bowl of clean water where they picked up a clear glass bead. Words, were spoken,
“you are a beloved child of God; created in God’s image.” How many of you walked down from that cave with your backs a little straighter?
We struggle, just like everybody else, to be decent human beings. We are tempted, just like anybody else, to be less than God created us to be. Sometimes, I get worried…maybe all of us do…whether or not I’m good enough or worthy of God’s love, of anyone’s love. But, then God shows up in our lives—as God did in Jacob’s life—we are empowered to choose a higher and better way.
Jacob’s encounters God And I love what happens next in his story. Empowered, renamed, cripple. He goes to his brother, Esau. He seeks forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption. Mercy. Brothers, once ready to kill each other, meet.
Jacob bows down. Now they embrace, and kiss: “Seeing your face, brother,” Jacob tells Esau, “is like seeing the face of God—because you have welcomed me back with love.” Loving God and loving our brother or sister, our neighbor, they belong together. Jacob was crippled and blessed, bowed down and forgiven. Certainly the crucified one knows about limping and blessing, about bowing down and forgiving. (Bruggemann Genesis, pp 241-274).
Who are we? Who are we becoming?
Back to my little bumblebee, who hated the blue team; he remembered who he was during a game later in the season. He started off the game trying to sting the players on the other team. At one point during the game, there was a dead ball, and a player on the blue team was getting the ball ready to take a goal kick. My little guy was running around trying to figure out which way to go, he went up to the blue player, and instead of trying to sting him, he unexpectedly hugged him. “Wait a second, this was the blue team. And there you are giving a hug?!”
We go from this place after what was hopefully a God-filled blessing of a week, back to our lives, and our relationships; To our joys and our struggles; may we remember who we really are, and seek to bring peace and reconciliation, mercy and grace to all of our relationships, and pray God’s leading with those more difficult circumstances…. May God bless you as you become who God created you to be.
In the name of the Triune God, Amen.