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Part of us is always waiting and watching for the “pay back.” For the bad guy to get what’s coming to him, for the arrogant and snobbish woman to receive her comeuppance, for the villain to succumb to the hero. There is within us this longing for the books to be balanced at the end of the story. We leave the movie unsatisfied when the sinister one is allowed to flourish and prosper while the good languish and suffer. We slam the book shut when those who have behaved poorly are rewarded and those who have been honorable and upright continue to be punished. We want life to be “fair.”
And if that’s the case, and if you’ve been following along in our “Family Stories” as we have focused on Jacob for a couple of weeks, then I should warn you now: Sunday’s reading (Genesis 32:22-31) may be hard. Jacob has cheated his brother – twice – of birthright and blessing. He has essentially robbed his uncle through genetic engineering. He has demonstrated an incredible lack of human compassion and sympathy for those around him, particularly his first wife, Leah. You want this guy to get what he’s due.
When the story begins, it looks as though he might. An angel (or perhaps God himself) begins wrestling with him. You just know God will prevail. You want God to prevail. You find yourself cheering for God to prevail. And God does, of course, after resorting to a little chicanery of his own.
The thing is even with God prevailing Jacob leaves the story with blessing and a new identity. Jacob becomes Israel, Israel becomes the repository of promise and covenant, and the story moves along. Poor Esau is left only to welcome him home. It’s not…fair.
The truth be known, though, grace is hardly fair. What is grace – unmerited, unearned blessing. Jacob surely doesn’t deserve it. But then, I’m not so sure I do either. Nor you for that matter. In someone’s book, we’re the bad guys who deserve a bad ending.
The good news is that God doesn’t quite see it that way for any of us. So, while we may leave limping and wounded, we leave blessed.
Limp in Sunday and join us as we talk about it.
Grace and peace.
Like many of you, most of my days have a sameness about them. I go to the same places, see the same people, do many of the same things. There is a routine that is followed: up at about the same time, coffee, conversation with Mary-Ellen, to the office and everything that needs to be done here, home, reading, bed. Occasionally, the routine gets interrupted with gifts of evenings out with friends (as tonight will be, for example) or an event of some sort. But for the most part, it’s the same thing pretty much every day.
Which means that I tend not to see some of the things that are hidden in front of my face, the things that are always there but I simply don’t notice them. There is a legendary family story of the day, years ago, when we were leaving our home for church. I glanced to my left and commented that there was a small family cemetery, right in the middle of town, that I had never seen before and I wondered how long it had been there. The nine year old in the car commented “at least four years because we’ve been living here that long.”
Maybe the same thing happens to you. I suspect that many of us don’t always notice or see the things that are right before us. They are hidden in plain sight. The work of God, the kingdom of God, is often like that as well. It’s right in front of us but we do not (or cannot) see it.
This Sunday, we’ll read an odd story from Genesis (Genesis 29:15-28) about Jacob, his uncle Laban and his cousins Rachel and Leah. God will never once be mentioned in the story but will, in fact, be all over it. We’ll also hear Jesus tell us that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or yeast in bread, or a treasure in a field, or a fishing expedition – all everyday things that contain within them the surprise of grace in an otherwise routine (and sometimes messy) life.
I hope to see you Sunday for the conversation. I can pretty much guarantee that things will look like they do most Sundays and it’ll pretty much be the same crowd of folks (with a few new faces thrown in for good measure) and the same order of worship that we use most weeks. It’ll be the “same old, same old.” But, I hope you’ll come with open eyes and open hearts and be ready for the surprise of something that is hidden in plain sight.
Grace and peace.
Sarah laughs at the idea of having a child in her old age; she and Abraham name the promised child, Isaac, which means “he laughs.” The title of this week’s message, Putting the Fun in Dysfunction, might make us laugh, (or not!) depending on our perspective and experience. This week in our summer preaching series-Family Stories-we hear the oracle given to Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, about their twin sons, Jacob and Esau. This “word” from the Lord is no small thing; it will shape and influence all future events and relationships to come; it reveals that some serious dysfunction and conflict is about to unfold in this one big “happy” family.
Mild dysfunction covered in love might be amusing or even entertaining to us, like some of our modern TV shows and films that celebrate human quirks and peculiarities. But serious dysfunction and conflict-especially when we are in the thick of it-is no fun at all. Conflict and dysfunction can be discouraging and gut-wrenching and devastating.
So what are we to do? For one thing, we recognize our mutual need for grace and are thankful that God uses even the unlikeliest of people to achieve the divine purpose and mission in this world-there is hope for us all! For another, we continually seek to be transformed by God’s love in Christ who redeems and overcomes all enmity and conflict and injustice. Together, let us work for and celebrate the more excellent way of Christian love. And at all times, let us remember the last thing Jesus prays for just before his passion and death: Jesus prays for our unity and oneness-may we be one as he and the Father are one. See you on Sunday!
Rev. Martha McLean
Grace and peace to you, Friends in the Lord. This week in our Sunday worship we continue the summer preaching series of “Family Stories” as Abraham sends a trusted servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Throughout the entire journey, God blesses and guides and provides; the trusted servant responds well. The trusted servant relies heavily on God and so when “the moment” of discernment comes, he “gets” what God is doing! In this chapter of our family story it is easy to see God’s steadfast covenant love unfolding right before our eyes.
Want to share more deeply in this type of a family story-where God’s steadfast covenant love is flowing and gushing up like a mighty river? Want to know more fully our God who is continually at work on our behalf, blessing, guiding, and providing for us all? Of course we do! We hear a resounding “YES” echoing in our midst! But wait, there’s more…God invites us into this way of thriving. God hopes for us to respond so that things go well for all-even better than we can ask or imagine. Come this Sunday as we share and celebrate in God’s family story, which by God’s grace, is our story! See you then.
Reverend Martha K. McLean
I’ve been trying all morning to think of what to write. My problem is that we hope that these Thursday e-mails will be inviting and tantalizing, that they will whet your appetite for what we will be doing in worshipSunday, that they will make you want to come.
There’s no way for me to do that this week. The “Family Story” that we will be considering is almost too horrible to imagine. God (yes, God!) will say to Abraham Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him as a burnt offering… Abraham does as he is told.
I can’t make that pretty. Nor funny (hard to make jokes with Isaac – “he laughed” – trussed and bound on the altar). There’s no way to clean this up.
So, I’m not sure what to write that will get you interested in the conversation this Sunday about Genesis 22:1-14 other than to say this: perhaps it is only if we deal with this horrific story that we can begin to understand the decision God later makes to offer his son, his only son, the one whom he loves. Perhaps we have to come to grips with this story in order to appreciate fully the whole story.
So, I’m not sure what to write. Or to say. Except that I hope to see youSunday as we wrestle with this together.
Grace and peace.
Sometimes it seems that everything happens at once. I’m sure you’re familiar with this phenomenon. Life moves along in a routine sort of pace, nothing unusual, nothing particularly exciting. Then…. everything happens at once.
This Sunday is one of those “everything happening at once” kinds of days at FUMCC. It’s the Fourth of July weekend, obviously, which means that many of our families may be away for holiday (keeping in mind that holiday is rooted in “holy day” let me invite you to watch the stream of the 11:05 service on the church website). As I am writing, Hurricane Arthur is headed our way – by Sunday all should be well here but we will be praying for friends on the coast (and considering responses if need be). It is the first Sunday of the month, so we will gather at the Table and share in the Lord’s Supper, a fitting thing to do as we say farewell to Alice with one last “thank you” for a job well done. Finally, we welcome our new Pastor of Christian Formation, Martha McLean, and our new Director of Music Ministry, Kerry Johnston, into our life and onto our staff.
And, yes, by the way there will be a sermon (albeit brief) as we continue to share “Family Stories.” This week we’ll hear a bit of the story of Hagar and Ishmael from Genesis 21:8-21. It is a painful story, but one we need to retell in order not to repeat.
See… everything happening at once. I hope to see you at the happening place. Until then, have a blessed and safe holiday.
Grace and peace.
It can happen to the best of us and it can happen without warning. It begins as a giggle, a hint of laughter. It grows into a chuckle and a chortle before becoming a full-fledged laugh. It ends up with you gasping for air, trying to catch your breath, sides hurting from the total belly laugh that just took place.
You tell others about it later. They stare at you, unblinking, unsmiling. “I don’t get it,” they say. “How was that funny?” “You had to be there, I guess,” you answer in amazement that they don’t get it.
What’s odd is that when you think about it later, you’re not so sure it was all that comical either. It seemed to be in the moment, but on reflection it may not have been so much comical as it was tragic, or sad, or just something that happened that was inexplicable. The laughter came from somewhere deep within, some place that found the moment to be so profound or frightening or just odd that the only response really was to laugh or cry and laughing seemed so much the nicer alternative.
Perhaps it was that type of moment for Abraham and Sarah. Childless with no prospect of children, old (he 100, she 90) and “beyond the time” they had just been told by visitors that Sarah would have a child, that God would keep the promise. What else was there to do but laugh? One wonders if perhaps God laughed with them. It was so funny they named the child “Laughter” (Isaac).
This Sunday, as we continue the “Family Stories” of the Abraham family, we will spend some time with this tale of Abraham and Sarah hosting guests at the table only to discover that the joke’s on them – the guests bring a hostess gift, one otherwise unimaginable. We’ll read Genesis 18:1-15 and talk about “Surprises Along the Way.”
Bring your sense of humor and I’ll see you Sunday. Until then, did you hear the one about…..
Grace and peace.
Every family has its stories. The stories that get repeated at family gatherings. The stories that get passed on to the future generations. The stories that live long after the participants are gone.
The story of the Christmas the tree fell; the story of the wedding reception interrupted by a fire alarm pulled by a five year old nephew; the story of the great-grandmothers whose knitting is still a prized family heirloom; the story of how the grandparents met by happenstance.
The stories, in fact, are part of what makes the family and gives it identity. When you marry into a family you inherit the stories of that family and become one with them when their story becomes “our” story. Stories make us a community, give us shape and form, locate us in the world, and allow us to claim that because we share a story these are “my people.”
The family of God has a story, as well. It is a story told in the narrative of scripture and repeated throughout the millennia. It is a story whose origins are in the story of one particular family – the family of Abraham. For the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the story of God is told as the story of the whole human family but then the story takes a dramatic turn in chapter 12. It is as if God decides “That’s not working too well; let’s try one family and see how that goes.” And God chooses the family of Abraham. For the next 38 chapters, we are taken through the history of this family’s story. We find people who put the “fun” in dysfunction, yet somehow manage to keep their eyes on God and God’s promise. At the end of the day, we discover that God has kept God’s eye on them and the promise as well. In the story of the Abraham family, we discover what is to be the people of God and something of how our story fits into God’s.
This summer, we will be reading and reflecting on the “Family Stories” as we remember the family of Abraham in all five worship communities. This Sunday, we will begin at the beginning of the story in Genesis 12:1-9 as we consider that “The Journey Is Our Home.”
I hope to see you there. If you’re traveling and on vacation, I invite you to remember that we stream the 11:05 sanctuary service now and you can worship with us from wherever you are. I hope you will so that you don’t miss any part of the story.
Until then, do you remember the time…..?
Grace and peace.
It seems to me that once a year the Church does one of those things that is both humbling and healthy. We pause one Sunday a year, take a look at something, and say, “well, here’s something we can’t explain.”
Such behavior is unusual for a post-modern people so conditioned by a scientific mindset that we try to explain away everything. “The sunset? Oh that’s merely the ray’s path of light being distorted by particular atmospheric conditions. Yes, it’s attractive but completely explainable.” Poets everywhere weep.
So, for the Church, well versed by now in explaining everything away in an attempt to be relevant, to stand once a year and say that we believe in something we cannot explain is odd behavior at best. Yet, it is what we do on Trinity Sunday – a Sunday entirely devoted to the inexplicable.
How do we explain (not to mention justify) our belief that one God is revealed and experienced in three persons? At our weakest moments, we try. We will talk about shamrocks with one stem but three leaves. Or two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen that can be water or steam or ice (three properties of the same molecule). Or how I am a son to my father, a husband to my wife, and a father to my children while still being one “me.”
All the explanations are marginally helpful, yet they all fall short. The H2O model, for example. Yes, the same molecule can be water, ice, or steam but not all at the same time – as God is all at once Father, Son, and Spirit.
So, we resort to other descriptions. Squeamish (and still post-modern) that we are about language we will refer to the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Yet, that also leaves something to be desired, substituting the functional for the relational and implying that those three “works” of God are somehow distinct as though the second and third persons of the Trinity were absent in Creation. And so on.
You see how hard this becomes. So, we come together once a year, simply shrug our shoulders, and say we believe. Which, in the end, may be the best posture we can assume before the mystery of God: simply to believe, worship, and adore.
And that’s what we plan to do this Sunday – Trinity Sunday – as we gather to welcome new members, to baptize a new sister and brother in the triune name, and to consider “The Dismissal with Blessings” (2 Corinthians 13:11-13). We plan to believe, worship, and adore. I hope you’ll join us in admitting what we don’t know and worshipping the Three in One whom we do.
Grace and peace.