Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Ah, the trickster is tricked! We’ve been following Jacob’s progress with some interest, as he is destined to carry the covenant promise from the LORD for Israel. He came from the womb “pulling his brother’s leg” and has made his way through most of his life by the wit of his mind, rather than the sweat of his brow.
Now, he meets his first match — his elder uncle (and prospective father-in-law,) Laban. Great evidence here to be careful about making lifetime commitments when in the heat of love, or perhaps any other strong emotion! Jacob is duped into giving up seven years of “hard labor” in order to marry his true love’s sister. After he learns of the fateful switch, he is more than a bit miffed (yeah, how do you think Esau felt that day you “bought” his birthright for the soup, huh?)
He soon concludes a bargain to add another seven years of labor and get what he wanted the first time…and learns a life lesson about “do unto others” in the process. We’re not done with Jacob yet; he has one more “match” that he must endure, with an even greater opponent than Laban. Just how far his wits will carry him remains to be seen.
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
This psalm reminds us that God is still at work, even when the details of our daily lives seem to offer an interruption. God’s promise to Abraham endured his own faltering detours; Isaac, though a man of few words and unfortunately tricked into derailing the covenant blessing to the wrong son, is still part of God’s plan. And, even the trickster Jacob is ultimately used to impart God’s blessing to a nation and to the world. Good stuff, here!
What greater blessing can there be in life than to be able to see one’s children’s children? Though this is not required for a faithful and fruitful life (as not all follow the path of bearing and rearing children,) it is a notable blessing, nonetheless.
1 Kings 3:5-12
I am of the age that I remember my children watching a TV show on theNickelodeon network when it was new to cable television. The network still serves an audience of children, but also reaches many adults with its “Nick at Nite” and “TV Land” programs, offering reruns of popular shows from years past (long past, in some instances!)
One of the favorite shows in the early days of Nick was “What Would You Do?” Host Marc Summers polled audience members about their prognostication of probable outcomes to pre-set scenarios showed on videotape. There were also various and sundry weird, gross, and outrageous stunts performed by cast members and audience members. It was all in good clean fun, right?
The point of my rambling is that when I read the choice laid before Solomon, I can’t help but wonder, “What would I do in the same situation?” If I was asked by God to choose the one thing that I wanted to receive from the Almighty, I wonder if I would respond as did the ancient king, or would my choice be more like that of Jim Carrey when granted omnipotence by Morgan Freeman? (catch a clip ofBruce Almighty here)
Maybe the stakes aren’t as high for us as they were for Solomon or Bruce…but what do we do with our everyday requests before God?
The continuous reading of Psalm 119 has highlighted numerous characteristics of God’s words to us. I like verse 130, with its images of light and understanding.
My colleague (Bubba #1) tells the story of the time when, as a young seminarian, he supplied for a rural parish, bringing forth his best exegetical effort for the dozen or so people gathered to hear him. After the service, the matriarch of the church placed her seal of approval upon his effort by acknowledging, “I like your preaching; you’re just like us — simple!”
I don’t know what else to say, other than that on some days, I really need to trust the words of the apostle here. I rely on that Spirit who prays when I “do not know how to pray” and when I find my own sighing to be “too deep for words.”
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Everybody has some kind of idea about heaven, even if they don’t believe in it or they call it by some other name. Jesus talked a good bit about the kingdom of heaven, though his words weren’t nearly as eschatological as ours tend to be. He seemed to be fixed a little more on the “here and now” than on the great “bye and bye.” I suppose it’s actually some of both though, isn’t it?
At any rate, we have five (or six) rapid-fire analogies to ponder in our consideration of Jesus’ view of heaven. A seed, some yeast, a field, a pearl and a net full of fish. All very earthy (except the net and the fish, I guess.) They suggest immediacy, purpose, worth, effort, variety — what else? What do Jesus’ words concerning “heaven” mean to you?
As usual, Dr. Chilton ponders and challenges in the related sermon, below.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Back in June I went home to the farm to attend a family reunion; the Hubbards, my Mama’s people. While I was there I took a little side trip to go out to the church cemetery where my Daddy and his parents and my grandparents and, well – you get the idea – are buried. On the way to the cemetery I drove by my great-uncle Harry’s place and my wife said, “Isn’t that where the uncle lived who had all the clocks?” And so it was.
My uncle loved mechanical clocks and pump organs. He spent a considerable amount of energy looking for clocks and organs. He expended an equally considerable amount of money acquiring said clocks and organs. And he spent most of the last 20 or 30 years of his life repairing and maintaining those clocks and organs. Last estimate I heard was that he had over a hundred clocks and 13 organs in that old house when he died.
One day a man had come to deliver heating oil or diesel fuel for the farm machinery and he had come into the kitchen to get my uncle to sign for the shipment. Just as he prepared to leave, all 100 clocks went off. He was so amazed that he asked if he could stay until the next hour so that he could hear them all go off again. Nothing could have pleased my uncle more. He took the man on a tour of the house, showing his grandfather clocks and mantle clocks and table clocks and railroad cloaks, etc. etc. And when he ran out of clocks, he sat down and played a few hymns on one of the pump organs he had restored.
The time came for the clocks to chime and the driver of the delivery truck sat as if in a trance, listening with his heart as well as his ears. He got up from the table and said to Uncle Harry, I have several more stops to make. Would it be all right if I brought my wife and children back tonight so they can hear this?” And of course Harry said yes. When the man returned that night, he sat through another couple of sessions of chimes ringing. And after that, he always timed his visits to make sure he got to hear the chimes go off.
I thought of my uncle and his clocks and organs when I read todays Gospel lesson:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all he has to buy that field. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; one finding one of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (vs. 44-46)
Uncle Harry found most of his clocks and organs at yard sales and estate auctions and garbage dumps. He discovered things no one saw value in and knew what they were and made them his own. The deliveryman also discovered something many other people knew about but paid little attention to. I had been in that house many times when all hundred clocks went off at the same time; I was 12, I just complained that I couldn’t hear the TV. But this man knew that here was something unique and valuable, something to be treasured.
The kingdom of heaven is like that, Jesus says. It is not much something you can figure out or go out and find. You don’t shop for it at a store or order it at amazon.com. You can’t decide you’re going to get the kingdom through 7 easy steps you heard on an infomercial on TV or an ad you saw in the back of a magazine or online.
No, the kingdom of heaven is more like something that you stumble upon while doing something else, such as delivering heating oil, or plowing a field, or casually walking through a yard sale.
There is, for most of us, something of an “Ah ha!;” quality, an experience of “Oh my goodness, now I get it!” sensation about the kingdom of heaven. It is not always sudden; indeed it is more often a slow, gradual and growing awareness of what God is really like and what God is actually expecting of God’s people in the world.
But it always has an epiphany feeling to it. We go along, thinking that being a Christian is about behaving correctly and by certain standards, or we have always assumed the faith has to do with worshipping in a correct and appropriate way, all things done decently and in order. Or perhaps we have believed that it had to do with the content of the faith, accepting and embracing certain “true things,” about God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and how we should behave and what things we should do because we believe these things.
And yet, there comes a moment in our life when we need something more, something that our all our ideas about behavior and worship and belief, etc. aren’t so much proven wrong as they are shown to be relatively insignificant.
- There comes a time when someone dies and the bottom falls out of life.
- There comes a time when someone whom we would have trusted with our life betrays us.
- There comes a time when we are one who stumbles and falls and fails, and stands convicted of being the sinner we have regularly confessed ourselves to be.
- There comes a time when we need the things we have always said about God’s steadfast love and everlasting mercy and forgiveness and renewal to be true, not just for the world, but for us.
And the Good News is, these things are true. When we are in that moment of need, when we experience the warm and gentle love and the complete forgiveness and the healing power of God in our lives – it is in that moment that we have stumbled upon the treasure in the field, the pearl of great value; it is then that we will hear in our hearts the sound of a hundred chimes, ringing out our joy at being found in the kingdom of heaven.
Amen and amen.