GENESIS 29: 15-2
ST. ANDREWS 7-30-2017
A. The wife stood looking into the full length mirror as she and her husband prepared for bed. She said, “Just look at me. I have wrinkles. Everything is sagging. I’ve gained weight. My hair is gray.” She turned to her husband and said, “Please say something positive about me.” He replied, “Well there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.” He is expected to be out of the hospital soon.
B. Do you have any flaws? That is like asking if you are human. Imperfection is universal. If you have no flaws whatsoever, then you really don’t need to be here. The church is just for us imperfect people who love the only one who was ever perfect. That’s why I am glad that the Bible is full of characters who are flawed human beings. Adam wanted to be equal to God. Noah was a drunk. Abraham tried to pimp out his wife to save his own neck in Egypt. Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer. The list goes on and on. And the Bible writers don’t try to hide these imperfections. They don’t white-wash them. Maybe that is so we can relate to being part of God’s plan without being perfect.
C. Abraham Lincoln was having his official portrait painted. He looked at the canvas when the artist was done and said, “Where are the warts on my face?” The painted said, ‘Well Mr. President, I didn’t paint those in.” Lincoln said, “Paint it again. This time with warts and all.”
D. Jacob fits right in to that rogues list of Biblical characters with major flaws. His name means supplanter or deceiver. He tricks his dim witted brother out of his birth right. He deceives his blind old father to inherit the family blessing. Jacob is a first class con man.
II. WHAT A MARRIAGE
A. Now back in Chapter 28 Jacob has an encounter with God and it seems to have changed him. And God smiled.But like all of us, he is still a work in progress. But in todays’ text, he gets involved with the family of his Uncle Laban. Laban has two daughters. Jacob runs into Rachel first and it is love at first sight. He goes to live among his Uncle’s people. He also meets Rachel’s older sister But she doesn’t do it for him. The writer tells us that Rachel was beautiful, but Leah had dull eyes. The Hebrew word is RAK. Its meaning is unclear. Some versions translate it as lovely or tender. Bu it is clearly meant as a negative comparison to Rachel’s beauty. So along with his other flaws, Jacob was incredibly shallow.
B. Jacob tells Laban that he wants to marry Rachel. Apparently marrying your first cousin was OK then. So Laban says, “Tell you want I’m gonna do. You work for me for seven years and you can marry my daughter.” Who would be crazy enough to take that deal? Someone who was in love. It’s not unheard of for people in love to pay a great price to be married. The Prince of Wales gave up being King Edward the 8th of England to marry Wallace Simpson, a divorced American commoner. . My Irish friend said once, “Being in love will do in your head.” (Book of poetry) So Jacob takes the deal and he works the seven years. Then Laban throws a big wedding party with lots of wine. Then in the pitch black night he sends the heavily veiled Leah into the wedding tent. The marriage is
C. Jacob wakes up in a rage. It was like that Willie Nelson song, “Last night I got in at 2 with a ten and woke up at 10 with a 2. “How could you trick me like this?” He is outraged. Laban makes some lame excuse about the oldest has to marry first which he forgot to mention when making the bargain. But Jacob is stuck. So Laban offers a ”After the honeymoon you can marry Rachel too. And then work for me for seven more years.”
D. What kind of marriage arrangement is this? It is outrageous. Jacob is married to two sisters, neither of which had any say in this arrangement. Leah and Rachel become antagonistic rivals with Jacob caught in the middle. It’s kind of ironic that the trickster was tricked. There’s a little bit of justice in there. One wise psychologist said that a “perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up.” I don’t know what he would say about 3 imperfect people.
E. A couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. They were in pretty good shape, but their hearing had gone bad. The husband stood up at the party and raised his glass and said, “To my wife. You are tried and ” The wife stood up and said, “Well after 60 years, I’m tired of you too!
III. DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES AND CHURCHES
A. But now Jacob is a part of a very dysfunctional family. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “ALL families are dysfunctional.” But this one was a doozy! You see, everybody in this sacred story is flawed. Laban and Jacob were especially dishonest. The dysfunctionality is rampant. The women in the story are Their feelings and needs are not even an issue. They are like possessions to be bartered.
B. I don’t know if you have read Margaret Atwood’s book or seen the Hulu production of “A Handmaid’s Tale.” It is a story of a dystopian future in which women are cast into functional roles over which they have no control .The handmaids are there solely for the purpose of bearing children. There were two things that I found interesting in the story. One is that the men use stories like the one we read today to justify their abusive actions. And the other was that nobody is happy. The men who run things are not happy. The women who are little more than slaves are not happy. It is a perfect example of societal dysfunctionality.
C. Then, as I re-read this passage about Jacob and the others it struck me that God is not mentioned once in the entire passage. This is a group of flawed human beings trying to do things that will be to their advantage and they made a dysfunctional mess of it all. You have to wonder if anybody is happy in Laban’ family. Laban might have been happy for a while, but then Jacob, up to his old tricks takes Laban’s two daughters and most of his good livestock and hits the road, leaving Laban holding the bag.
D. The church is like a family And sometimes it is hard to find any evidence of anybody being really happy. I was at a church on vacation on a communion Sunday and the preacher stood at the table and said, “This is the joyful feast of the people of God.” Really? I think God loves to hear us laugh. Ann Lamott said that laughter is “carbonated holiness.” Some churches are fortunate or blessed to not have any conflict. Some churches are destroyed by it. And some just let the dysfunctionality simmer under the surface. One of the Executive Presbyters that I worked with in another Presbytery said to me, “Some churches are like Noah’s Ark. If it wasn’t for the severity of the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the smell on the inside.”
IV. GOD LOVES FLAWED PEOPLE: THANK GOD
A. Why is it so hard to make families and congregations work sometimes? It is because both are filled with flawed people. When I worked with PNCs I would always tell them, “Let me save you the trouble. There are no perfect pastors. AND there are no perfect churches because we are all human which means we are all flawed. (Pop psych book I’m OK you’re OK- I’m N OT Ok and you’re not OK, but that’s OK.)
B. Just like in the Jacob story, God has a way of using imperfect people to be about God’s work. Thank God. If only perfect people were allowed in church the pews AND the pulpit would be
C. God uses flawed people in lots of different situations. The movie Gran Torino is not a religious film on its surface. It’s about a grouchy bigoted older man who hates his Asian neighbors until he comes to know them. They are bullied by a gang of teens with weapons. Walt confronts these gang members and allows himself to be gunned down by them causing them to be imprisoned and freeing his friends from their terror. He is a flawed character who becomes a Christ figure. Oscar Schindler was a selfish war profiteer who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. He was an imperfect man who provided a miracle of
D And God doesn’t ask us to be perfected before God uses us. God knows all of the flaws in us better than we know them ourselves. Ann Lamott is one of my favorite writers, She wrote in Hallelujah Anyway,
E. ”The ancient Chinese had a practice of embellishing the cracked parts of valued possessions with gold leaf, which says, ’We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken.’ It says we value this enough to repair it. So it is not a denial or a cover-up. It is the opposite, an adornment of the break with gold leaf, which draws the cracks into greater prominence. The gold leaf becomes part of the beauty. Somehow the aesthetic of its having been cracked but still being here, brought back not to baseline but restored brings increase.
F. And it is the same with God’s people. In our families and in our churches and in every aspect of our lives, God accepts us warts and all, flaws and all. In a small village in Scotland there was only one church. (Presbyterian Kirk of course) Everyone in the town attended there and everyone knew everyone else. One young woman had gained a bad reputation as being immoral. She had not been in the church for years. It was the practice in those days that before a person could take communion, they had to go to a preparatory service and receive a When communion was served, they had to have a token or they didn’t get served. One communion Sunday the young woman burst through the door crying. She sat in the front pew with her head bent low. Then the senior elder went over to her with the tray of bread and said, “Tak is lass, tak it. It’s fer sinners.” And God smiled.