Archive for July, 2011

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabrie...

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My heart always goes out to Leah, the wife Jacob didn’t want.  Here is the sermon I preached on this story from Genesis 29: Revised Common Lectionary, Ordinary Time 17A.

The Unwanted One
A Sermon on Genesis 29:15-35

You know there’s going to be trouble the minute Leah’s name comes up in the story.  The text sets up an unfavorable comparison between Leah and her sister Rachel.  The writer wants us to know there’s something wrong with Leah in comparison with Rachel.  There’s something delicate or odd about Leah’s eyes.  We’re not sure exactly what the Hebrew means there.  But the writer is loud and clear when he continues, “But Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.”   The implication is that of course Jacob would prefer Rachel.  Of course he wouldn’t want to “settle” for Leah.  The text makes it seem like the only thing worth knowing about these two women is that Rachel was prettier.

There’s plenty here to make us uncomfortable, plenty that’s alien to our experience and even distasteful: polygamy—multiple wives, common in that day, women as property to be sold and bought, women primarily valued as baby bearers and in particular male baby bearers.  And then there’s the whole atmosphere of dirty tricks that surrounds the Jacob family in nearly every episode.

These may be remote from our experience.  But judging by appearances—and comparing—is not.  It’s here.  It’s now.

Standards of beauty in our day are such that few women feel they can measure up.  It is very, very rare to find a woman who feels totally okay about how she looks.  That’s why we laughed recently about having our women’s pool party “under cover of darkness.”

But male or female, you at least want to look normal, or not attract attention for not looking exactly normal.  Dating and marriage can be a very delicate issue for people with disabilities.

Lots of people know what it’s like to be the one not chosen, or the one always chosen last as when folks choose up sides for sports.  “I’ll take so-and-so”—and unspoken, occasionally spoken, is, “and I don’t want so-and-so!”  It’s tough to be a wallflower.

It’s tough to look around at others and feel like you don’t measure up.  This even happens in the church.  People look around at others, and they seem to have their act together.  They don’t seem to struggle.  They don’t seem wrestle with fear and doubt.  They don’t seem to have the problems I do.  Judging by appearances, that is.

I’m guessing that, for whatever reason, there were no other offers of marriage for Leah.  She was a wallflower.  But even if Laban was just using Leah to extract more labor out of Jacob, this plan of switching Leah for Rachel at the wedding would at least provide long-term economic security for her and give her the possibility of children.

Making the switch wasn’t that hard.  The bride was always completely veiled and carried into the bridal chamber.  Alcohol flowed freely at weddings.  Much of it probably flowed down Jacob’s throat.  With that in mind, and under cover of darkness, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine how the switch occurred.

The next morning was bad.  The look on Jacob’s face, disappointment and even disgust.  The sound of Jacob’s angry voice echoing all over the compound.  We got the sanitized version of what he said to Laban.  The thought of what other people were whispering to one another.  Everybody knew Jacob didn’t want Leah.  It’s even tempting for us to laugh: Jacob sure got his comeuppance!  He had met his match in Laban.  But it was at Leah’s expense, and it hurt. (more…)


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When I began this blog last October, I published a sermon on this week’s Gospel text (RCL 17A), Matthew 13:31-33.  Here’s a link to that sermon.  Hint: mustard weeds (yes, I said weeds) and heaven leaven are unstoppable.

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Lolium temulentum, Poaceae, Darnel, Cockle, ha...

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Here is a sermon on the gospel lesson for Ordinary 16A, the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  We need to beware when we find ourselves wanting to take spiritual and ecclesiastical weedeaters to one another.  Take a look at the photograph on the right.  What is this?  Wheat or weeds?

Weed Control
A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Everybody within earshot of Jesus could instantly imagine the weed-infested field.  What a vivid way to picture the way life is!  Ever since the Garden of Eden, people have been asking, “How did these weeds get in here?  How did decay and death get in here?  How did sin sneak its way in and sorrow twine itself around our joy?”  Weeds: they’re what ought not to be there.

But there’s another truth about weeds: one person’s weed may be another person’s flower.  The experts in God’s sacred law concluded that Jesus, his teachings, and his followers were weeds.  And as Jesus told this parable and others about seeds and growing and fruit, these experts—the leaders of the faith—were escalating their campaign of weed control against him.

They looked for every opportunity to question, to criticize, to nip Jesus’ teachings in the bud.  Why?  They sincerely believed that Jesus was offending against God’s holy laws and condoning sin.  Mixing with the impure made you impure, they believed.  Breaking the Sabbath was an insult to God.  Jesus was leading people astray, the leaders believed.  He was a weed, and by chapter 12 of Matthew they had already decided that he needed to be eradicated.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples had their own ideas about who the weeds were.  Those who rejected Jesus were the weeds in their eyes.  They themselves recommended getting out the weedeaters.  Once, for example, when a Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus because he was headed for Jerusalem, James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54).  That’s one way to deal with weeds: burn them like poison ivy. (more…)

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adding machine (d)

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Every year when we prepare our congregation’s statistical report, I find myself wishing that there was a way to report what is actually happening in the church.  The report looks for numbers, and most of what happens at Morton isn’t quantifiable.  I suppose we could try to estimate “number of sick people prayed for,” or “number reporting a deepened prayer life.”

In a recent post, Presbyterian minister Adam Copeland reflects on the “Online Dashboard” initiated by Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Every Monday pastors report in statistics of various kinds from their congregations.  Check out his post if you want to know more and follow the links.

What interested me most are Copeland’s suggestions for alternative “dashboard” questions:

Alternative Questions for the Conference Dashboards

  • For how many of your enemies did you pray in the last week?
  • How many times did you push yourself to an uncomfortable place for Jesus’ sake?
  • How often did you find yourself closed-off to the Spirit doing a new thing?
  • How many Bibles have you worn out from study?
  • How often did you pray your Facebook feed?
  • How often do you respond to a sermon with a specific question or action?
  • Is your faith static, or are you pushing for new ideas, new activities, new insights of the Spirit?
  • How often did you make numbers and statistics your idol?
  • To how many people did you show and tell that Jesus Christ is Lord?

What questions would you suggest for “measuring” congregational life?

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