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Sunday 25th July 2021​

Audio  

Happy Families: Jacob series, pt 2

 

Psalm 105:1-11

Genesis 29:15-28

 

When I was being taught the theory of public teaching,

...I remember that great emphasis was put on forming a SOUNDBITE/PHRASE,

…….that can be be repeated at intervals during a talk

 

= to drum home a key point.

 

 THIS ADVICE ALWAYS COMES TO MIND WHENEVER I LISTEN TO POLITICIANS BEING INTERVIEWED ON RADIO 4’s today programme-

 

And I also find myself reflecting on how annoying it can be for the listener!

 

Politicians like to reuse certain STOCK PHRASES,

...over and over again,

….in order to CONVEY what they want us to believe about them-

 

Often these are FAMILY THEMED phrases,

...such as:

 

I’ve heard many a TORY claim:

-”we stand for family Values”

 

GORDON BROWN on the other side of the house was always banging on about how

-”we support ordinary hard pressed families”

 

Whether the politician is BLUE, RED or YELLOW -

...we hear similarly worded pronouncements

 

I heard somebody in the past week trot out the old chestnut:

….’the traditional family is under attack’

 

Perhaps IMPLICIT IN THESE STATEMENTS,

...is a sense that FAMILIES were built PROPERLY in the good old day’s

(like houses OR cars)

 

= packed full of those old fashioned family values,

….based on sound BIBLICAL VALUES

 

***Well -

We’re going take a trip back in time and meet a good old fashioned biblical family this morning 

….JACOB’S

 

We met him last week -

A FLAWED man who received a remarkable amount of GRACE from God

 

We saw that he stole his brother's BIRTHRIGHT,

….and tricked his DAD into giving him his BROTHER'S BLESSING

 

As we concluded last week = HE WAS A LITTLE GIT!

 

Now we see the TRICKSY LITTLE BROTHER growing up,

….and producing a FAMILY

 

IF I were to use a dif theme tune to begin each sermon,

...I could do no worse than using Eastenders or the Archers, or coronation st or Emmerdale OR PRACTICALLY any SOAP OPERA you’d like to choose this morning. 

 

SO - Jacob did his dastardly worst last week,

….then has to LEG IT from his murderously angry Big Brother,

 

= going to stay with his uncle LABAN 

 

Now he arrives in HARAM -

….meets RACHEL (when there’s a bit of a phwaaaar moment),

……..and then he’s taken and introduced to his UNCLE

 

TRUE LOVE (or more likely LUST at this stage),

...incites him agree to work FOR LABAN for 7 years,

…..in order to EARN Rachel’s hand in marriage

 

If you previously wondered where JACOB had inherited his rather DECEITFUL nature from,

...we are left in the dark no longer,

…..as UNCLE LABAN lays on a tricksy surprise for his NEPHEW…

 

JACOB wakes up on his very 1st morning of marriage next to the WRONG SISTER!!!!

Duh, duh, du, du du, du dud….

 

JACOB is both furious and self-pitiful,

….but personally all my pity is RESERVED FOR LEAH!

 

One can - and does 

...wonder HOW Laban pulled off that trick (even in the pitch black)

 

= but the text doesn’t SPECULATE

 

I suspect LEAH was ordered to keep her mouth SHUT -

….which leads us onto another consideration:

HOW did LEAH feel about being a pawn in the boy’s game??

 

And once she had WOKEN UP to her husband's HORRIFIED/INDIGNANT face

(and begun to process THAT reaction)

 

= how did SHE FEEL about her new husband,

...negotiating another 7 years work to pay for her younger sister RACHEL

(the woman he really wants)

 

We don’t know for sure - WE CAN ONLY SPECULATE

 

We don’t know how EITHER SISTER FELT -

…= they are both completely silent in the narrative

……..in my opinion: ‘the TRUE INJURED PARTIES’ 

 

Back to the boy’s a moment -

(the CHARACTERS with VOICES)

 

= one could argue that JACOB gets what he DESERVES -

….the little CHEAT is CHEATED

 

I referred to SOAP OPERAS a moment ago -

...I CONFESS that I can’t stand them,

 

= i don’t find personal tragedies OR miserable, backbiting families fun to watch -

….just a bit DEPRESSING

 

HOW DOES GOD VIEW THE UNFOLDING DRAMA OF THIS FAMILY?

...this family certainly isn't displaying the family values we mentioned at the start

 

GOD HAD SUCH HIGH HOPES FOR THIS FAMILY -

(starting from Jacob’s grandfather Abraham) 

 

  • But ABRAHAM twice gave his wife SARAH,

….to other men (to save his own skin when they were in tight spots)

 

  • Then his daughter in-law REBEKAH,

….and GRANDSON JACOB,

     Deceived his son ISAAC and betrayed ESAU

 

  • And now there’s all this today:

….all this game playing and misogyny 

 

WHERE’S THE GOSPEL IN ALL THIS?? (bear with me…)

 

Back to the women:

The VOICELESS 2 - the PROPERTY - the BARGAINING CHIPS

 

Forced to marry the same man,

….and then play a FUN GAME of 

          ‘who wins the husband's favour by birthing the most kid’s!’

 

And then there’s GENESIS 29:17 (NRSV - bit dif from reader)

“Leah’s eyes were lovely AND Rachel was graceful and beautiful”

 

Others - such as the NIV, state:

“Leah had weak eyes, BUT Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful”

 

 According to my handy little book -

...the HEBREW TRANSLATION is a bit unclear,

…..it could be LOVELY or WEAK

 

But using the context of young Jacob,

….comparing these 2 women as he was (weighing them up against each other)

 

= it would seem to me that Leah’s eyes were weak -

...or at best (to him): her only redeeming feature

 

Weak eyed woman   ----    vs -----  beautiful girl with the drop-dead figure

 

And the IMPLICIT MESSAGE in this text,

...is that one is WANTED and FAVOURED - due to her superficial charms

 

And the other is PLAIN,

...and only has a chance of marriage - if a man can be tricked into it

 

AGAIN I SAY - WHERE IS THE GOSPEL IN THIS??

 

Perhaps we can’t see it,

...because we can’t find GOD in the text.

 

When JACOB was running away from his brother last week,

….we saw that he MET GOD 

 

But we saw that JACOB ONLY WANTED GOD ON HIS OWN TERMS (at that point in his life)

 

From that encounter,

….he went SELFISHLY on his merry way

 

It’s a story many of us can relate to

 

I encountered GOD as a child,

...but went on my MERRY/SELFISH WAY - throughout my teens

 

= I made some selfish/hurtful choices,

….DESPITE God revealing himself to me earlier

 

SO -MY CHOICES weren’t GOD’S FAULT - he gave me free will

  • THE CHOICES we see today aren’t GOD’S FAULT - God had been side lined and Jacob was exerting HIS free will

 

SO...

We have a broken, dysfunctional family,

….containing 2 women who are treated as PROPERTY,

…...and whose value is assessed upon their SEX APPEAL (or perceived lack of it)

 

I DELIBERATELY used my own teenage life illustration just now,

...because I don’t want us to JUDGE THIS STORY as ARCHAIC

 

= we need to see this STORY as having relevance for TODAY,

…….FOR US

 

I know CULTURE has moved on a lot in these few thousand or so years,

….but my reading of scripture convinces me that HUMANS haven’t.

 

It’s easy to sit in judgement on LABAN and JACOB -

...sitting here comfortably in PISGAH on a SUNDAY MORNING

…..condemning their actions and thinking:

“Thank God we’ve evolved”

 

But if that’s our attitude,

= THEN WE’VE MISSED THE POINT!

 

They are not THEM    ---    they are US!!

…….Are we - MEN or WOMEN = so very perfect?

 

Families are messy and often broken:

  • We hurt each other (intentionally or not)

  • All too often, we act on our own best interests

 

As a CULTURE,

...we forget (or simply choose to forget)

= to ask those with less power,

   ...about decisions that impact upon their lives

 

Perhaps LOOKING AT JACOBS damaged family,

….reminds us of HUMAN BROKENNESS more generally

 

Perhaps it reminds us that we have a world,

….that judges ALL SORTS of people (not just women) on appearance

 

IT REMINDS US THAT WE STILL LIVE IN A WORLD - 

….    where some people are treated as less than others

 

***SO IS THERE A GOSPEL MESSAGE IN THIS TEXT??***

= yes!!!!

 

If this text makes you feel a bit angry -

… = THEN GOOD!!

 

…….we’re not being given an example to emulate and congratulate,

………...but one to learn from

 

IT’S OFTEN STATED,

...that one of the things that differentiates the Bible from other HISTORICAL WRITINGS,

…...or ANCIENT RELIGIOUS TEXTS,

 

= is the way in which it is NOT polished up,

….(like a PROPAGANDA PAMPHLET say)

 

  • The characters aren’t airbrushed to put them in the best possible light

  • The rough edges aren’t rubbed off

  • The unappealing/embarrassing or controversial bits aren’t edited out for wider appeal

 

It’s disarmingly honest

 

THE BIBLE introduces us to a family -

...not one of those stereotype TV advertising campaign families,

…….but a REAL (broken even) family

 

A family who he intends to work through to bless the whole world

 

God isn’t trying to impress the neighbours with this family,

…..they are BY TURNS faithful AND sinful

 

And like all of us -

= they are BLESSED by God

…….and CURSED by their own actions

 

***

When I heard my NAN telling family stories,

...especially about my famous great uncles BERT and ARTHUR GOODING,

 

They were always filled with the FUNNY and IMPRESSIVE bits

 

Even when it was tales of their MISCHIEF and MISADVENTURE -

...she always put them, broadly speaking, in a GOOD LIGHT

 

That was fine,

..when you are teaching your grandson to ADMIRE and CELEBRATE his forbears

(which is point of most family stories)

 

But it’s NOT the point of the Bible narratives -

 

We’re not SUPPOSED TO worship the characters in the pages -

...but rather the merciful God

Who puts up with both them and us!!

 

GOD is FAITHFUL to us -

Despite what we have done (or still do)

 

PSALM 105 puts this into perspective:

105:1 READ

 

The psalm reminds us,

...that God made an agreement with these people (people like us)

…..people who didn’t earn or deserve this agreement

 

THE GOSPEL (good news) IS in our text today,

...because GOD is keeping his promises to the SINFUL people we have read about

 

GOD IS MERCIFUL even though they  ….  We,

… = have wandered off on our own merry/selfish little life paths

 

++We don’t see GOD in our text today,

= because he’s not invited into it …..   (but he’s STILL faithful)

 

++just like there are parts of OUR life narrative,

=  when he hasn’t been allowed to overtly feature….  (but he’s STILL faithful)

 

THINK ABOUT THE TIMES YOU HAVE GIVEN GOD THE COLD SHOULDER -

...did he break faith with you?

 

Speaking for myself - 

I’ve discovered through my own selfish misadventures,

…..that his faithfulness doesn’t depend on mine (thank you God)

 

As Paul wrote to Timothy in

2 Timothy 2:13 

‘If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.’

 

GOD LOVES THE BROKEN FAMILIES OF OUR WORLD,

...God loves them 

----- and by extension he loves us

 

The FOLKS IN HERE (hold up Bible)

….and the folks out there (sweep hand to show whole world outside)

…….and the folks in here (sweep over congregation)

 

WE BREAK HIS HEART with our behaviours and disregard for each other

     - yet he still loves us

 

YET HE EVEN DIED FOR US……..

     Q - how do you respond to that?

 

If you let it -

It will shape and transform your life

 

PRAYER -

Thank God for his unmerited grace

...ask him to take us in our selfish states,

…….but not to leave us there

 

To transform us just as he has with Jacob and so many flawed biblical characters we find in the pages of our bibles.

 

Amen.

Sunday 18th July 2021

Little Poo!

 

Genesis 28:10-19a

 

We’ve spent a lot of time in the New Testament this year,

…especially the gospels

(Which is important)

 

BUT IT'S ALSO IMPORTANT TO READ IT IN RELATION TO THE OLDER ‘pre Jesus’ SCRIPTURES - 

 

And it’s been on my mind to use these next few summer weeks,

….to take take a closer look at some of our faith roots

 

we are going to look back to a much more ancient time-

 

A time that was literally ANCIENT HISTORY …to Jesus and his contemporaries 

 

This is the family that God chose to build into a nation -

…a nation through which he would introduce himself to the world. 

 

Abraham and Sarah were the founding couple -

They had Issac,

…and Isaac had a couple of sons called ESAU and JACOB

 

it’s the younger son we are going to join -

 

I’d suggest we might get more out of this morning’s text,

… by PLACING OURSELVES,

……………..in JACOBS SHOES,

 

(and seeing in perhaps what we can be like at our most selfish)

 

But NOT as a morality sermon on how we should or shouldn’t behave -

(that’s not where I want to take us tonight)

 

BUT -

...to get a RENEWED APPRECIATION of how GOD relates to us

 

= how AMAZINGLY GRACEFUL our GOD is!

 

My older brother,

...loves to remind me what a LITTLE POO I used to be when I was little -

 

actually he had a surprisingly wide and rather colourful selection of descriptors that he variously drew on,

 

Many are not really fit for Sunday but if the ones that aren’t too bad,

… poo, toe rag and little git were perhaps most used

 

I particularly like GIT - I love that term!! - it’s SOOO expressive

….it has a satisfying hard edge when it comes out of the mouth

 

I thought I’d better look it up in the dictionary B4 using it tonight,

...in case it had a TERRIBLE or OBSCENE meaning that I hadn’t known about,

 

The ONLINE URBAN dictionary say’s =

‘British slang meaning unpleasant, silly, stupid, annoying or childish person -

As a mild oath, it is roughly on a par with prat and marginally less pejorative than berk’

 

And it was my title for a number of years!

...and it’s true - SOMETIMES I WAS!

 

From the day when I pooed on my brothers school tie 

(I can’t remember this but my Mum and Brother assure me it’s true!)

 

To the whiny cries of:

‘Muuum - Martin hurt me’

 

To the many little brotherly intrusions,

...into my BIG BROTHERS bedroom,

…..to mess with his cool stuff BEHIND HIS BACK

 

And he had some really COOL stuff -

Bass guitars, a banjo-lele, Tom toms -

…leather jackets, black widow catapult…

 

LITTLE BROTHERS can be a trial for their older siblings…

 

We meet another LITTLE GIT,

...in today’s text,

 

A devious, self-centred, scheming little git called JACOB

 

= the name literally means URSURPER - and it’s fitting!!

 

BIG BROTHERS have to put up with a lot -

...but even the nicest have their LIMITS

 

I remembered running from the WRATH of my brother,

….legging it to hide in the GARDEN,

 

= after breaking his COOL VINTAGE METAL COMB - think the fonz from ‘happy days’

(I was using it to try and pry open his locked cupboard door)

 

In even more EPIC fashion,

….JACOB’S legging it from HIS furious BIG BROTHER ESAU

 

MY BIG BROTHER may have threatened to kill me..

….But JACOB’S BIG BROTHER really meant it!!!

 

And this is where our passage begins -

….JACOB legging it to his UNCLE LABAN’S 

 

I broke a treasured COMB -

….but JACOB stole his brothers BIRTH RIGHT and BLESSING

 

Q what’s a birth right?

Besically: In JEWISH TRADITION,

...the OLDEST BROTHER gets 2 thirds of his fathers wealth when he dies

 

The other siblings divide the rest

 

So JACOB manipulated a STARVING ESAU,

...into giving up a 3rd of his INHERITANCE for a bowl of stew

 

JACOB - true to his name,

...has URSURPED his OLDER BROTHER

 

Not that ESAU can hold his head up high -

...as scripture say’s: ‘he has despised his birth right’

…….BUT = Jacob’s still a complete and utter GIT!!

 

His mum - REBEKAH,

...caught wind of ESAU’S murderous intent 

 

= and arranged for JACOB to live with her brother until ESAU ‘cooled down’

 

Actually -

....it was she who colluded in JACOB stealing another of ESAU’S possessions -

= by helping him to trick his DAD into giving JACOB the blessing,

…...that was Esau’s by right

 

Once given (even mistakenly) -

...custom said it couldn’t be rescinded

 

GENESIS 27:32-35

 

The BLESSING was a general ‘may things go well with you and may you prosper’

…...BUT NOT YET

 

For now: he’s travelling alone - he’s vulnerable,

….and he’s sleeping under the stars

 

GENESIS 27:42-45

 

The phrase translated as - ‘go away for a while’ - 

...means ‘for a short time’

 

REBEKAH seems to have been under the impression,

...that she’d only be LOSING HER SON for a few years….

 

But their SNEAKY ACTIONS -

… = meant that he wouldn’t return for 20 YEARS,

……...and she would never see him again

 

She paid a high price her complicity in the deceit 

 

BUT THATS IN THE FUTURE…

 

For now: he’s RUNNING AWAY,

….UNCERTAIN of what lies B4 him,

…….and into this pickle he’d got himself into -

………..GOD SPOKE - 

 

= he introduces himself

 

GENESIS 28:13a

 

Vulnerable JACOB listens,

….but would he have been ready to HEAR GOD,

…….. in his previous self-satisfied, overconfident state??

 

When JACOB the GO-GETTER - 

….felt secure in his own plans?

 

In the CHURCH SERVICES  i’ve attended,

...and conversations I’ve had,

 

= I’ve heard a number of people CHRISTIAN TESTIMONIES

 

They usually start with something along the lines of:

“I was in a bad place in my life”

OR “every thing was going wrong - all my hopes and dreams dashed”

 

AND THEN:

“GOD spoke,

...DID,

…..APPEARED,

…….CAME INTO MY LIFE”

 

When you feel comfortable and secure in life -

….everything is rosy in the garden,

 

= how good are you at turning to GOD,

….DEPENDING ON HIM

…...REALLY MAKING AN EFFORT to LISTEN TO HIM?

 

It’s a sad reality of human nature,

...that we are often the MOST RECEPTIVE to God,

 

= when something happens to remind us,

….that we are not so secure and incontrol - as we’d like to believe

 

NOTHING opens my SPIRITUAL EARS more effectively,

….than a GOOD DOSE OF HUMILITY

 

It’s a shame that I can’t I can’t do it more consistently,

...WITHOUT having to wait for CIRCUMSTANCES TO ASSIST ME

 

SO - God introduces himself -

...in effect -

……’I KNEW your grandad, I KNOW your Dad - 

……….and now i’m INTRODUCING myself to you’

 

Then GOD goes on to REINFORCE the promise-blessing,

…... that JACOB- the little git,

…………... had tricked out of  his DAD

 

The PROMISE of LAND, OFFSPRING etc, etc….

……….BUT God takes the PROMISE further

 

GENESIS 28:15

 

One of the things I FELT,

...when I first SENSED GOD calling me,

 

= was WOW - you are SO GRACEFUL

(you know me  --  and yet you still want me)

 

When I finished BACKSLIDING in my early 20’s-

(Shortly after I met Emma - no coincidence there!)

…..I had a redoubled sense of his GRACE

 

Q - I wonder if JACOB felt that?

 

JACOB had CHEATED his brother,

….TRICKED his Dad,

…….he was HORRIBLE

 

And yet - KNOWING ALL THAT,

….GOD’S still promising to be with JACOB,

…….to keep him from harm,

………..and bring him back home one day

 

JACOBS REACTION TO GOD’S GRACE is mixed -

 

(I suppose ROME wasn’t built in a day,

…..and LITTLE GITS are rarely transformed over night!)

 

He DOES acknowledge the holiness of the moment and the place

GENESIS 28:17

 

He ALSO set’s up a PILLAR OF ROCK,

...and names the place BETH-EL (the house of God)

 

BUT READ A LITTLE FARTHER to see what he does next…

 

After GOD’S gracious, unconditional promise to him,

….JACOB - ever the schemer,

……. = ACTUALLY BARGAINS with GOD

GENESIS 28:20-22

 

Why can’t he simply ACCEPT or TRUST God’s promises?

….(why can’t we for that matter sometimes?)

 

SO - (slowly)

GOD PROMISES,

…..WITHOUT CONDITION,

 

= that he WILL be with JACOB

= that he WILL bring him back home again

 

And JACOB responds by saying -

“IF you are with me AND bring me back home again,

...THEN you will be my GOD”

 

JACOB responds to GODS grace,

...by laying down a set of conditions

 

We’ve all heard the phrase - ‘making God in their own image’

…..assuming things of GOD,

…….assuming he THINKS and BEHAVES like us

 

(or at least in ways that fit a nice simple -  easily definable world view)

 

JACOB knows that HE - would never make an unconditional promise to anyone,

….he’s nobody's fool,

 

JACOB’S in it for himself - 

….LOOK AFTER NUMBER 1,

 

= and he cannot comprehend a God,

…. who would promise something for nothing

 

Sooooo….

He schemes and bargains with this GOD OF MY FATHERS

 

He maybe DAD and GRANDADS God,

…..but I’ll only CLAIM HIM if he protects and prospers me

 

Or as the wonderful ARTHUR DALEY would have put it,

...no deal until I see the readies!

 

JACOB wrestles and bargains with GOD,

….just like he bargains with everybody else he’s ever met

 

Why????

  • Because he just can’t get his head around the sheer MAGNITUDE of God’s grace

 

This text isn’t so much about what Jacob does (I said earlier it’s not a morality sermon)

.. = BUT - WHAT GOD IS DOING

 

JACOB is currently at the centre of his little universe,

…..but GODS GRACE is at the centre of this story

 

And the BIG NEWS for us,

...is that GOD relates to US,

…..in the same way as he relates to JACOB

 

It’s OUTRAGEOUS - or as JOHN NEWTON PUT IT,

…. = it’s AMAZING (wait) - …..  GRACE.

 

JACOB didn’t earn or deserve,

...any of the PROMISES God gave him,

 

No hint of the -

…’you made your bed, now lie in it’

 

**here’s the next point -

….. = GOD’S PROMISES (GRACE) - started a change in Jacobs life (set ball rolling)

 

You may not give SWEETIES to a naughty child,

...it will make them worse,

 

But GRACE is no CELESTIAL SWEETIE!

 

GOD’S PROMISES DON’T SPOIL US -

….they heal and transform

 

It’s a process -

….and GOD set the process going from the moment he BEGAN SPEAKING to JACOB

 

Change takes time -

… = LET’S FAST FORWARD 20 YEARS

 

He’s coming home -

….travelling from his UNCLE LABAN,

…….with his FAMILY, FLOCKS and HERDS

 

When we heard him speaking to God in today's text,

…. he prayed ON HIS OWN TERMS

 

NOW - listen to how he speaks to God now,

 

And note the absence of bargaining,

….and how he acknowledges GOD’S faithfulness,

…….and his own unworthiness…

 

GENESIS 32:9-12

 

There's no IF ---- THEN,    in his prayer

(unlike his previous one)

Instead it’s BECAUSE --- THEREFORE

 

BECAUSE you are faithful

...BECAUSE you have made these promises

…..THEREFORE I am trusting you to help me now

 

These contrasting prayers show = JACOB CHANGED

 

And the point is -

...THE CHANGE WAS GOD’S DOING,

…...NOT JACOB’S

 

GOD’S grace,

...has transformed a callow youth - 

……..into a man who founds a nation

 

...a man who ‘own’s’ GOD on his death bed

GENESIS 48:15

 

This is OUR GOD.

...the GOD whose GRACE-FILLED PROMISES =

….. fill these pages

 

THESE ARE OUR PROMISES,

….and they are literally LIFE CHANGING!

 

Pray_

Help us to take you at your word,

...on your terms NOT ours

….help us to absorb the amazing truth of your GRACE,

…...and let it free us from the shackles of childishness or legalism.

…….let it fill our hearts with praise and gratitude,

……….as you draw us ever nearer in your loving arms

 
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