Monday, August 25, 2014

Crossing the Jabbok

I have a friend from Texas 
who has a phrase he uses
to describe someone 
who is quite full of themselves without much substance:
all hat, no cattle

That sounds a lot like Jacob in his early years.
All hat, no cattle.

At this point in the Genesis story,
Jacob does have cattle (literally) and 
wives and children and other possessions.
He has sent everything he has
across the Jabbok River.
An early peace offering to his brother Esau.

Jacob is afraid.
He is going to meet his brother Esau
and he doesn’t really know what to expect..

Some of us are happy
when we are about to be reunited with a member of our family.
But some of us are not so happy.
Some of us dread seeing members of our family.

Perhaps there was a quarrel, a disagreement.
Perhaps there were harsh words.
Perhaps it was even worse--
perhaps we did something--or they did something to us--
that was just plain wrong.

Jacob is afraid.
He knows that Esau has ever reason and every right
to take revenge for Jacob’s past actions.

Jacob has been scrapping and scraping with his twin brother Esau
since before they were born.

Esau was the first-born son;
the position of honor and respect and blessing
in that time period.

Jacob was born just minutes after Esau,
born with his tiny hand 
firmly clasped onto his brother’s tiny heel,
as if he had struggled in the womb 
to push ahead of Esau
and be born first.

But minutes were as good as years
and Esau entered the world first
and took the coveted title of first-born son.

Their mother Rebecca loved Jacob,
adored him,
but Jacob felt ignored by his father,
overshadowed by his older brother.
Jacob thought himself far more clever,
far more deserving of their father’s blessing than Esau,
But he knew the truth
First-born sons
receive the position, the power and the family wealth.
Second born sons receive nothing.
Jacob was not wiling to accept this.
He lies to his father,
cheats Esau out of his blessing,
and runs away.

Jacob was in many ways at war with himself.
Jacob has many faults
but he also has a gift:

Jacob is tenacious.
Just as he held on to his brother’s heel,
Jacob holds on to building a life for himself.
He works for 14 years so that he can marry Rachel.
He and Rachel wait another 5 years before they conceive a child.
Jacob has endured a 20 separation 
from his family and his homeland.
Jacob is not one to give up,

But to face his past,
to stop his running away,
to go home,
Jacob must also face his history,
his past. 

Jacob arrives at the Jabbok River.

Crossing rivers,
real or metaphorical,
often symbolizes overcoming something.
A river is a threshold to new life.

In Greek mythology
the river Styx represents the boundary between life and death.

When Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, 
he becomes the leader of the Roman Empire.
The Jabbok River for Jacob
is much more than a geographical boundary.
It is the spiritual divide between Jacob’s youth
and his adult self.

The Jabbok is the divide between all the wrong 
Jacob has done in his life,
and all the possibility Jacob’s future holds.

Possibility or disaster that is.
For Jacob does not know what awaits him
 on the other side of the Jabbok.

Jacob does not know what his brother Esau intends.
But he knows he can no longer keep running away.
Jacob knows it is time to face the fears that haunt him.

In Hebrew the word Jabbok means "to empty, to pour out." 
This is what happens to Jacob 
during that dark night wrestling match.
He empties himself of everything.

He empties himself of everything that he once was
and makes himself vulnerable to all that might be.
Jacob is no longer running away,
no longer the frightened child.
Jacob is transformed into one who embraces
his covenant with God.

This does not mean that everything gets easier when we become adults
or when we own our rocky pasts.
We know that is not true.
It certainly was not true for Jacob.

This dark night at the Jabbok leads Jacob across the threshold
to be both a great and faithful patriarch
but also a hobbling, wounded human being..

It is only through vulnerability 
that we can discover our true power.
Jacob will face many more ordeals and heartbreaks.
But he will never again lose his faith in God or himself.

Jacob has waited his whole life for a blessing
and on the banks of the Jabbok
he finally receives the blessing that matters.

Jacob’s perseverance, his tenacity,
his ability to hold on,
is a gift that God will use.

Jacob will be reconciled with his brother
because he no longer sees his brother as his competition.
He sees his brother for what he really is:
his brother.

In this reconciliation,
Jacob finally finds the peace he has been seeking his whole life,
the peace he needs
the peace his entire family needs.

Peace is impossible without reconciliation.
This is the lesson Jacob learns at the Jabbok that night.
Jacob needs to make peace with his brother Esau.
He needs to make peace with himself.
Jacob needs  to make peace with God.

The world is hungry for peace.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga 
in speaking of the situation in Gaza, 
recently said peace is impossible without reconciliation, 
and reconciliation requires recognizing each other as human beings. 

Reconciliation requires
recognizing each other as human beings

Reconciliation is where we begin.
We begin when we realize we are tired of being “all hat and no cattle.”
We begin when we recognize one another as human beings.

God keeps trying to teach this lesson.
We are all human beings,
We are all God’s beloved children.
In the heart of God, 
there are no first born sons--or daughters.
We are both Jacob and Esau.

God calls us 
to stop dividing the world 
into them and us;
to stop using the narrow microscopic vision 
one against the other,
Jacob versus Esau,
and to pick up a pair of binoculars
and see a fuller, more hopeful vision of the world.

God calls us
to stop taking advantage of the vulnerability of others 
and be willing to offer up our own vulnerability;
to face the darkness 
and trust that God longs to bless us--
all of us.

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Sermon for Year A Proper 13
August 3, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

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