Sunday, July 26, 2020
Well, today again in our reading from Genesis, we are given a window into the customs of the people of Israel, which included polygamy, marrying your first cousins and tricking someone into marrying the wrong person. I’m not sure if you noticed, but God is not mentioned at all in this passage we read from Genesis 29. It is really only in the last paragraph of the chapter, where Genesis talks specifically about the Lord blesseing both Leah and Rachel with children, that God is mentioned. Chapter 30 says Leah has more children because the Lord sees Jacob doesn’t love her. And since God is not mentioned in this passage, we might ask ourselves why we would read it in worship, and what it might have to say to our situation today, when Jacob’s situation seems so unrelatable to our own. Just keeping the family relationships straight, and which of Jacob’s sons were born to which wife or concubine, is enough to leave us scratching our heads.
It’s likely true that none of us were tricked into marrying the wrong person, nor did we marry two people at the same time or have our uncle also be our father-in-law. But all of us have experienced betrayal and the hurt of broken promises, even by family members. There’s a common saying that “You hurt the ones you love the most,” and certainly many of us have found this to be true. It hurts when an in-law, or an aunt or spouse is unkind, or worse betrays us. “Blood is thicker than water,” we might say, but family relationships are often messy. We may prefer our church family to our blood relations. Consider who in your family disagrees with you about the 2020 election, or the Black Lives Matter movement, or whether you should wear a mask or not, and too quickly our personal opinions become personal attacks, even within families. Human relationships are complicated, and sometimes even our closest relations disappoint us.
Now, you might say that Jacob got what he deserved. Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him his older brother Esau’s blessing, remember? His brother was so angry he wanted to kill Jacob, and here Jacob has come back to his mother’s brother to be given similar treatment: he can’t marry the younger wife until he’s married the older wife, Leah. That’s just not done in our country, Laban explains…but I wonder why he wasn’t upfront with Jacob to begin with? Jacob ends up working a total of fourteen years without pay for his uncle/father-in-law because of this trick. Putting Leah with a husband who doesn’t love her doesn’t seem a loving thing for Laban to do for either his daughter or his nephew. You can imagine what this trick does to the sisterly relationship between Leah and Rachel as well. We can certainly sympathize with everyone except Laban in this story. And so, we come back to the question, “where is God in all of this mess?” It’s the same question we may easily ask of our own messy lives at times, “Where is God in all of this mess?”
This week, I am so grateful that we read more than one passage of scripture in worship so we get a fuller picture of what God is up to in our lives than this small piece from Genesis! Where our first lesson reminds us of the brokenness of human relationships, our other readings emphasize the marvelous works of the Lord, and God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises to us. When human relationships fail and disappoint, we have this reminder over and over in scripture that God will not fail us. Our psalm tells us that the Lord is always mindful of the covenant, and God’s promises last a thousand generations. Jesus speaks of the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven, how God can grow even a small mustard seed-size faith into the greatest of shrubs, or how God’s presence is like yeast, where only a little bit leavens the whole dough. And our second reading is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture, Romans 8. It is chock-full of reminders of how God keeps promises. Romans reminds us of all God does for us so that we can truly put our trust in God, when human relationships disappoint us.
God’s Spirit intercedes with us with sighs to deep for words – God not only hears our prayers but responds and listens to us when we don’t even have the words to say. God searches our hearts and knows our thoughts. God makes us a part of his family through Christ – Christ justifies and glorifies us. God gives us everything, including his own Son. God is for us. And finally, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is a whole list that Paul mentions of forces that try to separate us from our loving Lord. Death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth…and you can fill in your own fears and concerns: coronavirus, political factions and divisions, family drama…name your deepest fears and give them over to God. We have an unshakable promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Uncles, in-laws, siblings, even spouses and parents may betray us, and will certainly at times disappoint us. God’s promises will not fail us. God will stick with us and never leave us alone or abandoned. This is the God in whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah put their trust. Despite their own imperfections and disappointments, they discover throughout their lives that God is faithful and God keeps his promises. God’s love is powerful enough to overcome any sense of separation. May God help us put our trust in the unfailing love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, too. Amen.