This is Maryann Rice at the St. Joe Branch of The Cornerstone. It’s Wednesday morning, February 16, 2022. We’re on Lesson 16 and this is our Reflection for today.
I like going back and connecting with last week’s lesson – bringing what we learned last week with us as we come into this week’s lesson. So when we got to chapter 32 this week, where Jacob wrestled with God – it reminded me of last week – chapter 28 when Jacob fell asleep and in his dream he saw angels ascending and descending from God – he SAW God and heard God speak to him. He woke up and –– as though he was really surprised –– he said “Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it!
I think if I asked any one of you whether or not you know God is there with you right now – you’d say yes – God is everywhere. That’s something we learned in first grade. But I think even though we KNOW that, we forget about it sometimes. Or sometimes there are things that make us wonder, like when things get scary or sad or bleak, or heavy and dark – we think, where is God NOW – I thought he was supposed to be everywhere, all the time, but it sure doesn’t feel like he is here NOW.
But I ALSO think we all have had situations where we could look back – in hindsight – and say the same thing Jacob said – “Surely God is in this place and I didn’t know it.” God was there all the time and Jacob just didn’t recognize it.
There is an old legend of the Cherokee Indian boy’s rite of Passage that goes like this.
The boy’s father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. The boy has never been told what happens on this night by the other young men because each of them has to come into manhood on his own, in the same way – so it’s kept a secret.
The boy is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not fall asleep and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He is terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises – all the sounds of the night. He imagines wild beasts all around him.
Finally, the sun appears and he removes his blindfold.
And he is a MAN.
And it’s THEN that he discovers his father – sitting on another stump — very near to him.
He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.
The moral of the story: Just because you can’t see God, doesn’t mean God’s not there.
That seemed like a good connection with Jacob’s realization in last week’s lesson that God was there — and he had been all the time. So we bring that idea of God being with us all the time into this week’s lesson. And this lesson is a good part of three chapters of Genesis – so a lot happens in that much space. Looking back at the very beginning and going forward from there – in a real sketchy way – I see in chapter 30 – vs 1 – Rachel is the first person mentioned – she had no children, she was envious, actually she was beside herself — about her childlessness — and she demands that Jacob give her children or she will die! –– and Jacob comes out with “What am I, God?” Doesn’t that sound like a stand-up comedian? So, in her distress, Rachel gave her maid to Jacob so she could have a baby that way. Not a plan we could decide on now days, but that was acceptable then.
Vs 9 – Leah – she thought she had finished having babies – and she wanted more babies, so she gave her maid to Jacob. She got babies that way. She went on, though, to have more of her own babies – by Jacob.
Vs 25, Rachel did too. She went on to have more babies – she had Dinah and Joseph – by Jacob –— Jacob was busy.
Vs 31 Jacob has a talk with Rachel and Leah – he says, your Father – Laban – doesn’t have much regard for me anymore – but you KNOW that I have served him well – even though he has cheated me and changed my wages TEN times. But God has been with me and has told me to go back to my homeland.
And so he goes – and on his way home – vs 32 – he sees Esau coming toward him. His twin brother. Jacob was worried — he knew this could go either way — so he came up with a plan. BUT surprise!!! Esau had no ill will – he wanted to reconcile.
He didn’t say – I’m finished with Jacob, this is it – I see him over there – I’m not interested in ANYTHING he has to say, I don’t want him back here.
He could have done that – and that would have put up a wall that would destroy that whole relationship and all that would go with it for the future. That’s what Esau DIDN’T do.
And Jacob – he didn’t say – that Esau – here he comes – I remember so many things that I don’t like about that guy. I don’t know why God thought it was a good idea for me to come back here. This is NOT what I want to do and I’m gonna turn around and go back where I came from. God was wrong THIS time. That’s what Jacob DIDN’T do.
And Leah – she had her own particular distress – but she didn’t say – that God – he should have given me more babies – I should not have to send my husband out to the maid – what kind of a god would do something like that. I don’t believe there even IS a God – I’m an atheist from now on. That’s what Leah DIDN’T do.
And Rachel – She certainly had her distress – she didn’t say – here I am barren – if there was a God he wouldn’t let something like this happen to me – I have prayed and he hasn’t given me a baby – I give up on this – I don’t even think there is a God there – if there were he would have answered me by now. That’s what Rachel DIDN’T do.
I think we have to notice that. We’re supposed to be making personal application of the scripture as we study it. And here we see a group of people who were all raised in their religion and who were all in some kind of individual distress, and NONE of them just give up on God or on their religion.
We have the expression in our vernacular – throwing out the baby with the bath water. Because you don’t like all the murk and dirt in the babies bath water – you throw the whole pan out – but you throw the baby with it – there’s something you don’t like – and because of that – even the good part – get’s thrown right out the door. That’s what we mean when we say throwing out the baby with the bath water.
And that’s what Rachel and Leah and Jacob and Esau did NOT do. There was something they didn’t like – or something God wasn’t doing the way they wanted – there was – but they didn’t throw God out the door – they worked out the thing they didn’t like and KEPT God. They threw out the bath water but NOT the baby.
But that’s not what I see people doing these days. People have a belief in God for years, they grow up in a religion – and then something happens – something they don’t like – something they don’t want to live with – they don’t like Vatican II – or they don’t like something their pastor does – or there is a death of a loved one, or they want women to be ordained, or they think the church is all about money, or they are angry and embarrassed by the priest abuse scandal – or their bishop won’t let them get married on the beach –whatever it is – and I am NOT minimizing all these problems – I know there are some BIG problems and I am NOT making light of that. That’s not the point I’m making at all.
What I’m saying is, I think people get offended by something in their religion or their church or the faith they grew up in – and because of that one thing or maybe more than one thing – they throw it ALL out – all of it. Leave the church. That’s it. All the good things that the church has to offer, all the good the church is – it’s all out the window – because of something they don’t like. That’s throwing out the baby with the bath water.
So why am I saying that to you? You know whenever I say any of these things to you it’s because I’m saying them to myself. So why am I saying it to us? We’re the ones who HAVEN”T thrown out the baby with the bath water.
I’m saying it because I think we have to be able to see what’s going on – recognize what’s happening and be able to deal with it ourselves.
Because there will be things – if there aren’t already – that WE don’t like – about the church, about our religion, about anything in the world – and we want to know how to deal with them WITHOUT throwing the baby out with the bath water.
We have to know what we want to do and what we want to say in those situations where we are with people who are mad at something or object to something and have thrown out the baby with the bathwater – because of that. There are people like that all around us – and there are becoming more and more and more of them – some of them are our own children – our own families – our own grandchildren.
We have to know how to stand there, knowing what we love about the church, knowing the personal encounters we have had with God, remembering the bazillion times God has answered our prayers – and hold on to that – and at the same time – continue to be kind and loving and courteous to people who don’t agree with us. Hold what we believe – and at the same time – continue to be kind and courteous and caring.
In that way we can be an example to people who are about to throw out the baby with the bathwater – or already have. We have to be able to say – I don’t agree with you and I don’t like your ideas about that – but I like YOU! I don’t agree with you but I see what you are trying to defend, I understand. I see the point you’re making.– I just don’t see it that way. We have to learn how to be kind and appreciate that people as God’s children just like we are.
What Jesus calls us to is metanoia. Change our minds. That’s what that really means. We need to be people who are trying to do that – trying to change our minds – and some of that mind changing has to be about people and their decisions and their ideas – when they don’t agree with ours – and learn to hold two opposites — and yet keep our peace.
And not just in the church or about religion. Look at our government. Nobody seems to know how to hold their own position and at the same time – LISTEN and be kind. How can there be any metanoia – if we can’t even LISTEN and be kind.
In this culture we live in we don’t have any practice at standing in the middle and keeping our peace. Everyone wants to be right. But if we are gonna call ourselves Christians, we have to learn to be kind and loving and forgiving. We have to be able to see all the good there is in working toward that, and we have to be able to show that to other people by our example. There is so much contention everywhere it seems, and we can be the ones who by our example show that you don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.
A couple of weeks ago I said – maybe we should have a homework assignment – and you know that when I say that to you – it means I’m saying it to me. I said – the next time something hurtful comes along, see if you can do what Jesus did – take it in – and do not return it in kind. Instead, let something good come out – something loving or forgiving – something that’s not a retaliation.
And some of you have told me that you were trying that and it’s REALLY hard. It IS. And today brings us to another one that’s hard – the next time you disagree with someone, see if you can listen and be kind, say you don’t agree, say that you see what they mean – you understand what they are saying – you just don’t agree – but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you – or I don’t want to be around you – I DO.
Why would we do that? Why would we take that home and try to work on it? Because that’s what Jesus called us to do. Metanoia is hard. But isn’t that the kind of thing we come here for?
If this were a scripture study that doesn’t try to make personal application of the scripture – what good would that do? I heard a preacher once who called that kind of thing a hallelujah society – everybody sits around and says Oh sweet Jesus, O glory be to God, O thank you Jesus, O praise the Lord, but nobody does anything to change. Just come back the next week for more O sweet Jesus! O praise the Lord!
So. . . . Let’s be a real scripture study, where we really try to let the scripture into our lives. And we really try to let it change us.
Let us pray – Lord you have called us here today to be together and to study your word together. We have shared what you gave us when we answered our questions, and we have tried to make personal application of what this lesson holds. We see again today that following you is not easy, Lord, and it takes a LOT of practice. We ask you to send your Holy Spirit to do our homework assignments with us and we look forward to learning the ways you would have us change our minds so we can be transformed.
We pray this in the name of our Triune God – In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen and amen.