Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Updated: Aug 13
Genesis 28:10-19a; Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
What is Jacob, who we talked a little about last week, most noted for? No, it is not sleeping on the world’s hardest pillow, a rock. Wouldn’t you think he had a few clothes to roll up and put under his head? A camel or something? But no, he, our hero, sleeps on a rock…What I always associate with the story of Jacob, as with Abraham, is that God, ultimately, in spite of the hard (and sometimes appallingly poor) choices that we make, what we call bad luck, violence, and heartbreak … God brings His sons and daughters to a place of promise. Holy Scripture, sometimes through allegory and symbolism, sometimes through history and narrative, opens us up to the overwhelming hope of God that is, for us, in His Son Jesus Christ.
So, yes, Jacob may run away, Jacob may cheat and lie. Last week he was running away from Esau’s rage and, up until this point, has really done nothing praiseworthy. But during his deep sleep, on his old rock, Jacob encounters God, a moment that changes him. He doesn’t become perfect but as he wakes, he is a different person. He speaks of God for the first time: “Surely God is in this place, and I didn’t realize it!” And he erects an altar, where his grandfather Abraham did (Gen 12:8). He sets off with a new outlook and his hope is in God. His future is very much uncertain, but God has promised that He will bring Jacob home.
You see, one of the great, powerful gifts of holy scripture is that it always, in the end, comes back to the hope, of a people, for a God who blesses, whose only desire is to bless. God can bring us back – or take us to - the place He needs and desires us to be. If we can be people of hope, if we can trust in God above ourselves, if we live in the hope of God’s redemptive love and blessing, God will not only be with us, but will show us the way to our greatest joy. We, like Jacob, may lose our way, be lost in our own cunning, shame, anger or pain; but there is no place we can run away from God. God asks us to hope, seek Him, and to stop running.
Paul, as he so often does, takes us deeper than perhaps the often more allegorical and simple messages of the Old Testament tradition. Paul reminds us, “…in hope we are saved.” We hope in a God who is not seen, which is why we call it hope. We believe, trust, and hope in a God we have experienced in our lives; the one we, like Jacob, have encountered.
Many of you know that one of my all-time favorite movies is the Shawshank Redemption, based on a novella by Stephen King. Hope is a central message of this film. Andy Dufresne is the central character, serving a life sentence for a murder he did not commit. Andy is an irrepressible character who, in spite of the brutality of prison life, will not let go of his internal hope that there is a world out there of beauty, love, and purpose. Much to the chagrin of his best friend, Red (played by the wonderful Morgan Freeman), Andy will not “accept” the way things are in prison, and finds light wherever and whenever he can, sometimes at great personal cost to himself. His friends admire him, but think he must be a little bit crazy, as they say.
Toward the end of the film (spoiler alert) Andy miraculously escapes, having been slowly, patiently tunneling under his cell for 20 years. He leaves word for his friend Red that, if he gets out, he should join Andy in a little town in Mexico: Zihuatanejo. Red does get out and decides to violate his parole, buys a bus ticket for Ft. Hancock, TX where he will cross the border into ol’ Mexico, and boards the bus (in Maine for a long trip south). He says, “I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope ...”
Paul uses one of his most beautiful metaphors as he tells us of a creation that has been groaning as a woman in labor, with great pains until now. And any woman who has been through labor and childbirth, and anyone who held the hand of a woman who went through it (me!) knows the analogy well. Labor is intense, and painful, and scary, at times. But for nine months, more or less, we have waited for this little creature of God to arrive. We anticipate our child’s arrival, and we are filled with hope. Of course, we understand that our children grow up and they can challenge us, break our hearts, and so much more and yet, they are always these beloved creations that God used us to bring into the world. Anticipating and meeting a newborn child, or an adopted child, for the first time, is an encounter with God.
So, Paul speaks of a pain (that is the nature of the world) that also anticipates the goodness, the redemptive life of the Crucified One that upends systems of oppression, heals the brokenness of spirit that makes life seem unlivable, and changes our sadness to joy. God does not do this work of miraculous deliverance of the world with the snap of His fingers, though He could. God gave everything, His all, Himself, at Calvary, and will, through the finality of His sacrifice, bring the world into alignment with His will, His love, and His desires for us. But, as we live in hope of the overturning of the forces of evil and violence in the world, God calls us into relationship borne of our hope and trust in Him. When we hope in the God of all the universe, we do not hope in vain.
We are God’s children and what is being revealed, even now, if we will look, if we can pry our eyes open, is God’s unveiling of His great promise. We glimpse His kingdom every time someone acts in kindness, for God’s sake, not their own. When we pray for the divine light in our lives, our hope is rewarded with an awareness of God’s presence. When we try to bring justice in the world by expressing solidarity with folks who are truly oppressed, God’s hope is vindicated in us. If we live in the hope of God’s salvation, which we do not see but can and do experience, then God’s new day is dawning.