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The Call to Worship based on Psalm 105
Give thanks to the Creator and make known the ways of God to all people.
All: Sing praises and speak of all the Divine’s marvelous works.
Let our hearts rejoice when we think on such things.
All: We search for connection with the Divine Spirit and see God’s face in those around us.
God is mindful of the covenant and the promise to companion a thousand generations.
All: The covenant made with Abraham and Sarah, with oath sworn to Isaac and Rebekah
The promise extended to Jacob, Leah, and Rachel
All: An everlasting covenant for all humanity. Hallelujah!
Loving God we know that our strength comes from You in whom we put our trust. Increase our awareness of your mercy, that we may use the measure of your love for us as our measure for loving others. Remind us that it is not our own actions that create holiness but your eternal, unconditional, and abundant love that makes us whole. Amen
Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said [to Laban], “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast.
But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country–giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
Matthew 13.31-33, 47-50
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kin-dom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” And still another, “The kin-dom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire…”
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Receiving God's Grace
Before I begin my comments today I want all of you to make note of something from our reading from Genesis today. When any of you hear people referring to “biblical marriage” as a defense to deny LGBT people the right to equal marriage under the law, refer them to this story in Genesis 29 for clarification. ;-)
This has been a tough week for many of us. The news just seems to get worse and worse each day. From the airliner shot out of the air in Ukraine, to lives torn apart from Mali to Syria, from Libya to Israel and Gaza our hearts break with each news report. I admit to dissolving to tears more than once this week and turning away from the pictures on television of the horrors in the world.
The bottom line is that life is hard. And there are days when it seems like it will never end. There are moments when I wonder if its worth the effort. When I take my eyes off the image God has for my life and concentrate only on the destruction and pain around me I can fall into despair.
But this week was also filled with stories of the triumph of the human spirit and the abundance of grace all around us. Our modern sensibilities often tell we’re naïve or overly optimistic to concentrate on the goodness around us. The reality is we really do have a choice in how we look at life.
Let’s take our readings today as a good example. In our story from Genesis God appears to be absent in the story. Jacob has fallen madly in love with Rachel and has worked for Laban only to be tricked into taking Leah as his wife. Let’s not forget that Jacob tricked is own father into giving him his brother Esau’s blessing. This is not a coincidence in this story. And it would be very easy to simply see this story as either a “poor Jacob” story where our main character has been done wrong by the circumstances of his life. Conversely we could stand in judgment and say Jacob got what he deserved for doing wrong to Esau and tricking his own father. We could say it was “poetic justice.”
Either of these seemingly “obvious” points of view misses some vital information that this story transmits to us. First of all there are four named women in this story and only two men. This is extraordinary and gives us some other options for interpreting this story in our own time. Rachel’s maid is named a bit farther on in Chapter 30. But the naming of Leah and Zilpah along with Rachel and Bilhah shifts our focus to the importance of all people in God’s plan. Ultimately the names of the sons of both Leah and Rachel become the iconic twelve tribes of Israel, the tribes that stand as the image of the abundance of God’s love and the diversity of humanity.
This weekend and this week are pivotal in the ministry of women in many mainline Christian denominations. On July 29, 1974 three retired bishops in the Episcopal Church in the USA ordained 11 women at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Death threats and dire predictions of the end of Christendom ensued for years following the events of that day but God persisted in her love for us and through many men and women over these 40 years has pursued humanity and taught us compassion through acts of mercy.
Many saw the act of ordaining women as an act of violence against the church, and invasive and cancerous dismantling of church hierarchy purported to be ordained by God in scripture and tradition. Our gospel lesson gives us the image we need to interpret this kind of “corrupting abundance” of God. Grace often does corrupt hierarchy, rules, even laws that have been held as sacred. Any time compassion moves us to mercy, anytime grace breaks into the world we need to be very careful to recognize that God is present in that action.
The story of the mustard seed in our gospel lesson has often been held up as an image of God’s goodness that begins as something small and grows to beauty and abundance. But the truth is that the images in our gospel lesson would have been seen as images of corrupting forces. Only a tiny amount of yeast can change otherwise stable flour into something that must be prepared and eaten immediately, not something desirable in this context. And the mustard seed grows into a bush that overshadows everything around it, over reaching the plants around it and choking them out.
These are images of an abundance that is so vast, so powerful, and often so shunned that it is discounted. And isn’t that true in our world today? We want the world to fit into neat categories of good and evil, holy and profane. But the truth is that the forces that sometimes seem to be working for ill in our lives may be the very forces that open us to new things, new ways, new paths. We cannot know how our lives will turn out until the end. In the meantime our task is to find the compassion to view this world through eyes filled with God’s grace.
Today we share our Holy Communion together here in this “virtual” space. In this space we are touched by God’s corrupting abundance that breaks into our lives in ways we least expect it. I give thanks for your presence here today, for your openness to God’s goodness, and for your willingness to receive God’s grace here in this place.