A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 27, 2014
(Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:44-58)
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Love can do strange things to us. Jacob offers seven years unpaid service for the hand of the ‘graceful and beautiful’ Rachel. Jacob is smitten.
So smitten that even after seen years he seems blissfully unaware of the trap that must have been planned well before his wedding feast. He is blind to the intention of both Leban, Leah, and perhaps others
Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob’s parents, stand out in Genesis for their life-long marriage to each other and no one else. They too met after a journey to Abraham’s homeland. Another God-ordained meeting that famously resulted in ‘love’.
Of course, Jacob’s parents still experienced marital strain. One related closely to Esau and one to the now mis-married Jacob. They were in love, but also divided.
I wonder if the story of Isaac and Rebecca’s miraculous meeting formed an ideal, an expectation and hope in Jacob’s mind as he grew and now journeyed the same path taken by that obedient and faithful servant? Certainly this meeting of Rebecca at the well all those years ago has clear echoes of the God-led journey Jacob has taken to meet Rachel.
But if Jacob holds any ambition of a relationship like his parents it is stolen from him on, of all nights, his wedding night. After seven years work he is left with two jealous wives and another seven years service. His life is not turning out as expected.
And Jacob is not pleased with being on the wrong end of his new families’ plot. His question of Laban is telling: ‘Why have you deceived me?’
And what of the used women in this story? They too, it would seem are robbed of hope and expectation. Leah, after this less than ideal marital beginning is, tragically, not loved. Rachel, enjoys Jacob’s love but, at least initially, struggles to conceive and is mocked by her more productive sister.
Their lives too are unfolding in unexpected ways. Some of you, I am sure, relate.
If the story ended here Jacob, Leah, and Rachel’s experience might not be such a treasured story. Indeed, as Jacob considers the outcome of this much anticipated wedding feast, he could be forgiven a little discouragement. He could not have imagined God’s presence and leading would look like this.
Yet, God is leading. So much so that later Israelites sang God’s praises as they remembered Jacob and his dysfunctional family. In our psalm for today the singers see Jacob and his children as ‘chosen’, playing an intimate part in the fulfilling of God’s repeatedly revealed plan.
The biblical collectors did something wonderful and delightfully realistic in telling both this broken story of Jacob and his family, and insisting that God was at work among them. In doing so they invite us to look more closely at the broken road our lives take and to expectantly ask what God is doing.
Something similar is going on in the mind of Paul as he writes his widely quoted assessment of the love of God. It reminds me of a song by Rich Mullins, one of my favourite artists, called ‘The Love of God’. In it he sings of the ‘reckless, raging fury, that we call the love of God’.
It is an intriguing lyric that caused many to wonder what he was trying to say. Yet Mullins thought anyone who did not think of God’s love as reckless and raging probably didn’t quite understand God’s relentless pursuit of each one of us.
Our Romans passage contains a glimpse of God’s famous single minded determination to woo us.
Paul begins with the Spirit helping us to pray, to intercede with God. God is on a search for the human heart, tuning our prayers so that they resonate with the ‘will of God’.
And then Paul boldly claims that ‘all things’ are working together for the good of those who love and are called by God’. God is the master weaver using all the circumstances of life to fashion a tapestry that points to God’s desire for you.
I wonder what Jacob would say to this? All those sweaty days with Laban’s goats, a lifetime negotiating disputing sisters. Is God really working all these things for good along such a broken and disjointed road?
Perhaps we glimpse something of Jacob’s answer to this as, many, many years later, he grants his final blessing to his long lost son, Joseph, and his recently discovered grandsons:
(Jacob) blessed Joseph, and said,
‘The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the boys…’ (Genesis 48:15)
Jacob has come to see God’s hand in his tragically broken story – so much so, that he would bless his children and grandchildren with such a God-guided life.
This is not to suggest that God is causing all these difficulties. We have, rather, an account of God humbly, graciously, and generously responding to the mistakes and sins of each of us. We follow a God who is using all circumstances to conform us to ‘the image of his Son’. This is God’s unrelenting cause.
And so he predestines, calls, justifies, and will in time glorify us. You and I are God’s obsession, God’s work.
Is it any wonder Paul goes on to rave about God’s love?
Paul has grown to know, to see, that God is, in every circumstance, for us. God did not only give over his Son for us, God is also in the process of giving all things into our hands. No one can bring a valid charge against us – for God has comprehensively justified. No one is able to condemn us – for the reigning Christ Jesus is our intercessor.
Nothing can separate us from God’s all consuming love. Paul lists the possibilities, things God’s people still face each day: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword.
Somehow, even with these challenges – and Paul experienced them all – the apostle has arrived at the conclusion that there is nothing in all the cosmos more relenting than the love of God.
You and God’s love are inseparable!
After this breathtaking account, is it any wonder that Matthew’s Kingdom of Heaven is worth ‘selling-out’ for. There is nothing more important, nothing more worthy of our allegiance. All things and all relationships find their rightful and good place under the Lordship of the Heaven-reigning Christ.
And at the end of the age, this all loving God will generously draw each of us in, inspect our deeds as good or bad, and allow our decisions, the allegiances we have held, to determine whether we are a worthy harvest for the feast of Heaven. Some, like the people we heard about in Jesus’ hometown will refuse to see. They will take offence at this vulnerable, all consuming love that God dares to shower on humanity.
You see, God’s relentless, all pursuing love is so genuine that it just may not win you over.
God’s is not a forced love, a violent love that would rape and take. God’s love is unrelenting but not uncontrolled. God does not violate that precious freedom of choice given to humanity at the dawn of creation.
You and I do not have to love God in return for this outrageous, unrelenting, love.
But in every age there are people who do return this love, who see clearly that Heaven’s kingdom is the most important life pursuit, who know God as the ‘treasure’, as the ‘pearl of great price’.
And it is these who come to know the joy and satisfaction of pursuing the one who so wildly pursues them. God is the first lover.
Only one question remains: Will you allow the cosmic lover to catch you?
There is no answer more important.