Painful Past vs. Possible Future Rev Dr Durrell Watkins How can we, to borrow an image from the gospel parable today, learn to let the better angels of our nature separate love from fear, despair from optimism, small thinking from grand visions, throwing all that is unworthy of us into the purifying, cleansing fire of […]
Painful Past vs. Possible Future
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
How can we, to borrow an image from the gospel parable today, learn to let the better angels of our nature separate love from fear, despair from optimism, small thinking from grand visions, throwing all that is unworthy of us into the purifying, cleansing fire of divine love, so that only our best selves emerge ready to embrace and celebrate all that life has to offer.
The story from Genesis offers us some clues. Today’s story actually starts with Abraham.
Abraham is the patriarch, the founder if you will, of the people of the Hebrew Scriptures. I tend to think of Abraham more of a mythic character than an historic person, but he is nevertheless the foundational figure of the ancient Jewish story.
Abraham is not the most stable of people. He is terribly flawed, an anti-hero.
He sells his wife Sarah to a local potentate claiming she is his sister.
He later retrieves her, but one wonders if Sarah ever really trusted him again after that!
Later, Abraham compels his wife’s maid Hagar to bear him a son, Ishmael. But when his wife Sarah conceives about a dozen years later, he throws Hagar and Ishmael out of the house to starve in the desert. They survive, but no thanks to Abraham.
The son that he has with his wife Sarah is Isaac. And when Isaac is still pretty young, Abraham begins to suffer some pretty major delusions. He decides that God is talking to him, and not only is God trying to chat him up but what God is saying to him, he imagines, is that he should slaughter his child to prove his loyalty to God.
When it comes down to it, Abraham finally decides that really God will be just as content with a slaughtered ram, but Abraham’s God clearly wants something slain. And, one can only imagine the damage done to young Isaac’s psyche as he is marched up to be slaughtered only to be told as the last possible minute, “Just kidding!”
And if Sarah ever forgave her husband for selling her to another man, surely she was less forgiving when she realized her husband was willing to kill her only and late in life child! If we had never been told that Abraham was a hero, when reading the text we would rightly conclude that he was a menace!
Well, despite having an epically horrendous father, Isaac survives to adulthood. He marries a woman named Rebecca and they have twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a rough and tumble kind of guy, and Jacob liked staying in the tents, cooking, hanging out with his mother. Because Esau was born a couple of minutes before Jacob, he was the older twin, and as the oldest son, the birthright was, by custom, his.
One day the adult Esau comes in from hunting, as butch Esau was wont to do, and discovers Jacob making a culinary masterpiece and asks for some. Jacob proposes a trade…a bowl of his tasty stew for Esau’s birthright. Esau may be a fair sportsman, but what he doesn’t know about a good deal is a lot. Still, the swap is made.
Cut to Isaac on his deathbed. He is ready to give his blessing and inheritance to Esau, but with the help of Rebecca, Jacob disguises himself as Esau and receives the blessing from Isaac, though in reality, Jacob had bought the blessing with a cup of soup. When Jacob claims the blessing, Esau is angry and they become estranged for a long time.
Now, remember Abraham has a nephew named Lot who was willing to sacrifice his daughters to a violent mob in order to protect strangers and later fathered children with those same daughters. This family is a mess from start to finish!
Abraham sacrifices his wife, and later his son Ishmael and attempts to sacrifice his son Isaac.
His nephew Lot is willing to sacrifice his daughters.
His son Isaac is willing to abandon his son Jacob, thinking he only has enough love for one, Esau, who loves himself so little he sacrifices his self-worth for a bowl of soup.
I’m so tired of people sacrificing their dignity and their children in the name of religion.
I’m so tired of oppressive theologies that insist God requires human sacrifice.
I’m so tired of any message other than one that says God is love and love never sacrifices those who are loved.
It apparently has been going on a long time; but we needn’t celebrate the violence, dysfunction, and heartache of these stories; but rather we can search for the resilience, the courage, the healing that is experienced in spite of the pain.
Abraham and Sarah, Lot and Mrs Lot and their poor daughters, Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob…This dysfunctional family, full of deceit and madness and rage and trickery and triangulation suffers a lot of pain and the cycles of dysfunction are passed down from one generation to the next. But that isn’t how it has to be.
Eventually, someone has to say “enough” and dare to imagine a better way and allow the better way to manifest.
Maybe, as inheritors of the story, we are the ones to insist there is a better way and find it and live it, leaving the religion inspired cruelty that has plagued our world behind us and living instead in the power of hope of healing and renewal that Jesus called the kin-dom of God. We are here not to worship human error but to rise above it by affirming our sacred value and coming together as the blessed community, the gathering of seekers who wish to usher in a divine realm of justice-love, optimism, and peace.
The background of Jacob’s family is important when we consider today’s story.
His grandfather Abraham pimped out his grandmother Sarah, banished his uncle Ishmael, attempted to slaughter his father Isaac, and his father favored his brother Esau over him and his brother wanted to kill him. And that’s before we get to his cousin Lot who was basically the definition of a despicable human-being (though the claim is made that he is the only righteous person in Sodom…if he’s righteous I’ll take my chances with evil)!
Jacob has never known a healthy relationship or a happy family environment. And it will take a while for him to find a better model of living. And his future in-laws are no great prizes either.
Just as Isaac had two sons and he favored the older one, we see today that Laban has two daughters, and he favors the older one.
Just as Jacob traded food for Esau’s birthright, Laban trades permission to marry his daughter for slave labor from Jacob.
And then, when it’s time to honor his promise, Laban tricks Jacob just like Jacob tricked Isaac. The old, unhealthy family dynamics repeat themselves.
But there is hope in the story. We can see how the human spirit longs to be free, how hope rises from the ashes of despair, how a zest for living emerges from the tomb of heartache. What is lost is terrible, but what is left is miraculous. When pain is almost overwhelming there remains a resilience that pain cannot take away.
Yes, that women are considered the property of men in the story is appalling.
That Laban does not honor his word is unfortunate.
That indentured servitude would be required for the chance to be with the person one loves is reprehensible.
That poor Leah is forced to marry a man who doesn’t love her and who will never really love her is very sad, and that Rachel and Jacob are kept apart for so long is also sad.
There is injustice all the way ‘round.
But injustice doesn’t get the last word.
Jacob faces the difficulties at hand, and even when they seem to get worse before they get better, he chooses to believe that things can get better. We always can choose to see past the situation to better possibilities!
Jacob will work and wait and endure any number of difficulties in order to marry the person he loves.
Jacob’s resilience and optimism outlasted the difficulty at hand and even proved stronger than unjust systems stacked against him. Isn’t that the power of the tale? Isn’t that a word of hope as our nation continues to move toward the righteous goals of marriage equality, fair immigration policies, cures and treatments and vaccines for diseases, and economic justice for all instead of unearned privilege for an elite few,
Jacob is slowly learning that he deserves to live a life of truth, of hope, of love, of dignity, and that faith in his inherent worth and sacred value will sustain him until he discovers how to see and seize more possibilities in life.
Later, Jacob will wrestle with an angel and will not let the angel go until he gets a blessing. He’s always known he deserved to be blessed, but he didn’t know how to receive the blessing that life wanted him to have. So he tried to cheat his brother out of a blessing, and then he tried to sell himself as an indentured servant to get a blessing, but even when he went about it in the wrong ways because he had never been shown a better way, he innately knew he deserved to be blessed and blessings were seeking him out. The day will soon come when he simply embraces the divine presence and refuses to settle for anything less than the good Life has in store for him.
That’s what we are doing here today and every week; we are healing from the misfortunes of the past, learning to claim our sacred value, and refusing to give up our divine journey until we receive all that exists for us in the Field of infinite possibilities. We may have started out in Abraham’s messed up family, but we are becoming Jacob, those who have learned who we are, what we deserve, and who will not settle for anything less; and this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I am healing from the past.
I embrace hope for the future.
And in this moment…
I affirm that I deserve the very best.
And so it is.