Aug. 9, 2020

Prayer of the Day

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us in the faith of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28

1Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2This is the story of the family of Jacob.  Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.  12Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.   He came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.   25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.    

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

1Give thanks to the Lord and call upon God’s name; make known the deeds of the Lord among the peoples.
2Sing to the Lord, sing praises, and speak of all God’s marvelous works.

3Glory in God’s holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4Search for the strength of the Lord; continually seek God’s face.

5Remember the marvels God has done, the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth,
6O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant, O children of Jacob, God’s chosen ones.

16Then God called for a famine in the land and destroyed the supply of bread.
17The Lord sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 

18They bruised his feet in fetters; his neck they put in an iron collar.
19Until his prediction came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.

20The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free,
21setting him as a master over his household, as a ruler over all his possessions,

22to instruct his princes according to his will and to teach his elders wisdom. 45bHallelujah!

Romans 10: 5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peace Be Still by He Qi

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

There have been many sermons preached on this text, including a few by me, that have been all about discipleship. Maybe that is because so much of this year, shaped by Matthew’s Gospel, consists of teaching moments.  This gospel, after all, includes the very long Sermon on the Mount. And this summer we had parable after parable. The truth is, if today is about discipleship, it is so because it is about who we follow. This quite remarkable story is about who Jesus is.  If feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, was not enough of a reminder, our story today is a jolt—this is no ordinary rabbi or teacher.

Even before he arrives, the disciples’ situation is perilous, though probably not unfamiliar to the fishermen among them. Still, it is the appearance of Jesus, not the storm, that terrifies them. They think it is “a ghost.” This may well be Jesus approaching them, but it is Jesus as they have never seen or known or understood him.  What manner of being does such things? A trickster? A magician?  A malicious spirit?

Let us begin with water.  For us, water is essential for life—for humans, for our pets, for the gardens and crops we grow. But for those disciples, steeped in the stories of what we call the Old Testament, water represents much more than a mere physical reality. Whether it is the sea with its unfathomable depths, the relentless river in full flood, or the all-consuming deluge, there is something metaphysical about the threat water poses to human life.

According to one scholar water, in the first biblical creation story, is “the principle which, in its abundance and power, is absolutely opposed to God’s creation;” “it is a representative of all the evil powers which oppress and resist the salvation intended for the people of Israel.”

Throughout the Old Testament it is precisely this reality over which God’s lordship is continuously. In the creation of the world, in the covenant with Noah after the flood, in the mighty act of deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, and in the miraculous entry into the land of promise through the swollen River Jordan, the Lord triumphs over the waters.

The God of Israel tramples on the waves and walks “in the recesses of the deep” according to Job. These are very specific signs of God’s transcendent power over all that would threaten and thwart God’s purposes.

And so, when Jesus approaches the disciples in their boat as they battle with the elements, the prospect is terrifying. Who can walk here with such authority and freedom? The act and its associations are unmistakable. Jesus, their teacher and friend, is exercising something that belongs to God alone. When he speaks to them, his words serve only to reinforce the sense that this is a divine revelation.

Jesus says ego eimi, which can mean simply “it is I”; but more is being suggested here.  For the early church, this phrase was packed with significance.  These are the words used to translate the Hebrew name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

Jesus is using the divine name to announce his presence.  I am is here, trampling victoriously over the waves. In these brief but charged words and in the awesome vision that unfolds before the disciples, Jesus is identifying himself with God, the liberator and redeemer of Israel. God is at the same time the creator of the world and the victor over chaos. Jesus’ words, instilling courage and banishing fear, assure the disciples that this awesome vision in the midst of the storm is intended as Good News.

The phrase “Do not be afraid,” is uttered throughout scripture at important moments. This phrase is a keynote of the gospel itself. The unveiling of God’s majesty is not intended to terrorize us or diminish, but to heal, uphold, and establish the creature. This epiphany in the storm contains a message of grace and mercy.

Peter recognizes his Lord and wants to accompany him in his royal walk on the sea. “Come,” says Jesus, and Peter boldly steps out of the boat.  Then he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the elements instead. Soon he can only cry out for salvation from the waters. Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him.

Peter calls him “Lord” without understanding that title’s full meaning.  The lordship of Jesus is given specific content in this scene: he is lord over the deep, over the wind and the waves and all the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm human life. Jesus’ actions here hold out the promise of a new exodus for his followers, a new entry into the land of promise, a new future.  “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”

This is one of those moments where the disciples gain some understanding and insight into Jesus’ identity and mission. The whole event leads up to a mighty and new confession of faith: “Truly you are the son of God.”

In response to Peter’s fear, Jesus does not simply urge him to have courage or instruct Peter to keep his eyes on him. Instead, when Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out and grabs him. He saves him from drowning and restores him to his life as a disciple. The same is true for us. Jesus will not let us go. Jesus remains with us. Jesus will not give up on us. Jesus will grab hold of us when we falter and restore us to where we can be of service.

This is the promise at the heart of this story and of our faith: God will never give up, God is both with us and for us, God, in the end, will do what we cannot. And this promise is one of the things I know of that helps us cope with and transcend fear. Transcend, but probably not defeat fear. Fear is part of our lives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the metaphors of boats and storms were used often. My online/social media community seemed to settle on the fact that “we are all in the same storm, but we are in different boats.” This was a helpful way to point out the fact that a refugee factory worker just might experience the COVID-19 pandemic differently than an executive who could work from home, to use extreme examples.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer began another metaphorical storm. I ultimately think this storm will be life-giving for our nation, if we do the work to become anti-racist. Still, I will be the first to admit that this storm stirs up fears in me. What will I discover about the white Christian church that I would rather ignore? What racism do I need to uncover in myself? If we do the work as an entire society, what changes will occur?

And now we are about to begin a school year, which I simply assume will be one more storm. I again carry my own fears—for the physical health of students, teachers, staff, and families. I fear for everyone’s emotional well-being. Wise, compassionate, deliberate school board members and administrators have to make really hard decisions and so far as I can tell, there is not one right way, there may simply be the better way for each school district. But the lack of civility around these decisions certainly make me afraid.

Where is God in the midst of all of this fear? God is not micromanaging. That is just not how it has ever been. We could almost get the wrong impression, reading the famous verses in our passage from Romans, “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This is not some locker-room speech to make sure we all get our neighbors to say Jesus is Lord so they will get to heaven. Instead, like in our passage from Matthew, let us put the focus on God as the main actor. God’s salvation, which I interpret as healing and wholeness during this life, is available to absolutely everyone. That is just how expansive and big God’s love and mercy are. Further, God’s salvation is near to alI know it sometimes does not seem that God’s healing and wholeness are near. I still firmly believed that the life of faith is best nurtured in Christian community. And our community of faith may feel like a boat out in a storm right now. But we still have the words of scripture. We still have the ability to pray alone and collectively. We can still be stewards of our financial resources, our gifts, and our time—giving them to ministries and causes we believe in. We can still reach out to the marginalized. This is hard, but again not impossible, during a time of physical distancing. We just have to be a little creative in how we gain proximity to the stranger—the foreigner—the orphan—the widow—and their equivalents in our society. That is how we gain proximity to Jesus today.

God’s love and mercy can still transcend our fears, make them bearable, give us assurance that we are not alone. Even the promise of comfort and courage and presence does not quite exhaust the potential of Jesus walking on water and speaking with his disciples. Because all of that is, finally, a part of God’s larger promise and vision of what we might be.

When the disciples are terrified, Jesus calls for them to “take heart,” and when Peter flails and cries out to be saved, Jesus reaches out and grabs him. The future is open, for God is with us and for us. God will do what we cannot. Nothing that we have done or has been done to us can erase God’s desire and ability to heal and restore. God is not done with us yet.

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

For your whole church throughout the world. Give courage in the midst of storms, so that we see and hear Jesus calling: “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.” May we follow Christ wherever he leads. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the well-being of your creation. Protect waterways, forests, lands, and wildlife from exploitation and abuse. Help the human family endeavor to sustain and be sustained by the resources of your hand. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the nations and their leaders. In you, steadfast love and faithfulness meet, and righteousness and peace kiss. May nations in conflict know the peace that is the fruit of justice, and the justice that is the path to peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those in need. Everyone who calls upon your name will be saved. Accompany all who are lonely, hear the voices of those who cry out in anguish, and support those who are frustrated in their search for an affordable place to live. We pray for those suffering this day (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For our congregation. You have gathered us here today as your people and we thank you for this gift. We pray for those who are new to this community, for students and teachers preparing for a new school year, and for those struggling with unexpected hardship. Supply us generously with your grace for our life together. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks, O God, for the saints of the whole church from all times and places, and for the saints in our lives and in our community whom you have gathered to yourself (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The Love of God

Pastor’s Column for August Epistle

Dear Friends in Christ,

Our epistle text the last Sunday in July includes two of the most comforting and life-giving verses from all of Paul’s letters, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have been incorporated into our funeral liturgy. They are often read at bedsides when people are ill. People experiencing depression turn to these verses. These words remind us now, in the midst of the pandemic, an election year, and the normal hard stuff of regular life, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul writes from experience. Each one of the possible separators he mentions, he has had first-hand experience with. But he is still confident in God’s love for him through the incarnation-Jesus Christ. It is true that we who are part of Trinity Lutheran find many ways, pre-COVID-19, to experience the love of God in relationship with other human beings. As I write this, I am lamenting that last week I was scheduled to be at the Hispanic Cultural Center for Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids. Over the weekend, my calendar reminds me, I was supposed to be at the church camp-out. And this week I was going to be at Luther Heights with a group of kids from Trinity. Surely, I would have experienced the love of God through all of those communal experiences. As we have pivoted as a congregation, I am making some faith practices more robust, like more prayer time alone, and discovering new faith practices, checking in with people via zoom and the telephone, that connect me to other human beings and to God’s love. I would not say that I really enjoy it all. It is certainly not what I planned on when I started in public ministry. But the love of God that I experience and then share always draws me back to love of neighbor, and that means keeping the vulnerable safe, slowing down the spread of COVID-19 for the benefit of our healthcare workers, and making small sacrifices in my individual life. I hope and pray that as we continue to transform as a congregation and adapt to our current circumstances, that all of you feel and know and experience the love of God in Christ Jesus. The promise of that love is for all of us, including each of you.

Peace,

Pastor Meggan

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Aug. 2, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 32:22-31

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 17: 1-7, 15

1Hear a just cause, O LORD; give heed to my cry; listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2Let my vindication come forth from your presence; let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3Examine my heart, visit me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4I have not regarded what others do; at the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

5My footsteps hold fast to your well-worn path; and my feet do not slip.

6I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7Show me your marvelous lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise against them.

15But at my vindication I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Two iconic scripture passages on the same Sunday – Jacob wrestling with an angel of the Lord and Jesus and the disciples feeding the 5,000. These two scripture passages have a lot to say about daily discipleship, each in its own way.

We encounter Jacob when he is terribly afraid that his twin brother Esau will kill him for taking his birthright.  He has not heard back from his messengers; he does not know if Esau has accepted his gifts. He does not know if his servants are even still alive. And yet he sends his wives and children into the path of Esau and his riders — without him.

Jacob has evaded his greatest fear up to that point. The danger is across the water from him. He is safe, for a while; so he thinks. But then, a person or personage he does not know (or does not recognize) grapples him to the ground. Jacob responds by fighting back and they wrestle for a long time.

There was a stalemate. And then, the person did something to Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint.  That part has always been a mystery to me.  Is God, who has been named by now, taking a cheap shot?  Surely not.  What matters most is Jacob’s fearless response.  Jacob demands a blessing from God.  The wrestler asks Jacob’s name and then gives him a new name, “Israel.”  Finally, as dawn is breaking on the Jabok River bank, God bestows the blessing itself.  That is only the first part of the story, because Jacob does go on to meet Esau face-to-face.

God has and may encounter people in conflictual times by taking the very form of the anticipated difficulty—a broken relationship, a hard transition, a new experience we fear.  Think of Moses arguing on Mount Sinai with God before going down to deal with the Israelites or picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying in agony even as he anticipates his death.

If we go through such a time with God, we experience a gracious rehearsal for the actual circumstance.  In simplistic words, we practice.  But of course we can turn our back on God.  To refuse to engage with God in that struggling moment denies oneself a God-given resource.  But going through it with God before we go through it with others can be a blessing.  It can provide resources of strength and blessing for whatever lies in the paths of life.

Jacob had a very real fear of his Brother Esau’s anger.  Jacob’s deliverance from God does not resolve the conflict with Esau.  Jacob still must face that.  But it must have been different for him having already wrestled with God.  In other words, Jacob was not just delivered from something.  Deliverance, a new name, and a blessing are not ends in themselves.  Jacob was also delivered for something—a new relationship with a human being.

Jacob’s later confrontation with Esau mirrors the encounter with God.  Jacob testifies that seeing Esau’s face is like seeing God’s face.  The opposite might be true in hindsight: Seeing God’s face is like seeing Esau’s face.  What Jacob had expected from Esau was hostility; he got graciousness.  What Jacob might have expected from God was graciousness.  He did get that but only on the far side of the attack.

In the waters of baptism, we say that we are washed clean from sin.  We drown in the waters, in fact we die, to the old way of life.  In the waters we meet God in a special way.  It is a preparation for all that this world will give us.  It is the beginning of a life-long practice of remembering who we are and whose we are.

We are called to give to God our fears and our failures, our setbacks and disappointments, our resentments and regrets. We are called to confess so that we might hear God’s response, “No. This is not the whole story. You are more than you can believe. In fact, to me you are Christ.”

And when we give God our fears and failures, we are called to do the same in our human relationships; to confess our sins not just to God but to one another.  What might that lead to?  Could we enter into experiences of reconciliation with others?  I hope so.  It can be so hard—as individuals and as part of whole community that has abused its power and resources.  The promise is that we are not alone.  Some of the hardest times in our lives are those in which we face one another and try to see there the face of God.

Jesus, we sometimes forget, was steeped in the stories of the Hebrew Bible. These were his people’s stories. We can never know what was going on his mind before he performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 14, one of the few miracles recorded in all four gospels. But the big “this” that Jesus heard about was the news of John the Baptist’s death at the hand of Herod. This is a huge hinge in the narrative. Jesus himself recognizes that he, like John, has been rejected by people in authority. Faced with the threat of death, he pulls back to a deserted place to rethink strategy.

This may not be Jesus praying in the Garden shortly before his death. But it is a pause, not unlike his ancestor Jacob. I do not want to draw too close of comparisons between trickster Jacob and Jesus the Messiah. At the same time, recognizing that Jesus needed a break recovers some of his humanity. I like imagining him thinking about Jacob, so many generations before him, who was terrified of the next chapter, who wrestled with God, received a new name, a blessing, and reconciled with his brother.

Jesus has heard this devastating news about his cousin John’s death. Up to this point in his ministry he has been doing so much teaching. He pulls back to a deserted place and something happens. When the crowd pursues him, Jesus is moved by compassion. He chooses their need over his own. He heals the sick. At the end of the day, Jesus’ disciples approach him with the logical suggestion that he dismiss the crowds so they may go find some food. But Jesus surprises them: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

There are two details in this story that I absolutely love, and think are so crucial for our lives today. First, Jesus cares about actual bodies. This is an important reminder to us now as people continue to protest against racism and white supremacy that value white bodies over black and brown bodies. Two research letters published earlier this week highlighted racial disparities in the COVID-19 burden—regardless of income level. And yet these disparities are not about DNA; it’s about lack of access to both healthy food and healthcare (CIDRAP).

As we continue to reckon with racism, we do well to keep in mind that black and brown bodies are not the only ones that are abused and undervalued. The larger church body Trinity belongs to, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has a social statement titled, “A Message on People Living with Disabilities.” It states, “This church believes that God, as creator and sustainer, intends that society regard all people as of equal worth and make it possible for all—those without and those with disabilities—to participate freely and fully as members of society in all important aspects of common life.”

When Jesus cured the sick and facilitated the feeding of the 5,000, he said with his actions that physical bodies matter to God. Of course, mercy, forgiveness, and love matter and he wanted people to be emotionally and mentally and spiritually well too. But you can hardly hear and take in “I love you” if you are hungry, beaten up, or sick. As we continue to navigate this new chapter of our lives as people of faith, we do well to remember that God, through Jesus, cares about physical bodies, ours and our neighbors.

The other detail I love in this story is this: Jesus insists that has disciples make compassion their own work as well. This feeding is not a razzle-dazzle spectacle to boost Jesus’ image with the crowd. It begins with the insistence that the disciples themselves give the people something to eat. This is a story of Jesus charging those who follow him to be agents of God’s compassion and power.

Ministry does not just belong to a few leaders. We end worship with the words “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” Sometimes I think we should begin worship, not with announcements but with a question, “How did that serving the Lord go this week?” (Tiede)

We are not the first generation of Jesus’ disciples to need continual reminders that ministry belongs to everyone. One of the great gifts of the Reformation is the Priesthood of All Believers. In 1520, Martin Luther wrote “An Appeal to the Ruling Class of German Nationality as to the Amelioration of the State of Christendom.” He did not have a good editor yet to help him with titles. We will forgive him that because of what he writes in the document. This was his document calling on the ruling class to reform the Church, since the Church was not reforming itself.

Luther wrote, “The fact is that our baptism consecrates us all without exception and makes us all priests. As St. Peter says, ‘You are a royal priesthood and a realm of priests.”” Luther goes on, “For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious class, and there is no difference among them except in so far as they do different work.”

Most of the time that work looks different, based on our various gifts and passions and callings. Many of us get to put all of the gifts God has given us to work in our actual place of work. We also do ministry, as Luther wrote about elsewhere, in various communities—families, friends, congregations, other nonprofits. Sometimes we come together, as Jesus and the disciples did in our story this morning, for some big joint venture.

Whatever God is leading us into right now, however the Holy Spirit is blowing, know that the work is going to take all of us, going in peace and serving the Lord in our daily lives. You were all made ministers in the waters of Holy Baptism—joined to Christ for a life with God. That life will not always be easy. If we are honest with our callings, there will be a cost to discipleship, to following Jesus’ way of love and mercy. But Jesus is Immanuel, meaning God with us. God was embodied in Jesus. God knows what it is to live here on earth, to serve, to change and grow. And in that there is hope and assurance. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

You take resources that appear to be meager, bless them, and there is enough. May your church trust that what you bless and ask us to share with the world is abundantly sufficient. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Your bountiful creation offers sustenance and life for all creatures. Protect this abundance for the well-being of all. Reverse the damage we have caused your creation (local needs may be named). Replenish ground water supplies, provide needed rains in places of drought, and protect forests from wildfires. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You offer yourself to all the nations and peoples of the earth, inviting everyone to abundant life. Bring the prophetic vision to fullness, that all nations will run to you and that nations who do not know you will find their joy in you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Hear the anguish of tender hearts who cry to you in suffering and satisfy their deepest needs. Bring wholeness and healing to those who suffer in body, heart, soul, and mind (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You offer freely the fullness of salvation. Give our congregation (name) such a welcoming heart, that our words and actions may extend your free and abundant hospitality to all whom we encounter. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You gather your saints as one, united in the body of Jesus. Bring us with all your saints to the heavenly banquet. We remember with love and thanksgiving the saints we have known (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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July 26, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b

1Give thanks to the LORD and call upon God’s name; make known the deeds of the LORD among the peoples. 2Sing to the LORD, sing praises, and speak of all God’s marvelous works. 3Glory in God’s holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. 4Search for the strength of the LORD; continually seek God’s face. 5Remember the marvels God has done, the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth, 6 O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant, O children of Jacob, God’s chosen ones. 7The LORD is our God, whose judgments prevail in all the world, 8who has always been mindful of the covenant, the promise made for a thousand generations: 9the covenant made with Abraham, the oath sworn to Isaac, 10which God established as a statute for Jacob, an everlasting covenant for Israel, 11saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan to be your allotted inheritance.” 45bHallelujah!

Romans 8:26-39

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 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.” 33 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.”

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The smile on my face went big and wide earlier this week when I scanned the page in my Bible containing our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will the coronavirus? Will physical distancing? Will facemasks? Will handwashing? No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. How we need to hear this good news right now, and how good it is to hear from Paul, who we know did suffer and came through on the other side trusting in the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I do not know how he could muster it after all he had been through, but I am ever thankful he could pen these words, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have been incorporated into our funeral liturgy. They are often read at bedsides when people are ill. People experiencing depression turn to these verses. These words remind us now, in the midst of all we are grieving, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

At the same time, these verses do not mean that we have somehow arrived, that the work of discipleship is over, that the reign of God is here in plain sight. Paul’s words do, for me at least, give strength and encouragement to keep going.

In our gospel text from Matthew today we have a whole banquet of parables Jesus tells to portray the reign of God. The two I kept returning to are found in verses 44-46, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of find pearls; on finding one pearl or great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

One scholar wrote that these two parables make clear that much is required if we are possessed by the joy of the kingdom. For it seems that the discovery of the kingdom requires the selling of all we have in order to buy the field that contains the treasure of the kingdom or the pearl of great value. The former life must be given up. But what a gift the reign of God is! For me, right now, as our country reckons with personal, structural, and systemic racism, the reign of God, the treasure, and the pearl look like truth and liberation. What does that mean exactly?

Bryan Stevenson, who started the Equal Justice Initiative, speaks often of how important truth-telling is. Stevenson often says that telling the truth is intricately connected to our liberation, not just for people of color but for white people. Stevenson said earlier this week (Ezra Klein Show), “I want to talk about this history of enslavement, and native genocide, and lynching and segregation, not because I’m interested in punishing America, but because I want to liberate us. I really do believe that there is something better waiting for us. And the promise of that better thing feels more like freedom, feels more like equality, feels more like justice than anything we have yet to experience in this country. And if we are committed to this idea of America then we ought to figure out how we are going to get to that promise that we have been denied because we have been unwilling to acknowledge the past.”

Do you hear Stevenson talking about the reign of God there? Because I do. He said, “I really do believe there is something better waiting for us. It feels like freedom, more like equality, more like justice.” That’s the treasure in the field. That’s the pearl. But we, like the characters in Jesus’ parables, are going to have to give something up for that treasure and that pearl.

For several years, we at Trinity have been talking about storytelling in general and faith storytelling specifically. It has become all too clear to me that we need to call on those storytelling muscles now. We need to learn to tell our own stories, the stories of the church, the stories of our country in a new way. We can still celebrate all of the amazing parts of our histories. But, as Stevenson says, we have got to start telling the truth. We are going to have to give up the story of pioneers settling the land, of everything being fine for people of color after 1970, for something much more nuanced and truthful. Telling the truth has the potential for transformation, for liberation, for getting us that much closer to the reign of God.

Stevenson told this story of truth telling in the same interview. His organization invites people to go to lynching sites and collect soil. Give them a jar with the lynching victim’s name on it and an implement to dig the soil. A middle-aged woman got her memo, jar, and tool. She was scared to go by herself. She drove to her location in West Alabama, a very scary place on a dirt road but she resolved that she would dig soil where the lynching took place. She got down on her knees to dig the soil, when a truck drove by and there was this white guy in the truck, and he stared at her as he slowed down. Then the man parked the truck and started walking toward her. And as he walked toward her, she was afraid. They tell people when they are doing the collections that they don’t have to tell anybody what they are doing. If they want to say they are getting dirt for their garden, they’re allowed to say that. And that’s what she was going to do, and this man walked up to her and asked, “what are you doing?” She looked the man in the eye and said, “I’m digging soil because this is where a black man was lynched in 1937 and I’m going to honor his life today.” And she started digging really fast and the man just stood there. And eventually the man asked, “Does that paper talk about the lynching?’ and she said, “it does” and he said, “can I read it.” And she gave the man the paper and the man read while she was digging. And the man shocked her when he asked, “would it be okay if I helped you?” And she said “of course.” The man started throwing his hands into the soil and putting it in the jar. She said he did it with such conviction and commitment. And before she knew it, she had tears. And the man stopped and said, “I’m sorry I’m upsetting you.” And she said, “No, no, no. You’re blessing me.” And they kept digging. The jar was almost filled. She looked at him and could see his shoulders shaking and tears were coming down his face. And she put her hand on his shoulder and asked, “are you okay?” And he looked at her and said, “No, no, I’m not okay. I’m just so worried that my grandfather might have been one of the people who lynched that man.” They took pictures of one another with the jar and she brought him back to the museum in Montgomery where they put the jar in the exhibit.

Stevenson says beautiful things like that story do not always happen when we tell the truth. “But until we tell the truth, we deny ourselves the opportunity for beauty. Justice can be beautiful. Reconciliation can be beautiful. Repair can be beautiful…. We deny ourselves redemption when we insist on denying our broken past.”

We may think, that’s all well and good. We don’t have those problems in Idaho; they are just in the South. But let’s remember that part of the reason we have never had a large Black population in Idaho is because we were part of the Oregon Territory, which had Black Exclusion Laws in place for a number of years.

More recently, Idaho gained notoriety when white supremacists settled in north Idaho in the 1970s and 1980s. They established the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. It is true that then Catholic priest Bill Wassmuth built coalitions to battle the Aryan Nations, but the church has not always had such a noble past in the case of slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples, or lynching. Often the church found ways to interpret scripture to justify the abuse of people of color.

Another author wrote, “Sadly, too many of us in the church don’t live like we believe the truth will set us free. We live as if we are afraid acknowledging the past will tighten the chains of injustice rather than break them. We live as if the ghosts of the past will snatch us if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So instead we walk around the valley, talk around the valley….Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort….But is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation?” (Austin Channing Brown)

Redemption and repair and reconciliation are all available to us. How in the world can we mere mortals do this work? Not on our own. That’s for sure. We return to the message found explicitly in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).

Paul’s choice of the term, “more than conquerors” is interesting. Victory, in the context of Romans 8 is not defined militaristically. It’s not about conquering people, nations, or territory. Instead, we “conquer” because we are unbreakably attached to Jesus Christ. No force, circumstance, or event can sever this attachment. We absolutely can do this work of truth telling, the work of relearning and retelling our stories. Liberation and freedom are treasures accessible to us. There is absolutely no way we can do this work without God’s strength and through Jesus Christ, that strength is always available to us.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

Merciful God, your reign is revealed to us in common things: a mustard shrub, a woman baking bread, a fishing net. Help your church witness to the surprising yet common ways you encounter us in daily life. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

When your word is opened, it gives light and understanding. Increase our understanding and awe of your creation; guide the work of scientists and researchers. Treasuring the earth, may we live as grateful and healing caretakers of our home. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As the birds of the air nest in branches of trees, gather the nations of the world into the welcoming shade of your merciful reign. Direct leaders of nations to build trust with each other and walk in the way of peace. (Here a particular world struggle may be named.) Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Your Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for the saints according to your will. Help us when we do not know how to pray. Give comfort to the dying, refuge to the weary, justice to those who are oppressed, and healing to the sick (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You show steadfast love and direct us to ask of you what we need. Help this congregation ask boldly for what is most needed. Refresh us with new dreams of being your people in this place and time. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In you our lives are never lost. Strengthen us by the inspiring witness of your people in all times and places. Embolden our witness now and one day gather us with all your saints in light. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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Gifts of the CSA

Originally published on tvprays.org July 23, 2020.

Shortly after everything shifted due to the pandemic, that was back in March here in Southwest Idaho, I realized that there was a good chance I would not be traveling much this summer. I also was reminded that being a good steward of my body would help me with the new extra layer of stress. I found a website listing CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in Idaho and found one that delivers to the Nampa Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning. This food has been one of the bright spots of a very different, and often deflating, spring and summer. I get particularly weary and sad when I glance at my wall calendar and notice another event that has been cancelled, but then I remember that I get to pick up my produce on Saturday morning. Many of you readers actually grow your own food, but that was not going to happen for a single pastor, facing steep learning curves on the job, who had never gardened on her own before. The CSA has been the next best thing to a garden. Each week is a surprise. Some items stay the same; I have received mixed greens and baby beets every week so far. Some produce changes; I was given scallions the first few weeks and this week included my first heirloom tomatoes. I grew up in the Black Hills and my family had a greenhouse full of mulch, great for growing produce on a hillside, near our home. Serving as a pastor in rural Iowa and Southwest Idaho, I have always received produce in the summer, either on my front porch or in the church’s narthex. But the bounty from the CSA is different. It overwhelmed me the first few weeks and I almost let some of it go to waste. I grew up with older parents, including a father raised during the Great Depression. The clean plate was not strictly enforced, thanks to my mother, but wasting food was definitely frowned on. The produce in my CSA is beautiful and I know that plenty of neighbors in Nampa are food-insecure, so I do not want to waste food. My solution is now to cook it all up (at least the produce that I believe tastes better cooked than raw) on Sunday afternoons. I put on music, a podcast, a webinar I missed earlier in the week, and just accept that my kitchen is going to heat up. Even as I write this, I recognized that my life affords me some real luxuries. For example, I know that not everyone has the ability to plan ahead like I can. Plenty of households could not afford to pay upfront like I did in the spring. Recognizing those disparities in our community, I am so grateful for the many organizations getting produce, not just processed foods, to people in The Treasure Valley this particular summer.

Besides eating healthier and feeling closer to the food that is part of God’s good creation, the Sunday afternoon food preparation has had another surprising benefit—I feel closer to my mom. My mom baked birthday cakes and taught me how to bake cookies, but her great love has always been cooking. As different produce finds its way to my kitchen through the CSA, my mother in turn gets emails and phone calls from me asking for recipes from my childhood. And as I prepare the food, I picture my mom preparing meals for our small family, my friends, our guests. She always made it look so effortless, especially the timing of it all. She was not always successful, depending on the audience. A bit of a gourmet chef for Western South Dakota in the 1980s, she would take dishes to church potlucks and hers would often be the one still quite full at the end of the event. As a pre-teen I would think, “Just put mushroom soup in Mom. And add some potato chips on top and everyone will eat it!” But by my last years in high school I began to realize what a gift it was to eat her meals. It was not just the food itself, delicious though it was. It was the way she made everyone feel so welcome; she made every evening meal feel special. Knowing what I know now, I think my mother might have been a Benedictine, known for their hospitality, in another century.

All of the thoughts about guests and hospitality brings another kind of heartache as I cook up my produce on Sunday afternoons. During this chapter of life, I am of course preparing the food only for myself. But pondering guests and remembering my mom’s gift for hospitality also gives me small sparks of hope. I trust that the Holy Spirit is using this time so that someday I can have people over to my home once again. I will have new recipes to serve and share. I will prepare delicious food for our banquets. We will discuss all the things, all of the very hard things, and we will have those deep and beautiful conversations that only happen when people are literally breaking bread together. Until that time, my meals of beets, coleslaw, and roasted zucchini are wonderful foretastes of the feasts to come.

Prayer: The eyes of all wait up on you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, ELW p. 1167)

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July 19, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Faithful God, most merciful judge, you care for your children with firmness and compassion. By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom, that we may be rooted in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 28: 10-19a

10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19aHe called that place Bethel.

From a 14th century Hebrew Manuscript

Psalm 139

1Lord, you have searched me out; O Lord, you have known me.

2You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

 3You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

4Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

 5You encompass me, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

 7Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,”

12darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. 

13For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

15My body was not hidden from you,while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; my days were fashioned before they came to be.

17How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them!

18If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

19Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! You that thirst for blood, depart from me.

20They speak despitefully against you; your enemies take your name in vain.

21Do I not hate those, O Lord, who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my own enemies.

 23Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.

24Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

 Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”  36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Sermon by Pastor Meggan

Jacob, always a trickster, has stolen the birthright and the blessing belonging to Esau, Isaac’s firstborn.  Esau’s rage over the stolen blessing forced Jacob to abandon his quiet ways among the tents.  To escape with his life, Jacob had to leave forever his mother Rebekah, who had schemed with him to secure his father’s blessing.  Where is God in the midst of this?

It is in God’s nature to meet us, to not leave us alone with fear and anger and loneliness.  That is simply not God’s way.  What is true for all of us was certainly true for Jacob.  Amid the fervent activity of a man on the run, is a dream that mirrors the flurry of activity of his waking life.  The dream interrupts Jacob’s sleep.

He dreams of a ladder that reaches to heaven with angels of God going up and down on it.  Think not of a ladder like the ones we use to change light bulbs but something like ancient ziggurats: those ramp-like structure that served as a divine sanctuary.  The stairway connected heaven and earth. This stairway does not give Jacob access to heaven.  Instead, God speaks to Jacob where he is.  God is fully present, not far away and calling from a distance.  It is even God who initiates the encounter.  It is God who breaks into Jacob’s state of sleep.

God repeats the promises that God made to Jacob’s ancestors, Abraham and Isaac.  With this gesture, God emphasizes that God is not only the God of the first and second generations.  God is also the God of Jacob.  God also promises that God will be with Jacob, even as Jacob travels into the unknown future and unknown land—an unknown time and place.

Jacob’s dream is at the same time majestic and personal. In another translation, God stands “beside him” as Jacob lies on the ground, promising to be with him wherever he goes: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  God’s words there at Bethel initiate a covenant with Jacob. This covenant will be an enduring relationship committed to his well-being and future.

This biblical story got me thinking a lot about my own sleep patterns. I am no expert on the psychology of dreams. All I do know is that for much of my adult life, on occasion I will wake myself up because I am sobbing. This used to frighten me. Who does that? Was I going crazy? The more I have learned about how the mind and body are connected, in particular the way the body processes memories and feelings, I recognize now that this is my body healing itself.

Occasionally I will wake up crying and have to remind myself where I am and that I am okay, not unlike the time my car spun out on the ice in rural Iowa and I ended up in the ditch. The first thing I did was check my limbs and talk to myself, “I am alive. I am okay. I am safe.” When I wake up from a dream in which I am working out some struggle, my self-talk is, “I am okay. I am safe. I am a beloved child of God.” My home becomes a sacred space in those moments.

Jacob dreams somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  But his dream permits him to imagine an alternative way of being in the world.  Jacob is encompassed by God’s presence. Further, God’s presence has a transformative effect in the waking world.

After a night of dreaming, Jacob rose early in the morning and took the stone that he had put under his head.  He doesn’t throw the stone aside.  Instead, he sets it up for a pillar and pours oil on it.  In a later verse, Jacob declares that the place shall be God’s house. In his actions and words, Jacob signals how important it is to recognize places where we encounter God most fully.

In a matter of weeks, we all were encouraged to create sacred places in our homes—setting up home altars. In the past week, as a few of our members have taken our Holy Communion liturgy to homes, new sacred spaces have been created in driveways or lawns. We hold the sacrament of the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, in high esteem, because Jesus promised to be present in the gathering of people around that particular meal. But tradition and scripture and lived experience has taught most of us that that is not the only place God shows up.

I invite you to offer words of thanksgiving, either in the silence of your heart, or you can use the Facebook chat, for the very ordinary places in your lives where you have experienced God in the past few months. Sometimes we call these God sightings. But please do not limit it to sight—it could be smells or sounds or intuition. It could be that in hindsight you recognized God’s presence in your life. Celebrate those experiences and sacred places.

I absolutely love that Psalm 139 is paired with this reading about Jacob’s dream at Bethel. I can imagine Jacob praying this Psalm before he laid down for his rest. Often when this Psalm is read, we sanitize it a bit. In fact, our assigned reading was just selected verses, but I believe it is valuable to hear it as a whole.

The first time I really heard the words of this psalm was my first summer on a church camp staff. Psalm 139 was part of a daily devotion that we read individually out in the large mountain meadow. My 19-year-old-self felt that this psalm was written for me at that moment. Over twenty years later, I still often feel that way about this psalm. One scholar claims that “Psalm 139 is the most personal expression in Scripture of the Old Testament’s radical monotheism…. The psalm is even more a devotional classic, because used as prayer it bestows and nurtures an awareness of the Lord as the total environment of life.” (Mays) These are just some of the reasons I can imagine trickster Jacob praying this psalm and why I offer it has a gift and tool for members and friends of Trinity during this pandemic chapter of our lives.

The psalm begins with eighteen verses of praise. And if we and Jacob forgot all of the reasons to praise God while we are experiencing fear, anger, frustration, the psalmist reminds us why God is to be praised: O Lord, you have searched me and known me…If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me…I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” The praise ends with a wondering summation and awed declaration; no inventory of life can outrun the truth that at its end “I am still with you.”

For Jacob, waking up from his dream at Bethel, for you, no matter what hardships you are facing, for each one of us grappling with new realities, the psalmist’s good news is ours as well, “God is still with you.” God is with you even when you cannot come to the house of worship at the corner of Midland and Lone Star. God is with you recovering alone in a hospital room. God is with you alone in your house. God is with you working in your garden. God is with you working from whatever workstation you have created in your home. God is with you as you ponder what the classroom, cafeteria, and locker room will be like in the fall. God is with you in grief, joy, denial, anger, and hopefulness. We might ponder, from the safety of our homes, who in the world needs to hear these words of comfort today—assurance that they are fearfully and wonderfully made?

The psalmist begins with the declaration, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” The psalmist never strays far from that theme. The entire psalm is addressed to a God who knows us. The prayer ends with a plea that God would not only know us but lead us.

There is a shift in the psalm at v. 19, “O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—those who speak of you maliciously; and lift themselves against you for evil.” But in the world of the psalms, these verses are not incoherent. In the world of the psalms, the wicked and their dangerous threats to those who base life on God are an important part of the reality.

These particular wicked foes do not seem to pose any personal threat to the psalmist. They are described instead as the enemies of God. That is their danger. To be willfully an enemy of God is unthinkable to the psalmist. But there the wicked are they embody another way than the psalmist’s fear of the Lord. I do not know about you, but I always want to identify myself with God in the matter of the wicked.

The beauty of our order of worship is that we begin with the Confession and Forgiveness. We begin worship, facing our human condition, recognizing that the wicked can raise itself in each one of us.  We all have the capacity for great goodness and wickedness.

We finally read an actual prayer petition in v. 23 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” The petition asks God to do now and in the future what God has done in the past, to examine and test the psalmist’s heart and mind to uncover any way that troubles the relationship with God. Why? So that God may lead the psalmist in another way, the way everlasting. The psalmist is not protesting innocence or admitting guilt. God gets to be the judge. God is also the shepherd. This God knows us either way.

The vision of God to whom every aspect of one’s life is known can be terrifying. Psalm 139 shows us that the vision inspires wisdom and trust for those who want nothing else than to be led in the way everlasting. The psalmist may not know everything, but it is quite a lot to know that you are fully known by God, whether you are in a worship sanctuary, the wilderness, a bedroom—waking up from a dream, school, the workplace or any other number of places we find ourselves these days. Like Jacob, we can exclaim, “Surely God is in this place… and I did not know it.”

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of the harvest, you sow the good seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ into your field. Help your church throughout the world to be both diligent and patient, full of resolve and gentleness, that our witness may be faithful to your intentions. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all space and time, your whole creation groans in labor pains, awaiting the gift of new birth. Renew the earth, sky, and sea, so that all your creation experiences freedom from the bondage of decay. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of the nations, teach us your ways, that we may walk in your truth. Mend the fabric of the human family, now torn apart by our fearful and warring ways (regions and nations in conflict may be named). Guide us by your mercy, grace, and steadfast love. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of hope, you accompany those who suffer and are near to the brokenhearted. Open our hearts to your children who are lonely and abandoned, who feel trapped by despair, and all who suffer in any way (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of the seasons, in the midst of summer, give us refreshment, renewal, and new opportunities. We pray for the safety of those who travel. We pray for those who cannot take the rest they need. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of life, those who have died in you shine like the sun in your endless kingdom. We remember with thanksgiving the saints of all times and places and saints close to us (especially). Gather us with them on the day of salvation. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mid-year Update and Thanks

Letter sent to Trinity members and friends last week.

“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor. 8:1-2)

Dear Partners in Ministry,                                                                               July 9 , 2020

Thank you for joining the members of Trinity Lutheran Church in doing God’s work. Your incredible generosity during the past few months is captured so well in those verses from II Corinthians above. Here are some ways ministry has continued during the past three months.

We continued to worship together via Facebook Live or YouTube. Our members who cannot join us in that way have been sent bulletins and sermons through the postal service. Although it may not feel like it while sitting in your home, the cumulative effect of these efforts means worship attendance has stayed quite steady. Rest assured that long after we are back to in-person worship, online worship will continue.

Kevin Mills completed his three years of Confirmation classes and will celebrate Affirmation of Baptism this fall. Olivia, Michael, Sophia and James (Edith Hannett’s grandchildren) were baptized June 21. We welcomed three new members June 14 and will welcome five more members July 12 during Zoom fellowship time.

Our congregation founded Trinity New Hope Inc. five years ago and even though it is a separate nonprofit organization, it is closely affiliated with the church through the board, donors, geography, and staff. TNH is financially stable enough to take out an improvement loan which is paying for new insulation, vinyl siding, windows, soffits, and fascia for all 16 homes. (We are lifting up this partnership, but please note that TNH and the congregation remain separate legal entities. Therefore, this loan is unrelated to church finances.)

Although our church council cannot yet commit to a date for when in-person worship will resume, we do not think it will be before Sept. 13 (Rally Sunday). We are watching the numbers and our COVID-19 Task Force is working on protocols so that when we do worship in-person, we will do so as safely as possible.

Right now, there are several things we feel we can do safely. Pastor Meggan and our youth will enjoy some of Nampa’s trails July 11. Al-Anon began meeting in our building with protocols beginning July 2. Our sanctuary will be available for family or individual prayer time (by appointment) Sunday afternoon, July 12.

With gratitude,

Pastor Meggan Manlove

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We Are the Letters

Originally published July 7, 2020 on tvprays.org

“What comes next?” That’s the line King George’s character sings in his second appearance in the Broadway Musical Hamilton, after the Battle of Yorktown. “You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead?” In fact, as followers of Jesus Christ, we do know what comes next. Confident that we are freed by Jesus’ love and mercy, we cannot but help share that love and mercy with others.

What is it that drives us to love our neighbors, to boldly give people a glimpse of the reign of God through congregational ministries and our daily lives? For us, the scriptural principal of agape, which Jesus uses in Mark 12:31, continues to guide us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Experiencing the agape of Jesus, how can we not want others to experience it? In a culture filled with options, filled with advertisements, filled with promises, we cannot assume people will experience God’s love. And we should never assume that the paid congregational staff are the only ones equipped and empowered to share the agape of Jesus.

Laying the groundwork for what later became known as the Priesthood of All Believers, Martin Luther wrote, “For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious class, and there is no difference among them except in so far as they do different work. That is St. Paul’s meaning, in I Corinthians 12, when he says: ‘We are all one body, yet each member bath his own work for serving others.’ This applies to us all, because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all equally Christian” (An Appeal to the Ruling Class).

There is another metaphor of Paul’s that I find equally helpful, and that was true before the pandemic had me utilizing the postal service at a new pace. In 2 Corinthians, Paul mentions other apostles whom he calls “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5, 12:11) and “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13). These traveling missionaries have come to Corinth after Paul left. Now, impressed by these new apostles’ credentials, the Corinthians may be asking about Paul’s credentials. Earlier in the letter, Paul tells the Corinthians that he and Timothy do not need letters of recommendation since the Corinthians themselves are a letter recommending Paul’s ministry.

 “3Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely, we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our* hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”(2 Cor. 3:1-3)

We all have the potential to be the letters of recommendation to the communities we live in and to the world, letters of Jesus’ agape. Our very human hearts are filled with the love of Jesus. That love is made known in feeding and housing people, caring for the neighbor, learning about the world we inhabit, disrupting racism, and advocating for marginalized people or the natural world.

I remain hopeful during this strange and hard season because so many people are stepping up, or digging deep, or whatever image is most helpful. People are working together collectively not only for the health of congregational ministry, but for the benefit of the larger community, nation, and world. I have been deeply inspired by people of all ages who are concerned not just for the well-being of their own families but for people they have never met. They are showing acts of kindness in their immediate vicinity, but they are not content to only be kind. People are working towards bigger and broader transformations. Their actions give me hope for our world. I will continue to seek and find the groups of people who are letters of Christ, written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.

Prayer: Direct us, Lord God in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and extend to us your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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New Hope Housing Update

Below is the update recently sent to supporters of Trinity New Hope (affordable housing).

Dear Friends of Trinity New Hope,

When we finished the 2019 Avenues for Hope online giving campaign on December 31, I never could have imagined the circumstances under which I would be writing this mid-year update. The COVID-19 pandemic and national reckoning with racial justice issues are shaping 2020 in big ways for our country, communities, and individual lives. In the midst of everything else, the real-estate market in Canyon County has not slowed down and as a result, the need for safe affordable housing has not decreased. Thank you for being part of Trinity New Hope’s work.

     

This July we want to lift up two specific projects your dollars have helped us with. First, we have refinished the two bathtub/showers in 7 of our 16 homes. We have done this whenever a unit is vacated. Second, your gifts gave us the financial stability to take out an improvement loan from the Mission Investment Fund of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We hired A & S Siding of Nampa to install new vinyl siding (replacing the expensive-to-repair original wood siding) and windows on our 16 homes. Each home will also have new soffits and fascia and will be wrapped with insulation before the siding is installed. We selected eight different siding colors. In addition, the contractor is donating materials to dress up the exteriors of the homes. We are very excited about upgrading the homes aesthetically while also making them more energy efficient.

Thanks again for making donations through the Avenues for Hope Campaign. We are so grateful for your generosity and partnership.

Sincerely,

Pastor Meggan Manlove   Trinity New Hope Board Member

Tami McHugh       Trinity New Hope Board President

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July 12, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW)

First Reading: Genesis 25:19-34

19These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Psalm: Psalm 119: 105-112

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light upon my path. 106 I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments. 107 I am deeply troubled; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. 108 Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips, and teach me your judgments. 109 My life is always in danger, yet I do not forget your teaching. 110 The wicked have set a trap for me, but I have not strayed from your commandments. 111Your decrees are my inheritance forever; truly, they are the joy of my heart. 112I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes forever and to the end.

Second Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sermon (Pastor Meggan)

This summer we have been accompanying our ancestors of the faith through the Book of Genesis—asking how their journeys inform our faith and our relationship with God and with the world.  I love the stories from Genesis and am preaching on them this summer for a few reasons. It is not that I do not think the parable of the sower and the seed speaks to our current context. But during the first half of the church year, the time from Advent to Pentecost or December through May, I do preach primarily from the New Testament, so I feel permission to preach on these Old Testament stories during summer and fall. I have also learned during my time as a pastor that many Lutherans do not know the stories from the Old Testament and if they do know them, they do not know exactly what to make of them.

I know the stories not because I am a pastor but because my parents read our story bible to me and because for hours at a time, I listened to my collection of the Purple Puzzle Tree records—vinyl, that’s right. I would sit in our balcony by the record player and follow along with the accompanying picture books. The creators of this series spent a long time getting through Genesis and Exodus. Why? Because the stories are foundational to our faith. They were the stories Jesus grew up with. They are part of our story. They tell us something about the God we worship and the people of God.

Our Genesis lesson this morning begins a group of narratives often call “the Jacob Cycle” and which the Hebrew Bible calls “the toledot (generations or descendants) of Isaac.” Both of these labels are accurate, but neither gives the full picture. Missing from these titles are the rest of Jacob’s family — the formidable figure of Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, his older brother, Esau, and Jacob’s primary wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah.

The biblical writers understood family to be the foundational unit of society and religious experience. They also understood this particular family (beginning with Abraham and Sarah) to be the foundation of ancient Israelite society and religion. And so, these stories explore not only the complications of domestic ties, they also explore the connection between family dynamics, social customs, and covenantal life.

Like many of our own domestic dramas, the stories of the Israelite ancestors include infertility and problem pregnancies and difficult births. Pregnancy is a condition that is always fraught with meaning and risk. In this case, the situation of Rebekah and Isaac is itself an echo of Abraham and Sarah’s earlier difficulties. Infertility threatens the family line with biological extinction and jeopardizes the promises of the ancestral covenant until God intervenes after a lengthy period.

Rebekah’s resultant pregnancy means that God’s covenant promises, and the family line will survive, against the odds. However, hers turns out to be a problem pregnancy in more ways than one. Rebekah’s condition creates such discomfort for her that she is not sure what the outcome will be. A word from God informs her that she is not just gestating twins who are struggling within her, she is also gestating two different nations fighting for dominance.

As it turns out, these twins are not identical, and they do not share a special bond that involves a secret language and a fierce devotion to each other. At birth, Esau and Jacob each possess characteristics that signal physical and personality differences that will lead them into conflict. Esau is born hairy and red, characteristics that link him to the people of Edom, who are said to be descended from Esau.

These characteristics also link to Esau to the outdoors and he turns out to be brawny and skillful at hunting. Jacob, who is destined to be the father of the 12 Israelite tribes, is born second. He is smooth-skinned and comes out with his hand around Esau’s foot. The detail clues us in on Jacob’s desire to upset Esau’s status as the firstborn son and to subvert the social customs and expectations that would favor the firstborn.

The social status of these twin brothers is complicated by the Ancient Israelite expectation that the first- born son should be favored. The firstborn son typically takes on his father’s profession. The firstborn succeeds his father as the family patriarch. The firstborn inherits a larger portion of the family goods than his other brothers. These privileges make up the birthright. Collectively, they provide a level of social and material security that the younger brother would not enjoy.

The younger sibling would have to depend on the mercy of the older brother or make his own way in the world. It may be that these customs developed to create consistency and fairness in families, to prevent parental favoritism from running amok. When the older and younger brothers in question are twins born just minutes apart, however, then the custom seems a bit more arbitrary and unfair.

Jacob is determined, even before birth, to have the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. But since he is not the outdoorsy type, he uses brains, not brawn, to gain it. Jacob is a trickster, an underdog character who uses his wit and cunning to change the status quo. As a man who prefers the tents to the hunt, Jacob knows how to cook. He uses this skill and his knowledge of Esau’s weakness to trade some red soup for Esau’s birthright. It is a trade that Esau willingly makes.

The story of Jacob and Esau has profoundly influenced western literature’s treatment of sibling rivalry and parental favoritism. Still, it is often difficult for Christian readers to appreciate these as religious narratives. Seen through the lens of a traditional Protestant or Catholic piety, there seems to be little about Jacob to inspire us.

One instructor wrote that when she teaches these narratives, her students often think that Jacob victimizes Esau. They read Esau’s comment in verse 32 quite literally and think that Jacob is trading on Esau’s dire situation. In fact, Esau has just come in from hunting. He is not starving to death, he just prefers immediate gratification over the long term benefits of his birthright. His family inheritance, which in this story is tied to the covenant promises, means little to him.

American Christians have been taught to correlate piety with traditional personal virtues like selflessness and guilelessness. Moreover, we tend to view our personal successes as rewards for our piety and virtues. But these stories challenge our first-world sensibilities by lifting up an otherwise disadvantaged character who must use guile and ambition to claim his status as a son of the covenant.

The truth is that whether we are talking about the pandemic or dismantling systemic or structural racism or pivoting the church, I actually think guile and ambition are really useful. We need creative problem solvers. We need people who can be clever and crafty for the good of the marginalized, not for abuse and harm but for everyone’s liberation from systems that hold us back collectively. I was one of those straight arrow kids, but guile is something I am valuing more and more when it is used for good.

There is more we can learn from the very imperfect character of Jacob. Esau may not value his familial and spiritual inheritance, but Jacob does. Moreover, Jacob doesn’t see any immediate reward for his efforts; it will be decades before he actually sees success. Jacob is not deterred by the prospect of delayed gratification. Are we really so different? I will sacrifice future health for greasy food or a milkshake.

We are wired/trained today to favor immediate reward. We want closeness but we forget that building relationships takes time. Lots of us want immediate relief for the marginalized, forgetting how much work it is going to take to truly transform our society. That does not mean we should not get moving; it just means we need to occasionally take the long view. To weave this story together with Jesus’ parable of the sower, we do not know how long the seeds will take to grow, but it could be a long time.

Finally, these stories of Jacob illuminate a different view of grace. God chose Jacob even before his birth, a choice that was clearly not based on Jacob’s merits or achievements. Indeed, this is one of many stories about siblings in which God acts contrary to the social custom of favoring the firstborn.

Firstborns are no more virtuous by the fact of being born first, but being born second in the ancient near eastern world made one an automatic underdog. As one author put it, “It’s a bit baffling that God would favor Jacob, a quiet and conniving mama’s boy who tricks his older brother out of his inheritance rights and deceives his aging father into compliance, but Hebrew Scripture has a soft spot for scrappy underdogs, so he grows into the unlikely hero of Israel’s origin stories.”

Sometimes we think that God’s favor of the marginalized, God’s turning the world upside down began with Jesus’ preaching the beatitudes or Jesus being born in a manger. Maybe we trace it back to the Babylonian Exile or perhaps back to the Israelites Exodus out of Egypt. Rarely do we consider that God was choosing the underdogs all along. After all, Jacob becomes the father of the 12 tribes. His name gets changed to Israel. God chose the underdog. That may irk our conventional notions of grace or it may be just the good news we need to hear.

Prayers of Intercession

Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world.

Gracious God, your word has been sown in many ways and places. We pray for missionaries and newly planted congregations around the world. Inspire us by their witness to the faith we share. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Creating God, the mountains and hills burst into song and the trees and fields clap their hands in praise. We pray for the birds and animals who make their home in the trees, and for lands stripped bare by deforestation. Empower us to sustainably use what you have given. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Reigning God, we pray for our nation’s leaders. Increase their desire for justice and equality. We pray for our enemies. Bridge the chasms that divide us and guide authorities to a deep and lasting peace. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Abiding God, care for all who are in need (especially). For those who are doubting, renew faith. For those who are worrying, provide release. For those who are struggling, ease burdens. For those in fear, give hope. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Renewing God, revive your church in this place. Nourish and nurture the seeds you have planted, that we might grow as disciples. Replace what has been depleted. Sustain our ministries (especially) and deepen relationships with the wider community. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Eternal God, we give thanks for all who have died (especially Nathan Söderblom, Bishop of Uppsala, whom we commemorate today). Comfort us in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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