Monday, July 17, 2017

“A Disrupting God”
A Sermon on Genesis 25:19-34 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
By Griff Martin
For the People of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Fourth Sunday Following Pentecost
July 16, 2017

Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing Resurrected reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Risen Christ and the Comforter.  Amen.

RS Thomas was a Welsh poet and an Anglican priest. He is one of my favorite poets, as much of his work stems from a life lived serving the local church. Although largely unknown in his life, his work gained traction later in his life and has become an important voice in the school of modern poetry. Hear his words this morning in a poem simply titled “The White Tiger”:

It was beautiful as God
must be beautiful; glacial
eyes that had looked on
violence and come to terms

with it; a body too huge
and majestic for the cage in which
it had been put; up
and down in the shadow

of its own bulk it went,
lifting, as it turned,
the crumpled flower of its face
to look into my own

face without seeing me. It
was the colour of the moonlight
on snow and as quiet
as moonlight, but breathing

as you can imagine that
God breathes within the confines
of our definition of him, agonising
over immensities that will not return.

It’s brilliant…. This image of a tiger in a cage too small in the zoo and then a turn to the question: is that what we have done with God in church? I wonder what prompted him to write this poem. Perhaps this poem is the result of a conversation with someone in his congregation who had uttered some prayer request followed by “but I know that is a pretty big prayer to pray.” Or maybe he was in a church meeting where instead of trying to imagine something bigger, they were limited by how things are always done and they were guided by practice and not prophesy. Or maybe he had just had a theological conversation with a group of pastors that was shut down quickly because it got too risky or even too real. Or maybe he attended a missions meeting where instead of dreaming big they dreamed practically. And maybe it a pastoral conversation with a member where it became clear that they had put God in a box and set very real limitations on God.

Or this week I wondered if he had he just led a Bible study on Genesis 25, the very start of Jacob’s narrative and had heard once again someone question, “Now why would God bless Jacob in all that trickery and deceit? It just seems like God was not playing by the rules.” Which is just another way of saying “I hate it when God does not act the way I want God to act.”  

Because we all have ways that we desire God to act, no matter if we have ever said them aloud or not. We want God safe, we want God active in our world but it would help if it was in predictable ways, we want God to ask something of us but not too much, we want God not to disrupt all that we already have and love, we want God to at the very least play by God’s own rules (like the Big 10 for instance, it would be nice if God kept those guidelines), we want a God who feels like mystery but an easy mystery like a theological Murder She Wrote, and above everything else, we want God in a system in which we have a bit of control.

Jacob’s story is a prime example. Even in his birth Jacob comes out looking bad, twins born to Isaac and Rebekah, twins that when Esau comes out of the womb first, his brother Jacob is grasping onto his heel as if the war for power has already begun. Which in those times it would have, the firstborn was the powerful son, the firstborn got more, the firstborn was the favored. This was the law of primogeniture and this stated that the firstborn got most of the land, the wealth, the place of privilege and power. Society had an order and it belonged to the firstborn male. And Esau claims that title. He is the first one out, the eldest even if it’s just by a few seconds. Esau is the oldest, Jacob is the youngest and according to the world around them, Esau had it.

But that does not settle things for Jacob. He is not content with his position, think of Jacob as the original Francis Underwood (he knows what he wants and he will get it) so twice in the story Jacob tricks Esau, he might not get the position of first born but he will get the privileges.

So one afternoon Esau comes in from hunting and he is so hungry and Jacob is there with a pot of warm stew. It smells delicious and it is exactly what Esau needs. So Jacob strikes up a deal with him, I will give you some stew if you swear to me your birthright. And Esau, extremely hungry in a weakened state and let’s be honest- he’s not the sharpest of the ancestors- Esau makes a deal and he gives away his birthright for a bowl of soup.

Later on in the story Rebekah is going to help Jacob and they are going to trick Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob instead of to Esau. So by ways of trickery, deceit, and even lying, Jacob ends up with the birthright and the blessing.

And it’s Jacob that God blesses.

It’s Jacob who lies who God blesses.
It’s Jacob who manipulates to get power who God blesses.
It’s Jacob whose life is full of scandals and God blesses him.
It’s Jacob who is deceptive and still God blesses.
It’s Jacob who refuses to play by the rules of the day who God blesses.

And let us not forget, this is not really a story about Jacob. It’s a story about God. And that is a challenge as well because we learn some things about God in this story as well.

God does not always play by the rules, even the one’s God has set.
God does not always play by the rules that we have set.
God does not always respect the systems that we have created to bring order to our lives.
God works in all people…. all people, all people, all people…even those of us who lie and cheat and manipulate for power.
God is willing and ready to undue the world of wisdom and strength we build on our own.
God might not be all that impressed with the institutions we build on our own.
God might be just as scandalous as Jacob.
And we learn more about this God who blesses, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “The world of privilege is here disrupted by the God of blessing.”

And God is never going to stay in those cute little cages we build and try to put God – hold God- cage God in, like a tiger in a zoo.

And that is our God and thank God for that, for that fact that our God is the original author of disruptive innovation.

Because it’s that God who decided the only way to save us was to come and become flesh and blood just like each of us. A God who chose the most unsafe and unreliable path in order to teach us love. A God who was capable of anything and chose a path of “become human in order to show them how to live, how to love, how to change the world.” A God who broke all the rules with resurrection.

A God who when here in flesh and blood, incarnate, began his first major public address with these words:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

A Jesus who begins his earthly ministry by issuing blessings that turn the entire world topsy turvy. Words that are scandalous and rip apart our systems of power and wisdom. Words that turn our institutions on their heads. Words that are scandalous to the way most of us live our lives.

And here is the Gospel truth this morning… that is exactly what we need, that is the God we need.

Russian religious philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev coined two important terms for ethics: ethics of obedience and ethics of creativity. An ethics of obedience is following the commonly accepted rules and practices, an ethics of obedience is tradition and routine. An ethics of creativity is following the truth we know with our deepest hearts even when is goes against the norm and the standard. This is when we “do what we feel we must even though it runs counter to what is usually accepted.”

Our God is not a God of the ethics of obedience but instead the ethics of creativity.

And again, thank God for that, because maybe the deepest truth today is there are some things in our world where we need God to be set free and overturn, to demonstrate an ethics of creativity…

What does God have to say to the way we distribute wealth in our world? What does God say to a world where so few have so much and so many have so little? What does God say about our institutions of power which put so many into powerless positions where they can’t climb out? What does God say about our systems still so full of largely unwritten rules promoting patricarchy and racism? What does God say about our economy that seems set on destruction? What does God say about our positions on war? What does God think about our way of living that is allowing chunks of ice the size of Deleware to break away from the Antartic Penisula and we remain quiet about climate change? Maybe God needs to disrupt us once again and maybe our prayer is that the God of blessing will disrupt our privilege once again.

What institutions does God need to break today in order that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven? What social orders and wisdom have we created that is getting in the way of God? What denominational structure needs to go? What are the traditions that we believe serve us well but truth is they just give us control? What here at First Austin does God need to interrupt, disrupt and innovate so that we are building God’s kingdom?

What rules have we put into place that limit God? What practices have we formed that bind our God? What theology have we created that is more about us and our needs than it is about the living and the true God? What prayers have we said that we need to rebuke? What borders and barriers have we built instead of making meeting grounds and middle places?

And what theology do we personally need to unlearn? What certainties in our life need to be replaced with questions and mysteries? What prayers do we need stop praying and what prayers do we need to start praying?

Because where we have guarded God, where we have caged Christ, where we have hemmed the Holy Spirit… it’s time to do some undoing. It’s time to reintroduce ourselves to the God of Jacob, a God who won’t settle for a cage, a God who keeps on opening up more and more and more of life and of God’s very self.

A God who Jesus describes in the parables as one who is throwing seed continually to see where it will land and where it will grow, including seeds of disruption because as any farmer will tell you, sometimes the best thing for a field is a whole new crop, that sometimes you save a field by planting something new, by disrupting what has always been.

And with these fields full of new life, may we go and follow God… breaking all the rules that need to be broken, disrupting our world in all the right ways, following God and God alone in creating the world God desires, people a people who embrace an ethics of creativity because we follow a God of creativity. Amen and Amen. 

*artwork: The Battle Between Jacob and Esau's Angel, 2015, Painting by Yoram Raanan,


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