I knew her for about 6 months, Elaine. She walked into the church on the day of Felicity’s baptism. In that small-town church that had doubled in size and had the bishop and the district superintendent presiding, she walked into church for the first time on that day. She made a promise along with others present to live a life that showed faith to Felicity.
She came back the next week to ask me how to keep her promise to Felicity, the 3-month-old. Quickly, she connected and quickly, it became clear how needed the body of Christ was in her life. Her life was complicated, and her relationships were challenging. She lived on the edge of housing, the edge of food security, the edge of making the decision between her cat eating and her medication. That decision became more significant when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, a month a half after she came to church the day of Felicity’s baptism.
The body of Christ in Hellertown, walked with Elaine, not because it was easy or because it was clear cut – it wasn’t. Every step was messy and exposed deeper needs in relationships as well as support. We walked with her, because in relationship, showing up matters deeply, because in following Jesus, offering hope is vital.
While you might not know Elaine, you might understand this messiness and know some Elaines. You may even know some Jacobs, like we heard in the scripture. We hear God’s call to Jacob to return to the land of his ancestors. This is complicated. Jacob has certainly burnt a few bridges with his family. Jacob’s story seems better suited for reality television than narrative. All of these relationships highlight our human envy. Rachel and Leah are alternately jealous of one another for children they are bearing or not bearing. Jacob and Laban hold envy for animals and goods they do or do not have. Laban tricks Jacob into working for a total of 20 years – 7 for Leah, 7 for Rachel, and 6 to build up the flocks. Then Jacob uses ethically questionable techniques to grow his flocks. Rachel steals the household gods and lies about it. The biblical stories show us that life has always been complicated by humanity. AND God has always been in the midst of relationships calling us to be imitators of God especially when our first instinct is to do elsewise.
It is an understatement to point out that Jacob and Laban have a complicated relationship. Jacob, who we have come to know by his antics, is up to it again. Jacob, who is the genealogy of Jesus, does not play well with others. Jacob, who is like the cousin who you don’t want to sit next to at thanksgiving because you might be the focus of a practical joke, playfully jokes. Jacob, who is always in conflict, struggles with his brother and his father, both of his wives, and his father-in-law, even with God.
Where is the blessing, you might ask? Where is the testimony in this test? Where is the message in this mess? Where is the triumph in this trial?
We serve one another out of relationship. When we do not serve out of relationship, we forget the image of God inherent in those we serve. Sometimes we do this. We send trinkets half way around the world hoping that is serves someone, when we know those in need in our community. This kind of charity puts a Band-Aid on a need, and sometimes creates additional challenges. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, funds were expended to house all the millions of teddy bears sent to school. Without meeting and knowing those we serve with, we cannot know how the best way to serve is. I would not have guessed that what Elaine needed most was a friend who could ride the bus with her to go shopping when she was able and visit with her when she was not.
When we meet our neighbors, we realize that there are those right here down the street who are not sure where the next meal for the children will come from. When we spend time, we hear that there was a full house for Family Promise and a waiting list with 11 families hoping to get in the program. We learn that pain and suffering lives in every corner of our world and is no respecter of the divisions we have drawn.
But I have to warn you, meeting people means they might disappoint you. Knowing people means they might make choices that you wouldn’t make. Loving others means sometimes feeling your heart moved in ways that could be uncomfortable.
Jesus lived in this kind of relationship. Jesus met those who sought him out, as well as those who he reached out to. Jesus cared for those who were easy to love as well as those who were complicated, nuanced, and downright difficult. Jesus calls us to relationships, with no promises that they will be simple. Jesus surrounded himself with betrayers, deniers, doubters, zealots, and contradictors. Jesus embraced those who loved him, as well as those who could not support him. In our gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching about relationship. We, who are tempted to judge and condemn others; we, who are tempted to keep our gifts and talents to ourselves; we, who do not see our own need to be self-aware, are challenged by Jesus to continue walking relationships with the Uncle Labans, the Rachels, and even the Elaines in our lives.
When we value relationships first, we live out the work of the church. We are the body of Christ. In this portion of stewardship, we think about service – service with God, service with the church, and service with others. How are you using your time? Where are giving of your gifts and graces?
As you receive your stewardship letter, please prayerfully consider where God is calling you this year. The front of the card relates to your tithe and financial giving. The back of the card relates to your time and service giving. For some of you, this will be continuing relationships you are already in. Some of you teach our children in Sunday School. What a gift you are to our children. You all will get a chance to give thanks to God for our teachers next week as our children preschool through 3rd grade put on a play out of their learnings about the anointing of David.
For some of you, God is nudging you in new directions, into relationships that you do not already know or have. God may be nudging you to challenge your preconceived notions of those who are homeless by working with family promise and growing relationships there. God may be urging you into relationships with members of the congregation you have not met by becoming a greeter or usher. God may be moving in your heart to open up others in our community by leading a Good Neighbors team and developing relationships with folks in West Grove, Avondale, Oxford or Kennett, who need to meet Jesus with skin on and swinging a hammer.
Ultimately, we serve, not because the church needs more ushers or someone must make the coffee. We serve because God calls us to live out our faith in every aspect of our life. And we hear the call to relationships when we imagine that we can greet people in the lobby, prepare coffee after worship or visit a homebound neighbor. When we understand that how we spend our time, tells others about Jesus, we are moved to tell point to Jesus. When we realize that how we share our talents shows others the Holy Spirit as the giver of gifts, we want to use our gifts and point to the Spirit.
Now, relationships take work. All the most important ones do. It is what parents do as they care for their children when they cannot use a fork for their spaghetti as well as when they need someone to guide and love them when their friends turn on them. It is what spouses do when talking comes easy and when the silent treatment seems like the daily special served regularly. It is what friends do when it feels like you friend is caught in the same story and challenge, and you are tired of hearing about it. It is what followers of Jesus do when the complex nuances of living in this world seem like too much!
As we think about the blessings of relationships, commitment and habit are crucial. This is when you and I wake a grumpy child or spouse every day, even though we are not reward with gratitude. This is when you and I take the trash out every week, even though we think it should be shared.
My Elaine, she rubbed folks the wrong way more than once. Her protective hard layer pushed away, more than it drew near. But for me, I cannot forget that she chose relationship. She walked into a worship service that asked her to make a promise and she kept that promise, until I buried her 6 months after she made it. She lived in complex and complicated relationships, seeking God in the midst of messiness, because that was where she lived. Of course, she told me, Jesus would be born in a stable, of course, God would be with us in messiness, that is the place people live.
Christ was born for this- the messiness that reveals a message. You, too, were born for this- living out your relationships with others in the good, the bad, the annoying, the frustrating, the aggravating, and the exasperating.
May your relationships serve one another and serve God!
This is the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God.
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 31: 1-20, 24-26, 31-32, 34-36, 41-44, 51-54
Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favourably as he did before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.’ So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, ‘I see that your father does not regard me as favourably as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, “The speckled shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said, “The striped shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me. During the mating of the flock I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, “Jacob,” and I said, “Here I am!” And he said, “Look up and see that all the goats that leap on the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and return to the land of your birth.” ’ Then Rachel and Leah answered him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.’ So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels; and he drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.’ Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsfolk camped in the hill country of Gilead. Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. Jacob answered Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsfolk, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’ Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. And she said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.’ So he searched, but did not find the household gods. Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban. Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my offence? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you for fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night.’ Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne? Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me.’ Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and see the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor’—the God of their father—‘judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice on the height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread; and they ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 6: 37-42
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, October 22nd -Saturday, October 28th
Sunday: “Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.’ Genesis 31:3. Going home where your family resides, whether for a visit or long-term, has challenges and blessings. Pray for God to show you how your relationships with your family of origin may bring blessings.
Monday: “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.” Genesis 31: 42. Relationships of conflict are painful and can cause affliction. Pray for God to be in each affliction and labor guiding your actions.
Tuesday: “Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me.” Genesis 31:44. A covenant is a promise that evokes God’s presence and way. Where do your relationships need God in the middle of them? Pray for the first one that comes to mind.
Wednesday: “May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor’—the God of their father—‘judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac,” Genesis 31: 53. The way we treat one another matters. God hold us to the standard of God’s way. Are you living up to the standard?
Thursday: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” Luke 6: 37. When the choices of others confound us, we need to pray. Pray for those who confound you as well as pray for yourself that you might not judge and condemn.
Friday: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” Luke 6: 38. God is generous. God’s way is abundance. May the God of abundance lead you to share amply with others.
Saturday: “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” Luke 6: 40. Where is God equipping you to use what you learn to serve others?