Pentecost 8 ~ The Kingdom of Heaven is like…

July 30 2017
Readings: Genesis 29:15-28 ~ Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

The Jacob and Rachel love story has more in common with a really bad soap opera than with the kingdom of heaven.  Previously on the Jacob saga, Jacob tricks his blind old father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing reserved for his elder brother Esau.  After successfully pulling of this con, Jacob has to flee his brother’s wrath.

While on the run, Jacob has a surprising covenant conversation with God and then goes to work for his uncle, Laban. The two men agree that the reward for seven years of labour is to be Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel.

But when the seven years is over, Laban tricks Jacob by substituting Rachel’s older sister, Leah.  I’m not sure how one could spend the night with the wrong woman, but in the light of day Jacob discovers he has been tricked. When Jacob protests, Laban says it is customary to marry off the older sister before younger. But if Jacob agrees to spend the week with Leah, then Laban will give him Rachel along with their two maidservants.

This story of four women for the bride price of one leaves a rather unpleasant taste in our 21st century, western mouths.  It’s more than a little distasteful to hear of women being used like property, in this case, to establish yet another dysfunctional scripture family.  And what a horrible thing to do to Leah.

But this, of course, is our 21st century western perspective speaking.  When we listen to the story from the point of view of the day, we hear the story of God righting wrongs.  Jacob tricks Isaac by dressing up as Esau.  Laban tricks Jacob by substituting Leah for Rachel.  Living in a different age, the writer and audience probably found humour and satisfaction in the fact that the con man was conned in a case of mistaken identity. And in the patriarchal, tribal society of the ancient world, marriage was in fact an alliance between men involving the exchange of women. The fact that Jacob loves Rachel is a bonus – for Rachel.

But it leaves Leah stranded in a loveless marriage.  So, God favours Leah by giving her many children which causes the barren Rachel to envy her sister’s fertility – and apparently encourages Jacob to keep visiting.

As one commentator says; Through their unrelenting jealousy and competition, the two sisters and their servant women raise up a large family capable of fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob that his descendants would be as abundant as the dust or topsoil, covering the ground in every direction for purpose of blessing all the families of the earth (Gen 28:14).  Thus begins the story of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The good news for all of us is that God is always present and working to accomplish God’s purposes and bless imperfect people in and through folks like Jacob and us.

The kingdom of heaven, however, is nothing like Jacob and his jealous, competitive, conniving family.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that sprouts into a bush, or yeast that becomes leaven in the lump, or treasure hidden in a field, like a pearl of great value, like a net thrown into the sea to make a great catch.  It happens whenever and wherever people live together in harmony, loving God and showing concern for all creation.

It doesn’t arrive with a lot of hoopla – no fire-breathing dragon machines – but with small and humble beginnings. And, once it takes root, it can do amazing things to influence the world around it.  And once we encounter the kingdom of God, even if just for a momentary glimpse, it changes us forever.  We treasure its value and begin to discard those useless things in our lives (like greed, jealousy, and hatred) that just get in the way of experiencing the kingdom, and we want to practice the way of the kingdom (like generosity, kindness and compassion).

The mustard seed of the kingdom – the yeast in its life – is nothing more or less than the prime directive given to us by Jesus: to live in a relationship of love with God, neighbour, self – which means all creation. Brian McLaren suggest that the churches of the 21st century will be schools or studios of love that teach people to live a life of love, from the heart, for God, for all people (no exceptions), and for all creation.

For a couple of years now we have been singing a song called And They Will Know Us By Our Love.  It has almost become an anthem of the new church. A few weeks ago, we introduced another song for our journey that is all about God’s Spirit is Here to inflame us with love. This past week, Wendy and Deane have been sorting and cataloguing choir anthems and they came across one called Sing a New Church Into Being – one of faith and love and praise. That’s the one we are going to sing this morning.

Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th century social activist and protestant clergyman, said that, Every tomorrow has two handles.  We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.  It is my hope that we will take hold of our tomorrow with the trinitarian handle of faith, hope and love.  As Paul tells the church in Corinth, at the end of the day three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. 

It’s taken some 2000 years but it seems like the message is finally getting through.

Pat Martin +