Based on Genesis 29:1-28 and Romans 8:26-39
If ever you worried that your family was dysfunctional, a quick read through the book of Genesis will make you feel right at home! From a 3500 year old soap opera, to a love letter written to friends in Rome, the Holy Spirit hears our deepest longings for healing.
You may have been told that you can look to the Bible to get your values – but on closer inspection, you really don’t want to look too closely if you’re searching for the model family. You can’t get past the first Biblical couple without something going awry, and it continues in every generation thereafter.
The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is a 3500 year old soap opera. It is a story of deceit, trickery, making the best of what you have, jealousy, heartbreak, hope, bargaining, – it sounds like most of our families…
It is also ultimately the beginning of what we know as the twelve tribes of Israel. Here we are introduced to the sons of Jacob (Israel). Born to Leah- Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zubulun.
Born to Rachel – Joseph and Benjamin (Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin), the sons born by Bilhah- Rachel’s maid – Dan and Naphtali, the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid – Gad and Asher. (Genesis 35) There were daughters too, but we only know the name of one daughter – Dinah.
What at first may seem like bad news, may be good news. What seems good has its share of tragedy. Leah may never have received the love from Jacob that she longed for, but I expect that her sons loved her. Rachel may have received Jacob’s love and longed for children only to have her one son sold into slavery – and she lived the rest of her life presuming him dead. Then she died giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. Jacob learned a hard lesson about blatant favouritism – causing such jealousy among his sons that they sold their brother Joseph into slavery and deceived their father, telling him that little Joe was killed by a wild animal.
All these are the children of Jacob, (next week he gets his name Israel) son of Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah. But what of Abraham’s other children’s children? Do you remember Ishmael, son of Hagar? Do you remember Keturah. (anyone heard of her?) According to Genesis 25: 1-2 Abraham married her after Sarah died, and she gave birth to six children. But which is the child we hear about? Which is the one who gets the blessing? (Isaac) How well would that go over in your family?
In very broad terms the children of Isaac are still in conflict with the children of Ishmael today. The others I just can’t keep track of.
I return from holiday and I’d love to be telling you about our trip to Ireland (and I will, I promise), but these weeks my heart aches for what is happening in Gaza right now. My journey to Palestine and Israel last November has forever altered how I perceive things, and it’s profoundly different than our national leaders see it.
The brokenness of inequality continues still, and therefore continues to cause conflict, despair, revenge, atrocities, and a world without the strength or the will to make it stop.
I have written to leaders of all the national political parties, I have signed petitions online, I have prayed with other pilgrims from the Palestine journey at Naramata this week, and I have, with a bit of angst, emailed a note to CBC.
So where is the hope? At this point I turn to Paul’s words to the congregation in Rome, who knew first-hand about persecution.
The Spirit intercedes for us when we cannot pray, it gives words to our longing, even if we don’t know what the words are – but just an openness and trusting that the Divine Wisdom hears our hearts and minds. And…then, another favourite part for me, still in this chapter, the affirmation that nothing can separate us from the love of God; nothing.
This past Monday I did a quick turn-around trip to Naramata Centre and met with 8 others from the Pilgrimage to Palestine last fall. In light of the last couple weeks and the devastation inflicted on the people of Gaza, we talked together and listened and cried and prayed for peace for Palestinian and Israeli citizens.
Jim Strathdee told of an encounter with an old man in the alley market in the segregated city of Hebron. Jim had been taking pictures of the Israeli settlers who lived above the market, as they were taking pictures of us below, and the old man kept pointing up and repeating a word in Arabic. Jim asked our young guide what the word meant, and it translated as `steadfastness’.
But it meant more than that. It mean `they can order us off our own streets, they can throw garbage down on us, they can restrict, imprison, control… but we are not going away. I am going to show up here every day and sell my spices, love my family, pray my prayers… I will be steadfast.
It is easy to get overwhelmed, and angry and helpless. But we must be steadfast and not let helplessness and hopelessness have control. I love these words from Romans – both the intercession of the Spirit in our prayers and the affirmation that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Shortly after my return home from the pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel, the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. One of my favourite sayings from Mandela, helps me to stay steadfast, helps me to stay rooted in the inseparable love of God. Mandela said “May my choices reflect my hopes, not my fears.”
I am encouraged also by Jane Goodall’s words: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
And I am encouraged by these words: ”For I am certain that neither death nor life, either angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths – nor anything else in all creation – will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Saviour.”
Questions to ponder: How/when/where have you experienced the inseparable love of God? What encourages you?