Bugs Bunny, Anansi, & Jacob – sermon for Sept. 24, 2017

opera
Elmer & Bugs, “What’s Opera Doc”

 

Preaching text:

Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17

27:1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me.

27:15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16 and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.

28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He 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. 12 And 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. 13 And 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; 14 and 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. 15 Know 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.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And 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.”

 

They just don’t tell them like used to. I mean, no offense Bob, that’s what the lectionary gave you—bits and pieces of the story—not enough to really get what’s goin’ on—how last week is connected to this wee, and what’s going on even behind the scenes in today’s reading. Stories are important, they are how we know who we are.

So, last week we heard about Isaac as a boy, and now 7 days and five chapters later, Isaac is an old man. How old is he? He is so old he can hardly see; I picture him laid out on some kind of bed, with a blanked. Isaac is so old that he, unlike those who predicted the word’s demise yesterday, Isaac knows the end is near. As he nears his end, Isaac decides it’s time to pass on his inheritance—to his son. So Isaac calls his first born son Esau and sends him out to do what Esau does best, go hunting, get some nice critter, like rabbit or some such and cook it up, kind of like a last meal. Sounds good right. That’s how things are supposed to go.

The problem is Esau has a brother, a younger brother; Jacob is younger by not even a minute. Esau and Jacob are twins, so close Jacob (as the story goes) grabs his older brother’s heel as Rebecca gives birth to them. I can only imagine Rebecca’s relief as she gets those two out into the world, because even before they were born we are told these two brothers were after each other, wrestling, tossing and tumbling, and not in a good way, in Rachel’s womb.

But the turmoil doesn’t end at 9 months; it’s just the start. Evidently, Isaac and Rebekah unlike all modern day good parents had favorites. Isaac loved Esau—the firstborn more, and Rebekah loved Jacob more. Esau was a hairy outdoorsy kind a guy, and Jacob he hung out with his mom in the tent, and he was smooth.

The problem isn’t just a matter of parental affection, however. There’s a lot more at stake here. You see as first-born son, Esau was set to inherit most, if not just about all of his father’s stuff. And by stuff, I mean flocks, slaves, weapons, gold, tents; Isaac’s place. Esau’s physical strength would be multiplied by his power as patriarch head of the family. All because he popped out first.

What would this leave Jacob with? Bubkis. Jacob’s mother, sure she’s Esau’s mother too, but children can tell when parents have favorites. It’s possible that Rebekah and her fav Jacob would be shut out, pushed out, out on their own. It’s not like this hasn’t ever happened before — (coughing) Hagar & Ishmael.

Now what comes next, I know it’s hard for us, many of us, have done well following the rules, who have decent respectable upstanding lives. We have some taste of power and privilege. It’s hard for us to accept what happens—how Jacob not only cheats his brother but seems to get rewarded by God for it. But what’s really going on here in this story?

So far, who’s at risk here? Who seems to have all the power and the advantages? Who’s the underdog? Who should we be routing for? Who’s got more power the hunter or the rabbit? The hunter. That’s right isn’t it? The hunter has his weapons; he has his gun—and with his gun Elmer’s going to “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” Wait, did I just switch from Esau to Elmer and from Jacob to Bugs Bunny. I sure did and I’ll tell you what’s up doc.

See for way too long we’ve missed something in the telling and retelling of the story of Jacob. We’ve called him a cheat, a scoundrel, an usurper (and other words used in tweets) and even a trickster without really knowing what a trickster is. In storytelling—oral or written a trickster is a character who, because of whatever power dynamics, the trickster is the character who has to get by using their wits. Just like what Bugs a bunny has to do when faced with Elmer or Yosemite Sam or even the Donald (the Duck—not the president) . But the trickster is way older than 20th century cartoons. Tricksters come from many cultures and have many names, names like Anansi. Not too many of us may be familiar with Anansi. Anansi and variations of his name, is African and came to the Caribbean with the Africans stolen, kidnapped, and sold as slaves. Anansi in stories, often but not always, looks like a spider, and Anansi or Mr. Nancy uses his wits and wiles to trick the bigger stronger animals—so that Anansi can live.

The trickster tales of Anansi and others were told by Africans and their descendants however, not just as a way to spend some non-existent sleepy Saturday morning. These stories inspired the slaves to resist and survive, inspired the slaves to with a smile on their face take from their masters what their white oppressors wouldn’t give. Bugs Anansi and Bunny are tricksters, and as we see, so is Jacob. Of course, with a little help from his mother, a woman in the ancient world—who by the way— didn’t culturally have power of inheritance either to get it or give it. Isaac doesn’t call her to his bedside to pass on to her the inheritance. So, overhearing her husband Isaac’s plan, Rebekah makes her own. Calls her son Jacob over and tells him what to do, dresses him up (not in drag like Bugs Bunny so often does) but in his brother’s clothes, covers his smooth skin with animal hide, cooks up the dad’s favorite dish, and sends Jacob in to trick the dotard father.

Of course when Esau finds out what his “little” brother has done he declares he will take his spear and magic helmet kill the wabbit—kill Jacob. And that is why Jacob is sleeping under the stars with a rock for a pillow, dreaming of God. Dreaming of a God who has no problem, doesn’t even mention Jacob’s deception—what he’s already done, and spoiler alert, what he will continue to do to his uncle.

The church has interpreted God’s silence as basically giving Jacob a pass, as grace, as forgiveness. That’s great. We all, even and especiallyJacob can use all the love, the forgiveness, and grace we can get. And Jacob is going to take every bit of everything he can get, from a woman he loves, to her sister he “not so much” feeling the love and affection. He’ll take his uncle’s sheep and goats. He’ll even take his brother Esau’s forgiveness, because Jacob knows what it is to be at risk, to be discounted and maybe even demeaned, defined as lesser and worthless, and Jacob doesn’t let that define him. Our God is not the God of power, of the suburbs, the star spangled banner, of uniforms and rules of law and order, guns and gold. That’s the story of our God that gets us up even on a Sunday morning. Because our God declares, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham (the wandering refugee—the immigrant), the God of Isaac (the children threatened in our homes and our streets) and I will be the God of Bugs, Anansi, and all those who oppose and resist I am the God of Jacob the trickster. I am your God. That’s our story. Amen .

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Labor of Love, or How many song titles in 1 Sermon

Sept. 4, 2017
On this Labor Day weekend, with school having just or just beginning, I invite you to listen and hear these wise words from a teacher, “ 2Vanity of vanities,! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? and …. 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” This is from the 1st chapter of the book Eccleasiastes, in our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.
Toil, work, labor is vanity. It says it right there in our scriptures. So some of our modern day teachers, who may not only be enjoying these last few unofficial days of summer, the end of summer “Vacation” (Go Gos), and who also as of late have been the brunt of so much political disrespect. These and others laborers may be just “working for the weekend” (Loverboy), and if they could who would love to say, “Take this job and shove it”. But not of course till after this holiday weekend. 
Labor Day is not simply the sad farewell to summer; like the writer of Ecclesiastes does not just celebrate work and toil. This holiday is actually another benefit of a strong labor movement, so that we don’t all have to work “Seven Days of the week” , some can work “9 to 5” —the 40 hour work week, and the weekend, child labor laws, family sustaining wages, health care, retirement benefits, etc. and so forth. Organized Labor created this holiday to honor the men and women “Working on the Highway” (Bruce Springsteen) who’s hard work builds and makes the things we use, who grow, serve, and process the food we eat, the “Doctor, Doctor” (Iron Maiden) who care for our sick and elderly, and so much more—the “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon).
So for many of us tomorrow will not be ”Just another Manic Monday” (Bangles). However, work is, as the Teacher/the writer of the book of Eccleasiastes, not a picnic. Some men and women feel like they are “Just another brick in the wall”, a “slave to the wage”. We are a “slave to the grind” (Skid Row) trying to make “money, money, money” to buy stuff to just live, to buy stuff to make us “Happy” (Farrell) in this rat race called the American Dream. You know, as William Sloane Coffin, and comedians Jackie Gleason and Lilly Tomlin have said, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”  
Lots of money is made by book writers, seminar speakers and others offering cures for this condition, fixes for this vanity. To words like self-care, balance, priorities, retirement, today I will add: the cross.
Oh great, you might be thinking, Pastor has finally gone “Crazy”—equating work with crucifixion. Do not worry, I am not saying that enduring work is bearing our cross. Because I think that is wrong understanding of taking up the cross. Work—toil, just like disease, just like tragedies like hurricanes, monsoons, droughts, and all sorts of evils, abuse, cancer—things that are thrust upon us, things that happen is not bearing the cross. Jesus calls his followers, you and me to take up the cross; it is a taking on (not merely accepting a bad situation). The cross is a choice, choice of God to endure state sponsored act of terrorism called crucifixion because Jesus chose to live and labor with the lost, to live and labor with the least, a life and labor of love.
Not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good. That is taking up the cross that Jesus talks about. That is what we heard Paul saying in his letter to the church. This is what we as individuals and also we as a church do. Taking up the cross is: 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14Bless those who persecute you; 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. That is taking up the cross. And it can be done in and through our everyday lives, in our work.
Al Letson was doing his job. He is host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal. One day just a few weeks ago, he was covering what was going to be a white supremacist march in San Francisco. Mr. Letson saw one right-wing man trip and fall to the ground, and then some left-wing antifa protesters started beating him. This journalist saw a crowd coming so he Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him. This white supremacists was being shielded and protected by Al Leston, by the body of not just a journalist, but a black man.
When interviewed, Mr. Letson as asked whether any of this was going through is mind?
In Letson’s own words: LETSON: Yeah, none of it went into my mind at all. What came to me was that he was a human being. And I didn’t want to see anybody die. … And, you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity. What matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that, like, my humanity is not dependent upon that.
Letson went on to say:  

You know, I mean, this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd. And many years ago, I was listening to Terry Gross and Father Greg Boyle was on there.

And he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, I want to live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. And it’s how I want to govern myself in the world.
We may work to earn money, but we can’t work and toil to earn love. That’s what the words of Ecclesiastes tells us. Our work does not define us. But we can define our work. We define it with the cross of Jesus, the love of Jesus. As Al Letson says, “live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. We labor at our jobs, with our families, in our retirement, as a church—when we speak, when we act, it is the labor of love—not for rewards, not for RESPECT, not even for members. Ours are labors of love because we are already incredibly and unconditionally loved by God. Everyday we get to choose to to carry the cross of love in this world—to live as the truth is true and go where love has not been found. There is nothing vain in that. It’s just “This is how we do” (Katy Perry). Amen.