Steven S is late. I’m running around getting things ready for worship when Jeremy M arrives. Yesterday afternoon when the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra with Toshi Reagon and the inimitable Nona Hendryx rocked the Lincoln Center Outdoors stage, there was Jeremy at true keyboards. And today, he’s back here with us.
We have at least 3 visitors with us. A young woman came early looking for the service and has come back. And two others turn out to be hiking friends of John R. One a Hindu from India and the other a Jewish woman, they’ve made an agreement to visit each other’s services so they’ve been to a Ganesh Temple in Queens, our neighbor B’Nai Jeshurun and today West-Park. I love John R for doing this, brings me joy.
I have Jeremy working on some Freedom Songs. I want to bring some of that spirit in. Like Oh Freedom…and we’ll finish with If I had a hammer.
And then our first scripture lesson is GENESIS 29:15-28, a continuation of our study of the story of Jacob. He has tricked his brother for the birthright. He has tricked his father for his blessing and today, well, the trickster gets tricked as Jacob labors 7 years for Rachel only in the light of day to wake up with Leah. It will take him another 7 years to gain Rachel completely. That is some love, And reminds us again of God’s blessing not always coming as we expect.
One line from PSALM 105:1-11, 45B underlines the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. It raises all kinds of questions about choseness, covenant and what does any of that have top do with a modern nation state except to support some who believe that God is on their side.
8He is mindful of his covenant for ever,
of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11saying, To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance.
We will spend most of our time with ROMANS 8:26-39. It is words I use every week in our time of prayer:
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
There are [payers that go beyond words. To feel them is to feel the Spirit. And so this connects to our conversation from Friday night. It is where song and art and dance come from, they are their own expression of the sacred, open their own doors to that place beyond. They don’t need to be exegeted or explained, they just are.
28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Do we really believe this? We have to see clearly what it says and doesn’t say. It does NOT say that all things are good. That there is a reason for everything. . Some things are just plain bad and have no possible good, EG, dead children on a Gaza beach, a father choked to death on Staten Island. But in all things, we can work for good if we are of the right mind and spirit. I remember how we came together in the wake of 9-11,how we took care of each other without having to depend on the police or army. How our church pulled together. That’s what it is about.
It’s clear that I often have issues with Paul. His circular extended arguments, his spirit/body dualism that is more Greek philosophy than Judaic, his sometimes self-deprecation that comes off as being full of himself. (Like Jacob, blessings come from imperfect vessels.) But sometimes what he says cuts to the every heart of things and is perfectly clear:
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That final line giving sustenance and support in the most difficult of times. That I can hold on to.
Finally, in MATTHEW 13:31-33, 44-52, another parable about sowing. This is the mustard seed story. When we get to the part about the pearl for which a merchant would sell all other pearls, I point to the first of our upper stained glass window, a gift from the Seekers for Pearls. I would love to know who they were, a Sunday school class? What was their history? What did that do? Our only other side window is from the Lightbearers Society. Six were planned. Only two were ever installed.
I just don't get the one about the treasure. Why doesn’t the one who found it just walk off with it? Why does he have to hide it and buy the field?
44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
What it’s about is faith. It’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Either you are or you are not. If you are, in due time something will be born. Even faith the size of a mustard seed is faith. Even that much, in due time, will come to fruition. Begin with that.