Saturday, April 21, 2012

Seeing God's Face - Genesis 33:1-11 - April 22, 2012

Last week we talked about living lives of faith that make mountains quake and nations tremble. This week we turn to one of my favorite stories with an equally challenge message for us.  Earlier in our service you heard our narrative read in four languages.  That moment was a powerful for me because it reminded us that the Bible speaks across language and culture and this passage calls us to live in a way where we can see the face of God in the faces of one another. 

You remember that the story is of the grand reunion between Jacob and Esau.  In the verses that run up to this morning’s narrative we hear that Jacob is nervous about this encounter.  Jacob cannot forget that he manipulated his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup.  Jacob cannot forget that he, with his mother’s help, staged a show for his father Isaac, making Isaac believe that Jacob was Esau so that he could steal his father’s blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau.  Jacob could not forget that he had spent his life as his mother’s favorite but had left her in Esau’s care.  Can you imagine how cold the dinners must have been that Esau shared with his mother, knowing she loved him less, knowing she had helped Jacob steal all that was precious to him?  Jacob came to this reunion with us brother knowing what he deserved.  Jacob came to this reunion with his brother expecteing vengeance and rage, pain and maybe even death.  Jacob had been a horrible brother and a scoundrel and came ready to pay the price.                 

When Jacob sees Esau and his men on the horizon he tried to send gifts ahead of him, hoping – maybe even praying – that this rich gesture might placate his brother’s rage. Esau draws closer and closer and you and almost fell Jacob quaking in his boot.  I have to tell you that I am ready for Esau to act.  It is time for justice.  It is time that big brutish brother to rain down pain and vengeance on his manipulative younger brother.  When you first come to the story you are waiting for Esau to pulverize this little punk – to give him all that he has coming to him. But, this is not where the story goes.  Just in the minute we think we will see justice we encounter forgiveness; just in the moment we think we will see hatred we encounter love; just when we think Esau will destroy his brother we encounter redemption and restoration. We hear Jacob’s voice. He has feared seeing Esau’s face but now proclaims; For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. (Vs. 10) I just keep thinking about those words that we were created in God’s image. Jacob testifies that this is true. In Esau’s response he sees the face of God.

I want that.  I want for people to be able to see God’s face in mine.  I want my life and way of life to be a living witness of the heart of God.  I want the same for you. I believe that this story demonstrates four characteristic we must embrace if we long to a reflection the face of God. 

The first characteristic I see is that we must learn to Forgive Outrageously.  It is easy to be held captive by a living past – things that have happened to us that frustrate us and cause us to carry the boundless weight of bitterness.  Esau had every reason to be consumed by what Jacob had done to him in his youth.  The entire course of his life had been altered by Jacob’s deceptions and manipulations.  If anyone had a right to get even it was Esau. But he forgave outrageously!  This is at the heart of God.  We hear Jesus teach the idea of forgiving outrageously in a conversation with Peter.  (Matthew 18: 21)  We hear; Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. We hear Jesus teach on another occasion; (Luke 7:40) “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred (days’ wages), and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. In Colossians, Chapter 3, verse 13 we listen as Paul teaches; Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  There is no better or stronger picture of outrageous forgiveness then the picture of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. 

Many in our culture will condemn the Church for being “judgmental.” The Church had done its share to earn that title, but the reality is that the world around us makes little room for forgiveness or mercy.  Ours is a law and order, justice and punishment driven culture. Hear me clearly, there is a place for law and order, justice and punishment, but we must see that God calls us to be people that reflect His mercy and His grace. We do not have to carry the pain that others inflict upon us.  We can give it away to God.  When we choose to forgive others outrageously, we show them a different way – God’s way. When we forgive outrageously we are able to let go of what has been holding us back and dragging us down and release it into God’s hands.  When we forgive outrageously we reflect the face of God.

Esau had every right to be wrapped up in hate. I cannot find a single time that when the Bible reports Jacob doing anything for Esau, but instead offers a litany of horrible things Jacob did to him. It is easy to begin to build a catalog of events when we believe someone has treated us unjustly.  Many times the list emerges from authentic moments of pain and angst. Other things noted on our internal list reflect moments of miscommunication or misdirected emotion. Sometimes we hold on to our list so firmly that we allow little room for love to break into our hearts.  There is an incredible moment in our story that makes me stop where I am to watch and listen.  Esau races past the gifts that Jacob had presented before him and just when hatred should unleash its full force, we read in verse 4; But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Did you hear that – just when we expect to see swords clashing, we see instead Esau choosing to Love with Abandon. It is unexpected and unmerited love. Esau did not wait for Jacob to act or even apologize. He did not let pride get in the way.  He took the initiative. This is exactly what we see in how God pursues us with His love.  Paul teaches in Romans 5, 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God did not wait for us – but even when we were still on the wrong side of faith died for us – and rose again – that we might be called “the children of God.” Too many around us live lives bereft the feeling that anyone really loves them.  They long to experience love with abandon.  When we love abundantly, we reflect the face of God.

Our story rushes forward and we hear Esau say ‘Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.’  This looks like such a small statement, but it displays an incredible act to Radically Restore Jacob to his place as his brother. Esau’s culture would have allowed – in fact would have anticipated – Esau going ahead of his younger brother to display his power and his position.  The offer to ride at Jacob’s side is scandalous in its graciousness. If we seek to have a heart that Radically Restores people to their right place in our lives, and a heart that leads people to be restored to a right relationship with God then we must be clear that it cannot be done from over and above. It cannot be done from in front of them to secure our own spot. Instead it calls us to their side, breaking open the shackles that separate us.  This is a critical characteristic for us to embrace both on a personal level and a congregational one.  Too many people – too many of us – live with broken relationships.  This is an invitation for us to reach out boldly with a heart shaped by God rather than our past failures.  Hear me clearly, I am not advocating an effort to restore an abusive, or manipulative, or destructive relationship. There are some in our lives we must learn to forgive at a distance.  But, it is an invitation to make sure that our hearts and our intentions are defined by a restorative spirit.  We must reach out where we can with integrity and hope.  We see God’s restorative heart again in Romans 5 when Paul teaches. (10) For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! God is in the reconciliation business, and if we want to be a reflection of God’s face it should be our business as well.     

It is also important that we model a way of reconciliation for our community.  There is a covert racism that is alive and well in our community.  It sees people by the color of their skin and by the language they speak.  Our choice to worship together and to be family together across the boundaries is a living witness to our community that God’s way is a different way.  It pronounces we believe that all of us are created in God’s image and were redeemed to be family with and for one another. 

As the story ends Esau does one more thing that moves and inspires me.  He offers to go with Jacob, or to at least send some of those with him along with Jacob for protection. Esau chooses to Serve Beyond All Expectations.  This fourth and final characteristic is echoes in the words of Jesus; (Matthew 5:39ff) But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. We also see it on display as God loves us and cares for us beyond anything we could ask or imagine.  When we choose to serve others beyond the bounds that anyone would expect from us they are left to wonder why. Our answer is clear.  God have loved us and served us beyond our wildest hope or our greatest dream.  If we serve other beyond all expectation then we reflect the face of God.

When we forgive outrageously, love with abandon, restore radically, and serve others beyond all expectation we have the opportunity to reflect the face of God to all we encounter. We long to see God at work.  Our world longs to see God at work. What we learn is that if we are faithful to the way of God we see God at work across language and culture in the face of one other.  If we are faithful to the way of God we become witnesses of God’s heart and a reflection of God’s face to our community and the world. 

1 comment:

Celia Wolff said...

I just ran across your page looking for art that shows Jacob and Esau's reunion, and I thought I'd let you know I really appreciate the thoughtful care you've given to the text in this sermon and the way you preached its word for the church today. Lovely.