Monday, July 24, 2017

Sermon: Hate - An Unlikely Teacher

Hate: An Unlikely Teacher
Genesis 27: 41-45; Matthew 5:43-48
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
July 23, 2017

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’

But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, ‘Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him for a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?’
- Genesis 27: 41-45

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5: 43-48

The truth was sinking in. Isaac trembled violently as he told his oldest son Esau the news. The instructions Isaac gave to Esau to hunt game and prepare the ritual blessing meal were intercepted by Jacob. Therefore, Jacob disguised himself as Esau, presented Isaac with the ritual meal, and received his father’s blessing (Genesis 27: 5-33).

When Esau heard his father’s words he cried out, “Bless me also father!” Isaac reluctantly replied, “Your brother came deceitfully and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightfully named Jacob? For he has supplanted me (grabbed the heels of opportunity) these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing. Have you not reserved a blessing for me?...And Esau lifted up his voice and wept” (Genesis 27:34-36, 38).

When Esau left his father’s bedside, all he saw was red. Esau’s anger towards Jacob burned like a forest fire out of control. The flames of his anger now raged into hate. And the only way he sought to console himself was through vengeance. Esau planned to kill his brother Jacob.

Esau’s hatred towards Jacob reminds me of another brother’s hatred in the book of Genesis – Cain (Genesis 4: 1-10). Cain was the older brother and a tiller of the ground. Abel was the younger brother and a shepherd of sheep. The brothers each brought an offering to God. And for reasons we do not know, God favored Abel’s offering.

As a result, Cain was filled with anger. And God asked Cain, “Why are you so angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6). But then God spoke into Cain’s anger, “If you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you but you must master it (Genesis 4:7).

God knows that hate is an unlikely teacher. While anger is a natural human emotion, it has a way of lurking in the shadows of our hearts. Anger that grows into cherished animosity will turn into a tempting beast we call hate.

It seduces us to think we are not our brother’s keeper. It erodes our relationships and becomes a cancer that spreads. Hate is destructive to the wider world and yet corrupts the heart that holds it. God’s words to Cain reveal a powerful truth: as children of God we have a spiritual, moral, and ethical responsibility to disarm hate.

God does not speak directly into Esau’s hate. But God does work through Rebekah. She felt the division between Esau and Jacob heating up like a ring of fire. It is Rebekah’s empathetic love that sets a new path forward for both brothers. She could not bear to lose her two sons to hate, for if Jacob were killed then Esau would be executed for murder.

As Rebekah sends Jacob away and waits for Esau’s fury to turn, she has a great hope for her children to be set free from this bondage to decay. And freedom comes through God’s hope of peacing together all that is broken and divided within our families, humanity and creation (Romans 8: 21-23).

Rebekah had a hope for this peace which she could not see. She would wait for it with patience; twenty years spanned between the day Jacob left home and the day Jacob would seek Esau’s forgiveness (Genesis 31:38). Rebekah shows us that the first step in disarming hate is love.

Gal Gadot plays the character of Diana Prince (Wonder Woman Trailer)...the Amazon Warrior Princess who left her homeland of Themyscira, a utopian island. She set her mind to end the second world war that divided the brothers and sisters of humanity. She saw first hand the ways that hate put one against another and nation against nation. As Wonder Woman, she entered the battlefield where there was no perceived hope, only darkness and depravity loomed.

Wonder Woman faced opposition and heard over and over that humanity did not deserve her, much less deserve being saved. Her response was nothing less than prophetic wisdom: “It's not about "deserve". It's about what you believe. And I believe in Love.”

From that point on Wonder Woman came to know hate as an unlikely teacher saying, “I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring [complete] peace to mankind; but then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learnt that inside every one of them there will always be both [darkness and light]. The choice each must make for themselves — something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know... that only Love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give — for the world I know can be. This is my mission now - Forever.”

Faith convicts us to behold the power of love. It means we are to love our enemies because it is the Jesus way. Jesus chose to love those who had wronged him; to love those who had betrayed him; to love those who even lived in opposition to him; to love those who disagreed with him. Jesus even loved those who nailed him to the cross. And Jesus calls us to live into his way.

While Jesus Christ is our Rabbi and Teacher, hate can be a teacher too. And in today's world it scares me as a pastor and a mother. Hate can lure us to aim our actions, words, posts, and tweets through the cross hairs of uncontrolled anger to injure others. This is what we already see in the newspaper, on our social media feeds, and in our personal experiences.

Or hate can do something else – it can reflect the image of the person we do not want to be. Remember God called hate for what it is – a sin that is lurking at the door and we must master it. The anger we see in the world and even in ourselves can teach us how to be more compassionate. Love that is rooted in compassion works to stop hurt instead of perpetuating it – one act of faith at a time.

Our sweet Wilma (90 year old elder) rode with a neighbor and the neighbor’s adult daughter to the grocery store one day. As they were driving, the neighbor’s daughter got angry with her mother in car. The argument between the two quickly escalated and the daughter’s anger raged. Soon her words were sharp as daggers as she cussed at her mother. At first Wilma just sat in the back seat and closed her eyes. When the car stopped and the women got out of the car, sweet Wilma looked at the daughter and said, “Your mother has cared for you and she loves you and it hurts me so much to hear you speak to your mother and my friend that way.” Wilma went on to say, “I love you and care about you too but please speak words of respect and kindness to your mother.” Wilma’s compassion spoke into that space of hurt and hate and kept it from perpetuating that day.

Rev. Farouk Hammo is a native of Baghdad, Iraq and is a Presbyterian minister there. Our presbytery is in direct partnership with Farouk’s congregation as well as two other Presbyterian churches in Iraq (Iraq Partnership Network). I had the privilege to meet Farouk last week to learn about his ministry. Farouk lives in a dangerous and war-torn area. And yet when a car bomb explodes on the streets, Farouk and a group from the church have committed to go to the bombing sites and pray for the victims and the enemies. The enemy is not Islam; it is ISIS militants. As a result, the number of car bombings in their area have decreased. Farouk’s ministry of compassion is proclaiming the power of love into spaces of hate.

Love can be our mission in the ordinary spaces of life; at school and at work. Rachel Stafford teaches children how to redirect hurt and hate by the power of love: “We can support someone’s dream no matter how far-fetched it is. We can choose to accept someone instead of judging their appearance or difference. We can consider who we are excluding. We can choose not to dismiss someone’s feelings just because we deal with them differently. We can pledge to not call people bad names just because they have a different opinion.”

We are at another social impasse where it is critical to disarm the dangerous language of hate. We live in a society where the language of hate is becoming more and more normalized.

As people of faith, it is time to unite our voices with intention to speak the power of love into spaces of hate. The light must shine in the darkness. Let us pray for the Spirit to strengthen our conviction to follow the Jesus way so that you and I may be the change we want to see in the world.

The kingdom of God IS breaking in one act of faith at a time. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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