Monday, July 17, 2017

Sermon: Struggling Together

Struggling Together
Genesis 25: 19-34; Romans 8: 1-11
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
July 16, 2017

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.

Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.

The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.

And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,and two peoples born of you shall be divided; one shall be stronger than the other,the elder shall serve the younger.’

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
- Genesis 25: 19-34

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
- Romans 8: 1-11

You have heard it said before that the Bible is the greatest story ever told. It is not just a story of our spiritual ancestors. It is also our story – our shared human story. Today we hear an important piece of our shared story in Genesis. It shapes the way we see the world around us and even ourselves.

Isaac and Rebekah are chosen to plant seeds of the second generation of our big family tree of faith. Not only did Rebekah conceive to bear a son, she became pregnant with fraternal twins.

But then the story intensified. Rebekah’s joy was disrupted. The author of Genesis says “the children struggled together within her” (Genesis 25:22). That word “struggled” in the Hebrew means to crush and to strike one another. Even in the womb these brothers were at odds with each other physically and emotionally.

Jacob and Esau were fighting and shoving and competing to be born first. In Old Testament culture, the first-born son got a double portion of the inheritance and a sense of authority in the household. But all of the fighting took a toll on their mother.

Rebekah was pained and discouraged. She was a strong woman who could endure a lot, but she could never have imagined this journey being so incredibly hard. I am struck with Rebekah’s boldness to speak to God with a raw honesty. She prayed, “If it is going to be this way, why do I live? (Genesis 25:22). It was a lament and a cry for God’s help.

God spoke into Rebekah’s space of disruption and tension. God said her sons, who were descendants of Abraham, represented two nations who shall be divided. The story of Jacob and Esau sets the biblical stage for the historic rivalry between the nations of Israel (Jacob) and Edom (Esau). And on this biblical stage an arc is drawn that bends towards God’s power to reconcile the greatest divide.

But the story of Jacob and Esau also set the stage for humanity; “this family conflict will have consequences on the future of God’s people.”[1] The consequences reside in the ways God’s people respond to human conflict that disrupts life.

The world teaches us that in times of conflict someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. The world teaches us that in times of conflict it is every man for himself so let go of relationships and walk away when there is no resolve. The world teaches us that in times of conflict there can be no peace in the midst of chaos.

And so often we respond to conflict in worldly ways to seek peace. It comes so naturally because it is our universal struggle with the human condition of sin.

This past week at Montreat the theme was “A Missing Peace.” We learned that the way the world defines peace is not biblical peace. Through the lens of faith peace is not the absence of conflict but rather a state of being to help us to live into the tension and the disruptions of life. Peace is rooted in our conviction that God’s love never fails and conquers all. The peace that God provides is present in the midst of our struggles, pains, and conflicts.

At Montreat we heard stories of God working through youth and adults to bear peace with acts of patience, kindness, and love. Through worship, small groups, and back home conversations we learned about God’s way to respond to conflict. We discovered faith creates a space in the midst of conflicts to find understanding and common ground.

Instead of seeing our sisters and brothers as the opposition in conflict, faith moves us to value our sisters and brothers as children of God. Then we are humbled to enter a different kind of struggle: to work and serve together with intentionality to find the missing peace in our broken pieces. It is when we struggle together in God’s holy work that the Spirit empowers us to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

I am grateful for the prophetic voices at Montreat week who were honest with our youth in claiming that being a Christian is hard work. This calling upon our lives to follow Jesus Christ is not always a journey of joy. It disrupts our lives and calls us to do hard things and to be challenged to carry God’s love and bear God’s peace into the world.

God chooses to work through us to piece the world back together through one act of faith at a time. The good news is that it is through the gaps and the cracks of our broken pieces that the light of Christ breaks in.

Some days we will feel discouraged and like Rebekah say, “Why does life have to be this way with all the pushing and shoving and competing against one another? How are we to truly live if the human story continues to be this way?”

It is worth being connected to our shared story of human struggle because God will never let go; God will never disconnect from us. The apostle Paul says, “God sent his own Son in the likeness of human flesh to deal with our human condition of sin” (Romans 8: 1-11). On the cross Jesus entered our human struggle to conquer sin and death and ultimately bring the hope of peace. Through the empty tomb Jesus brings the hope of new life and reconciliation.

God invites us to join Jesus Christ to be peacemakers. Being a peacemaker is to extend God’s peace which is missing in our homes, our community, and in the wider world. Our keynote speaker, Rev. Paul Roberts, encouraged us to follow the Jesus way in conflict. Roberts challenged us to risk placing ourselves in the disruptions and struggles together in hopes to bear God’s peace into the broken pieces of life.

If we respond to our struggles and disruptions with the world’s influence then conflict builds dividing walls. Any kind of division or disruption can make us feel estranged from God and one another. But Rev. Paul Roberts says if we “use our disruptions courageously” then they become opportunities to be changed by God’s amazing grace.

Roberts went on to say: “Leaving home becomes a new start; anxiety opens doors to empathy; illness paves a way towards courage; divorce weaves together blended families; grief walks us towards healing; death opens the womb to new life; natural disasters reveal a rainbow; discrimination is chipped away by acceptance; war lays down hostilities to lift up the hopes of rebuilding.” This is what God’s peace looks like as our Creator works through us to restore order out of chaos and peace us back together.

The joy we felt at Montreat was an incredible mountaintop experience in our faith formation. Today we are truly beginning to walk back down the mountain. And I have to be hnest: it is a matter of time for this amazing experience to feel disrupted as we re-enter daily life. The story of our broken pieces and the gaps where God’s peace is missing will begin to feel heavy again.

But remember this - the human story of struggling against one another is being rewritten. God promises to reconcile all of creation and humanity back to God. The finger of God is writing the Lord’s hope of peace upon our hearts and minds.

May we be led by the Spirit to find the gaps and broken pieces that are calling out for the hope of peace and new life. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you and me.

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

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume I: Genesis (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 178.

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