Monday, August 28, 2017

Sermon: The Turning Point

"The Turning Point"
Genesis 45: 1-15; Romans 12: 9-18
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 27, 2017

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
- Genesis 45: 1-15

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
- Romans 12: 9-18

Joseph’s reality of feeling beloved was shattered when his brothers threw him into the pit. His identity quickly went from being the apple of his father’s eye to being nothing but a slave in Egypt. Twenty years had passed since that life altering day until our text today.

And yet the Lord did not leave Joseph in that dark place. The author of Genesis says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:2, 21).

Over those twenty years, God worked behind the scenes of Joseph’s life to restore unto him a new sense of identity and purpose. Pharaoh took notice that God was with Joseph (Genesis 39:3). As Joseph grew into his gifts of dream interpretation and discernment, Pharaoh promoted Joseph as governor of Egypt (Genesis 41: 39-45).

Joseph began seeking the welfare of the city where God had placed him; he stored up grain. When the great famine hit every country, the world came to him to buy grain (Genesis 41:46-49, 57). As Joseph worked faithfully to fulfill his new purpose, God was faithful to begin working out his purposes for reconciliation. God worked through the hardship of the great famine to bring the brothers face to face to begin restoring what was broken.

Jacob sent his sons to Egypt two times to collect grain (Genesis 42: 1-26; 43:1 – 44:2). Both times the brothers stood in Joseph’s presence not knowing it was him, but Joseph knew (Genesis 42:8). Upon each visit Joseph tested to see if his brothers had changed. The brothers felt the weight of their guilt increasing with each test (Genesis 42:21-22; 44: 32-34). Each time Joseph turned away in tears and grieved his rejection (Genesis 42:24; 43:30).

God brought these brothers to a place where they could not deny their pain and brokenness any longer. God brought Joseph and his brothers to a turning point.

The Lord’s steadfast love redefined this family with the gifts of mercy and grace. As Joseph saw God’s hand redefining his own life, Joseph began to experience the inward power of God reconciling his broken pieces. His jagged edges of rejection and betrayal were traced and softened by the line of God’s amazing grace.

Old Testament theologian Walter Bruegemann says, “Joseph was no longer totally fixed on the past. [As he revealed himself to his brothers] he was not preoccupied with the hurt of his father or even with revenge towards is brothers. [God opened his heart] to be attentive to what was yet to come.” [1]

Joseph wept a third time, but those tears fell differently. Joseph was overwhelmed by the fact that God was redeeming his experience of being betrayed for God’s greater purposes. Those divine purposes were to bring hope and new life not just to Joseph’s family but also to the kingdom of God.

The Spirit moved Joseph to extend God’s mercy to his brothers. And as a result, they also began to experience the inward power of God reconciling their guilt. Brueggemann continues saying, “The guilt of the brothers had enormous power. [Until that moment] they were harnessed by the past.” [2]

God’s ministry of reconciliation opens the eyes of our hearts to see a way forward; a way past rejection and betrayal, past shame and guilt. The love of Christ urges us on so that our turning points may guide us to allow peace to cultivate within us.

Reconciliation always begins with our insides so that we may cultivate peace to reconcile with others. That turning point is trusting that God will not leave us in the pit; there is nothing in our lives that is beyond God’s ability to redeem. Whatever is broken has a potential to reveal God’s glory.

It hurts the most when those closest to us hurt us. Kristina Kuzmic felt utterly broken after her divorce. She was left with a broken heart, she was broken financially, and she now had a broken identity. She felt like she was lost with no sense of purpose. She was a mother of two young children with no support. The fear of homelessness loomed as a real possibility. Her tears stung with depression. Time seemed to stand still and she could not see past her own misery.

One day the Spirit whispered in her ear that she would find her own wellbeing if she sought the wellbeing of those around her. So Kristina called homeless shelters and soup kitchens to volunteer. Each call ended with “No thank you,” to this mom with no money for childcare.

That last round of rejection left Kristina in tears. And then the Spirit whispered into her ear again: What is your gift? What are you still confident in?

The next day Kristina went to the dollar store with her children and her food stamps. She bought whatever was on sale to make the biggest meal she could. She emailed her friends saying, “Send anyone who is down and out and needs a free meal to my apartment on Wednesday night for supper.”

As she cooked that meal and prepared the table, her brokenness gripped her with negativity: “Kristina, your life is a mess. Why would your friends send anyone to your apartment? They would be embarrassed. You have nothing to offer.”

But six o’clock rolled around. One knock on the door led to another. Strangers started coming into Kristina’s apartment and let her feed them. And by the end of the night, she had fed a ton of strangers on her tiny little budget, in her tiny little apartment, with her tiny little kids.

After the last person left, Kristina shut the door and just sobbed. For the first time she was not crying out of misery or desperation. She was crying because she had just experienced her first glimmer of hope. God led Kristina to a turning point; she no longer felt defeated. Her problems were not solved but for the first time she saw past her brokenness.

The steadfast love of God holds our broken pieces and proclaims the betrayals, hardships, guilt, and shame in our lives are not what ultimately define us. We cannot and should not deny brokenness is a part of our human experience. But they also do not have the last word. God’s amazing grace is rewriting our stories by the power of God’s redemption to bring healing, wholeness, and peace.

God urges us on in the love of Jesus Christ to see the turning points in our lives as a path that will lead to reconciliation within us and among us. God can and will bring goodness in ways we can never imagine for ourselves.

The Apostle Paul gives us wisdom to lean into God’s turning points.

“Let love be genuine;” not our definition of love but let God’s love be genuine through you, without a hardened heart, hypocrisy, or hidden agendas (Romans 12:9). We love because God first loved us through Christ’s unconditional love on the cross. If we allow God’s love to flow through us to one another then God lives in us and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4: 9-12). Forgiveness is a big part of God’s will for reconciliation because it makes love genuine. Jesus Christ says that we are to practice forgiveness over the course of our lifetimes (Matthew 18:21-22). Love that forgives frees us from being imprisoned by the past so that we may be attentive to the hope God holds for the future.

God’s vision of reconciliation moves us to detest what is unethical and hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:9). We are all held accountable for our actions that hurt others. However, God’s Spirit of wisdom is on the move to convict us to live differently, whether we have been hurt by another’s sin or we are burdened by the guilt of our sin. We live differently by confessing our experience and holding fast to the truth that God’s goodness is at work in our lives even when we do not readily see it.

God encourages us to move through our turning points with Paul’s words, “Do not lag in zeal” – do not have a reluctant attitude in life’s hard places. As we hold fast to God’s deep embrace, God gives opportunities to look beyond ourselves and see life through a different lens – the lens of faith. The Spirit urges us to look beyond ourselves with a passion to serve the Lord.

God worked in this way with Joseph and Kristina. Even through their tears and depression, God reminded them that they still had value and purpose. God redefined their identities to allow their experiences to serve a greater purpose. As they followed God into the turning points, they began to see glimmers of hope.

The Lord says, “Surely I know the plans I have for you; plans for your wellbeing and not for a harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Even when reconciliation is not possible with another individual, God desires to claim our hearts and minds with Christ’s healing and wholeness so that we may have the opportunity to move forward, have an abundant life, and serve the Lord.

May the Spirit open the eyes of our hearts to see God’s turning points. God sees all the places where his peace is missing. And yet God desires to work through us to bring about God’s will for peace and reconciliation.

The grace of God is on the move to break our chains and free us for the sake of praising the goodness of God.

We praise God with our reconciliation song: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blinded by my brokenness but now I see!

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

Prophetic art "Wave of Healing," by Patricia Kimsey Bollinger

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Interpretation: Genesis” (Atlanta: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), p. 341.

[2] Brueggemann, p. 337.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sermon: Chosen

Genesis 37: 1-28
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 20, 2017

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, ‘Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?’ So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’

So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’

But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
- Genesis 37: 1-28

Our text today moves us into the fourth generation of the chosen family of Abraham. Each generation has certainly had their share of conflicts. Most of these conflicts have centered upon who seems to be chosen to receive the family blessing.

Joseph was the next to youngest of twelve brothers; he was the son of Jacob (Israel) and Rachel. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. Jacob did not hide his favor. When Jacob had prepared to meet his brother Esau, he divided his wives and children. He placed Rachel and Joseph farthest away from the scene in case violence erupted (Genesis 33: 1-3).

And now Jacob expressed his love for Joseph in a demonstrative way. He clothed Joseph in that coat of many colors. And when the brothers saw this they hated Joseph (Genesis 37:4).

These older brothers hated Joseph even more when they heard this young teenager’s dreams of being chosen as a central figure of leadership. Joseph was not mature enough to interpret these dreams. Joseph’s dreams do come true as God acts behind the scenes of this young man whom God has chosen save God’s chosen people of Israel. We will talk more about that next week.

The text today zones into the older brothers’ jealousy and hatred towards Joseph. They saw him as less than: a tattle-tale, an attention seeker, and daddy’s golden boy. The brothers hated Joseph and could not even speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4).

Jacob sensed the turmoil. He sent Joseph to join his brothers in the pasture to interpret if a sense of shalom or peace was among the brothers. I wonder if Jacob hoped that some distance would help the brothers cool off just like it did with his own brother Esau.

Joseph walked some 50 miles. When he met his brothers, Joseph discovered peace was indeed missing in the most horrible way.

Joseph’s brothers allowed their hatred and jealousy to rise to the most grievous plan of killing their brother. They stripped Joseph of his chosen status by stripping him of his robe. They switched gears throwing Joseph into a pit and sold him into slavery. And then they deceived their father Jacob allowing him to believe that Joseph was dead.

Joseph’s story is not solely a single family narrative in Scripture. It continues to reveal God’s desire for reconciliation. It also ushers in the communal story of God’s chosen people of Israel and how the family of God interprets and responds to chosen identity.[1]

The past week our country has been grieving for Charlottesville, Virginia. While the removal of historical statues is a debatable issue, our nation is grieving something greater.

We are grieving because we have seen our white brothers filled with such hate that they could not speak peaceably to fellow humanity.

We have seen God’s peace missing in the most horrible way.

We grieve the loss of life and the many who were injured because of violence and hate.

We also grieve the fact that hate groups still exist today in 2017.

These hate groups have chosen themselves to be superior over all other races. Along the streets of Emancipation Park white men no longer hide their faces to raise lit torches, wave Nazi flags, and shout dehumanizing phrases grounded in the ideologies of White Supremacy and Neo-Nazism.

The moral fabric of our society says there is no place for these racist ideologies. While Scripture has been used throughout human history to justify racism, I am grateful that more churches across denominational lines are lifting the voice of the Church Universal to denounce racism and speak into this place where God’s peace is missing.

Rev. James Herbert Nelson, II, The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PS(USA) made the following statement this past week:

White supremacy and racism stand in stark, irreconcilable contradiction to God’s intention for humanity. They reject part of the human family and are utterly contrary to God’s Word made incarnate in Jesus. They are idolatries that elevate human-created hierarchies over God’s freely given grace and love. They are lies about the human family, for they seek to say that some people are less than other people. They are lies about God because they falsely claim that God favors some people over the entirety of creation.

I thank God that hate did not have the last word last Saturday in Charlottesville. Hate never has the last word!

A large group of clergy, walked along the streets in silence. They were diverse in age (some over the age of 70) and from various denominations and faith traditions. One clergywoman stated, “With each step forward, I just kept holding onto the call to love.” Another clergy member shared, “It felt like Selma after Bloody Sunday.”

They walked arm in arm to proclaim to the world what chosen identity means according to God’s Word. Those clergy stood side by side in silence as a profound image that the whole of Scripture says we are made in the image of God. God has chosen to live in relationship with us out of a great love. This divine love that is to shape our relationships with one another.

Four days later thousands of faculty and students of The University of Virginia gathered around the heart of the university to reclaim their community. As the sun went down, a candlelight vigil permeated light in the darkness. The image was powerful as they walked the same paths where torches had been lit and Nazi flags waved days earlier. The faculty and students sang “Love Wins,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Amazing Grace.” The candles illumined those faces with hope of unity, peace, and reconciliation.

And yet one young adult’s comment from this experience gives me pause. He said, “If something else happens next week, are you going to be here? Are you going to engage yourself?”

Are you going to engage yourself? It is not an individual question but a communal question of how do we respond in the days to come?

As people of faith, our baptism informs us how to engage one another and how to engage the brokenness of the world.

We respond to the free gift of God’s amazing grace by receiving the sacramental marks of Baptism. The water and Holy Spirit claim and clothe us in God’s love. We are freed from sin and death. We are no longer divided by social constructs because we are united as one in Jesus Christ as the Church Universal. And we are joined to Christ’s ministry of peace, love, and justice.

Listen to the questions we are called to respond to:

Do you renounce all evil, and powers in the world which defy God’s righteousness and love?

Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior?

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love, to your life’s end?

These questions are not simply questions to receive the sacrament. These questions are to shape our hearts daily in the ways we are to individually and communally respond to our chosen identity as children of God. These questions are at the heart of God’s vision for reconciliation. These questions direct us to be the reconciling body of Christ wherever God’s peace is missing.

So in these difficult days whether the hate of racism is palpable or subtle, I urge each of us to engage our faith to proclaim the truth of what it means to be chosen. It is not easy and it is not comfortable. But God’s grace gives us the courage to say “Yes” to what the gospel and the ministry of Jesus Christ requires us of.

We renounce hate and racism with our words but also with our deeds. There are peaceful protests and candlelight vigils, but we must educate ourselves on how to dismantle systemic racism for the sake of right relationships. This is an important step for us to work towards reconciliation and healing.

We confess the ways that hate and racism divide us and what is implied if we remain silent.

We follow Christ alone and his examples of peace, love, and justice by uniting with our community and local leaders in fellowship and working together on social issues that loose the bonds of injustice.

“The only thing that counts is faith working through love. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Galatians 5:6b, 9).

May it be so for you and for me.

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter's Bible Commentary: "Volume 1 - Genesis" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 222

[2] Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), pp. 403-408.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sermon: The Work of Reconcilition Part 2

The Work of Reconciliation: Part 2
Genesis 33: 1-17
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 13, 2017

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down.

Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favour with my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favour with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favour.

Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.

Then Esau said, ‘Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.’ But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’

So Esau said, ‘Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘Why should my lord be so kind to me?’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.
- Genesis 33: 1-17

The story of Jacob and Esau is a story of reconciliation
. Last week we learned reconciliation means that parties divided by conflict come together through a meaningful exchange to end the hostility between them.

The first step for us to begin reconciling with another is to first be reconciled to God. This internal work is the hard work of the soul. God’s grace grapples with our past so that we unbecome everything we thought we were to find our true selves. This is the first meaningful exchange that mends our separation from God. The work of God’s grace frees us to begin the journey of facing the conflict at hand with another.

Knowing this from his experience, Jacob was taking the next steps in the light of God’s grace. After Jacob had seen the face of God the Spirit was preparing him to see Esau’s face.

I would love nothing more than for Genesis to give us a glimpse into the way God was preparing Esau for this moment. Scripture is silent on that backstory and yet we trust God has also been untangling Esau’s internal emotions to guide his next steps. The author of Genesis cuts to the chase to focus on the brothers’ encounter.

The gap of twenty years began to close as Esau ran to meet Jacob. The fists that had long been enclosed with the rage were opened to embrace Jacob. The brother who had been betrayed was ready to let go of his anger. Strife was redefined by mercy. Esau fell on Jacob’s neck and a kiss symbolized a willingness to restore their relationship. The brothers wept. And in that moment a gift of grace flowed free to forgive the past and yield a future with hope.

John Paul Lederach is a respected peacebuilder. He says, “Reconciliation is like a journey: where there might have been flight away from each other, it then becomes the daring trip back. Walking with humility and vulnerability, it is a journey toward and through the conflict, bringing God’s love into the world through who we are and how we walk.”

God led the brothers to make the daring trip back to participate in the hope of reconciliation. As they stood on this holy ground they both brought God’s love into the world as a gift to one another.

Jacob prefaced the encounter by sending the gift of 500 livestock to Esau as a peace offering to find favor (Genesis 32:13-18; 33:10). Jacob approached Esau in humility with his posture and words (Genesis 33:3,8). Jacob allowed himself to be vulnerable telling Esau that seeing him was like seeing the face of God. Jacob confessed God had been at work in his life and in this situation (Genesis 33: 11).

Likewise, Esau approached Jacob with a willingness to let bygones be bygones. Esau allowed himself to be emotionally vulnerable with Jacob. And Esau accepted Jacob’s gift without judgment or blame.

It is in this liminal space – the point between the broken past and the hopeful future – that the brothers embrace their common humanity. It is an emotional picture that captures some genuine marks of reconciliation. Without these marks, even partial reconciliation is not possible.

Scripture reveals the brothers showed a genuine respect for one another. They were willing to be fully present with each other in that space. They both accepted what had been done for the good and the bad of the situation. They were both given the ability to set aside their differences to move forward towards unity.

Scripture also reveals that the brothers did not fully reconcile. Esau invited Jacob to journey onward together so that he may go alongside Jacob (Genesis 33:12). Walking alongside one another is a significant illustration of two parties coming together to gain mutual understanding and end the hostility that was between them. But Jacob declined Esau’s invitation for reasons we do not know.

The work of reconciliation is not easy. It challenges how we respond to conflict in our lives.

When conflict is met with an authoritative voice and a high hand it breeds hostility and polarizes relationships.

When conflict is avoided from the fear of confrontation it allows the problem to lie stagnate in the water, resolving nothing.

When we respond to conflict by keeping the status quo to maintain relationships and avoid stirring things up then we minimize the problem and foster resentment.

The gospel reframes conflict as an opportunity to pursue God’s desire and will for reconciliation. God’s Word opens our eyes to see conflict as a space where peace is missing. The Word calls us to see this as an opportunity to join God in this holy work of restoring peace. We do this by building trust, fostering mutual understanding, and holding each other accountable in humility.

A ministry colleague shared at Montreat Youth Conference this summer, “The gift of bearing peace into broken relationships helps us to live into the tension” even when full reconciliation is not attainable.

That nugget of wisdom stayed in my mind as the youth and I potted clay together. The piece that I made broke in half after it had fully dried. I was tempted to throw it away but a friend told me of the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi, repairing broken objects with a glue-like substance and gold leaf. This Japanese art says there is value and honor in restoring what is broken.

A woman in the pottery shop helped me to ‘golden repair’ my art piece. It was truly holy work, reminding me how easily our hearts our broken by the conflicts we endure in life and the way the conflict of human sin estranges us from God and one another. The struggle is real in our shared human experience. Our lives can be left with some jagged pieces where peace is missing.

“The beauty of Kintsukuroi, is that it is firmly grounded in the real. It begins from how life really is, [messy and broken], and teaches us to welcome time, change, [and even conflict] as agents that can enhance, evolve, and ultimately [transform us]. The scars and rough edges of conflict are not badges of shame or resentment but hard-won badges of honor; a continually unfolding road map of our own unique journey towards [reconciliation, healing, and peace].”

That gold line which restores two broken pieces is nothing less than the gift of God’s mercy and grace. The mark of reconciliation does not make excuses for the damage or injuries incurred. But that mark does illumine the hope for the jagged edges of life to be smoothed and covered by forgiveness.

The broken pieces of life can be reunited and strengthened in the wisdom of learning from the past and our mistakes. They may not align perfectly or be just like they were before. But that gold line is a path that marks peace and reconciliation as a new direction to live into.

Reconciliation is a peace that God initiates and calls us to participate in. It is offering grace filled moments just as Christ has already covered us in the grace of forgiveness and second chances. Even when full reconciliation is not possible, God’s grace is never wasted.

May God open our eyes to see the hope of reconciliation in our brokenness within our homes, community, and wider world. Wherever peace is missing, you and I are being called to trace the line of God’s grace to mend the bonds of humanity.

Love always leave a mark to give us a future with hope.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sermon: The Work of Reconciliation Part 1

The Work of Reconciliation: Part I
Genesis 32: 1-12; 22-31
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 6, 2017

Twenty years have passed since Jacob left his home in Canaan and his brother Esau’s fury. Jacob spent those twenty years living with his uncle Laban in Haran. Jacob now had a large family with twelve children (11 sons and 1 daughter). The sons and grandsons would later become the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jacob settled a conflict with Laban so that he could make his way back to Canaan (Genesis 31: 43-55). The Lord had promised Jacob that he would indeed return to the land of Canaan and his father Isaac’s house in peace (Genesis 28: 15, 20-21).

This is where we enter today's story from Genesis 32: 1-12 and 22-31:

Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called that place Mahanaim.

Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.” ’

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.’

And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”, I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.” ’

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’

But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

The time had come for Jacob to begin the work of reconciliation with his brother Esau. Jacob, who had been such a trickster and deceiver within his family, was taking the next steps quite seriously. His choice words of calling Esau his master and referring to himself as Esau’s servant imply Jacob was willing to reverse the blessing he stole from Esau.

Nevertheless, the struggle was real for Jacob. The anticipation of meeting Esau along with a company of four hundred men weighed heavily upon him. I can imagine Jacob feared the worst-case scenario resulting even as he hoped for the best.

What do we do when a situation presses us? We pray. And Jacob prayed to God.

Jacob affirmed that God was the One to initiate this plan towards reconciliation. As he prayed, Jacob’s posture began to take the shape of humility. Jacob confessed the conflict with Esau had not only caused family division. It also left Jacob’s heart divided to find a solution that protected those his loved ones and livelihood. Jacob prayed for God to deliver him from this conflict and his greatest fears in confronting it.

Before God could work through the conflict between the brothers, God chose another starting point; God began with some internal work with Jacob. The internal work of reconciliation is always the heart of the matter and it is usually the hardest part.

As night fell and Jacob was alone by the stream God wrestled with Jacob. It was through the long hours of the night that Jacob’s vulnerability and limits were exposed. The grappling match was the physical, emotional, and spiritual work between God and Jacob. You see, God was stripping away all that obstructed Jacob from becoming who God desired him to be; attitudes, decisions, and hurts that impaired relationships.

Rob Bell connects Jacob’s struggle with our own struggle to find reconciliation, saying:

“You and I have pasts, families we have come from, things we have done, mistakes we have made. And where we have been and what we have done has shaped us into who we are today.

We have to embrace our story – our history. We don’t have to be proud of it. But we must claim it because it is ours. Only when we can claim our own history for what it is – the good, the bad, and everything in between – can we begin to” know who we [are not and who we] are in God’s eyes… “This is the hard work of the soul to discover our true selves.”

The thought of coming face to face with our old wounds and conflicts can bring a lot of stress and anxiety. The quick fix is to cut off that part of our lives or even sever ties with that person we are in conflict with.

It is a tempting solution. But the spiritual reality is that cutting off our conflicts also cuts off the opportunity for God to be at work in our broken pieces.

The heart of the gospel is reconciliation. That word ‘reconciliation’ means that parties divided by conflict come together through a meaningful exchange to end the hostility between them. Henri Nouwen states a hidden truth about our divisions: “all divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God.”

When we think of reconciliation we want to immediately jump to repairing the separation between the parties divided: the husband and wife who suffer a breach of trust, the friendship that was split by differences of opinion, groups within the community who are divided by walls of hostility.

For years I have thought about reconciliation beginning with naming the conflict, allowing each party to share their perspective and then make the move to bring the two back together in mutual understanding. And this is certainly part of the hard work of reconciliation. But Jacob’s story in Genesis is teaching me something new.

Reconciliation is best viewed in the shape of the cross. The horizontal part of the cross tells the story of the way God’s grace impacts and mends our relationships with others. This will be the focus of next week’s sermon as Jacob comes face to face with Esau.

But in order for us to be free to name the conflict and begin restoring our broken relationships with others, God must first have a meaningful exchange within us. This is what God was doing in Jacob’s life.

This part of reconciliation is the vertical part of the cross. It tells the story of the way God’s grace begins the internal work to repair our separation from God. Just as God wrestled with Jacob, God’s grace grapples with our past so that we unbecome everything we thought we were to find our true selves.

The power of God’s grace is revealed in Jesus Christ, “for while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

It is through this costly grace that Jesus Christ fully struggled with the weight of our sin and its nature to estrange us from God and one another. It is the cross that reconciles us to God. And this costly grace continues to strip away what is dead in our hearts so that we might be changed.

It is by the power of God’s grace that we come to better understand ourselves, to claim the past which has shaped us, and to grow in the wisdom that God is not done with us.

God helps us to unbecome the label of brokenness that has defined our identity; we hear that little voice inside our hearts naming us: deceiver, prideful, resentful, workaholic, guilty, shamed, weak, addict, not enough, unloved …and our list of labels goes on.

Grace empowers us to unbecome what we have been. We are so much more than that because Jesus Christ reclaims our pasts. And it is the Spirit who continues to tell us over and over again that our new identity is nothing less than a beloved and forgiven child of God.

When we feel secure in God’s love, it flows out to truly love our sisters and brothers. Our highest calling is to love God and neighbor as we have already been loved.

The first step of being reconciled with others is to be reconciled with God. This internal work is the hard work of the soul. It takes time, a posture of humility, a commitment to hold on with intentionality, and the openness to be changed. Just know that even as we are holding on to God, the love of God will never ever let us go.

Henri Nouwen states: “Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established. A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements. There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.”

Our lives are in need of finding the gift of God’s grace to bring the peace which is missing in our hearts, homes, and wider world.

May Jacob’s story give us pause to consider God’s wisdom for reconciliation.

What does God need for you to unbecome to discover who you are in God’s eyes?
What is God trying to strip away in your life in order for you to take the next step towards reconciliation?

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