July 24, 2011: Laban’s Newlywed Game


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Remember last week – Jacob’s on the lam – running for his life from his brother who wants to kill him. He’s deceived his brother and his father. Now he’s running – to find a wife. Jacob retires after a long day, goes to sleep, and meets the Lord in a dream who tells him he’s given the Promise. The next morning he’s so excited he makes an outdoor chapel. Finally, He finally arrives in Haran, hometown for his mom, Rebekah – and his destination. What follows is a Yogi-ism: “It’s déjà vu all over again,” from whom we also have: “When you come to a fork in the road…take it.” That’s Yogi Berra, a poet, wise sage, and former major league baseball player.

“Déjà vu all over again?” – You bet – another episode of wife hunting among the cousins. Déjà vu – Jacob arrives at a well, where Abraham’s servant finds Rebekah, Jacob’s mom. Today Jacob exchanges pleasantries with local shepherds. A beautiful woman walks up, Uncle Laban’s daughter. She tends dad’s sheep, just as mother Rebekah had – déjà vu all over again. They need water. A large stone covers the well. Jacob moves the stone and waters the flock. Jacob kisses Rachel, cries and carries on. Jacob then tells her who he is. Rachel goes to tell her father. Laban runs out to Jacob and they kiss, weep, and exchange family news. Déjà vu all over again – Laban’s done this before.

Jacob stays and helps Laban work the farm. Laban decides to put him on the payroll. “Name your salary.” Jacob says, “I’ll work for Rachel.” Then we learn Laban has an elder daughter, Leah. She has pretty eyes – sort of like saying, “But she sews well,” or “Her friends like her.” On the other hand, Rachel is graceful and beautiful all over – she’s a looker. Jacob loves Rachel. “Better I give her to you than any other man; stay with me.” And a deal is struck. But we’ll learn Laban has a different “her” in mind. Did I mention that Rachel’s name means “ewe,”- not like, “You’ve got something on your shoe – “yoouh” but a female sheep; and Leah’s name means “cow?” I am not kidding.

Seven years pass. On the evening of an elaborate wedding feast, Laban brings “her” to Jacob. They go into a tent, and play the newlywed game – wink, wink. The next morning Jacob awakens to find Leah’s in his bed. She’s now his wife. Maybe it was so dark he couldn’t see that night, or maybe he’d had too many martinis, or maybe a veil hid her face. Stephen Still’s song, “Love the one you’re with,” is the last thing on his mind. He loves Rachel. Deception– déjà vu all over again – Jacob gets deceived this time. Isn’t this plot better than anything on “Desperate Housewives?”

“What have you done to me?” “Oh, Did I forget to tell you? My bad – in our land the elder daughter must be married before the younger can be married. For another seven years, you can have Rachel, too.” So Laban unloads both his daughters. Talk about a Biblical understanding of family values – through this unusual arrangement, the promise given Abraham lives on.

At the lectionary study this past week, someone opined that it’s comforting to know our families didn’t invent dysfunction. It’s in our genes from long ago. We can’t say God condones or overlooks bad behaviors. Nor will God let any character flaws, family or individual, get in the way of fulfilling His promise. Jacob, Esau – all of us will be at Jesus’ family reunion, and he’ll be glad to see us all. See – we’ve been adopted in.

From the smallest, least likely seed God forms a gaggle of folks whose DNA is passed on to a Son in whom light comes to the nations, and all are drawn into the divine’s reign of love. From tiny, shaky beginnings a kingdom grows, rises like yeast. When we see its value, we’ll sell all to obtain it. It’s shocking, really that God uses scoundrels like the slippery Jacob, the scheming Laban, and a marriage Focus on the Family wish weren’t there. And you think that’s it? More is to come. From our unlikely faith ancestors God works His promise into their lives – and look, here we are, so into ours, too.

The promise: God remains faithful, trustworthy, and nothing will get in the way of His love for each of us – not even our arrogance, stubbornness, or stupidity. We can exempt ourselves, but God doesn’t. Not all who grow up in churches hear about God’s love and grace. They are told what to believe, learned God is angry and demanding God, and if you want to be saved, you’d better not offend the Lord. You’re bad, so clean it up. These churches invite the messy people God chooses out the door – and according to their standards they would probably show us the door. It’s like an old friend use to say to such folks: “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll ruin it.” The grace and promise: God never will stop loving and reaching for us all.

Honestly, as I work with these stories again, my confidence grows that if God brings everlasting life and unconditional love through characters like these, we can trust none of us are ever beyond the reach of God’s love. God came for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Jesus’ ancestors – to gather you, me, and everyone into a new kingdom. We, too, are children of God’s promise, beloved of God. Never forget that. And don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise.


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