• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Reach Wide in Peace

Planted Deep, Growing Strong, Reaching Wide

A three-week stewardship sermon series on the slogan of this congregation.

Week 3 of 3, preached October 24, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

It’s the last week of our stewardship sermon series, “Planted Deep, Growing Strong, Reaching Wide.” That is a slogan of this church, and reminds us what we confess as the mission, the purpose of this church.


We believe we were planted deep, right here, by God, to joyfully praise and worship this ever-creating God who planted us. We commit to growing strong in faith, meaning studying and learning and discussing with one another what it looks like to trust and follow Jesus of Nazareth. And by Holy Spirit’s help, we will reach wide in partnership with anyone working for peace.


Two weeks ago, for planted deep, Rev. Caitlan invited us to keep God and God’s purposes at our center, to come together for worship and praise when we are feeling it, and when we aren’t, when we are struggling. That might even be the best time to come together for worship and praise of God.


Last week for growing stronger, I reminded us Jesus was a teacher, and was always helping us grow our faith in the Kingdom of God that was here at creation, that is revealed in Jesus himself, and that is coming to us all.


Today, we turn toward the third line, reaching wide in peace. To help us, we are using the story of divided brothers, Esau and Jacob. Let's remember the relationship between Jacob and Esau. They were born twins, and Esau was born first, but Jacob grabbed onto Esau’s heel as they were born. The scriptures say the Lord told their mother, ““Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided.”


When they are a little older, Jacob the younger tricks Esau out of his birthright. One day, Esau was hungry and wanted some of the soup Jacob was making. They were just horsing around, but Jacob got Esau to swear away his birthright for a bowl of the stew.


Later, their father Isaac is old, blind, and dying. He sends Esau, his firstborn, out to hunt and prepare a last meal for Isaac, which Isaac will enjoy and then give his final blessing to Esau. Jacob, with the help of mom Rebekah, makes Isaac’s favorite meal, puts some hair on Jacob’s arms so he will feel more like Esau, puts Esau’s clothes on Jacob so he will smell like Esau. Then Jacob goes to dad and tricks Isaac into thinking he is Esau, and into giving him the blessing of the firstborn before the father dies.


The scriptures say, “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which their father had blessed Jacob, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are almost over; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Mom helps Jacob run away.


Now let’s jump to the end of their story. After decades without peace between them, Jacob is being forced to leave the land where he hid, and travel though the land where his brother Esau lives.


Prayer


Scripture Genesis 32:3-33:4

3 Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an immigrant, and stayed (away) until now; 5 and I have (lots of) oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent (these messengers) to tell my lord (about them), in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”


6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We went to your brother Esau, but he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”


7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and (divided) the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, at least the other company that is left might escape.”


9 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,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to (me) your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau. I am afraid of him; he might come and kill us all, (even) the mothers and the children. 12 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.’”


13 So Jacob spent that night there, and from what he had with him, he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these you are herding?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover Jacob is behind us.’” 19 Jacob likewise instructed the second and the third and all the droves who followed, “You (too) shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For Jacob thought, “I may appease Esau with the presents that go ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the presents passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the (rear) camp.


22 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. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything else that he had.


24 Jacob was left alone; and a being wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the being saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, the being struck Jacob on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then the being said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So the being said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the being said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have wrestled with divine and human beings and have survived.” 29 Then Jacob asked, “Please, tell me your name.” But the being said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there, Jacob was blessed. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, [meaning the face of God], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life was preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he departed Peniel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because God struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.


33 Now, Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So Jacob divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maidservants. 2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel’s children with Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on just behind them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.


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


Sermon Reaching Wide in Peace

The first time Jacob reached, it was from the womb. Jacob would not allow his twin brother to have full credit as being the first born. He held onto his brothers heel as Esau was being born to give himself some access to the cultural privilege of being born first.


The next time Jacob reached, he had a bowl of stew for his hungry brother in one hand, and his other hand behind his back with his fingers crossed, hoping his brother would fall for the trick of trading away his birthright.


The third time Jacob reached, he was pretending to be Esau to steal their dying father’s blessing for himself.


We teach our children that to get what they want, sometimes, all they have to do is work for it, reach for it. Well, Jacob learned that lesson, and reached, and got what he thought he wanted. He didn’t earn it justly. He didn’t work for it fairly. He earned it alright, but with dishonesty and deceipt, and it cost him peace.


When Jacob had to run in fear of being killed by his own brother, he landed at Laban’s house, and wanted Rebekah. He reached, worked for seven years in hopes of marrying Rebekah. Laban tricked him and forced him to work seven to marry Leah, then seven more to marry Rebekah. The trickster got tricked. Some might call that justice. But tricksters hate getting tricked.


Jacob worked for Laban and made a deal with him. Jacob made sure his business and wealth grew incredibly by tricking his own father in law, by manipulating the way he bred the herds so that his wealth grew as Laban’s didn’t. Laban and Laban’s family were ready to kill Jacob. He had to leave again.


So far, Jacob has gotten whatever he reached for. When he wanted power, he reached for it. When he wanted people, he reached. When he wanted money, wealth, he reached. He stretched the boundaries and bent the norms and betrayed anyone around him who stood in his way. The wake of all that reaching was broken relationships everywhere. Jacob had learned the power of reaching, but had not learned what in life is worth reaching for.


What is life for, anyway. Privilege to do whatever we want? Power to make things be or happen as we think they should? Possessions, money, and all the comforts and luxuries and choices that come with that much wealth? Sometimes people reach for these things, and they do get them. But oh how desperate we are to get them. What wake of disruption and chaos will we justify to have them or to keep them once we have them?


This word peace comes from the Hebrew Shalom. We often translate it as peace, but it means so much more. Shalom means wholeness, oneness, completeness, fullness.


We can have Shalom, peace, inside us, where we are who God created us to be, nothing more and nothing less. Our thoughts and feelings, words and actions all match with one another and our will is in sync with God’s will. We don’t ever have to fake or pretend. We never lie. Our words, actions, and motivations are pure and consistent and transparent.


Shalom doesn’t just mean personal though. Shalom also always means communal. A person in a community cannot have shalom if the others in their community do not have shalom. God’s peace, shalom, means all creation is pure and consistent and at peace. All creation is authentic and honest and true. All creation is connected and whole, not divided. All the diversities of creations exist in harmony not competition with one another, and no one wants for more, and no one has too little. In Shalom, all creation is cooperating and sharing and caring for one another. If one person pulls away from that community, it breaks the person’s shalom and the community’s shalom.


Jacob went through life, grew up, got a job, worked hard, some might say his ability to bend the rules for himself just makes him smart. He made plenty of money. He had multiple wives, a loyal family, and lots of stuff around him. But he didn’t have peace.


People who sow peace have more options. They can go back or forward or sideways. Any direction is fine. Those who do not make peace feel like they can’t go back. They use phrases like leave the “past behind them”, or “move on”, or “don’t look back.” To face the brokenness behind them hurts. To confront and confess their role in the chaos they’ve created, its too hard sometimes. It requires a vulnerability and an honest and a sacrifice that are core to the human condition as God created us, but have been amputated, silenced in order to be successful, to get what I want.


There’s no way to recapture peace, wholeness, oneness, shalom without going back. I doubt Jacob would have gone back, if he didn’t have to. Jacob is a bit older now, but the pain of his actions to his brother still obviously affect him. He’s afraid. He sacrificed peace to get what he wanted. But now, he is forced to face that brokenness and to reach for peace. What is he willing to do or say, to sacrifice, to give away so he can finally have what he didn’t think he needed, peace?


That is the scariest moment, the moment we face the consequences of the broken peaces we’ve left behind us. Jacob sees the price of peace, and gives away more and more until all he has left is the only things that really matter, the relationships. Even then, he doubts. What if this doesn’t work? What if this isn’t enough?


Oh, Jacob. In God’s creation, where shalom is promised, it was never about having enough, getting enough. You always had enough. And what you did have from God, you were willing to trade it away for what… the privilege of a birthright, the power of a blessing, the possessions of running a big business?


Jacob is wrestling between the way he had always gotten ahead or succeeded, which did not give him what he hoped it would, and the way toward peace which is now asking him to let go of so many of the things he’s collected.


Do you remember the man who comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to have abundant, full, complete, whole, life?” And Jesus ached for that man, and told him, “ah, for you, go sell or give away what you have and come follow me.” That man went home sad, or rattled, or disturbed.


Jacob is in that same spot. Is all this really worth it? Will it work? Those who enter that wrestle do not come out the same. We can’t look at our old lives, our old ways of doing family or marriage or career the same. We are renamed, because we have wrestled with God.


Then, he finally crossed over the waters, limping a bit, renamed, with all the echoes of fear, bracing for the worst, only to find his brother running to him to hug him, not to kill him. The path to peace is easier than we think. It why we were created in God’s image, to take the broken things and remember them, just like Jesus taught us.


May all glory and honor, now and forever, be to God and God alone. Amen.


Prayer


Charge


Benediction

And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

Let’s pray…

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