|Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah. 1855.|
One of the dangers/benefits of interim ministry is that you can easily get away with pulling old sermons out of the barrel. Serving three churches where there were two before me, I confess to having succumbed to that habit for a few months. It got so I was afraid I would forget how to write a sermon. Then the alternate continuous readings option came up in the lectionary. And I knew I had to take this on. I love these stories. They are so real.
Of course when you preach these texts you have to tell the whole story. The pericopes are not enough. You cannot assume that everyone knows these stories anymore. They do not. Like last week the pericope ends with Jacob praising God and erecting a shrine after God appears to him in a dream promising to be with him and bring him back to his homeland. It should have ended with Jacob saying "Yea well IF you do what you promise, then you can be my God"
Today's lesson should have ended with "So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah" because that is the sad reality of this story. Jacob has left one dysfunctional family for another.
As much as I love telling these stories, when writing this sermon, I was stuck for awhile. It's one thing to tell the story in an entertaining manner, but at some point you have to figure out what we are supposed to get out of this sad family mess? Where is the good news?
I perused around the net to see what other preachers had done with this story. Mostly it's just a bunch of moralizing. Don't be a cheater like Jacob and you won't be cheated. Don't be jealous and bitter like Leah and Rachel. Don't be like them and you'll have a better family life than them.
Well sure yea, we know we shouldn't lie and cheat like Jacob. We shouldn't play favorites with our children like Rebekah and Isaac. And we shouldn't dress up our children like someone else to fool our husband or our new son-in-law. But as much as we try to do the right thing, we screw up. We make mistakes with our children. Sometimes mistakes that cannot be undone. We have to live with consequences of our mistakes. And even when we do the best we can, our families don't turn out the the way we thought they would.
Maybe the good news is that nobody's family is perfect. The big lie that too often gets told in the church is that if you love God and follow the rules, you will have a happy family. But the hidden truth in our congregations is that people are living all kinds of damaged dreams in their families. Some of it can't be fixed. The good news of these stories is that damaged, dysfunctional families can be blessed. The Good News is that God loves us even if we are not the pretty sister. Here's how I ended my sermon:
Life is messy. Families are messy. Love isn’t always pretty. But there is goodness in all of it. You don’t get everything you want, life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, but if you look and are open to receiving it, you will see graces and blessings that God has sent your way. Human love is not enough, but God’s love is more than enough for all.