Two, Trust and Time

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  A few thoughts on the Old Testament text this week; Genesis 45.  I suppose a name change was in order. After all, Joseph’s dad had a name change. Jacob had wrestled with God and prevailed. As a result, Jacob name (meaning “cheater”) had been changed to Israel (meaning “one that struggles with God and men). The name change did Jacob a great deal of good. It prepared him for his reunion with his brother, Esau. (Jacob had cheated Esau out of his inheritance!)

Joseph’s new name would not come from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but his name change would come from Pharaoh, the Egyptian god-king. Egypt existed only because of the Nile River. Without that water source, Egypt would be a mere desert atop the Northern African terrain. Egyptians lived according to the cycles of the river. It would swell early summer until October, then a decline until June. Food production, festivals and business cycles all revolved around the workings of the Nile.

Now when Joseph heard the Pharaoh recount his dream of seven fat cows consumed by seven lean cows and seven fat heads of wheat devoured by seven thin heads, it was obvious that the dream was about the Nile. The precious life-giving cycle was about to be interrupted.

When Pharaoh heard this, he began to prepare for the predicted seven years of famine. In doing so, he put Joseph in charge. Joseph needed one thing – to erase his Hebrew past. A name change was in order. Joseph was called Zaphenath-Paneah. Some scholars thinks he means “one who reveals secrets”.

No one wanted to erase his Hebrew past more than Joseph. It was full of painful memories mixed with bitter recollections of the lost connections to those he loved. Joseph was only a boy when his father sent him to check in on his older brothers. They sold him into slavery. Tired of hearing his dreams that predicted they would bow in front of him, tired of watching his father dote lavishly upon him, they were just plain tired of being second, third and fourth place. So they told his father he had met his maker when a wild animal made lunch of the boy.

Joseph landed in Egypt, far from home. He did not know if his father was still alive, he did not know if his brothers ever gave a second thought to what they did or was life better for them without him. No one wanted to forget more than Joseph.

Any readers of the Old Testament would have assumed he did forget when his first son was born shortly after his promotion. He names the boy Manasseh, meaning “It is because God made me forget all my troubles and all in my father’s household.” For short, one could call Manasseh “forget”. But when the second son is born, Joseph names him “It is because God made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Ah, see Joseph does still remember his suffering. He names his boys (shorthand names, of course) “forget” and “remember”.

We do remember don’t we? Powerful hurts are never far from the minds of those who were victims. You may be able to compartmentalize a separate saddle bag for these memories, but we still carry them. Joseph carried these memories. It was all he had.

The Nile River only feeds the upper portions of African continent. It is the rain of the Goshen Valley that feeds the contributory streams of Canaan. And Canaan is where Joseph’s family resides. How odd that a drought would strike Canaan and a famine strike Egypt at the same time?

Now Joseph’s brothers, sent by his father, come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them immediately but they only see Zaphenath-Paneah. As Joseph’s dream predicted, the older brothers bow before the him.  Joseph remembers his dream.

This is the part of the story where we are sorely disappointed. The happy reunion is postponed.  We want it right away, after all Joseph is the good guy right?  Our disillusionment stems from knowing the rest of the story. From the New Testament Jesus tells this story:

There once was a father that had two sons…..retell Luke 15:11-32

Joseph is not ready to take on the role of the forgiving father of Jesus’ story. If anything he manipulates his brothers into bringing his full brother, Benjamin to Egypt. Then Joseph manufactures situations for the brothers to negotiate. While his methods leave much to be desired, Joseph is looking for something as he observes his brothers reactions to the obstacles he places before them.

Joseph is looking for building blocks of reconciliation.

  1. Introduce the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation
    1. Forgiveness: embrace the pain, gain an understanding of what happened and let go of the grudge (the longing to do harm)
      1. This is a solo/inside job
      2. You can forgive someone without their participation, you can forgive a person who has passed, you can forgive yourself

        Reconciliation will never feel right if one or more parties push to forget what happened.

To forgive is to set the prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you. –Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget

  1. Reconciliation: mutual story exchange, express hurt, express remorse and begin the process of establishing trust
    1. It takes two who value the relationship
    2. The language is restorative verses retaliatory (slow process)

It takes one person to forgive; it takes two people to be reunited. –Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget

Joseph is looking for a changed brotherhood. And every time he finds it, he weeps.

Genesis 42:18-24 – The brothers do remember what they did and they do believe it was wrong.

Genesis 43:29-30 – Benjamin is well/his brothers kept their word

Even the Father of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable jumps to return the son to his original status in the relationship after he hears the son’s remorse and attempt at restitution.

Genesis 44:18-33– Judah’s speech showing concern about Jacob

While Joseph’s methods are questionable, he searches for what we all seek when wanting to rejoin a broken relationship – trust. The brothers demonstrate a changed heart and mind toward the past (how they treated Joseph) and toward the present (how they treated Benjamin and Jacob).  Gone are the bullies from Joseph’s youth.  Before him are men, seasoned and thoughtful. This change is fertile ground for rebuilding what was lost – trust.  Because of their willingness to change, Joseph now remembers the event every differently.  No longer did his brothers do him harm.  But God used their harm to save the family.  Joseph no longer struggles for forget, but reframes his memory.

Reconciliation takes two, it takes trust and it takes time.

But what about those who refuse to reconcile?  (see postscript)

postscript:  Reconciliation is a rare thing.  Even Joseph does not fully achieve it.  His brothers remind him of his promise to Jacob to be good to them after Jacob dies.  Still they do not trust him.  This should come to no surprise to the Old Testament reader.  Jacob who supposedly reconciles with his brother Esau, departs from the meeting lying about his departure direction.  Obviously, full trust is never granted.  But that is not to say that it does not happen.  Reconciliation takes two who value the relationship, working to recover what was lost.

And even God, who forgives, still allows the consequences of bad behavior to take place.  Without a willingness to rebuild trust, attempts at reconciliation are futile.


About that ladder

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The great thing about preaching to different audiences within the same congregation is that I can reuse material.  I recycled the historical information about Isaac’s family experience and applied it to Jacob’s dream for this Sunday’s lectionary text.  Then I applied a very good point that Parker J. Palmer makes about a Chuang Tzu/Taoism story called “The Woodcarver” to Jacob’s situation.  Simply put, Jacob has a rocky start and must have a boat load of mixed feelings.  God redirects him in a dream.  Can we rise our head out of a naval to see God’s movement?  And if we did and heard God calling, would we have a change of heart?  Despite all the crud, God uses Jacob.  I stand amazed that the same could be said for me.

Now on to Jacob’s dream ladder

My the stories Jacob must have heard……

Abraham, fathered at least 8 sons by three women. Of course, we know of Isaac and his mother Sarah and Ishmael and his mother Hagar. But scripture reveals that after Sarah’s death, Abraham marries Keturah and produces 6 sons. Of these sons, the book of Genesis only speaks of two, and at that the boys were barely mentioned.

Genesis 25:5 reveals a family secret of sorts. Abraham gave a few trinkets to the “sons of concubines”. The only significant, unifying factor in the birth of these sons is that Abraham sent them all away. He excluded Isaac from any extended family. Then, in a second strike at disfranchisement, Abraham leaves 100% of his great wealth to only Isaac. If Sarah and Hagar bickered when their boys were small, could you imagine this upset when the will was read?

Akedah – from Isaac’s point of view

And the dirtiest family secret casts such a shadow on the whole family, our Jewish brothers and sisters gave the happening a name – Akedah; the binding of Isaac. Ancient Rabbis believe that this event it so traumatic it forever changes family life for the trio and it’s ripple effects rattle through sequential generations. Akedah is the sacrifice of Isaac God calls Abraham to make. At the last minute, God’s angel stops the blade from piercing Isaac’s chest and a lamb is provided. Following the incident, the scriptures tell us in Genesis 22:19 that Abraham then resided in Beersheba. Chapter 23 opens with Sarah’s death in Hebron. The two locations are miles apart. The most faithful man of the Bible separated from his wife because of something God had called him to do. Even modern Rabbis believe the stress of Isaac’s near death experience at the hands of his own father was experienced by Sarah as betrayal. This great heartbreak causes her death for there are zero verses between Genesis 22:19 and Genesis 23:1.

What kind of God is this? So far this God has separated Abraham from his family of origin then given his an assignment so gruesome it separates him from his wife, who dies because of the heinous act (leaving Isaac motherless). Isaac’s happy home is destroyed and his trust in his own father has melted away. These are the stories Jacob heard. Just as confusing as the family God was on his father’s side, the maternal side offered no redemption.

Scriptural background

Now Jacob is pulled aside by his mother and schooled in the dysfunctional family system of deceit and betrayal. (Later we will see that it is a ‘family thing’ when we meet the scheming Uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother.) The paternal blessing, which was believed to denote power and prestige, that Isaac was reserving for his favored first born, Esau is stolen when Rebekah dresses her favored son, Jacob, as Esau. Jacob receives the blessing intended for this brother. Not only can be blessing not be reneged it cannot be reduplicated. Esau considers murdering his brother. Rebekah sends him to her brother Laban for his own safety.

Jacob Now in our text

Jacob, on the run, is about 50 miles away from home. Who knows what Jacob thought about during those 50 miles? Did he regret taking what was not his? Did he worry about his mother? If she was found out, what fate awaited her? Would he ever see his parents again? And what did he run away with anyway? The blessing forever joined him with this God who demands so much….and what evidence of the blessing had materialized so far? True to this form, this God had done nothing but stir up trouble.

Maybe he thought of walking away from this family God, which felt more like a family curse. Maybe he thought of returning, hoping his brother’s anger would subside. Even if this blessing from Isaac and promise from God was to work out – what a rotten way to start! Maybe Jacob wished for a do-over.

In our scripture text today, God speaks about the grand plan for the first time to someone other than Abraham:

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob awakes feeling shocked. And we, the common readers of his story, are shocked too. In the most unlikely place and through the most unlikely person, God informs Jacob that the promise shall be continued through him.

The sermon’s big idea

Whatever Jacob’s motives were before the dream, they are less than admirable. He reminds me of me. There was a short time in my career when I had lost my God-spark and I was a minister for the sole purpose of a paycheck. And I’m sure, even this morning; there are those of you who are hear under false pretenses. Maybe you came to please a parent, maybe you came to bargain with God, maybe you came because you thought the sermon may be good. False pretenses and undesirable motives are everywhere, within us and outside of us. But they are not the end all and be all.

Jacob’s dream gives us hope that our less than Christian motives can be a starting place. Parker J. Palmer writes in The Active Life: “But a launching pad is only temporary; once launched, the rocket is free of the pad’s constraints. We must launch our actions from motives and circumstances that are less than ideal.”

The direction of your path may come at the wrong time, for the wrong reason at the wrong place. That does not mean it is the wrong direction. God still gives us dreams at the most unlikely times and places.

For Jacob the dream allows him to put aside all the broken relationships and the thievery that broke them. Something new and amazing has come along – the direction is now clear.

The question for us today is this: Can lift our heads out of our guilt to hear God’s call and experience the dream that set us on a new direction?


Thoughts on Despising the Birthright and Living Among the Tents

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I’ll never forget my first Christmas being married. Being a pastor, you know you will not make much money so you learn to live in the meager ends. To do so, I shopped all year round for great deals on Christmas presents. By the time December rolled around, I had most of the gifts bought. When I married my husband, I gladly added my in-laws to the list. And, as to be expected, by the time the December page appeared on my wall calendar all the in-laws had gifts.

It was the first of December when I received the flurry of emails. My husband’s siblings had submitted Christmas lists for themselves and distributed to the family. These lists were not just a collection of thoughtful items. They included websites with order numbers and wish lists! I was taken back. My family did not do that. We would never dare mention anything we ever wanted. No, we gratefully received our gifts….secretly returned them or lived in solemn disappointment, hoping for better next year. The only words uttered were, “Thank you”.  I call it Southern Fried Gratitude!  And for almost 30 year, it worked for me.  I had never considered another way.

This “Christmas list” was a family tradition that I had married into and it caught me by surprise. In addition to this marital pop quiz, I was expected to submit my list as well. What a learning experience! I had never been invited to think about what I really wanted, gift-wise. It took me so long to prepare my list, my in-laws threatened to get me gift cards. Gone were the Christmas morning rehearsals of gratitude that would have rivaled a new born kitten’s wide eyes. By mail, my in-laws gave me physical gifts that I actually wanted- down to the correct color and size!

I don’t know who first coined the term, but it’s true: You don’t marry the man/woman, you marry the family.

That saying makes me think of our mother-to-be in our scripture passage this morning.  I wonder if Rebekah knew. She really wasn’t courted by Isaac himself yet how they found each other was truly amazing. Abraham sends out his servant to find a non-Canaanite woman for his son to marry. The servant, overwhelmed by the task, asks God to intervene with some very specific patterns. The servant shows up to the destination of Abraham’s orders and the list of specifics is checked off one by one in record breaking time. The Bible tells us that Rebecca is taken to Isaac and he not only marries her but he loves her.

I wonder how long it took Rebekah to put all the pieces together. She was a lucky girl because she married the right son. Isaac was the only son Abraham had anything to do with. Rebekah’s father-in-law, Abraham, fathered at least 8 sons by three women. Of course, we know of Isaac and his mother Sarah and Ishmael and his mother Hagar. But scripture reveals that after Sarah’s death, Abraham marries Keturah and produces 6 sons. Of these sons, the book of Genesis only speaks of two, and at that the two boys were barely mentioned.

Genesis 25:5 reveals a family secret of sorts. Abraham gave a few trinkets to the “sons of concubines”. The only significant, unifying factor in the birth of all sons besides Isaac is that Abraham sent them all away. He excluded Isaac from any extended family. Then, in a second strike at disfranchisement, Abraham leaves 100% of his great wealth to only Isaac. If Sarah and Hagar bickered when their boys were small, could you imagine this upset when the will was read?

Rebekah had married into quite the family! And the dirtiest family secret casts such a shadow on the whole family, our Jewish brothers and sisters gave the happening a name – Akedah, meaning the binding of Isaac. Ancient Rabbis believe  this event to be so traumatic it forever changes family life for the chosen trio and it’s ripple effects rattles through sequential generations. Akedah is the sacrifice of Isaac God calls Abraham to make. At the last minute, God’s angel stops the blade from piercing Isaac’s chest and a lamb is provided as a replacement for the boy. Following the incident, the scriptures tell us in Genesis 22:19 that Abraham then resided in Beersheba. Chapter 23 opens with Sarah’s death in Hebron. The two locations are miles apart. The most faithful man of the Bible separated from his wife because of something God had called him to do. Even modern Rabbis believe the stress of Isaac’s near death experience at the hands of his own father was experienced by Sarah as betrayal. And not only betrayal by her husband, but also by God.  This great heartbreak causes her death for there are zero verses between Genesis 22:19 and Genesis 23:1.

That is the family Rebekah joins. Well there was an upside – God’s promise to bring a nation through Abraham and now Isaac. Rebekah became an integral part. My, my, the pressure on her shoulders when she could not conceive.


25:19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 25:20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 25:22 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. 25:23 And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 25:24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25:25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 25:26 Afterward 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. 25:27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 25:28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 25:29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 25:30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 25:31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 25:32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 25:33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

I am so curious as to how Isaac prepared his favored son for the role of head of God’s family? According to Jewish tradition, storytelling had to be part of it. Esau, like his mother before him, put together the pieces about Grandpa Abraham and his other disowned sons. Esau heard Isaac’s version of being binded and almost sacrificed. Yes, there was a brilliant angel, but his father, Abraham, had betrayed him and spilt up the marriage and Isaac’s happy family home. My, my, how the pressure must have mounted upon Esau! Such a collection of step-uncles that probably despised him and now he was expected to serve this mysterious God who requires so much. No wonder he despised his birthright!

I do understand where he is coming from. Maybe that stress is why he stayed out hunting so much! There are days when I wish I could stay away from camp and enjoy the thrill of the hunt – out in the wild, where I am free. There are days when I wish I could turn a blind eye to my neighbor and a deaf ear to the poor. But I am called to emulate the best of those who have gone before me. I am fueled by the belief that although we live in a broken world and God must make use of heartache, God is good and longs for the best for humankind. I am and you are called to live among the tents, among the people who are broken and blessed and constantly struggle with hard questions.

Oh, you can despise your birthright and easily pass on your place at the communion table, your seat in the pew and your hand in helping others in the name of God. It’s as easy as eating stew. Living among the tents with the people is much more difficult. But in those moments of pain and comfort with God’s people is where God’s promise and marvelous works are experienced.


To Give a Witness

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There is a beloved tale told in East Africa to children and adults alike.  It begins with a contest in a mouse tribe to find the strongest boy.  The winner of the contest is bragging to his grandpa about his brute strength and claims that he is the strongest animal on the African plains.  Grandpa corrects him by reminding him of the strength of the elephant.  The little braggart will not be outdone and decides to begin a quest to find the elephant and “stomp her to bits”.  Grandpa bids him well but reminds him that a storm is coming.  Along the journey the little mouse runs into many animals.  He asks each one if they are the elephant.  When they decline, he informs them of the great damage he is about to inflict.  And each time he makes these dramatic declarations, by chance, the thunder rolls.  The animals in question run away in fear and the little mouse believes that he is the reason for their angst-filled departure.  This only strokes his ego.

Finally, he finds the elephant and informs her that he is going to “stomp her to bits”.  Lazily, she fills her trunk with water and sprays the little mouse with such force, that he rolls down the bank, unconscious.  The elephant and the storm come and go while the little mouse lies by the water hole.  The little mouse wakes.  Finding no elephant and being very wet, he assumes that the storm washed the elephant away.  This was a very good thing for the elephant because had the storm not come the little mouse would have “stomped her to bits”.

The little mouse reminds me of the story of Job.  His name is associated with suffering.  The Bible tells us that he lost his whole family, fortune and health and grieved his losses while sitting on an ash heap.  During his misery, he is visited by three friends.  They, like the little mouse, make Job’s suffering all about them.  Eliphaz applies that those who sow wickedness reaps such (Job 4:7-8).  This can be true.  However, Job claims innocence.  Bildad assumes that bad things are a result of sin, period (Job 8:2-7).  And Zophar implores Job to repent (Job 11: 13-14).  All of this advice comforts only the three friends because it takes Job’s situation and plugs it into their familiar formula.

They ignore is honest plea of innocence and Job’s godly life lived.

Job is not in need of a logical explanation.  Suffering has pushed him far beyond cerebral thinking.  Job speaks from the depth of pain that rules his heart.  This great sufferer needs a focus that does not diagnosis his misery with religious “shoulds”.  Job would benefit best from a genuine love and respect that allows him to feel acceptance and understanding.  Job calls out for such a witness as he asks simply to be heard:

Earth, do not cover my blood; may my cry never be laid to rest!  Even now my witness is in heaven;  my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.  –Job 16:16-18

Often Christians assume that giving a witness means to speak of what should be or sharing their opinions about God or religion.  But this text and situation gives a different feel to the word.  For Job, giving a witness means to witness his pain, offer him a safe place to vent and speaking only words of understanding.  There are no spiritual laws to recite or sinner’s prayer to repeat.  To give a witness means to make the visit all about Job.  What a spiritual challenge to set aside all things with think we know and sit in silence with those who suffer.

Loving our Rotteness


Most people do not journey very far in their spiritual lives, not because they are afraid of challenge or sacrifice, rather they do not sojourn because they are afraid of what they will uncover about themselves.  The old adage is true:  Adversity does not build character, it reveals character. 

In 1978 Jack Gantos created a favorite literary character that has charmed children for years.  His name is Rotten Ralph.  He is an obnoxious large red cat owned by a sweetly naive young Sarah.  When Jack began creating adventures for Rotten Ralph and Sarah, the plot ended with Sarah always loving her cat, Rotten Ralph, no matter his crime.  Rarely did Rotten Ralph have self awareness about the effect of his antics until book number eleven.  In Rotten Ralph Helps Out, Ralph discovers that his shenanigans are hindering Sarah’s Egyptian homework project.  It’s frustrating for poor Ralph because this time he really wants to assist, yet his way of doing things always have an adverse effect.  At one point in the reading, I wondered if Ralph was upset because he could not help Sarah or because he realized how rotten he really was.

That self discovery is exactly what causes good people to turn away from a conflict that may grow them emotionally and spiritually.  What if all the bad things I think about myself turn out to be true?  Worse yet, what if there is more bad stuff than I realize?  What if I AM ROTTEN RALPH with NO Sarah to love me?  The fear evoked by these internal questions brings compromise.

In Mark 10, Jesus interacts with the rich young ruler, who professes to be godly in deed and action.  Jesus challenges this young man to give up his wealth by sharing it with the poor and becoming a disciple.  The story is a bit of a letdown because the young man walks away.  I believe the young ruler exits quickly because he is in shock.  He has believed that God has favored him because of his wealth. (After all, Father Abraham was rich.)  This made him a shoe in for heaven, much less the acceptance of this Rabbi before him.  Yet Jesus throws out and invitation that challenges the one thing that defines his personhood.  He discovers that he is not as godly as he thinks.  He does love something more than God; wealth and the power that comes with it.  He intelligently wove his love of money into his religion; after all he did tithe.  The Gospel states that Jesus “loved” him.  And Jesus loved him by revealing his character in a mirror of self sacrifice.  I suppose I would retreat in horror too.

Rotten Ralph and the rich young ruler seem to have plotted similar paths.  Rotten Ralph does find redemption.  After destroying Sarah’s final finished project, he becomes a last minute project himself.  Sarah transforms him into an Egyptian sphinx, winning a good grade.

The gospel story does not give us much hope for the Rich Young Ruler because the story ends abruptly.  Yet legend does abound.  Some tales are told that Mark, the author of this gospel, is the Rich Young Ruler.  Only in this account (verses other gospels) does the writer note that Jesus “loved” the Rich Young Ruler.  Some think this personal footnote is the author’s significant hint.  There is a stronger argument from culture and history that place Barnabas as the Rich Young Ruler.  Whatever the legend (or the truth), it gives us hope that the Rich Young Ruler did struggle with his wealth addiction, overcome it and become a follower of Jesus.  The beginning of the recovery was shock and retreat.  This young man discovered who he really was through the eyes of the divine.

Those who seek to spiritual growth will be challenged by the gospel time and time again.  A reasonable reaction to these challenges is shock and retreat.  It’s uncomfortable.  And, after all, we are human.  But just as Jesus “loved” the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus loves us….even in our retreat.  Accepting the dreaded retreat as a step toward growth, instead of a shameful failure is the attitude needed to allow Jesus to love us.  It is the love of Christ and propels us to return and grow.

There is a Rotten Ralph and Sarah inside all of us.  Our spiritual growth stops when our “Sarah” punishes our “Rotten Ralph”.  Ralph won’t venture far when he doesn’t feel safe.  Internally, when our “Sarah” accepts and affirms the rottenness of our inner “Ralph”, we are ready to go back to Jesus.  Sarah knows she can’t fix him.  But it’s not her job!

Sometimes the most Christ-like thing we can do is love ourselves.  In other words allow our internal “Sarah” to be like Jesus and love our “Rotten Ralphs”. 

Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character.  Be in conflict.  Love what you find about yourself to be true and let Jesus do the rest.

Thanks to Jonesborough United Methodist Church

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My gratitude for the opportunity to preach @ Jonesborough United Methodist Church.  Here is a nutshell of the sermon.  It is pastoral (addressing the inner judge we all have and Jesus as judge/gracegiver) and narrative (story of Marion, woman @ well woven together complimenting 1 John passage).

Marion dreams of becoming Marion the Librarian. What’s your dream?

There is a lovely children’s book about Marion the hedgehog.  She dreams of becoming Marion the Librarian because of her love of books.  She is delighted to learn that her kindergarten library will allow her to check out two books a week.  And so she does.  But all havoc breaks loose when Marion spills jam on a library book.  First, she attempts to clean it with toothpaste.  Then she tries taking a bath with the book, submerging it in water.  Finally she fills the washing machine full of suds and drops the book in the overflowing mess.  At each failed attempt, Marion’s guilt mounts.  Throughout this story, Marion has visions of disapproving parents.  Her worst fear is banishment from the school library thus ruining her hopes of becoming Marion the Librarian. 

Like Marion, we all have an inner judge.  That internal judge is helpful.  Have you ever experienced a tight stomach or sweaty palms?  If so, you’ve probably turned to this internal voice to inform you.  This voice aids in the decision making process between right and wrong.  For me, that internal judge helped me to keep my purity until marriage, avoid cheating when college became overwhelming and currently, helps me to speak honestly to my spouse about tough issues, like in-laws or finances. 

As helpful as that my judge is, she is on spot.  My internal judge sees right through me because she is me.  She knows my inner emotions, motives, and thoughts.  Nothing can be hidden.  This produces a delicate dialogue when my judge rightly finds that I am the guilty party.

In John 4, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman about her husband, for which she answers she does not have one.  Jesus responds with knowledge about her history, she has had five and is currently in a shack-up situation.  The woman is so startled she switches the topic to a long debated religious argument placing Samaritans in opposition to the Jews.  I would switch the topic too.  How uncomfortable!

Isn’t that what we do when our inner judge passes condemnation on us?  Our worst fear is that Jesus will come along side our inner judge and concur with the decision.  In 1 John 4, the writer speaks of love being perfected (by the work of Christ); therefore we have no fear of judgment.  How can this be so when we are guilty?

Remember my friend, Marion the hedgehog?  Her inner judge was truthful.  Marion had spilled jam on the library book.  Guilty as charged.  Her fear of losing the respect of her parents and her library privileges was unnecessary.  Marion had nothing to fear because she was loved by her parents and by the librarian.  When Marion finally confessed, she had to empty her piggy bank to pay for the book.  In reflection, Marion realized that she needed to take better care of her books.  She learned a lesson.  She improved.  The guilt of the jam spill incident did not hold her captive.  Rather, she was set free because the incident made her better.


Why do we fear no judgment?  Because, as Christians, we know that the ultimate judge loves us.  God wants us to learn from our mistakes, improve, give grace to ourselves and others.  When we are guilty, we are not condemned, rather we learn, mend broken fences, and improve.  1 John 4:18a “There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear….”

What are you preaching this Sunday?  What sermon do you need to hear?

–Sunday’s preaching prophet–