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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on July 10, 2005

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Sermon for July 10, 2005

Sermon preached by

The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker

The longer I live, the more distrustful I have become about making snap judgments of people. It is a gift to be intuitive about a person, - to discern a person's personality on first appearances. But there's a risk always of basing initial impressions on the superficial. Our real selves are always contextual. What we do, what we say, how we react, are all influenced and shaped by so many things, past, present, and future.

The central stage personalities that have been dominating the liturgy these summer Sundays through the Old Testament readings are that trinity of our forbearers in faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham and Isaac have had their day. Today is Jacob's turn. Based on that account of him in today's Genesis reading, what kind of person do you think Jacob was? The narrator offers no character description; just some actions of Jacob's are recorded. The rest is left to us to make our own judgment. But the actions of Jacob the narrator offers us to base our judgment on are considerable. Jacob was a trickster and a cheat. He took his brother Esau's birthright and accepted the blessing that was meant for the oldest son. He was unquestionably a mamma's boy. But he was also as simple soul, mild, quiet, retiring, even lonely. So, what's this lonely, retiring, mamma's boy, trickster really like?

Let's review the story.

Jacob needs a wife! His father had his wife presented to him, but Jacob must find his own. So he goes on a marital search. But he travels on this search as a fugitive, for his raging brother Esau is out to murder him for having robbed him of his birthright. One evening he stops at what is described as a sacred place. He takes a stone and places it at his head, and he falls asleep. In his dream he sees a ladder connecting earth with heaven. And he dreams of God, presumably having come down the ladder, making the same promises to hi as were made to Abraham and Isaac, promises of marriage, of offspring, and of land. Jacob is so awestruck; he marks the place as sacred. And then, when God meets him face to face, he attempts to bargain with God. He says "If God gets me to my destination; if God supplies me with wife, food and clothing, if God gets me home safely, then I promise to maintain this awesome place as a shrine and I'll give God back a tenth, a tithe, of what He has given me."

Well, now what do you think of Jacob? This lonely, retiring, mamma's boy, trickster, this fugitive, who dreams he has heard God's promise, but whose immediate response to God is to bargain?

But really, the story isn't told to invite our response. What's more important than what you or I think, or how we judge Jacob is how God reacts to Jacob. In spite of his bargaining God still sticks with him.

In a strange way, and it is a strange story, all this is reassuring to us, if we have the impulse to identify with Jacob. It's a very human story, about very human experiences, indeed about very sad human experiences. Some people like Jacob have never really been affirmed by their father. That's a cause for sadness. Some have never got along with a brother or a sister, perhaps like Jacob even despised him or her, and have lived a long time with the pain of that sadness. Many of us have cut corners to get ahead. Many people find themselves alone in their lives. And lots of us, battered by the events of our lives, are moved to bargain with God. We want God, and we want a clear indication of the way ahead. We crave God, and we crave security. We seek God's help and we want a happy ending.

I think the story of Jacob tells us that God understands our impulse to bargain and is willing to stay with us; to be our God as He was the God of Jacob, in spite of this impulse. Take this with you from today's story about Jacob. God has high purposes for you, and after you've finished trying to bargain with Him, God will have more lessons to teach you.



2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York