Today we unveil the syllabus for A Course on Friendship, an adult education class that Matt Mardis-LeCroy will be offering on Wednesdays over the lunch hour. Plan on joining him -and plan on bringing a friend!
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Des Moines, Iowa seeks a full-time Director of Child and Family Ministries. We are a progressive congregation of approximately 3,200 members, committed to inclusivity and diversity. We are looking for someone with the creativity and commitment to help us build upon our vibrant tradition of engaging children in the life of our church. Working closely with the Senior Minister, lay leaders and church staff, the Director of Child and Family Ministries will direct the faith formation programming for children, including weekly church school, Vacation Bible School, and other family activities. Strong organizational skills and a proven ability to oversee effective programs for children are a must, as well as a bachelor’s degree (preferably in a related field) and five years of related professional experience. Position includes competitive salary and full benefits. A criminal background check is required. Applicants should submit a cover letter and resume to email@example.com
We are talking about growing in love –love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.
But what does love of God have to do with love of my neighbor?
Maybe more than we think.
24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3He himself went on ahead of 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. 5When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ 6Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; 7Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favor with my lord.’ 9But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’10Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. 11Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.
We are, obviously, parachuting into the middle of a long and messy story. Here is the nickel version.
Like the last time we were in Genesis, this is a story of strife between two brothers. Jacob and Esau are, in fact, twin brothers. But Esau is the older one and therefore, under the rules of primogeniture, is set to inherit all of his father’s property.
And he would have done just that –if Jacob had not tricked him.
In Genesis 27, we read the elaborate story of how Jacob tricked his father into conferring the blessing on him instead of Esau. Jacob’s deception is deadly serious and Esau vows to kill him.
20 years go by before they see each other again.
Jacob flees for his life and has a whole series of adventures: he has a vision of angels ascending and descending (“Jacob’s Ladder”), and then ends up living with his Uncle Laban. Laban is every bit the manipulator and trickster that Jacob is, and each tries to get the better of the other. Eventually, Jacob amasses a large family and a small fortune. Life has been good to Jacob.
But Esau is still out there.
Our passage for this weekend—containing portions of chapters 32 and 33—is part of the longer story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation. It is drawn out, thick with tension. (In his Genesis commentary for the Interpretation series, Walter Brueggemann writes, “The narrator has found a style to carry the listening community along the tortured and risky way to reconciliation”). Chapter 32 begins with Jacob—perhaps knowing that an encounter with Esau is now inevitable—making anxious preparations for their eventual meeting. He sends elaborate gifts to his estranged brother. He also sends his wives and children across a river, out of harm’s way.
It seems safe to say that Jacob may be hoping for the best but he fears the worst.
The night before the brothers are to meet, Jacob waits, anxious and alone. In the middle of the night he is attacked by a mysterious assailant. They wrestle until dawn. Neither one can get the upper hand. At daybreak, the stranger blesses Jacob with a new name: Israel, meaning, “the one who strives with God.” And then Jacob, in turn, names that place Penuel: “For I have seen God face to face.”
The next morning, Jacob and Esau meet at last. And…they reconcile! Instead of killing his brother, Esau runs to meet him, embraces him, falls on his neck, kisses him. And the brothers weep together. It is a powerful moment of human connection and healing.
So how does something like this happen? How can brothers long estranged be brought back together in love? Mostly I am saving that for my sermon. But simply consider this: In 33:10, Jacob says, for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.
Like seeing the face of God.
Jacob knows a thing or two about that.
Sometimes seeing God’s face is the secret to loving our neighbor.
See you in church!
Rev. Dr. Stephen G. Ray, President of Chicago Theological Seminary, observed from Plymouth’s pulpit last winter that he could tell our church was alive because we are rich with the most precious resource a church could have: children and youth. Engaging our young people with age-appropriate ways to learn, serve, and grow is the goal of every program for children and youth here at Plymouth. We aim for every child of God to know that they are a beloved child of God. And we work and play and build community together to help each child of God grow in love of God and neighbor.
Download a PDF copy of 2019-20 Programming for Children Booklet PRINT
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Sometimes the Scriptures hit a little close to home. As we struggle with the aftermath of multiple mass shootings in this country—as we grieve and grapple with the horror—our summer sermon series invites us to consider the story of Cain.
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” 2Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.
3In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
8Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.
16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch
We are back at the beginning again, all the way back at the 4th chapter of Genesis. The Bible opens with two creation stories, a description of the paradise in which human life began and of the subsequent exile from that paradise. Chapter 4 is a sort of starting over. What will life look like “east of Eden”?
It will look like a brother murdering his brother for no good reason.
This is why I keep coming back to the Bible. I don’t know if this story happened the way that Genesis tells it, but I know it is true: Humans too often and too easily hate other humans. Abel is Cain’s literal brother but that does not stop Cain from killing him.
This text tells some important truth for this moment. We need a real conversation about gun control in this country. We need to pay more attention to how we treat mental health. We need to clearly and consistently condemn racist and white nationalist rhetoric in our politics.
But we also have to face up to the evil in the human heart. This may be one of the ways that I am not a good theological liberal: I tend to believe that there is something broken in us. We too readily and too easily slide into hatred and fear. Cain’s story is out story. (It is interesting to note that, after killing his brother, Cain goes on to found the first city. The writer of Genesis takes a pretty dim view of city life. And Human civilization is itself founded by the guy who also invented murder).
But we will not be reading this text in a vacuum. We are in the midst of our summer series on Growing in Love. And this weekend we will focus on love of self.
So rather than share any more of my thinking, let me simply tell you where this weekend’s sermon will start.
I think Cain’s deepest problem is that he does not love himself. Everything follows from that.
I know how that sounds. But I believe it. And I believe recognizing the consequences of our failure to love ourselves could be the first step in turning things around.
See you in church!