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Jul 30, 2017

It's Human Nature, Not God

Passage: Genesis 29:15-28

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Summer 2017

Category: Christian Responsibility


This is a sermon about human nature and how that can drag us away from the God. It draws upon the human nature in the Genesis (Genesis 29:15-28) and Matthew (Matthew 13:31-33,44-52) lessons.


These are notes for the sermon, but the notes were not used in the sermon's delivery. 

Did anything strike you in today’s readings? (Parishioners offer their thoughts) 

I am a fan of the Genesis story. Six years ago, we did a sermon series on the Genesis passages here at St. Patrick’s. One summer I told the story of Jacob and Esau over an entire week at Camp Wright. It is a compelling story. Each day of camp, I would conclude with a cliffhanger. And it worked, because the kids came back the next day seeking to know what happened next. Being that this story was once told around the campfire before it was written down, it has that effect. But as much as I like Genesis and the Jacob and Esau portion, I cannot stand this part of the story. Over several weeks, we follow this story line, but the lectionary leaves out the portion of the story about Jacob tricking Isaac out of his blessing and they include this portion which has, in my opinion, very little to do with God and lots to do with the role of women (or a lack of a role for women) in this time period. 

If there is anything that strikes me from this passage, it is that two men are making deals for the lives of women. And, that makes me angry. I am not saying that is unusual or that it doesn’t happen today. It is like seeing the picture of a group of men in suits talking about women’s health care or seeing the picture of White House interns with only a few people of color. It is reading a tweet about barring certain people from the military instead of engaging in a conversation that addresses the real-life stories that are entwined with such a decision. When decisions about groups of people are made without engaging the people in question, it wreaks of injustice. 

This is not the story that we want to reflect who we are and I don’t think we see God in it. We do see what is wrong with human nature. And if you read out the whole story, you realize that Jacob, although often noted as our ancestor (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and whose name would eventually be changed to Israel is not heroic at all. And that is what sticks out to me about this Old Testament passage.

What sticks out about the Gospel is in the second to last sentence. Jesus tells these short, pithy parables and then asks if his audience understands and they say yes. Excuse me. Yes. This reminds me of elementary school. The teacher teaching the class to diagram a sentence and there would be prepositions, participles, and direct objects. We learned, for some reason, how to draw this in schematic form. And the teacher would ask, do you understand? And the whole class including me would say yes. Most of us, except Mary who was an extraordinarily advanced 4th grader, were just guessing like me. 

We say yes because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and point out that the topic might just be over our heads. We know, if we read on, that the crowd really doesn’t understand these parables because they don’t prove it with their actions. 

I want to point out one thing that may help to bring these parables to life. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, one pearl among many, and a net thrown into the sea. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they are hidden. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden from us (or is found in the most unlikely places) or is right under our nose.

He is not saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that we plan to see in some future life. The Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of us hidden in the most unusual things. The challenge Jesus poses is to figure that out and celebrate it.

Let me tell you that I am exhausted from the daily roller coaster that we encounter day after day in 2017. I want to return to another time, but I don’t have that option. We can only move forward. The thing is, God’s Kingdom is somewhere very near me. If I am discouraged and lose hope, then I have very little chance of finding it. Very little chance at all.

What Jesus told his followers and us is that we need to stay aware. We need to pay attention. And if we do, we will discover something amazing in our midst. That is the hope of the gospel and of the love of Christ. It withstands all things.