Morning Worship - Sunday, 12 July

MORNING WORSHIP

Sunday, 12 July 2020

(The video version is available by clicking HERE )

Welcome

I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? asked the Psalmist.  My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.    (Psalm 121 : 1)

Welcome to Morning Worship at Cramond Kirk on Sunday, 12 July 2020.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Let us pray;

Ever present God,

touched by Your hand,

enlivened by Your Spirit,

our world is holy.

Open our eyes to discern Your presence,

teach us to share our blessings with our sisters and brothers

and help us experience the joy of life in Your presence

through our Saviour Christ.

Amen

 

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the three Patriarchal figures of ancient Israel – but as we read about them in the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament, it would be difficult to hold any of them up as role models.

Isaac has married Rebekah and today we hear of the birth of their twins, Esau and Jacob.

You would be forgiven for thinking this would be a cause of great celebration – not least the promises of God being fulfilled – but from the very beginning the mood music is dark, almost sinster, as family intrigue, conflict, deception and a bartered birthright take centre stage.

As always the detail is sketchy – we are given no more than a rough outline – but it is enough to paint an unflattering picture of the main characters.

And behind it lies the question of what sense to make of God’s presence in it all?

Genesis 25 : 19 – 34

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.

Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.

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.

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.”

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.

The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau.

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.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.

Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished.

Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.)

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”

Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Address

One of the most intriguing features of the Bible is its constant refusal to spin its stories so that the goodies always win and the baddies always get their comeuppance.

If the victory of God’s love in Christ over human sin, evil and the power of death is the beating heart of the Biblical narrative, time and again the pages of scripture refuse to paint the main characters in the most flattering of lights.

Moses, the man chosen by God to plead with the Egyptian Pharaoh to set God’s people free had earlier murdered an Egyptian soldier.

David, hailed as the greatest of all Israel’s kings, and one of Jesus’ ancestors, would not have been out of place in the television series, Love Island.

Delilah was the kind of woman my grandmother might have described as a ‘brazen hussy’.

As for the disciples – Jesus’ closest friends and confidants – arguing among themselves as to who would have the place of honour in the kingdom of God, unable to stay awake as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, betraying him into the hands of the Roman soldiers, denying being part of his group and, in the aftermath of the first Easter, hiding themselves behind locked doors - I can’t help wondering if a modern day ‘comms team’ wouldn’t have found a better way of spinning their story rather than their warts and all treatment in the four gospels.

Yet there it is, a theme common to both the Old and New Testament, the Bible’s repeated refusal to paint anything other than a warts and all portrait of the great heroes of the faith.

And nowhere is this treatment more evident than in the epic stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Isaac and Rebekah have married but like many other women in Biblical narrative, she had not yet given birth.

Isaac prayed and his prayer is answered with the birth of twins.

Yet even as Rebekah is pregnant, there are portents of trouble to come as she feels the babies seemingly fighting in her womb.

Strangely her fears appear to be confirmed by a divine oracle which speaks of there being two nations in her womb.

It also suggests the younger child would be the stronger of the two boys and the elder would serve him.

Has God given Rebekah a secret insight into the future?

As the plot thickens, the children are born and the younger twin is delivered holding on to his brother’s heel.

The scene shifts quickly, the boys have become young men, the elder Esau, rough skinned and red haired, a skilled hunter, while the younger Jacob has turned into a much quieter individual who preferred to stay closer to home.

And if ever there was a recipe for disaster, each parent had their favourite, Isaac preferring Esau, Jacob being his mother’s favourite.

Meanwhile as the narrative unfolds – not least a famished Esau selling his birthright to Isaac for a plate of stew – all of them are seen to be plotting and scheming against one another.

Festering conflict, vindictive revenge, relationships characterized by jealousy and deceitfulness, whatever else it is, this is not a story of happy family life with an “they all lived happily ever after” ending.

Yet here it is, not the script of a soap opera, but holy writ, not a trashy novel but part of the Word of God – and to make matters worse, much worse, God appears to be as partisan as any of the human characters.

So what sense are we to make of this?

In his commentary on the passage John Gibson, one of my former Old Testament teachers, writes

It is clearly not going to be easy to find spiritual lessons in this rumbustious and disquieting set of stories

Gibson is right, it is not easy, and I think that is just the point – it is not easy in this story and it is not always easy in life to make sense of God’s presence or promise or purpose in the often difficult events and circumstances of life.

There is much that confuses, frustrates, disappoints and leaves us wondering – where is God in all of this – has God forgotten me – does God not care - did God cause a coronavirus epidemic to kill so many people and cause such suffering across the world?

Surely St Paul put it best when he said that for the moment we see through a glass darkly and know only in part.

Yet as much as that is true – and I think it is - Paul went on to say our task is to live in the faith that one day we will see clearly and we will know fully even as we are fully known.

And here I think is the heart of the matter: our calling as God’s people is not always to know or see or fully understand – but it is always to trust God’s purposes are good, and it is always to live with faith in the victory of God’s love in Christ over all human wickedness, evil and death.

And if we learn nothing else from the rumbustious and disquieting story of Isaac, Rebekah and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob, then that in itself is more than enough.

Amen

Prayer

Day by day,

extravagantly and generously,

beyond anything we have earned or deserved,

we are embraced in Your care.

 

God of grace and love,

with Christian people the world over

we praise You for Your continuing goodness and love,

in the wonder of creation,

in the prayer of the church

and in the gifts of life.

 

We thank You for gifting us

with the good news of the gospel,

the promise of salvation in our Saviour Christ,

and for entrusting us to share this great and glorious message.

 

Yet we confess our sharing is often choked by greed and selfishness,

quick to protect what we believe is our own,

indulging our own needs while ignoring the needs of others.

We are often blind to the opportunities

for bringing the love You have shown

to our neighbours and people in need.

 

So strengthen our resolve

to be faithful and responsive

to the message of Your generous and inclusive love

and in the forgiveness of our sins,

make us aware of our opportunities

for witness and service,

even in unlikely places.

 

God of life and hope,

as thankful as we are

for the hard work and skill of people the world over

providing us with food and electricity,

clean water, health care, education

and the freedom to live under the rule of law,

we are painfully aware

in this ill divided world

that barriers of poverty and discrimination

are faced by many people. 

 

And so we thank You for those

who challenge our assumptions,

question our thoughts and ideas

and call us to change our way of life.

 

And we pray for people

whose lives are crushed

by political and economic circumstances

beyond their control,

persecuted on grounds of faith

or skin colour

or background,

families torn apart by age-old feuds

and ill-founded jealousies,

women trafficked and abused,

children lacking education

and all who feel left out and left behind

unable to make life better for themselves and their families.

 

God save the Queen

as we pray God’s blessing on our own country,

asking for wise government from Westminster and Holyrood

to plot as safe a course as possible out of the lockdown,

giving thanks for medical teams and care staff

continuing to treat and look after patients

in hospitals and nursing homes and in the community

and praying for the health of the economy

as people work from home or start returning to work.

 

God of compassion,

as we hold in our hearts and prayers

those who are ill or lonely or anxious or sad,

we ask You to reach out

and hold them in Your healing presence and power.

 

God of time and eternity,

bless to us our communion with the saints

and hold us and all for whom we pray

in the peace which passes all understanding

the peace of Christ our Lord in whose name we are glad to pray

 

Our Father

Which art in heaven

Hallowed be Thy name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom

The power and the glory

For ever

Amen

 

Go now in the love and peace of Christ our Lord.

The blessing of God

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

be with you all.

Amen