God Works Through Unexpected Means Sometimes   1 comment

Above: Isaac Blessing Jacob, by Govert Flinck (1638)

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Genesis 27:1-9, 15-29 (An American Translation):

One day, when Isaac was old and his eyes so dim that he could not see, he called his older son Esau.

My son!

he said to him.

Here I am,

he replied.

He said,

Here I am an old man, not knowing what day I may die.  Get your weapons, then, your quiver and bow, and go out into the fields, and hunt some game for me.  Then make me a tasty dish, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, that I may give you my blessing before I die.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac when Isaac spoke to his son Esau; so when Esau went off to the fields to hunt game for his father, Rebekah said to her son Jacob,

I have just heard your father say to your brother Esau, “Bring me some game, and make me a tasty dish to eat, that I may bless you before the LORD before I die.”  Now then, my son, obey me in the charge that I give you.  Go to the flock and get two fat kids for me there, that I may make them into a tasty dish for your father, such as he likes….

…and taking the best clothes of her older son Esau, which she had in the house, Rebekah dressed her younger son Jacob in them; she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth parts of his neck, and committed the tasty dish and bread which she had made into the hands of her son Jacob.  Then he went in to his father, and said,

Father!

He said,

Yes.  Who are you, my son?

Jacob said to his father,

I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat once more of my game, that you may give me your blessing.

But Isaac said to his son,

How ever did you come to find it so quickly, my son?

He said,

Because the LORD your God brought it in my path.

Isaac then said to Jacob,

Come up close that I may feel you, my son, to see whether you really are my son Esau or not.

So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him, and said,

The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are those of Esau.

Hence he did not detect him, because his hands were hairy, like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.

Are you really my son Esau?

he said.

I am,

he replied.

So he said,

Bring me some of your game to eat, my son, that I may give you my blessing.

So he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him,

Come here and kiss me, my son.

So he went up and kissed him; and when he smelt his clothes, he blessed him, saying,

Ah, my son’s smell is like that of a field tht the LORD has blessd.

May God give you of the heaven’s dew,

Of earth’s fatness, with plenty of grass and wine!

Nations shall serve you,

And peoples bow down to you.

Be master of your brothers,

And let your mother’s sons bow down to you!

Cursed be they who curse you,

And blessed b they who bless you!

Psalm 135:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise the Name of the LORD;

give praise, you servants of the LORD.

2 You who stand in the house of the LORD,

in the courts of the house of our God.

3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;

sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely.

4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself

and Israel for his own possession.

For I know that the LORD is great,

and that our Lord is above all gods.

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in heaven and on earth,

in the seas and all the deeps.

Matthew 9:14-17 (An American Translation):

Then the disciples of John came up to him [Jesus] and said,

Why is it that we and the Pharisees are keeping the fast, while your disciples are not keeping it?

Jesus said to them,

Can wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and they will fast then.  But no one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old coat, for the patch will tear away from the coat, and make the hole worse than ever.  And people do not put new wine into old wine-skins, or if they do, the skins burst, and the wine runs out and the skins are spoiled.  But people put new wine into fresh wine skins, and so both are saved.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Bible is brutally honest about many major figures with whom the reader is supposed to sympathize.  Jacob, who becomes Israel, for whom the Jewish nation is named, is an opportunist.  Rebekah, his mother, is a schemer.  Isaac, his aged and blind father, seems not to be at the peak of his mental powers in Genesis 27.  And Esau, the trouble-maker, is twice an aggrieved party at the hand of his brother Jacob in Genesis.  Yet, according to an oracle in Genesis 25:33, Jacob is supposed to take precedence, and he does.  This happens by underhanded methods, but it comes true.

I dislike all these characters by Genesis 27, but Biblical writers want me to pick a side.  The Bible is a complicated volume.

In Matthew 9:14-17 we have a variation of the Markan teaching about wineskins and wine (Mark 2:18-22).  Matthew adds the “so both are saved” element.  So, in Matthew, there is value in traditions and innovations, but not all traditions and all innovations.  Consider the theology of the Gospel of Matthew:  Jesus praises Torah piety, but not many of those who claim to practice it; they get it wrong.  So Jesus (both old and new) breaks many traditions while keeping others.  His innovative variety of Torah piety is what people should have been keeping all along.  He scandalizes many respectable religious establishment types by eating with irreligious people and Roman collaborators, and by not fasting when others do.

Consider the Apostles of Jesus, too.  These were imperfect men.  They spent most of the timeframe of the Gospels squabbling and failing to understand even basic teachings.  Yet God worked through them, as much as God worked through Rebekah and Jacob.  And God works through us, who are quite flawed.

God is sovereign.  That is good news.  Are we willing to recognize both the old and new ways in which God works?

I have particular take on the old-new debate.  I belong to The Episcopal Church, which replaces its Book of Common Prayer from time to time.  To be precise, this has happened previously in 1789, 1892, 1928, and 1979.  Liturgical revision immediately prior to 1979 began in 1967, the proposed Prayer Book arrived in 1976, and the General Convention approved it three years later, but still some of my fellow Episcopalians refer to it as the “new” Prayer Book.  As I heard a catechist in the Diocese of Georgia ask in 2000, how old does the 1979 Prayer Book have to be before it ceases to be new?

We humans like our traditions, but we ought not transform them into idols.  No, they should be icons.  The difference is that an idol replaces God and distracts our attention from God.  But an icon is a visible representation of God, who is invisible; we see God through an icon.  A Prayer Book, like any tradition, ought to be a means to an end, not an end.  From time to time a new one arrives; there is room for both innovation and tradition.

As for me, the 1928 Prayer Book is a relic, a volume from which I have never worshiped.  I am a 1979 Prayer Booker.  It contains the best of its predecessor volumes while incorporating many pleasant innovations, not least of which is Eucharistic Prayer C from Holy Eucharist Rite II.  The book, like all products of human hands and minds, is imperfect.  But it is excellent, and through it God nourishes my spiritual life.  For that I am grateful.

It is an excellent wineskin.

This might surprise those oppose such formal liturgies, but so be it.  God works through them and their prayers, too.

God works in many ways, through many vehicles of various types.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, NOVELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/week-of-proper-8-saturday-year-1/

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One response to “God Works Through Unexpected Means Sometimes

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 8: Saturday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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