Abraham’s temporary willingness to participate in the blood sacrifice of his son casts a long shadow – confusion and mayhem for the next three generations. In light of the divine promise, that the descendents of Abraham would be a blessing to all nations, the enterprise is off to a rocky start.
For the next several weeks, we will hear the stories of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Esau, of Laban, Leah, and Rachel, of Joseph and his brothers. These are not impressive people. They’re either weak or on the make, dreamily enjoying favoured status or busily plotting to sell a brother into slavery. It surely isn’t anything about the character and morality of these descendents of Sarah and Abraham that has us still telling their stories.
Indeed, these stories are not really about what these three generations accomplish. Much of that is, in fact, sordid. No, what these stories proclaim is what God is able to make of these three generations. There is a story greater than their stories woven through their lives, bringing together the jagged edges of rivalries and violence, and – finally – of reconciliation, into a coherent account of God in mission, of God riding piggyback on the intrigue and hostility to tell a quite different story.
Kind of like in the church, you know, where agendas collide and we tussle for ascendency, sometimes across the whole landscape of a church (think same-sex relationships and property litigation), and sometimes in the very local reality of a parish community, where gossip can pose as fact, and innuendo as evidence.
The late Joe Wright, who loomed larger-than-life at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Leaside, once encountered a parishioner on the street (so the story goes). “Bill,” he said, “haven’t seen you in church lately.” “Place is full of hypocrites,” said Bill by way of excuse. Joe’s legendary response? “Don’t worry about that. There’s always room for one more!”
That’s our truth. There’s always room for one more, and how we come together won’t always match our best hopes and ideals for ourselves, one another, and the church. We’re sinners. Gifted and capable sinners, to be sure, with insight and conviction, often generous with time and resources, astonishingly kind and wonderfully compassionate at times. But sinners for all that, afraid because of what happened or might happen, guarded against past hurts in ways that distort our present relationships, trying hard to achieve the “good enough, smart enough, young enough, pretty/handsome enough, important enough” standards that haunt us, and sometimes measuring others down when we sense that we don’t measure up.
The good news is that God is riding piggyback on our stories as well, weaving through them an eternal thread of love’s victory. The piggyback God, who nourishes mission in and for the world out of the ragbag of our imperfect offering has known our predicament in the Incarnation, has lived it and endured its longest and most violent shadows in the life and death of Jesus. So it is that, with our confused and frightened ancestors, from Isaac the Terrified to Joseph the Dreamer in Chains, we discover God at work among and through us, not because of what we have accomplished, but because of God’s determination to make the most beautiful future possible out of the only material at hand.