1 In my 30 plus years of serving in the ordained ministry, I’ve prepared and preached over 1,300 sermons, led countless Bible Studies, participated in a multitude of theological conversations, read shelves full of books about Jesus Christ, prayed, sought after, desired with all the passion I can muster to serve and honor our Triune God, but I still can find myself right back at square one in pursuit of understanding and grasping our God, the God we believe is revealed in Jesus Christ. And people still come to me, thinking that I’m some kind of expert! I’ve come across a perfect adjective to describe my experience of God, used often by my favorite Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, as I’ve studied the book of Genesis these past few weeks. That adjective is: inscrutable. As in “not scrutinizable”. Incapable of being investigated or analyzed, as the dictionary defines “inscrutable”. Not easily understood, mysterious, unfathomable, states definition #2. I’ve tried. You’ve tried. Multitudes have tried. People have sold volumes of books, promoted hordes of expensive programs, established institutions of learning to study this God who turns out again and again to simply be inscrutable. And here I go, yammering away again. Here you go again, gazing silently, praying, hoping to encounter the life-saving wonders of the enigmatic presence of the Holy and Unfathomable Lord Almighty. “Let anyone with ears listen!” Notice the positioning of Jesus, I think it’s a clue, as he teaches in parables, which are word needlers and image puzzlers designed to pass along intricate and elusive truths. Jesus is near, but out of reach, sitting in a boat as he speaks to people on the beach. Jesus is near, but ungrab-able, beyond human grasp. As is his story: what kind of crazy, irresponsible, wasteful farmer is throwing seeds out, all over the place, on completely infertile soil where, we know, nothing has any chance of growing? Is this what God is up to? Sending rain down upon the just and unjust? Speaking, blessing, healing, helping, loving, saving all kinds of creatures where there is no hope for any good to actually take hold and prosper? Perhaps. And then when “the seeds” do take hold, where there is fertile ground, where seeds do germinate and new life emerges and begins to reproduce: Katy bar the door! The built-in prolific fecundity instilled within the Godplanted seeds provides more than plenty to compensate for all the unsuccessful seeds. In spite of failures, God makes abundance. In a landscape that often repels, God still penetrates and produces. That’s just the way it is, why analyze the inscrutable? It works. Grace works. Blessings abound. Takes hold there, but not here. Matters to this one, but not that one. OK; we’ve got it. Let’s examine, if we dare, the inscrutable God at play in a family case study, recorded here in Genesis. Picking up where we left off last week, when Rebekah and Isaac met and married, thus becoming the sole, vital, seed-like thread to the long-term promise spoken by God to Isaac’s dad, Abraham, we read now that Rebekah was barren, not able to have a child. And here we go again! The details to the story are glossed over, omitting the presumed long and painful drama of the couple’s infertility struggles, but they had to wait twenty years for Rebekah to become pregnant. Previously, in our story last week, God had shown Abraham’s servant which woman to pick to be the mother of the next promised child, and now it turns out she can’t get pregnant! Can’t get pregnant 2 without the intervention of God. Things don’t come easily, nor painlessly, nor without months and years of gut-wrenching wondering and waiting, even for the blessed, the promised ones. Inscrutable, God is, but not unbelievable. Precarious, hanging by an imperceptible thread, are the lives and hopes of the faithful yet undefeated are they, like those who are baptized into sealed victory through Christ. Facing, as we do an unending parade of infertile forces: resistance and losses and questioning and anguish, our lives and God’s promises are precarious yet still undefeated. Twenty years it is. Uncertain when, how, who, life will win, but by faith…..Twenty years it was, the promise lives on. Near, but beyond human grasp….Jesus in the boat….Rebekah with child; twin boys. The ultra-sound of God’s voice, so to speak, announces that she is going to give birth to twins. The good news comes, God grants the parents’ prayers which have been on target, since day one, with God’s promise, and then, right off the bat, in the joyful expectancy moment, there are seeds of conflict, battle, internal distress. Even before the babies are born, the two are at war in the womb. Rebekah’s joyful anticipation crashes into an entirely new and dark prayer, for relief through the divine mercy of death: “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” Gift and conflict are conjoined as strange bedfellows, inscrutable twin sides of the same coin. Exhilaration and dread. God blesses, answers prayer, fulfills promise, and unresolvable conflict ensues. Ever seen that? Gifts or inheritances that come into a family and the irreparable rifts split through family turf. Turf wars: how when a “favored” one is deemed as blessed, insidious jealousies, envies, and spite spring up, infecting valued relationships. Blessings change the landscape, bringing pain in places. Here, in Genesis, the blessed family receives no immunity to family conflict and strife. It even gets to the parents, we read, as they play favorites and choose up sides. Mom loves Jacob; Dad loves Esau. It’s all wrong, totally dysfunctional. This thing can’t be headed anywhere good, we might surmise. But it does. We can predict the slim chances for any good, positive possibilities coming out of this deeply troubled family. Thorns, rocky soil, worn down paths, on the infertile landscape, this seedy neighborhood, but the seeds somehow grow and multiply. It is more than sufficient for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Grace wins again. An important thing to remember, as we seek after this near yet unreachable God: don’t turn away from places of conflict as areas where God cannot be found or where God can’t do anything. Don’t give in to believing that nothing good can come from the obviously flawed her or him or the dysfunctional them. In our contentious world, within our conflicted and divided Presbyterian denomination, we must be careful not to discount the invisible gifts (like seeds) that are being dispensed by God, nor be too ready to dismiss the about-to-emerge hope that God has implanted within us. Twenty years it was before the God-selected couple gave birth to battling blessings who would inherit and pass on the promise successfully. Inscrutable but not unbelievable is our God. 3 The oldest son, everyone knows, is a lock to inherit the birthright and to receive the special favor of the parents. It is an accepted mandate, it is well-understood, without question, it is the natural order. Just like you and I were imbued with the knowledge of who we could associate with, growing up, and who we could date and who we could never date or associate with. That’s just the way it is: the oldest son is number one. And this God meddles with that. Before the twins are born, God the promiser speaks scandalous, unheard of words to the mother – “the elder shall serve the younger”. (hhhh!) The younger son, Jacob, is a scandal from the start and it is all the doing of our unfathomable God. “Let the children come to me, forbid them not” – what is he doing! Touching lepers, being touched by a woman with a flow of blood, speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well, and to a dead man in the tomb for four days, allowing a prostitute to cover him with oil. (hhhh!) Jesus, like Jacob was a scandal from the start; Herod wanted him eliminated, and he wasn’t the only one; it was start to finish in Jesus’ life: both sides of the coin! The powerful, convention-upsetting, mandate meddling, prejudice destroying, exclusion eliminating, good-giving, powerful grace of God is a scandal to sensible people who live on the well-worn paths and among the thorns, where the seeds cannot penetrate the firmly established crust. I’m just saying; that’s the story. I don’t know why, or how, or when, or who is going to get blessed or conflicted or both at the same time. But it just might be this God behind it all, bringing new life. It just might be the activity of Jesus among us, near but still beyond our grasp, speaking, teaching, provoking, troubling, planting seeds. If so, let it be and let it become; let it grow. Let it seep in. Watch its wonders. If it is our God, it holds our future. If it is God, there is hope and goodness in the tension. Inscrutable and powerful, scandalous and unfathomable, very good and well worth waiting for, in every instance, no matter how long, is the Lord God Almighty revealed in Jesus Christ, our Savior. That much I do know and in this God I trust my life.