In my 30 plus years of serving in the ordained ministry, I've prepared

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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
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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.
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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.