July 16, 2017

6th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 25:19-45
Matthew 13:1-9


Mark Nixon is an award-winning photographer who once took a project of taking photos of much loved teddy bears and the stories behind them. Here are some of their stories.[1]

This is One Eyed Ted/Aloysius. This teddy bear belonged to Gerry and his brother, Mano when they were still children. If you pay close attention to it, you will see a trace of lipstick that their mother, Maureen, once applied on One Eyed Ted.

This is Bobo. Bobo belonged to Shane. Santa brought Bobo when Shane was only six weeks old and now Bobo belongs to Shane’s daughter.

And this is Ted. Ted belonged to Frances. Ted was given to Frances by her aunt. Ever since the day Frances had Ted, she never saw her aunt again until the day she turned up drunk when France’s father was dying. Her aunt was thrown out of the house as the result.

This is Beary. It belonged to Tom. When Tom was born, Beary was a gift from a friend of Tom’s parent. Tom went everywhere with Beary. Whenever he felt tired, Tom would run upstairs to get Beary from his bed and give Beary a cuddle.

And this is Daddy Bunny. He is a member of a family that consists of him, Mummy Bunny, and Nanny Bunny. They all slept on the same bed with Zoe, who slept on the edge of her bed because, she said, the three needed space.

So friends, how do we know that a teddy bear has been much loved? Well, a much-loved teddy bear doesn’t smell nice. It isn’t clean or tidy, like a brand-new teddy bear. A much-loved teddy bear is dirty, messy, smelly, and often has lost some of its parts. Yet these are all indications that this teddy bear is the recipient of many kisses and hugs, and perhaps even spits and tears.

As such, these teddy bears are symbols of our families. Most of us love our families, but they can be messy too. They have dirty parts that we are ashamed of or try our best to hide. Indeed, each family has its own problems, intricacies, and challenges. Even those families that seem to be ‘perfect’ from the outside have many, if not more, skeletons in their cupboards. Of course, some families are more ‘dysfunctional’ than others; and there are different degrees of dysfunctionality, but all families are functional and dysfunctional at the same time.

We see this in Isaac and Rebecca’s family. Last Sunday we hear about the fairy tale between these great patriarch and matriarch of Israel. Theirs seemed to be a ‘perfect’ love story. Their love story resonated well with many people today, even when it’s told from within a time and a culture that we understand very little of.

Indeed, many consider the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah as the most ‘successful’ and ‘stable’ in the Old Testament, at least according to our modern standard. Unlike Israel’s other forefathers, Isaac had never had another wife besides Rebecca. They both lived in a committed monogamous relationship until the end of their lives. No wonder that they often become the poster couple of biblical marriage counseling today!

But the family that these ‘perfect’ couple built seemed to be far from ideal. The picture that we are given in our passage today in Genesis was far from perfect. Theirs was a family where parental favoritism and sibling rivalries thrived. Theirs was a family were its members manipulated and took advantage of the other members of the family. Even more, theirs was a family where threat of violence existed.

And all of these had been foreshadowed even when Esau and Jacob, the twins, were still in Rebecca’s womb. Their rivalry began before they came into the world. They fought against one another in the womb, and they were still fighting one another after they were born.

The good news is that this was exactly the arena where God chose to work. God chose Isaac and Rebecca’s family, and not another family, to be the bearers of God’s plan not only for Israel, but for the world.

Even the name for the chosen people of God, Israel, was taken from the name that God gave to Jacob[2], this imperfect, often morally bereft, individual. The name Jacob, or Ya’aqov in Hebrew, shares the same Hebrew word for heel, which is aqav. So Jacob’s name is a word play that describes how he came into the world: he held on to the heel of his twin brother, Esau.

But the same root word can also mean ‘to cheat’. Indeed, like one commentator says, Jacob is a “trickster, a man who schemes and plots, always looking for the advantage”.[3] He is a ‘heel’, which means an untrustworthy man in old English.

Yet God chose him, not some other people. Indeed, this messy world filled with imperfect humans like Jacob and his family; imperfect people like you and me, is the arena of God’s grace.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God came down to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to share our messy world with us. God doesn’t stay aloof. In Jesus Christ, God is ready to become dirty. In Jesus, God came into our midst to be one of us and live amongst us. In Jesus, God shares the messiness of our life.

No, God doesn’t choose perfect humans to be God’s servants. God chooses imperfect, sometimes even morally questionable, individuals, to do God’s work to bring healing and wholeness into the world.

This fundamental truth is described beautifully by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Pastor and Theologian who was executed by the Nazi during WWII. In his work, Ethics, which was written for his former students during his time as a spy who was trying to undermine the Nazi regime in Germany, he wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”[4]


God loves us with all our imperfections. We don’t need to employ spin doctors, like our pollies do today, to somehow tailor our life to look more presentable to God and others before we can do God’s work on earth.

The Bible is abound with examples of God using people with moral imperfections and questionable characters. We hear about King David in the Old Testament who once stole his officer’s wife by murdering him. In the New Testament, we hear about Zacchaeus the tax collector who took money that didn’t belong to him or Saul who violently persecuted the Christians. Today, we hear about Isaac whose ‘passivity’ had led members of his family to tear each other apart; about Rebecca who incited and helped Jacob to lie to his father and stole what was supposed to be his brother’s right; about Esau who easily turned to violence; and about Jacob the expert in manipulation. Yet, these were members of the family whom God had chosen to work with to bring God’s salvation to the world.

It doesn’t mean that God condones all the bad things that these people did. God came into our messy world not to condone our shortcomings, but to help us overcome them.

Think about a soil, especially a good soil. It’s dirty. It’s full of germs and worms and other creatures and things that, trust me, you don’t want me to remind you of. Yet, it is into this kind of place that God scatters the seeds of the gospel. And from this kind of place that life will grow even flourish.

So next time you are confronted by your imperfect world: whether it is your imperfect families even your imperfect selves, don’t’ get discouraged. Learn to see this imperfect world as the fertile ground where God scatters the seeds of God’s Kingdom. Remind yourself that this is exactly the arena where God chooses to work to nurture love and forgiveness and compassion in our life and in the world today.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Excerpt from “Much Loved” by Mark Nixon. Published by Abrams Images © 2013 by Mark Nixon on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/much-loved-_n_4178166.html
[2] Genesis 32:28
[3] Commentary on Genesis 25:19-34 by Kathryn M. Schifferdecker on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3340 (July 16 2017)
[4] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2017 - Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2016 (p. 93)