Getting Ready for Sunday

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Jacob and Esau. What's the point of this here? And how do we make sense of Esau? The red hair, the hunt, the birthright? Esau comes to us more like a barbarian than the civilized (implied Torah observant) Jacob. Esau appears as a stranger from the womb, though the same womb as his brother. This stranger has rights to the promises, but they are lost to him, as seemed rightful from the start. The outsider was destined to lose.

What's the point here?

Is rejected Esau only necessary as a foil to highlight that Jacob is chosen? But is it necessary to do that in such a blunt fashion, one brother over another? Paul tells us that this is exactly the point, so that grace might be established. By divine choice the promise is carried forward, not blood. If so, what then happens to Esau? What happens to the rejected one? Is the foil simply dismissed? But why repeat this pattern over and over in the OT? Cain and Able, Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Esau, Saul and David, Israel and Judah? If the rejected is dismissed and destined to wither under the sun of the chosen, why does the OT keep circling around the rejected?

Let's ask this another way. What was the purpose of the laws in Leviticus? Many seem to have been given in order to separate the people from the Canaanites. If you can't eat pork, you can't eat in a Canaanite home that does. If you are forced to dress in a certain way, then you will always stand apart. Jew and Gentile were to remain distinct and separate.

But in Christ both are joined together. Gentile and Jew found in the one flesh of Christ. The offense of such an idea! The humiliation! Jews on par with Gentiles! And the confusion. Where these not laws given by God to his people? Inviolable, perpetual laws, recorded by Moses on Sinai in the deafening thunder and blinding lightening? And so the Pharisees are shocked at Jesus. Peter himself is shocked at the net full of unclean creatures. Jewish Christians are shocked at the ministry of Paul.

But this idea was always in the OT. God embracing all began in Genesis (earth and water, sun and moon), then continued in the life of his own people (Saul and David, Judah and Israel). Jesus may have looked and dressed like a Jew, but he took the skin of not only a Jew, but of a Canaanite as well.

So, why the distinctions to begin with? Why Esau and Jacob? Because the Gospel is not Gnostic. It must be embodied. And if embodied, it must look like something. God never preached a generic abstract bodiless love. He committed himself to a particular form; he chose it and lived and died by it. Limits need not mean the need to reject those on the other side. It means gratefulness for your form as given to you by God and living and dying in the form. And it means submitting to the form chosen by God to carry his promise forward. Without that there is no Gospel. For without commitment to a form there is no incarnation, no Israel, no Abraham, no creation (and all the struggles that most certainly will attend commitment to your form! Israel struggled in horrible convultions merely leaning to be Israel. Jesus himself said, "How long must I remain with you?" But remain he did, unto death.)

Beware the American conception of the individual. It is almost entirely disembodied gnosticism, as if the human person was unformed clay. Not so. The clay has already been formed and given breath. Why else did Paul say that it is not important if a slave is freed, but to accept one's place in life (one's form!). You may look like a Canaanite, you may look like a Jew, but you cannot look like a Jew today, a Canaanite tomorrow. The form is given. Embrace. Be grateful. Live. Die. And wait for the resurrection. If you are a Canaanite, fine. But you must bow before the chosen Jew. And if you are a Jew, so be it. But you must welcome the rejected Canaanite. For such was the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. The rejected Esau welcomed home the chosen son. And Jacob embraced his rejected brother. Thus becoming one new man.

Esau couldn't escape his form. He woke up with it, was born with it. It doesn't mean he's out of reach from the covenant promises. It does mean that he must come to terms with rejection, in order to be chosen.

One's form may be Esau or Jacob. Neither are out of reach of the incarnation. Although the promise may be carried forward by only one (David is over Saul and Judah over Israel), even still, both are contained in the one flesh of the Son of Man, who was both chosen and rejected.

Paul may have said that the promise is established by grace alone, not blood, but the shock that fell upon Israel in the  incarnation is that the divine choice has been for all, Jew and Gentile, chosen and rejected, to be embraced by Christ. Even the rejected branch will be grafted back into the tree. For there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. 


Posted by The Rev. Tom Smith with

Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. Dr. Samira Izadi Page

Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

I love working in my garden! Anytime I have a couple of free hours, I prefer to spend it working alongside my husband in the yard. My husband loves cutting the lawn, edging, and trimming. But, Texas summer is upon us! Now imagine someone after a day of working outside—grimy, sweaty, dusty, and smelly. Imagine that person taking a shower and then instead of wearing fresh clothes, putting the filthy work clothes back on. That would totally nullify the status of “having showered.” In Chapter 6 of Romans, St. Paul reminds us of our change of “status” in Christ through baptism, our “risen” status into a new life. ( v. 5) The purpose of this risen status is “so we too might walk in the newness of life,” ( v.4 ) because just like Christ, we have died to sin. If that is true and we are set free from slavery to death and sin, why do we still walk in shackles? Why do we keep on putting on ragged, filthy, and smelly clothes of sin?

In the pre-internet and media days in England, how would people recognize the king or queen? If the queen would decide to dress like a peasant and walk on foot into a village a few hours outside of London with no escort, do you think people would recognize her status? How could she represent the veracity of her status? As Christians, we are representatives of Christ. We are dignitaries. But would others know that? And, if we told them, how would they know the truthfulness of our statement? How does the world, those who do not know Christ, recognize the difference? One of the ways the world sees the difference is that we no longer are slaves of Sin. It is by the way we present ourselves, from our outward appearance to the depth of our inner life and its expressions in the world. If we look, talk, act, and treat others like those who are still enslaved by sin, then, how are we representing our new life in Christ?

What does it mean not be slaves of Sin? There is a long and complex theological answer to this question and a difference between “Sin” and “sin.” Today, I try to focus on more practical issues. We live in a culture whose values are defined by Hollywood’s lifestyle. Post-modernity and relativismeed the self-serving individualism that creates “truths” of all sorts catered to the appetite and tendencies of each person. Sin has been reduced to “naughty things that we do.” But sin is about much more than just doing a bad thing. It is anything that hinders the fulfillment of God’s gracious and loving purposes, as expressed in the Scriptures, in the world for myself, for others, or for the creation. It is anything that injures God’s design for the world.

Still too abstract? OK. Sin is anything we do that causes us or others not to be able to love God or others as best as possible. Sometimes sin is knowingly becoming a stumbling block to others. Sin includes the obvious bad things that we do like cheating, lying, and stealing. But those things are not just bad, but unloving and outside of God’s design and purposes.

The problem is that there are other subtle things which our culture has accepted as norms and we do automatically without thinking of them as “sin.” They are norms that are very fluid and change from generation to generation. Everybody does them, so it must be OK for me to do them as well!!! How do we bring these cultural norms under the subjection of the new life in Christ?

Scriptures do not give us an exhaustive list of sins, rather, they give us guidelines for discernment by the power of the Holy Spirit. Living a new life in Christ impacts ALL aspects of our lives. This new life is not just about going to church on Sundays or just reading our Bibles or attending a Bible study. Neither does the newness of life happen automatically when we come to faith or are baptized. It takes intentionality in leading lives that are free from the bondage of sin. This new life is about transformation into the fullness of the image of Christ through constant discernment and negotiation of the things that we decide to do and how we do them.

A short self-examination every day can help us become more intentional about our newness of life in Christ. We can start by things that may seem small or are the norms. For me as a woman, it starts as I dress for the day: Is my skirt too short or my neckline too low? Do I look like a Christian woman? These small things, in subtle and gradual ways, can help us look more like “freed” individuals who prove the truthfulness of Christ’s power for transformation.

Here are a few examples of the kind of questions we can prayerfully ask and seek the will of God through the reading of the Scriptures to lead our lives into the direction of the new life:

What kind of audio or visual material do I consume every day and how do they impact my thoughts, my feelings, and my relationships with my loved ones or others?

How do I dress as a Christian and in what ways can that become a stumbling block to others morally or impact the way they view Christians?

What are the top three things that I spend my time doing every day? To what extent are those actions self-serving and to what extent God or others serving?

How does my life reflect the sacrificial love of Christ for others?

I am sure you can come up with your own list depending on your station in life. The goal is not to come up with a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts, rather being intentional about representing our King and his power in defeating sin and death.

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.