Archive for the ‘Esau’ Tag

Devotion for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year B (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  The Meeting of Esau and Jacob, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Seeing the Face of God and Living

JULY 28, 2024


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Exodus 24:3-11

Psalm 145 (LBW) or Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 (LW)

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

John 6:1-15


O God, your ears are always open to the prayers of your servants. 

Open our hearts and minds to you,

that we may live in harmony with your will

and receive the gifts of your Spirit;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 26


O God, the Protector of all who trust in you,

without whom nothing is strong and nothing is holy,

increase and multiply your mercy on us,

that with you as our Ruler and Guide,

we may so pass through things temporal,

that we lose not the things eternal;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 71


This Sunday we read the Johannine version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Plus).  You, O reader, may recall that we read the Markan account of that miracle last Sunday.  With that comment, I move along to other material.

Besides, I have written about the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Plus) frequently at this weblog.

The reading from Exodus 24 (source = E) agrees with Ephesians 4 regarding the three-tiered cosmos.  In Exodus 24, the mythological explanation for the sky being blue is that the sky, as the floor of God’s palace, is like a pavement of sapphire.  The Bible is not a science book.  To quote the great Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who got into deep trouble for distinguishing between science and theology following the Protestant Reformation,

The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the Heavens go.

Mythology aside, can one see God and live?  The Hebrew Bible, consisting of sources, disagrees with itself.  Not only do sources contradict each other, but sometimes the same source may not of one mind.  We read in Exodus 24:9-11 (source = E) that the answer is affirmative.  We read in Exodus 33:11 (source = E) that God spoke to Moses

face to face, as one man speaks to another.

Yet we read in Exodus 33:20-24 (source = E, or not, depending on which exegete one believes) that no human being may see God and live, that nobody may see God’s face, and that Moses saw God’s back.

Nevertheless, as often as anyone saw Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh, one saw God–with a face, even.

God is gracious, the assigned readings tell us.  So, we who follow God have an obligation to practice such graciousness.  David Bentley Hart’s translation of Ephesians 4:2-3 reads:

…With all humility and gentleness, with magnanimity, bearing with one another in love, Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace….

In a way, following that advice constitutes seeing the face of God and living.  We read of the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 33.  We read that, following decades of enmity and the plausible fear of violence from Esau, Jacob the erstwhile trickster told his brother:

…for to see your face is like seeing the face of God….

–Genesis 33:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

That line from the story of Jacob and Esau deserves more attention that most readers of Genesis 33 give it.

We–in our families, congregations, communities, et cetera–need to live the principles of Ephesians 4:2-3.  This is the essence of righteousness, which is right relationship with God, self, others, and all of creation.  This is righteousness, which is synonymous with justice in the Bible.  By grace, may it be our reality.











Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for Proper 15, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Trusting in God, Part II

AUGUST 20, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 37:1-28 or Isaiah 30:15-25

Psalm 18:16-30

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Matthew 11:2-19


Patriarchs in Genesis had dysfunctional families.  Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac, on faith that God had told him to do so.  (Yes, I argue with that story.)  Isaac’s son Jacob, with the help of Jacob’s mother, fooled him and defrauded Esau.  Jacob seemed not to care about the rape of his daughter Dinah and, in a different context, acted in such a way as to foster tension among his sons, most of whom fooled him into thinking that his son Joseph was dead.  With family like that, who needs enemies?

The main idea in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is that believers ought to conduct themselves in ways that glorify God and distinguish them from unbelievers.  Yet even when holy people do that, they will still receive criticism, for some people thrive on finding faults, even if those faults are imaginary.  It is preferable that the criticisms be baseless; that way they show up the critics.

During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.), the kingdom entered into a military alliance with Egypt against Assyria.  This was an ill-advised alliance; Egypt was not trustworthy.  The author of Isaiah 30 argued that the alliance indicated a lack of trust in God, who was reliable.  After the announcement of divine wrath followed the prediction of mercy.

Trusting in God liberates one to do as one should and become the person one should be.  One can lay aside the desire for revenge, not to lead a life defined by anger, and value justice instead.  With confidence in God one can avoid foolish decisions that end badly.  One, trusting in God, can find the source of ultimate peace and strength.









Devotion for Proper 12, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jacob Struggles with the Angel, from the Gutenberg Bible

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 30, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 32:3-31 or Isaiah 14:5-20

Psalm 15

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Matthew 10:1-15


Jacob had been wrestling all his life.  In the womb he and his brother Esau had struggled with each other.  Jacob had, so to speak, wrestled with Esau during childhood and adulthood.  Jacob had also been wrestling with himself.  On the eve of what turned out to be reconciliation with Esau, Jacob literally wrestled with God or an angel in human form and received a blessing, as well as a limp.  Jacob, literally “supplanter,” also became Israel, literally “may God rule.”

I admire Judaism, from which I learn much.  One aspect of Judaism I find especially helpful is struggling with God as part of a relationship with God.  One finds evidence of that collective struggle throughout the Hebrew Bible.  One also finds evidence of divine judgment and mercy, hence restoration following exile.  The reading from Isaiah 14 is a song of taunting against the defeated Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean monarch.

According to the high standards of Psalm 15, not one of we mere mortals has any hope, except via grace.  Moral perfectionism is an impossible standard, but we should still strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the quarrelsome Corinthian church that it was God’s temple.  (The “you” is plural in the reading.)  That congregation needed to shape up and come closer to its spiritual potential.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has studied the (First) Letter to the Corinthians from St. Clement (I) of Rome (circa 100) should know, the congregation remained quarrelsome and troublesome for at least a generation after St. Paul’s demise.

As my father taught me, troubled people cause trouble..  They are like Jacob.  They are wrestling, metaphorically, with themselves and others.  Perhaps they are wrestling with God also.  In the meantime, in the context of congregational life, are holding a church back, and other members of that community are permitting them to do so.  This is a dynamic present in come congregations I have observed.

One progression in the Gospel of Matthew is the expansion of the audience for the message.  The audience in 7:6 consists of Jews.  Yet, in 28:19, the audience is

all nations.

I, as a Gentile, am grateful for this expansion of the audience.  Through it the wisdom of Judaism, has come to me.  As I struggle with God, others, and myself, I hope that I cause no trouble in churches.  I hope that I am improving spiritually.  I hope that people will recognize the light of Christ in me.  To the extent any of this comes true, God deserves all the glory.









Devotion for Proper 10, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jacob’s Dream, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Call of God

JULY 16, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 28:10-19 or Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 13

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Matthew 8:18-34


Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13 point in one theological direction.  Genesis 28:10-19 points in another direction.  The note of judgment for injustice and iniquity sounds in Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13, but God shows mercy to the deceitful Jacob, on the run from Esau, his vengeful brother, whom he had cheated more than once, in Genesis 28:10-19.  Via the dream of Jacob’s Ladder (more of a stairway or a ramp, actually), God confirms that Jacob is the carrier of the patriarchal promise.  Sometimes the wisdom of God seems foolish.

The call of God on our lives is to follow without making excuses.  The call of God on our lies is to follow even when doing so is inconvenient–or more.  The call of God on our lives is to function as vehicles of grace, to leave others better than they were when first our paths crossed theirs, the owners of the herd of swine in Matthew 8:23-24 not withstanding.

That which we do to others, we do to ourselves; this is a profound statement.  If one takes it seriously, one will be less likely to act in selfish ways that benefit me (at the expense of others) in the short term.  If one takes this truth seriously, one will be less likely to fail to recognize problems of others, as being problems that God will also affect one.  If we internalize this truth, we will be less likely to make excuses and shirk our responsibilities.









Devotion for Proper 8, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Esau Selling His Birthright, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Image in the Public Domain

Vehicles of Grace

JULY 2, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 25:17-34 or Isaiah 1:1-20 (portions)

Psalm 11

1 Corinthians 1:1-18

Matthew 7:15-29


Waiting on and trusting in God can be very difficult, but it is the thematic thread uniting these readings.  Nevertheless, some of the figures from certain readings for today seem like unlikely exemplars of waiting on and trusting in God.

The narrative about Jacob portrays Israel in its earthiest and most scandalous appearance in Genesis.  The narrative is not edifying in any conventional religious or moral sense.  Indeed, if one comes to the narrative with such an agenda, the narrative is offensive.  But for that very reason, the Jacob narrative is most lifelike.  It presents Jacob in the crude mixture of motives.  The grandson of the promise is a rascal compared to his faithful grandfather Abraham or his successful father Isaac.  The affirmations of faith in this narrative are especially robust.  The narrator knows that the purposes of God are tangled in a web of self-interest and self-seeking.

–Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (1982), page 204

Saul of Tarsus thought he was obeying God while oppressing Christians.  After realizing his error, he became St. Paul the Apostle, a vital figure in the mission to the Gentiles.

Each of us is imperfect.  All of us can do better.  Each of us can be a vehicle of grace, by grace.  Seeking to obey God is laudable, but how can we succeed?  The judgments of our culture are not always helpful in this matter.  Furthermore, if we think we are listening to God, we might be, but we might also be conducting on internal dialogue instead.  As much as one might try to wait on and trust in God, one might miss the channel, so to speak.

I offer no easy answers because I have none.  Besides, an easy answer to a difficult question is a wrong answer.  I suggest, however, that one is less likely to go wrong by seeking the good of other people rather than by living selfishly.  One might sin in how one seeks to build up others, but at least on is pointing in the right direction.  Yet good intentions are the pavement stones in road to Hell, so one needs grace to make wise decisions daily.  Good intentions are at least good, but they are insufficient.

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That truth is a quote from the Westminster Larger Catechism.  The sentence is a fine general statement of principle.  The particulars vary according to the circumstances of life–who, where, and when one is.  May we, by grace, bear good fruit for God, and therefore glorify him, and enjoy him fully forever.









Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 24, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled

Above:   Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled, by Jan Van den Hoecke

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Others

OCTOBER 14 and 15, 2022


The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 31:43-32:2 (Friday)

Genesis 32:3-21 (Saturday)

Psalm 121 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (Friday)

Mark 10:46-52 (Saturday)


He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD himself watches over you; the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.

The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 121:3-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Here is a saying you may trust:

“If we died with him, we shall live with him;

if we endure, we shall reign with him;

if we disown him, he will disown us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,

for he cannot disown himself.”

Keep on reminding people of this, and charge them solemnly before God to stop disputing about mere words; it does no good, and only ruins those who listen.

–2 Timothy 2:11-14, The Revised English Bible (1989)


God seeks to build us up; we should strive to the same for each other.  That is the unifying theme of these lessons.

Distracting theological arguments constitute “mere words” (2 Timothy 2:14).  Of course, many people do not think that such theological arguments are distracting and destructive.  Partisans certainly understand them to be matters of fidelity to God.  Such arguments help to explain the multiplicity of Christian denominations.  I think in particular of the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), which separated from the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) in 1910-1911 over, in part, the parent body’s liberalization with regard to Sola Scriptura (or, more to the point, that which the Reformed churches call the Regulative Principle of Worship) and worldliness.  The Anderson Church began to (gasp!) permit the wearing of neckties!  (Shock horror)  Granted, the original, narrow meaning of Sola Scriptura, especially in Lutheran theology, applies only to requirements for salvation, but certain schools of Christianity have expanded its scope to matters beyond salvation–from liturgy to the presence or absence of neckties.

Legalism does not build up the body of Christ.  Reconciliation, however, does.  We read a prelude to the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (effected in Genesis 33) in Chapter 32.  Jacob, who had, with the help of his mother, cheated his brother out of his birthright in Genesis 27, had gone on to become a recipient of trickery in Chapter 29.  He parted company with his father-in-law, Laban, with whom he had a difficult relationship, in Genesis 31, and was nervous about what might happen at a reunion with Esau, who proved to be conciliatory.

The healing of blind Bartimaeus (literally, son of Timaeus) is familiar.  Jesus, unlike many people in the account, has compassion for the blind man calling out to him.  Those others, we might speculate with little or no risk of being wrong, thought of Bartimaeus as a nuisance at worst and an irritant at best.  One need not use one’s imagination much to grasp the application of this story in daily life.  Do we see people, or do we see irritants and nuisances?

A moral law of the universe is that, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves also.  This challenges us all, does it not?  Tearing others down might be in one’s short-term interests, but, in the long term, those who injure others do so to their detriment.

How is God calling you to build up others today, O reader?






Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob's Ladder William Blake

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

Flawed Agents of Grace

SEPTEMBER 25 and 26, 2023


The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 27:1-29 (Monday)

Genesis 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 106:1-12 (Both Days)

Romans 16:1-16 (Monday)

Romans 16:17-20 (Tuesday)


Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

and I may glory with your inheritance.

–Psalm 106:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


One of the challenges one faces in reading the Bible intelligently is understanding cultural nuances.  What does it matter, for example, that a father imparts a blessing on his son?  That was important in the culture of Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Esau/Edom, for the blessing or curse, in the minds of many people, determined the destiny of the recipient of the pronouncement.

Isaac was a pitiful character.  The fact that his father, Abraham, had tried to kill him once must have messed him up psychologically.  Wife Rebekah plotted to deceive him in order to promote her second son, Jacob.  She succeeded, and the promise flowed through the second son again, Isaac having been the second son of Abraham.  The confirmation of the promise came in a dream about angels on a ladder.  But Jacob remained a trickster, one whom Laban fooled.  The promise of God, this chain of events tells me, does not depend on purity of human character or motivation.  This is good news, for it the divine promise did depend on such factors, it would be vain hope.

St. Paul the Apostle, after a long list of commendations in Romans 16, advised people to avoid

those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray, contrary to the teaching you received

–Romans 16:17b, The Revised English Bible (1989).

The process of sorting out core Christian doctrines entailed centuries of debates among those who asked sincere questions.  Many of these seekers of the truth were objectively wrong about certain details, but at least they proceeded from a good motivation.  When they were wrong, their contribution led to the formulation of correct doctrines, so we Christians of the twenty-first century are indebted to them.  St. Paul the Apostle might have considered some of these individuals to be among “those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray,” for he was quite opinionated.  There were also actual mischief-makers.  Maybe you, O reader, have encountered the type–people who ask questions to provoke, not to seek an answer.

Those who sow the seeds of dissension seem to have great internal discord, for those at peace with themselves make peace and troubled people cause trouble.  I have witnessed these dynamics in congregations.  And I recognize it in family life, such as in the account in Genesis 27 and 28.  Much of the narrative of the Old Testament reads like a catalog of bad parenting and of sibling rivalry.  The texts are honest about character flaws, though, so we modern readers need not feel guilty about thinking of them as less than heroic all the time.  These were flawed people–as we are–and God worked through them as God works through us.








Flawed Agents of Grace


Proper 10, Year A   24 comments

Above:  Soil Profile

Image in the Public Domain

A Call for Righteous Deeds

The Sunday Closest to July 13

The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

JULY 16, 2023



Genesis 25:19-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said,

If it is to be this way, why do I live?

So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples born of you shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the elder shall serve the younger.

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob,

Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!

(Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said,

First sell me your birthright.

Esau said,

I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?

Jacob said,

Swear to me first.

So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Psalm 119:105-112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

105 Your word is a lantern to my feet

and a light upon my path.

106 I have sworn and am determined

to keep your righteous judgments.

107 I am deeply troubled;

prserve my life, O LORD, according to your word.

108 Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips,

and teach me your judgments.

109 My life is always in my hand,

yet I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have set a trap for me,

but I have not strayed from your commandments.

111 Your decrees are my inheritance for ever;

truly, they are the joy of my heart.

112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes

for ever and to the end.


Isaiah 55:10-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,

O God of our salvation,

O Hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the seas that are far away.

6 You make fast the mountains by your power;

they are girded about with might.

7 You still the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

and the clamor of the peoples.

8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs;

you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.

9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

10 You prepare the grain,

for so you provide for the earth.

11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

12 You crown the year with your goodness,

and your paths overflow with plenty.

13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,

and the hills be clothed with joy.

14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,

and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;

let them shout for joy and sing.


Romans 8:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  Buf if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your moral bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.


Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying:

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!

Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out….

You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

–Psalm 65:3, 9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer)

This Sunday’s readings, taken together, constitute a call for righteous deeds.

One aspect of a righteous deed is that it lacks resentment.  Esau had every right to be resentful.  His brother, Jacob, forced him to sell his birthright.  Jacob was a schemer, and his plots got him into much needless difficulty over the years.  They did reconcile eventually, but not before much family drama played out.

A righteous deed is a faithful response to God.  God has acted.  And God continues to act.  God shows the initiative in Isaiah 55 and Psalm 65.  And God (specifically Jesus) is the sower in Matthew 13.  This chapter is eschatological.  After the Parable of the Sower we have the tares, which resemble wheat.  God will sort out the difference at the time of the harvest, or the final judgment.

With eschatology in mind, the fates of the seeds take on meanings beyond “What kind of soil am I?” in the context of mere daily life.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew expected Jesus to return very shortly, a fact we must consider.  Another relevant detail is the presence of Roman persecutions of Christianity.  So seeds never sprout, others do for a time but do not survive adversity, and still other seeds take root and yield much.  Christians are supposed to yield much, a harvest possible only in God.

The harvest yields are unrealistic in agricultural terms, thus the parable is not agricultural; it is spiritual.  No farmer could expect such yields in First Century C.E. Judea reasonably.  So the yields must be the work of God, in concert with faithful people.  Stakes do not get much higher than eschatological ones, and, if one thinks the schedule is short, yields need to be greater to make up for the lack of time.

That was in 85-90 C.E.  I write these words on Christmas Day in 2010.  Between the 85 and 2010 many have speculated as to when Jesus might return.  They have all been wrong.  I have a 1979 paperback book explaining why Jesus will return by 1988.  That author was incorrect.  There is another date (May 2011) making the rounds as I write these words.  The fact that I am writing a devotion for July 10, 2011, indicates my opinion of that date.  We ought not obsess over dates, which come and go.  No, our mandate is to be faithful Christians who cooperate with God more often than not.  We cannot cooperate with God all the time, due to sin, but, by grace, we can improve spiritually.  The formula is this:  see and hear, understand, then act accordingly.

As for eschatology, God will handle those details.  The human track record on trying to understand it has not proved promising.  So let us focus on what God calls to do:  bear good fruit.  May we sink our roots into the river of God, which always has plenty of water.


Week of Proper 9: Tuesday, Year 1   19 comments

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 11, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,


Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];


said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.


The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.


Week of Proper 8: Saturday, Year 1   11 comments

Above: Isaac Blessing Jacob, by Govert Flinck (1638)

Image in the Public Domain

God Works Through Unexpected Means Sometimes

JULY 8, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Genesis 27:1-9, 15-29 (An American Translation):

One day, when Isaac was old and his eyes so dim that he could not see, he called his older son Esau.

My son!

he said to him.

Here I am,

he replied.

He said,

Here I am an old man, not knowing what day I may die.  Get your weapons, then, your quiver and bow, and go out into the fields, and hunt some game for me.  Then make me a tasty dish, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, that I may give you my blessing before I die.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac when Isaac spoke to his son Esau; so when Esau went off to the fields to hunt game for his father, Rebekah said to her son Jacob,

I have just heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game, and make me a tasty dish to eat, that I may bless you before the LORD before I die.’  Now then, my son, obey me in the charge that I give you.  Go to the flock and get two fat kids for me there, that I may make them into a tasty dish for your father, such as he likes….

…and taking the best clothes of her older son Esau, which she had in the house, Rebekah dressed her younger son Jacob in them; she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth parts of his neck, and committed the tasty dish and bread which she had made into the hands of her son Jacob.  Then he went in to his father, and said,


He said,

Yes, who are you, my son?

Jacob said to his father,

I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat once more of my game, that you may give me your blessing.

But Isaac said to his son,

How ever did you come to find it so quickly, my son?

He said,

Because the LORD your God brought it in my path.

Isaac then said to Jacob,

Come up close that I may feel you, my son, to see whether you really are my son Esau or not.

So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him, and said,

The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are those of Esau.

Hence he did not detect him, because his hands were hairy, like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.

Are you really my son Esau?

he said.

I am,

he replied.

So he said,

Bring me some of your game to eat, my son, that I may give you my blessing.

So he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him,

Come here and kiss me, my son.

So he went up and kissed him; and when he smelt his clothes, he blessed him, saying,

Ah, my son’s smell is like that of a field tht the LORD has blessd.

May God give you of the heaven’s dew,

Of earth’s fatness, with plenty of grass and wine!

Nations shall serve you,

And peoples bow down to you.

Be master of your brothers,

And let your mother’s sons bow down to you!

Cursed be they who curse you,

And blessed b they who bless you!

Psalm 135:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Praise the Name of the LORD;

give praise, you servants of the LORD.

2 You who stand in the house of the LORD,

in the courts of the house of our God.

3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;

sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely.

4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself

and Israel for his own possession.

5 For I know that the LORD is great,

and that our Lord is above all gods.

6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in heaven and on earth,

in the seas and all the deeps.

Matthew 9:14-17 (An American Translation):

Then the disciples of John came up to him [Jesus] and said,

Why is it that we and the Pharisees are keeping the fast, while your disciples are not keeping it?

Jesus said to them,

Can wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and they will fast then.  But no one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old coat, for the patch will tear away from the coat, and make the hole worse than ever.  And people do not put new wine into old wine-skins, or if they do, the skins burst, and the wine runs out and the skins are spoiled.  But people put new wine into fresh wine skins, and so both are saved.


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Bible is brutally honest about many major figures with whom the reader is supposed to sympathize.  Jacob, who becomes Israel, for whom the Jewish nation is named, is an opportunist.  Rebekah, his mother, is a schemer.  Isaac, his aged and blind father, seems not to be at the peak of his mental powers in Genesis 27.  And Esau, the trouble-maker, is twice an aggrieved party at the hand of his brother Jacob in Genesis.  Yet, according to an oracle in Genesis 25:33, Jacob is supposed to take precedence, and he does.  This happens by underhanded methods, but it comes true.

I dislike all these characters by Genesis 27, but Biblical writers want me to pick a side.  The Bible is a complicated volume.

In Matthew 9:14-17 we have a variation of the Markan teaching about wineskins and wine (Mark 2:18-22).  Matthew adds the “so both are saved” element.  So, in Matthew, there is value in traditions and innovations, but not all traditions and all innovations.  Consider the theology of the Gospel of Matthew:  Jesus praises Torah piety, but not many of those who claim to practice it; they get it wrong.  So Jesus (both old and new) breaks many traditions while keeping others.  His innovative variety of Torah piety is what people should have been keeping all along.  He scandalizes many respectable religious establishment types by eating with irreligious people and Roman collaborators, and by not fasting when others do.

Consider the Apostles of Jesus, too.  These were imperfect men.  They spent most of the timeframe of the Gospels squabbling and failing to understand even basic teachings.  Yet God worked through them, as much as God worked through Rebekah and Jacob.  And God works through us, who are quite flawed.

God is sovereign.  That is good news.  Are we willing to recognize both the old and new ways in which God works?

I have particular take on the old-new debate.  I belong to The Episcopal Church, which replaces its Book of Common Prayer from time to time.  To be precise, this has happened previously in 1789, 1892, 1928, and 1979.  Liturgical revision immediately prior to 1979 began in 1967, the proposed Prayer Book arrived in 1976, and the General Convention approved it three years later, but still some of my fellow Episcopalians refer to it as the “new” Prayer Book.  As I heard a catechist in the Diocese of Georgia ask in 2000, how old does the 1979 Prayer Book have to be before it ceases to be new?

We humans like our traditions, but we ought not transform them into idols.  No, they should be icons.  The difference is that an idol replaces God and distracts our attention from God.  But an icon is a visible representation of God, who is invisible; we see God through an icon.  A Prayer Book, like any tradition, ought to be a means to an end, not an end.  From time to time a new one arrives; there is room for both innovation and tradition.

As for me, the 1928 Prayer Book is a relic, a volume from which I have never worshiped.  I am a 1979 Prayer Booker.  It contains the best of its predecessor volumes while incorporating many pleasant innovations, not least of which is Eucharistic Prayer C from Holy Eucharist Rite II.  The book, like all products of human hands and minds, is imperfect.  But it is excellent, and through it God nourishes my spiritual life.  For that I am grateful.

It is an excellent wineskin.

This might surprise those oppose such formal liturgies, but so be it.  God works through them and their prayers, too.

God works in many ways, through many vehicles of various types.  Thanks be to God!