I was thinking about God this week. I guess that’s sort of my job, no? There are lots of metaphors, lots of descriptive words for God: Severe Judge, Detached watch-maker God, “the ground of all being,” loving parent, mother hen, suffering servant, inapproachable light, Mr. Fix-it.
For me, particularly when I read stories like the one about Jacob, God is like a jazz musician who knows where she want to get to, but in the meantime there will be lots of variations on a theme, lots of riffs, instruments going off and improvising.
There is the beat, and the bass – a rhythm that keep it together – but it is free; making things up as you go along, yet ultimately there is reconciliation, an ending, a note that lingers after the last chord sounds.
My mentor Herb Meza used to say, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Somehow through all the complexity, and all the notes, comes something quite simple and lovely: Love wins.
The Kingdom of God is experienced in and through the messiness and yuck but you end up at a wedding feast with the proper spouse!
The story of Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel is a great, great story. Jacob works seven years for his beloved Rachel and then his father-in-law Laban switches Leah for Rachel at the wedding feast, probably drunk in the “booth in the corner in the dark” to quote Geraldine, comedian Flip Wilson’s female alter-ego, and Jacob “lies” with Leah and she becomes his wife, not Rachel. Wow.
Everyone knows that Jacob loves the younger Rachel; she is “shapely and beautiful!” Leah has nice eyes (although some ancient texts have it that she had “weak eyes” – perhaps cross-eyed) and probably a good personality.
This is smoky, tawdry, back room stuff…and yet it is God stuff. God will use even this – God uses everything. Every note counts, each measure has meaning. Things are being built on, nothing wasted, variations on the theme of grace.
Remember, Jacob is a trickster, he stole his brother’s birthright – but in this story the con artist gets conned by his kinsman and father-in-law Laban. What goes around comes around.
And if you read on there is marital dysfunction, and multiple children by multiple wives – and finally Rachel gives birth to Joseph – Joseph of the coat of many colors, Joseph who goes to Egypt and becomes famous – and whose children spend several hundred years in Egypt before Moses, and on and on and on it goes.
And all of this is very important you see – each story is part of a larger narrative. Each story may have its horrors and tragedy even, and yet a “river runs through it,” a current of grace and purpose and hope.
Attached to this narrative you are part of something larger. Cut off from the narrative and you are alone in a lonely place, in exile.
Think of your own life. I hope it isn’t as mixed-up and weird as Jacob’s but maybe it is. Think of how you feel about the state of the nation right now – what is going to get you through the night?
Thank about what you’re going through and the burdens you’re carrying, and how just when you think it’s going to work out, it doesn’t.
What stories name you and claim you? What do you keep faith with?
It takes a lot of faith, hope, love and courage to trust that “all things work for good for those who love God who are called according to God’s purpose.”
Maybe not in the short term. Maybe not in your particular life. You may be in the middle of 14 years of hardship – and yet what Paul reminds us is that you have to keep on keeping on – keep playing, keep singing.
We may not see the pattern. You may not get the insight now, but one day you may be able to see the connection, to put it together a bit better. Life gets a bit easier to play after you’ve practiced and suffered. It’s called wisdom!
So let’s be real. Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, faith is about clinging to hope, not certainty. But what are you going to do?
Are you going to cut yourself off, or be part of a community?
Are you going to give up or press on?
Are you going to get cynical or push yourself to live towards your highest aspirations?
Are you going to live believing that nothing separates you from the love of God or not?
Are you going to trust the theme of the celestial music?
Biblical faith is more about endurance and hope in the unseen than happy endings.
Like the grandfather who, when asked by his granddaughter, “Papa, why are you planting a tree that you will not see grow big?” responded, “Because you will see it.”
Like the mother who works two jobs and barely sees her children, but has high hopes that someday, one da,y her child may go to college.
Like the one who massages the feet of a depressed friend just to get him through the next five minutes. You are going to sing the blues sometimes.
I tip my hat to Jacob, working 14 years for his heart’s desire. That is a testimony to devotion, endurance and patience. You have your eye on a prize and you do what you do in order to reach it. That is a redeeming thought.
The Kingdom of God according to Jesus and his parables is experienced not in the by-and-by but by watching a weed take over a field, letting an unclean microbe have its chemical effect. Processes working – waiting 7 years and then working 7 more.
You will never get closer to the Kingdom of God than your own life, your own weeds, your own unclean microbes, your own struggles – that is where GOD is making music, asking you to play your note!
“Ring the bell that you can ring, there’s no perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen sang that. He got it!
“We know all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to his purpose.” Sing that!
Christian faith is not a protection from adversity, or the opposite of doubt. Christian faith is that nevertheless we shall overcome, because “tears may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
You have to find a blessing right where you are, that God is present with you wherever you might be. You have to be willing to cling to the promise, and let others cling to the promise for you when it gets hard. Let them play their instruments. Sometimes it’s good to just watch and listen, just feel it.
Life is life. The question is how are you going to persevere? What risks are you willing to take? What worldview will you hold on to, to get you through the night?
Is your suffering going to lead to endurance, or will you simply quit?
Will you push through to character or just become a blot? Will you be encouraged by hope – a conviction that life is good and worth living even when it is hard to see it.
Will you sing with Saint Mick and the Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find… you get what you need.”
Claim your life and live it! “What then are we to say about these things?, Paul writes: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?…. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sounds like we are ending on a major chord to me!
Not Laban, not the current political madness, not slavery, not Jim Crow, not racism, not ignorance, not sickness, not your current situation, nothing can separate you….
Of course, I can’t prove that. I can only tell a story, play my part, sing my note, add my riff.
Or perhaps like that jazz musician, I can let myself go into the music. Each note has weight and meaning, but how it all fits together you don’t know until the end. Because there are larger things at work than each individual note.
I can only share the experiences of a community that has claimed that as true and invite you to improvise! Looking for God where you are and not where you are not.
We work so that others might benefit, and we share, and we endure, and we keep our eyes on the prize and we do not give up, we let everyone join in.
And in the most wonderful way, I am ready to get back to work for 7 years and perhaps 7 years more; I want to keep learning this jazz improv of grace!