The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar.
Don’t forget that next Sunday is Food Bank Sunday. You are invited to bring in non-perishable food items or to make a monetary donation to the Yarmouth Food Bank. During the summer, when the Food Bank has limited hours food donations will be kept at Beacon and distributed through our Session Fund.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, let us remember that its light is not to one space or one gathering. The light of Christ is with us everywhere. So as we light our candle this morning, let us remember that we have been called and challenged to not only recognize Christ’s light wherever it shines but to take that light out with us wherever we go.
Acknowledgment of Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unseeded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality along with the spirituality and traditions of the Métis people with whom we also share this land.
Call to Worship
Here, in this place, we come together to discover anew the stories of the great and wondrous God we worship. In story and in scripture, in silence and in sacrament, we are reminded that God’s relationship with us is every changing and renewing. Here, in this place and with these people, we can find a home, a place where we can laugh or we can cry, a place where we can shout for joy or sit in silence, a place where we can be who we really are knowing we are loved and accepted by the One who can help us repair all our mistakes and reshapes our brokenness. And so here, in this place, we come together to worship.
Let us pray;
Divine One, you come to us in unexpected ways, meeting us in unexpected places;
in isolation, behind closed doors, on the dusty and winding roads of life, as we go from place to place, in video chats and telephone conversations with friends, family, and loved ones. You come bringing us peace, where we are anxious and worried. You come bringing us hope when everything seems hopeless. You come bringing us courage when we are hesitant and afraid. You come among us, in every place and every time. Open our eyes to see you. Open our hearts to know you. Open our lives to follow you wherever you lead. Amen
Theme Conversation/Current Events
There is a wonderful story that I have told before, but I think it bears repeating.
There was once a powerful executive that worked long hours in a great high-rise building in a large city. One night, as he worked well into the evening, the power went out. He headed out into the hall to see if the entire building was out when he ran into the janitor. “Son,” the janitor said, “you might as well make yourself comfortable because we’re not going anywhere, anytime soon.”
Not feeling comfortable being alone in the dark, the man invited the janitor into his office to wait. The two got talking. “Do ya have any children?” the janitor asked the man.
“I have a son who is the joy of my life” the man replied. “I can’t imagine my life without him.”
“Just one?” the janitor asked in surprise. “I have nine wonderful children and I love each one of them.”
“Nine children!” the executive exclaimed. “How on earth do you divide your love between nine children?”
The janitor looked confused for a moment then he replied, “Sir, “ya don’t divide your love, ya multiplies it!”
So the reason I decided to use that story this morning is that in our scripture reading today we hear about the sons of Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons, although only 11 are listed in the scriptures today. Benjamin, the youngest, doesn’t enter the picture until much later. Although one daughter, Dinah, is mentioned we do not know how many other daughters Jacob may have had, since daughters we not usually mentioned at all, and the only reason Dinah is mentioned is a later story of her being raped.
Unfortunately, as we will learn in later scriptures, unlike the janitor in the story I told a moment ago, Jacob did not seem to multiply his love but rather lavished it all on Joseph.
But today we begin our story when Jacob arrives in Haran and meets his uncle Laban and we continue with the birth of the first 11 of Jacob’s 12 sons.
Laban said to Jacob, “You shouldn’t work for me for nothing just because you are my relative. How much pay do you want?” Laban had two daughters; the older was named Leah, and the younger Rachel. Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel, so he said, “I will work seven years for you if you will let me marry Rachel.”
Laban answered, “I would rather give her to you than to anyone else; stay here with me.” Jacob worked seven years so that he could have Rachel, and the time seemed like only a few days to him, because he loved her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “The time is up; let me marry your daughter.” So Laban gave a wedding feast and invited everyone. But that night, instead of Rachel, he took Leah to Jacob, and Jacob had intercourse with her. (Laban gave his slave woman Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid.) Not until the next morning did Jacob discover that it was Leah. He went to Laban and said, “Why did you do this to me? I worked to get Rachel. Why have you tricked me?”
Laban answered, “It is not the custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older. Wait until the week’s marriage celebrations are over, and I will give you Rachel if you will work for me another seven years.”
Jacob agreed, and when the week of marriage celebrations was over, Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. (Laban gave his slave woman Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.) Jacob had intercourse with Rachel also, and he loved her more than Leah. Then he worked for Laban another seven years.
When the Lord saw that Leah was loved less than Rachel, he made it possible for her to have children, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She said, “The Lord has seen my trouble, and now my husband will love me”; so she named him Reuben. She became pregnant again and gave birth to another son. She said, “The Lord has given me this son also because he heard that I was not loved”; so she named him Simeon. Once again she became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She said, “Now my husband will be bound more tightly to me because I have borne him three sons”; so she named him Levi. Then she became pregnant again and gave birth to another son. She said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; so she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
But Rachel had not borne Jacob any children, and so she became jealous of her sister and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I will die.”
Jacob became angry with Rachel and said, “I can’t take the place of God. He is the one who keeps you from having children.”
She said, “Here is my slave Bilhah; sleep with her, so that she can have a child for me. In this way I can become a mother through her.” So she gave Bilhah to her husband, and he had intercourse with her. Bilhah became pregnant and bore Jacob a son. Rachel said, “God has judged in my favor. He has heard my prayer and has given me a son”; so she named him Dan. Bilhah became pregnant again and bore Jacob a second son. Rachel said, “I have fought a hard fight with my sister, but I have won”; so she named him Naphtali.
When Leah realized that she had stopped having children, she gave her slave Zilpah to Jacob as his wife. Then Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Leah said, “I have been lucky”; so she named him Gad. Zilpah bore Jacob another son, and Leah said, “How happy I am! Now women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.
During the wheat harvest, Reuben went into the fields and found mandrakes, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
Leah answered, “Isn’t it enough that you have taken away my husband? Now you are even trying to take away my son’s mandrakes.”
Rachel said, “If you will give me your son’s mandrakes, you can sleep with Jacob tonight.”
When Jacob came in from the fields in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You are going to sleep with me tonight, because I have paid for you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he had intercourse with her that night. God answered Leah’s prayer, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my reward because I gave my slave to my husband”; so she named her son Issachar. Leah became pregnant again and bore Jacob a sixth son. She said, “God has given me a fine gift. Now my husband will accept me because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Later she bore a daughter, whom she named Dinah.
Then God remembered Rachel; he answered her prayer and made it possible for her to have children. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She said, “God has taken away my disgrace by giving me a son. May the Lord give me another son”; so she named him Joseph.
Out-Conning the Con Man
Based on all that we have read about Jacob up until today, I have to admit that he’s really not the kind of person I would want to associate with. He seems selfish, deceitful, cocky, suspicious, and perhaps just a little bit too full of himself for my liking. But in our reading today, Jacob runs into someone who may well be even more deceitful than he is, his Uncle Laban.
After fleeing from his brother Esau and having a dream along the way assuring him of God’s protection, Jacob arrives in Haran.
This is the land that his grandfather Abraham had left behind when he had heard God’s call to leave everything and travel to an unknown destination, trusting that he would be led an accompanied all the way. Abraham had not hesitated but had followed wherever God led, constantly asking for God’s help and guidance. Now Jacob is returning to Haran but under very different circumstances.
At first, things seem to have gone exactly as Jacob might have hoped. Before he had even met Laban he had encountered Rachel at the well and had been captivated by her beauty. It was Rachel who had run to let Laban know that his nephew Jacob had come to see him. When Laban arrives he welcomed Jacob and received him as kin. And Laban not only welcomed him but he insisted that if Jacob was to remain with him and work for him, Jacob should be paid for his work. So Laban asked Jacob what wages he expected.
Jacob responds, “I will work seven years for you if you will let me marry Rachel.” Laban’s answer seems to seal the deal, “I would rather give her to you than to anyone else”.
Once again everything seems to be going exactly as Jacob planed. He works diligently for seven years, always keeping in mind the prize he is working for, the beautiful Rachel. But when the time is up and the wedding feast is held Jacob discovers that the bride he has taken to his bed is not Rachel but her older sister Leah.
Jacob is furious and confronts Laban. But Laban, calmly justifies what he has done by saying, “It is not the custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older.” “If you still want Rachel you can have her as well. Just wait till the week-long marriage celebration is over. But since you now have two wives instead of one, you’ll have to work for me for another seven years.”
Laban has out-conned the con man! Jacob is forced to agree to continue to work for Laban if he wants to claim Rachel as his own, and there is apparently nothing that Jacob wants more than Rachel. He showers Rachel with love but Leah is forced to accept whatever small demonstrations of affection Jacob might bestow on her. Yet despite how poorly she may have been treated Leah, apparently, longed to be loved by Jacob.
When her first son, Reuben, is born Leah responds to his birth with the hopeful words, “now my husband will love me”. When Simeon is born she responds, “The Lord has given me this son also, because he heard that I was not loved”. When Levi is born the idea of love seems to have faded away and Leah says, “Now my husband will be bound more tightly to me because I have borne him three sons”. By the time Judah is born any thought of Jacob seems to have been forgotten and she simply responds, “I will praise the Lord”.
Meanwhile, Rachel remains childless. It is almost like fate, or according to scriptures, the Lord Himself was compensating Leah and punishing Jacob. Jacob had never wanted Leah as his bride yet it was Leah and not Rachel who had fulfilled the single most important role of a wife at the time, to produced sons.
The problem for Rachel was that despite Jacob’s adoration, without sons her place in the family was in jeopardy. If anything happened to Jacob, she would be left completely dependent on the mercy of her sister, Jacob’s first wife. So in order to secure her place, she begs Jacob to give her children through her handmaid Bilhah. Jacob agrees and Bilhah gives birth to first Dan and then Naphtali both of whom are considered by the law of the time to be Rachel’s sons.
Suddenly Leah’s standing as the only one to produce sons for Jacob is threatened so, like her sister, she offers Jacob her handmaid Zilpah to produce sons for her. The battle is on and Gad and Asher are added to Leah’s children.
Leah eventually becomes pregnant again and Issachar and Zebulun are added to Leah’s sons bringing the count to eight. Rachel meanwhile has only two, Dan and Naphtali both born to Bilhah.
Then, miracle of miracles, Rachel becomes pregnant and gives birth to Joseph. It is the story of Joseph, the beloved son of Rachel and Jacob that will fill all but two of the final fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis.
Yet Joseph himself is never to become one of the twelve tribes of Israel. That honour is to remain with Joseph’s brothers and with Joseph’s sons, but never with him.
Talk about complicated family dynamics! And trust me, this is only part of the story. There are so many other stories of conflicts, betrayals, passions, relationships, struggles and legacies within the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that it could be seen, at one time or another, to reflect almost every aspect of human interaction.
Perhaps that is why this epic story still has something to offer us today. It is not the story of a single-family long ago in history. It is a story of the birth of a nation. It’s a story of the complex interactions between people with different views of the world and their place in it. It’s the story of people who dare to question the role others may place on them. It is a story that connects us with our past and with all those who share that past with us. But it does not limit us to the past It is a story that encompasses all of humankind, past, present and future, our best and the worst.
Perhaps this story can serve to remind us not to think too highly of ourselves or to dismiss others who may think differently from the way we think. Perhaps it can serve to remind us that there are times that, as Leah and Rachel, we can be insecure; becoming jealous of what someone else has. Perhaps it can serve to remind us that there are times that, like Jacob and like Laban, we can be manipulative and use ideas or people for our own advantage, but there are also times that we can be gullible enough to get caught up in the deceit of others.
Perhaps the greatest gift this epic story can offer us is to connect us with our own humanity. These stories may not be things we associate with personally but we can certainly see in them the reality of our world and the struggles for power, position, wealth, and love these stories encompass.
Yet despite all the many human failings seen throughout the stories of our faith ancestors, the one part of the story that draws us here today continues to be the promise that we read last week. “I will be with you and protect you wherever you go”.
There is no part of our faith history or our personal history where the Divine is not present. There is nothing that can happen that can cause Divine Love to turn away from us. Even in the worst of situations, blessings can emerge, not because of anything we do or do not do but because, “I will be with you and protect you wherever you go”. Amen
The Gift of Music
Prayer of Blessing (Gifts and Prayer Jar)
Let us take a moment of silence to remember all the gifts that have blessed and enriched our lives. Let us think about how we can use those gifts, the gifts of our time, our talents, and our treasures to enrich the lives of others …
Let us offer our thanks for these gifts;
Divine One, for all that we have, for all that we are, for all the wonder and love that surrounds us each day, we offer our thanks. We ask your blessing on the gifts we have been given and upon the gifts, we offer in return. Amen.
And let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
Divine Peace-Giver, when we reflect on how you have supported and cared for us in the past, we cannot fail to give you thanks. When we consider the way you give us the courage and help us each new day, we are filled with a sense of gratitude. When we remember the times you lift the burden of doubt and despair from us, we feel a renewed sense of wonder and peace. Yet in our gratitude and our focus on what you have done for us, do not allow us to forget about others. As we come before you now in prayer, bring stillness to our hearts, empty our minds of other things and direct our thoughts to those who especially need our prayers this day. We know that in your eyes all life is precious. Help us to value the worth of every individual, whom you have created in your image.
We pray for victims of violence or hatred, especially for the innocent people who have suffered because of circumstances over which they had no control. May they find the healing of the body, mind, or spirit which they need …
We pray that the causes of division and hatred will be brought down. Where there is prejudice because of colour, language, religion or culture, help us to see things through the eyes of others, and to act towards them as we would like them to act towards us …
We pray for people who have been the cause of hurts to others. Enable them not only to admit their mistakes but to use their time and energy to heal old wounds and to bring new hope, new life and new love to others …
We pray for family relationships in our society and around the world. Thank you for our own families, and for those who have been like family to us. Bless them with your love as we have been blessed by the love they have shown us …
We ask for your healing and reconciling love in a family where disputes and misunderstandings have caused rifts and heartache …
We pray for all those caught up in problems, not of their making as well as problems that may result directly from their own actions. We pray that the anxiety and tensions these problems cause will be eased by the grace of your love and support …
We pray for those whose names and whose deepest needs and longings are known only to you …
Lastly, we pray for ourselves, that we may be granted the strength, the grace, the commitment and the love to a source of strength and supports for all those you have placed in our lives. Help us to more fully learn to love others as you have loved us. Amen
The Gift of Music
So now we go out from here into a world that we are a part of and that is also a part of us. So as we go out, let’s take with us the best we can be and the best we have to offer. Let’s go trusting in the promise that we are not alone. God is with us, Christ leads us, and the Spirit accompanies us, now and always. Go with God.