Tell me of your imperfections. Tell me all of the ways you believe fall short.
Imperfect house. Imperfect clothing.
Imperfect job. Imperfect marriage.
Imperfect body. Imperfect hair.
Imperfect parents. Imperfect parenting.
Imperfect speech. Imperfect care.
Imperfect habits. Imperfect addictions.
Imperfect coping. Imperfect prayer.
Now tell me of your effort to control those imperfections.
To control your house.
Control your appearance.
Control your emotions.
Control your mind.
Control your partner.
Control your family.
Control your soul.
Tell me of your imperfections and how you have tried to control them and I will tell you about Jacob (Genesis 32.9-13, 22-30).
Jacob is born to Isaac and Rachel, the son and daughter in law of Sarah and Moses. Jacob is a twin, his brother named Esau.
As they are being born, the legend goes, as Rachel pushes and pushes, Jacob tries to get out first. Jacob tries to shove his way first from Rachel’s birth canal—canal being a misnomer if birthing people have ever heard one. Jacob fails, but the evidence of his effort is in his grasp on Esau’s heel: the foot of the first in in the hand of the second.
The imperfect second, the one already desperate to control.
When they grow up and Father Isaac grows old, Mother Rachel schemes with Jacob to get him to the front of that line once and for all. Together they trick Isaac and Esau, both, in order to secure the family inheritance for Jacob and Jacob alone.
The imperfect second, triumphant in his new control.
Until he isn’t.
ON THE RUN
Esau comes after Jacob.
On the run, his plan out of control, Jacob’s efforts as spouse and parent and householder in ruins, he must send his family away and pray that he can best his brother once more. “God of my ancestors,” he prays, “I am not worthy of your love. My family is divided and my brother may yet kill us all. You say you will stand by me. Pray, do.”
In that long night of the soul the follows, a man comes upon Jacob and wrestles with him. For hours they toss and tussle, sweating and swearing, breaking away to pant and regroup, then pouncing again in an effort to win.
No one wins.
The man realizes the fight, Jacob’s fight to be first, will never end. So the man strikes a lasting blow to Jacob’s hip as he asks to be released from the choke hold for once and for all.
Jacob, no longer grappling but now hobbled, demands a blessing from the man.
Your blessing shall be, as your grandparents before you, a new name, the man replies. No longer Jacob, you are Israel.
Jacob Israel, hobbled, reunites with his family.
Esau, still in pursuit of the twin who so wronged him, gains on them all. But he does not attack. Esau runs to his broken and lost brother Jacob Israel, falling on his neck, hugging him, kissing him, and then weeping with him, together.
This is a pillar of our faith.
Not Esau so wronged and so generous. But Jacob Israel the liar, the cheat, the thief, and the unsteady. A pillar of our faith is an imperfect person with a drive to control that always lets him down.
We here are a church of imperfect people who, by virtue of being in a church together, have let go control.
Here we greet people we adore and those who drive us nuts. Here we sing songs we love and or silently endure those that grate. Here we admire arches soaring and strong while seated on benches on a floor supported by piers that are moldering. Here we sometimes forget to turn the A/C back down after an event but remember that what really matters is showing up for events, as Paul reminded us in his testimonial.
And here we nurture a faith that is not a practice of perfection; that is not a tool for control.
Instead, we learn that faith is the relinquishing of a false sense of self and the adoption of freedom from fruitless striving. Faith is the recognition that for all of our pursuit of beauty and projection of success, God purses the real us in our real lives.
God pursues us in the depth of our needs and the breadth of our grasping.
God pursues us to show us who we really are, just flesh and bone easily broken, alone but for God and the people who love us.
And love us they will, love us with a ferocity if we are willing to stop and be seen, to stop and to see them.
Tell me of your imperfections and your struggle to control them, and I will tell you about Jacob Israel.
I will tell you about a God and a people of God who want only to fall on your neck, to hug you, to kiss you, and to weep together with you for all of life’s pain and God’s joy.
Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details. Lastly, this sermon is somewhat shorter as we also had a powerful testimony from a congregant offered during worship.