Favorite Words: Isaiah 36.1–3, 13–20; 37.1–7; then 2.1–4

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 18, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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.

WORDY
Human beings are a wordy kind of creature. Maybe other mammals and molecules are, too, I don’t know. But we certainly are. We love to use words, to talk, to communicate. We are hungry to have our words heard, read, understood. That’s a chunk of the appeal of social media, right? Having an audience and people to read our words is a thrill.

So let me ask you this: What is your favorite word? What is your absolute favorite word? Is it a funny word, like supercalifragalisticexpialidotious, or a word unique to your profession like praxis or bouillabaisse, or a word that makes your heart strings thrum like love? What is your favorite word?

Now, what is your favorite word from the Bible? I can’t get my list down to one, so here are four of mine: hineni, hesed, surely, and shall.

2018.11.8 worthyHINENI
Hineni means “here I am.” Not “here I am washing dishes” or “here I am, on vacation.” It is the “here I am” Abraham gives to God.

Abraham wandered with his family for decades. For decades they had no permanent home and he and his wife Sarah had no legacy, for they were infertile. After an arduous old age, though, Abraham saw his way through the veil that he kept between himself and God. So when God calls to him after he has a home, after he has two children, Abraham can reply, “hineni,” here I am.

God, of course, knows where Abraham is, so what Abraham is really saying is, “Here I am in all that I am, fully available to you, fully aware that I cannot know all that you are, yet here I am without reservation for your will.” Hineni is a responsive presence, it is a posture of devotion. If it wouldn’t be so out of character for worship in our church, I would invite you to stand, to feel in your legs, arms, torso, and head that kind of receptivity.

Hineni: one word that expresses the outcome of a lifetime spent walking toward God.

HESED
Hesed is also the result of walking toward God, but this time in relationship to other people.

You’ll remember that just over the summer we spent three weeks on the book of Ruth, with a shadow puppet version thanks to the Petefish-Schrag family and friends.

God never appeared in the puppet version or in the book of Ruth. But Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, in the choices that they make to care for each other, despite desperate and tricky social circumstances, exude and enact hesed, the lovingkindness of God. Hesed is a love shown in “loyalty and commitment that go beyond the bounds of law or duty”1 it is to manifest God in the world between people. In hesed, we choose others, their physical safety and their good health, over and above what our communities may provide or our laws even allow.

Hesed: one word that expresses our innate, though often inert, capacity to be the good neighbors God invites us to be.

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HERE I AM: Genesis 27:1–4, 15–23; 28:10–17

2017.9.24 torporDelivered at Ames UCC on September 24, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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JACOB
Jacob is a scoundrel.

Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac. You’ll remember from last week that Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac on an altar at God’s command, but an angel of God rescued them. That’s how far God had to go, after over a hundred years of trying, to get Abraham’s lasting attention.

And that’s how loyal Isaac was to his dad: Even though he was a grown adult and could have escaped the knife, overpowered his father, he did just as he was told. But Isaac’s capacity for loyalty did not guarantee the same in his own children.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah bears twin sons. Esau is the firstborn. This means he is slated to inherit all of his father’s wealth and power. His twin brother, Jacob, is born second born and jealous. As they come out of their mother’s body, the story goes, Jacob pulls on Esau’s heel, trying to hold Esau back so that he, Jacob, might be first. That didn’t work out, so once they are men, Jacob bribes Esau to relinquish his birthright. Then, to seal the deal, he tricks his father Isaac into doing the same.

Jacob is born needy, born grasping for more. He does not care about honor or respect or the well-being of anyone other than himself. Jacob is the complete opposite of the humanity God hoped for back in Genesis 1 and 2.

HERE I AM
But we aren’t letting go of that Genesis hope. We are keeping it right in front of us.

Our chancel visuals this fall are by Christy Oxendine. She read through the stories for these weeks and saw how each story builds on the other. Here is creation. On top of creation she added Abraham’s “Here I am” from last week and for this.

In Genesis 22 God cries out to Abraham, and Abraham answers, “Here I am.”1 Isaac cries out to Abraham, and Abraham answers, “Here I am.” The messenger of the Lord cries out to Abraham, and Abraham answers, “Here I am.”

Now, when Isaac is an old man, he cries out to Esau. And Esau answers, “Here I am.” Then, while Esau is gone to get food for Isaac, Jacob sneaks in with his identity masked. Jacob cries out, “Father.” And Isaac answers, “Here I am.”

In this portion of the Hebrew Bible the phrase “here I am” is hineni in Hebrew. It has no good English equivalent. The editors of the Jewish Study Bible say that we need to read into the phrase a sense of “readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instruction.”

In each of the moments I’ve cited, we need to hear “here I am” as not just “present” but “fully present and ready to act on your next speech.” It is the ideal posture to take in relation to God and each other.

We are not to passively exist. We are to look, listen, reach out to, and anticipate each other and God. It is an active mode of being in God’s world. “Here I am,”/hineni is the corporeal faith that Jesus lived during his ministry and still teaches in the Easter mystery.

But then today’s story seems to contradict all of the “here I am”s.
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