How many of us will remember the family feud story about the Clampets and the McCoys? In our American folklore there were two families in West Virginia who carried on a feud for over a hundred years over a stolen pig. Both families had generations of people shot and killed and murdered because they could not tolerate each other. In much the same way, the Arabs and the Israelites have also had a feud brewing, but theirs has been going on for three thousand years!
Many of us, I am sure do not have a clue as to why the Arabs hate the Jews, but the Bible gives some pretty revealing information about the conflict, if we care to investigate.
As you may recall scripture tells us that Abraham was chosen by God to become the father of a great race. You may also recall, that while waiting for a child to be born, his wife, Sarah, became impatient with God and asked her husband to ‘sleep with’ her servant girl so that he might have an heir to leave his possessions to. Abraham’s wife at the time was about 65 and didn’t think God could pull it off. Abraham, being the kind of guy he was, objected to his wife’s demands, but finally, like most of us men, gave in to his wife and had a child named Ishmael, born of his wife’s servant. God was not at all pleased with this because Sarah and Abraham did not wait for God to act as he had promised. But act he did, and Sarah, who by this time was in her late seventies, bore a child named Isaac.
Isaac grew up to inherit his father’s name and land while Ishmael and his mother were paid off and banished from the country as illegitimate heirs. Ishmael eventually became the father of the Arab world and they have hated the children of Isaac and of Israel ever since, all because of an impatient wife who wanted the best for her husband.
You would think it would have ended there, but no . . . it gets worse . . . in the story about Jacob and Esau in today’s lesson. As you may recall Esau was the first son of Isaac (who you have to remember was the legal heir of Abraham). Esau sold his birth right to his twin brother Jacob for a bowel of soup. Later, Esau grew up to become the father of the nation of Edom which is today modern day Jordan, and Jacob, his brother was renamed Israel by the angel of God in today’s old testament story. Jacob grew up to become the father of the people of Israel. The countries of Israel and Jordan have been contentious neighbors ever since . . . and all over a bowel of soup.
I didn’t intend to have this sermon become a history lesson, but this is the background for the situation in which we find our world today, and we should all become more aware of the historical issues involved in the Middle East. Over the course of the last several years, all of us I am sure, have felt some trepidation and have become extremely anxious as to what may happen in our world in general and in our country in particular as events like the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War take place. We, as Americans, over the past 20 years have become embroiled into a three thousand year old family feud. One that I hope will one day be resolved, if not by America, then by some other nation or nations.
In today’s, Gospel we are told to ‘always pray and to never lose heart’ and that is good advice in times such as these. As bad as we feel knowing full well the importance of faith in our lives, you must know and consider the many millions throughout the world who have no faith and who are feeling tremendous anxiety building up in their lives as this story continues to unfold.
You have heard it said, that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Well that is exactly what Paul is telling Timothy in today’s Epistle. It is time for us to start sharing our faith with our neighbor so that they might be strengthened to meet the challenges ahead.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
But how do we do this while still keeping our wits about us? Be led by the good examples we see each day. Be led by the courage of our armed forces who are showing in their action just what self-sacrifice and endurance are all about. Be led by the courage of Christians throughout the world who are persecuted for their belief and whose churches are being destroyed almost on a daily basis. But most of all, be led by the example of our Savior who died that all men might one day be free. In this way you will be a success and a worthy heir of the most high.
Success in life has little to do with how the world defines it. It is said that money and fame cannot buy happiness, so why do we all long to be rich and famous? The Bible says that Jesus is the key to our success as Christians. His life demonstrated for us that a life of self sacrifice and humility is deemed of far greater importance in the Kingdom of God than earthly goods and treasure. And though it is a good thing to be rich and famous, it is a far better thing to be happy and loved and accepted for who we are.
God loves you for who you are, he is the one person able to look past your faults and value who you are as a person. He values our courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles. He values our unity in the face of adversity and how we will sacrifice everything, even our lives to save another. He values our candor and our humor and our uncontrollable urge to spiritually persecute ourselves for our mistakes and failures. He loves our creativity and our skill and our ability to love.
Our God is a sacrificial God and creation has inherited His sacrificial nature. His need for us now, in these last days, is to take on this sacrificial nature full time. To live a sacrificial life, worthy of his calling . . . to rejoice when things are right with our lives and to be reflective and change our course when things go awry . . . to be willing and able to lend a hand when asked . . . to give of our talents and our time to causes worthy of his call to us . . . to do our work and to live our lives as if everything depended on it. In this way we will fulfill the gospel and live in the shelter of the Most High.
You may suggest that what God asks of us is too hard, that it just isn’t natural to be sacrificial, especially in times of uncertainty. It is simply unnatural. But you have to ask, is it natural that people, on their own, will run willingly into harms way to protect others they do not even know as we have witnessed in the Kenyan Mall disaster? No, it isn’t natural. In every case, there is the Holy Spirit, the Source of all life, providing the impetus, giving us the courage and will to continue.
Jesus came into the world to save us because he loves us. Through thoughtful prayer and reflection, our lives can change from where they are to where we would like them to be. And through our failures we can learn and grow into a better people. A successful life has little to do with money or power. If you have loved your God and have loved others as yourself, then you are a success in the Kingdom of God. And in the end, that’s all that really matters. Amen.