This morning, we had a guest preacher, the Rev. John Newton, Canon for Life-Long Spiritual Formation for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. He preached mainly from the Epistle reading for the day, from first chapter of Ephesians. He started in what I thought was headed for a standard corporate-church theme of God’s blessings (“we need to realize that God has already blessed us, yadda, yadda, yadda …”) Yes, he went there, and I can’t totally fault him for that; he has an excuse in that the point is correct.
But then he went somewhere more interesting. He spoke about how, in our longing to be blessed (he predominately used a narrow definition of blessing as to be approved by someone whose esteem is of value), we often work to steal a blessing, by pretending to be someone whom we are not. That work, the Rev. Canon said, he personally found exhausting. After expanding on that idea, he spoke of Jacob stealing the blessing from Esau, by working to conceal himself, to cover his identity with that of his older brother, and thus obtain the blessing appropriate to Esau. He compared this briefly to Jesus surrendering on the cross the Paternal blessing rightfully His, so that we might receive it instead, being covered with His surrendered identity. He gave me some meat to chew on, a fine sermon.
I am anticipating a coming bible study on the Epistle to the Romans as a minor member of a long-standing study group. This is a pretty raucous lively group, filled with people from various places in the church, wannabe theologians, lawyers and other professions (I am not an attorney), Christians of many backgrounds, and denominations, and even a Jewish non-Christian. The common thread is that we all take the bible seriously as God’s revelation (we do disagree a bit over which books should be included!), and we all love a vigorous discussion. I am blessed.
As I have been reading Romans in preparation, I have been thinking much about Paul’s placement of Israel. I won’t take a blog post now to go through it all, maybe later. But the thread Canon Newton raised this morning lead me to think about Paul’s description of the gentile Christian church’s relation to Israel in terms of the relationship between Israel, whose birth-name was Jacob, and his elder brother Esau.
Paul seems to describe Israel in terms that suggest that Israel, having supplanted his brother and taken the blessing of the first-born, has become Esau. In Christ, the “spiritual Israel” of faithful Christians now takes the blessing which his elder brother has disdained (sold for a bowl of porridge). Paul goes on to suggest that this is to make the elder brother jealous – to make him properly value what he has lost – to the end that he may again be grafted in.
Anyway, these are preliminary thoughts only. I expect Paul’s treatment of Israel, and of the Law, will be a hotly discussed topic. One of the things I value about this particular group of people is the degree to which they challenge my existing understanding. Too many bible studies seem to exist only to reinforce what one already knows, whether that “knowledge” is true or false. How can one ever learn anything that way?!
I am looking forward to getting the silliness knocked out of me… And just maybe returning that kindness.