22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
33 Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; 7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. 11 Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.
Ephesians 2:11-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Luke 23:34a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then Jesus said: Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
Flannery O’Connor was an American writer known mostly for her short stories. She wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied on regional settings and supposedly grotesque characters, often in violent situations. The limitations or imperfections of these characters, whether due to disability, race, criminality, faith, or sanity, typically underpins the drama. A key element though in her stories was always some element of grace and whether her characters were open, or not, to divine grace. She wrote one time. “Grace changes us and the change is painful.”
One of her short stories was entitled “Revelation”
It was about a lady named Mrs. Turpin, a self-righteous Christian who believed deeply in God and was thankful to God that God had not made her a lower person such as white trash or a lunatic or a coloured person.
She goes to the doctor’s office one day with here husband, who has been kicked by a cow, and as she is sitting there she sizes up all the people sitting in the room and makes judgements about them.
One of the people in the room is a fat ugly girl who is rude and is reading a book with the title “Human Development.”
When Mrs Turpin tries ot engage her in conversation, without warning the girl throws a book a Mrs Turpin hitting her in the face and knocking her down and the girl gets on top of Mrs. Turpin and tries to choke her.
As Mrs Turpin is struggling for breath she has a bit of a revelation that somehow, crazy as it seems, that this girl is trying to give her a message from God.
When they grab the girl who obviously is a lunatic, and get her off Mrs. Turpin, and Mrs Turpin kind of comes to again, Mrs. Turpin asks the girl directly: “What you got to say to me?”
And the girl says: ‘Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”
Later that day when she is back at home feeding the pigs Mrs. Turpin engages in a conversation with God. Somehow she knows there was a message from God in that girl’s words but she doesn’t get it. She asks God why she would be likened to the pigs she is feeding? She wonders how she could be a child of God and be from hell too? She is obviously better than white trash and coloureds. So she yell out to God. Go ahead call me a hog. Who do you think you are God?
And suddenly she has another vision. It is of a vast swinging bridge extending upward from earth going to heaven.
And on that bridge a vast horde of souls.
Companies of white trash. Bands of Coloured people. Battalions of freaks and lunatics. And bringing up the rear were people like her, the dignified people, who had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior, yet she could see by the shocked faces of these dignified ones, that God was burning away their virtues.
She walked back to her house and all she could hear were the voices of all the souls on their way to heaven shouting “hallelujah!”
I don’t know if you have ever had a revelation. I suspect most of us have had one, or two or many. Sometimes revelations are slow things that take time and over weeks or months or years one gradually comes to see things in a new light, that God has worked to change you and it has taken a lot of time.
And when we talk about Christianity or churches or denominations, revelations seem to take a long time. How the church changed in regards to slavery and race was a centuries long process.
How the church changed about the role and place and equality of women was a long process.
And both with race and the status of women, there are many who argue that we still have a ways to go.
Jesus taught and practiced non-violence, and yet most of the world, including Christians, including myself sometimes, have trouble seeing how we as a society can live non-violently. Don’t we at least need police and armies to protect us?
I suppose I had a revelation, the first time I realized that I believed in Jesus and that I was a Christian.
As a child I never really thought about it, but one day when I was about thirteen, I realized that I believed in Jesus.
I suppose I had a revelation when I was called to ministry, and have a distinct recollection of visiting a Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, Ontario and hearing a voice in my head that this is the church or the denomination where I could be a minister.
Those were sort of revelations that I could pin down to a particular instance.
But there is another revelation that happened in me and is still happening I suppose, which has been going on for pretty much my whole life of faith.
And that is how inclusive God is.
God loves everyone. The company of the saints is not about Presbyterians or a particular group of good Christians.
The company of the saints is so big and so universal that I cannot even comprehend it all.
On the swinging bridge to heaven is not just the good open-minded, inclusive liberal Christians like me, but everyone I think is crazy or deformed or twisted and sinful, or beneath me, or not worthy.
Which leads to the other revelation, that really I am no different than anyone else.
I am a flawed and broken human and on the swinging bridge to heaven not because of my goodness and great sermons, but because Jesus forgives me, loves me, accepts me, not because of me, but in spite of me.
Today we are celebrating All Saints Day, which as you know is November the first.
And I want you to catch that word All.
While some denominations have a process for canonizing saints, those who have exemplified Christlikeness; Who have gone above and beyond ordinary Christians, who have take up their cross and have had miracles happen when they prayed for others…
…All Saints day is about the whole family of God.
And you know what. As a whole we are deformed and broken and trashy and lunatics.
In other words we are sinful.
The whole sordid history of faith is replete with Christians or people of faith who don’t get along with each other and are anything but Christlike.
Todays’ chapter from Brian McLaren’s book “We make the road by walking” is all about sibling rivalry.
We get the story of Jacob and Esau.
And then we get the story of Joseph and his brothers.
And he mentions also the prodigal son story.
All stories of how brothers did not get along with each other.
And these stories are not just about particular families in history, they are about the people of faith. People who we call brother and sister, and about how through the centuries people of faith have done terrible things to their own brothers and sisters.
We celebrated the Reformation last Sunday, 501 years since Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenburg door.
And we hailed it as a great event.
It was a revelation of the Grace of God. It wasn’t our doing but God’s doing.
And yet the Reformation led to the thirty years war, one of the most bloody and brutal wars ever know. Half of the male population of Germany died during that time.
Marauding mercenaries from all sides and countries would destroy towns and villages looking for plunder. Refugees and troop migrations led to transmitting disease and there was much famine as crops were razed and economies decimated.
There were atrocities aplenty as Christians and Christian nations fought against each other.
The Reformation which argued for the primacy of Christ over the pope, that we were all one in Christ alone; and the Reformation which put the scripture into the hands of lay people…
…led to such disunity in the church that there are estimates of 30,000 different Protestant denominations in the world.
The scriptures attest to the fact that we don’t get along. Brothers and sisters that Christ died for, often bicker and fight and argue and gossip about.
And in one of those very strange stories in the bible, Jacob and Esau, Jacob is the cheat and the trickster. Jacob tricks his brother out of his inheritance and cheats him out of his blessing.
His brother Esau is so mad that Esau vows to kill Jacob and Jacob runs away.
And on his journey, this good-for nothing has a revelation.
He has a vision of a swinging bridge or a ladder reaching all the way up to heaven.
And God promises to love and accept him.
It is all too weird. Jacob has done nothing to deserve this love and acceptance.
Why does God call this bad person?
Jacob goes to his uncle’s place, where his uncle plays a trick on him and tricks him into marrying the older ugly sister, instead of the one he thought he was marrying. And has to work another seven years to marry the one he wanted to marry in the first place.
Jacob still does some trickery in order to get the best sheep away from his uncle.
But after many years, Jacob is now wealthy and powerful and he decides to return home.
There is a little trepidation in his return because he isn’t sure about Esau and whether Esau will attack him.
So the night before he is to meet Esau he is alone in his tent and Jacob is attacked in his tent and wrestles all night with someone. An angel? Jesus? God?
And Jacob hangs one for dear life and asks for a blessing saying that he won’t let go until he is blessed.
And he is blessed.
There is a lot of truth in that little story, because all of us wrestle with God.
All of us wrestle with the revelations that God lays upon us.
All of us wrestle with what it means to be Christian.
All of us wrestle with God, because we want our own way and not Gods’ way.
All of wrestle with sin and bad habits and things we don’t want to do but we do anyway.
All of us wrestle with inclusion.
I really don’t know anyone who has never been racist or prejudiced in their life, or mean or cruel or who hasn’t cast someone out of their life.
I don’t really know any human except Jesus who really loves all people.
And all of wrestle with pain, with loss, with heartbreak, with the future, with death..
And most of us want a blessing.
And the next day Jacob meets his brother Esau and a miracle happens. Instead of wanting to kill Jacob, he doesn’t hold a grudge. He doesn’t desire revenge. He just wants to be reconciled and have his brother back.
And Jacob says: Truly to see your face is to see the face of God.”
And then the next big story in the bible is almost a repeat of the Jacob and Esau story and Joseph has ten brothers who hate him.
These are Jacob’s sons. You would think that Jacob could tell his children the folly of sibling rivalry, but even Jacob has not learned to be inclusive for he obviously loves one wife more than another and has a favourite child, Joseph, who is the child of his favourite wife.
Rachel, his favourite wife actually dies giving birth to the last child Benjamin, the youngest brother.
The other ten brothers are children of different mothers. They hate the favourite and they sell him into slavery and tell Jacob that Joseph was killed by a wild beast.
And there is a whole long story of Joseph and his sojourn in Egypt and how God blesses him. At least Joseph is a good person. And Joseph rises with God’s help from slave to Prime Minister of Egypt and many years later when there is a famine and his brothers come to Egypt for food, Joseph recognizes his brothers. They don’t recognize him. They think he is dead.
But one day he reveals himself to them.
They are scared that Joseph would take revenge and kill them, but instead Joseph cries like a baby, forgives them and reconciles himself to them.
And Joseph becomes the means by which the family is saved from famine.
The one who ha a vision of being the ruler, and they were afraid they would have to serve him, is made a ruler by God so he could serve his family and save them.
The first chapters of Genesis deal with how God has created us and given us purpose and how things go wrong. We like to be God and judge who is in and who is out. We get into conflict and hurt others.
WE even fight in our own family.
And yet God’s way is to choose people, to call people so that they will be a blessing.
A blessing not just to the good, but to all people.
And the picture of Christ is found way back in Genesis with Esau who forgives his cheating brother.
..with Joseph who forgives his brothers who wanted to dispose of him…
Even the cheating brother, and even the killing brothers are part of the saints.
We all experience wrongs and hurts and injustices through the actions of others.
We all inflict wrong and hurt and injustices upon others.
And every one of us is made in God’s image is a child of God, even the freaks and the lunatics and the terrorists and the mass murders
It seems to me that in the last week or so since the shooting in the Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the reclamation of all the saints is so important.
It is so easy to demonize a person or a group or a movement or a political agenda and say that the whole problem lies with that enemy.
It is much harder to look into the face of the enemy and let that enemy see love and care and compassion.
It is easy to sit here in Edmonton Canada and say that we are the good ones, and the problem is with the bad ones out there.
When we have to acknowledge our own complicity in a system that is often racist and prejudiced and misogynist and homophobic and violent and exploitative of the powerless.
We are all in the boat together. It isn’t about good humans vs bad humans, or white humans vs black humans or indigenous vs non-indigenous, or male vs female, or rich vs poor.
There is one human family and even the most grotesque among us are God’s children and even the best among us are grotesque sometimes.
But today God is calling you. To look on your brother human with love. To look on your sister human with love.
To look at the ones the world, or you, consider trash or freaks, or worthless with love.
To look at your enemies with love.
To forgive them, serve them, help them.
For when we make that choice to treat everyone as a saint, and everyone as a child of God…
And when we make that choice to practice forgiveness, there is this great revelation… we encounter God…
and Jesus is risen once more.