Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
So, “Lay Preachers’ Sunday” eh? What a blessing it has been to me this week to prepare this service of worship and this sermon text because the lectionary has offered up three excellent readings to connect to the theme.
In the Psalm we read the cry for justice of a righteous man, a man who honours and worships God and a man who tries to act obediently to the LORD’s precepts. In the same way the preacher seeks to do justice to the Word of God (Jesus) by honouring his call to instruct the people and also to live a life worthy of emulation.
In the Epistle we read the cry of grief from a truthful man as Paul weeps before the LORD for the lost nation of the Jewish people, Paul’s own people. In the same way the preacher seeks to intercede for Word of God (Jesus) by honouring his call to speak prophetically to the people. As a lay preacher he understands that his ministry is necessarily local, therefore he will be speaking to his own people in his own congregation. The lay preacher speaks to his friends and neighbours, and often to his own family. Lay preachers speak to the people dearest to them.
In the Gospel we read of Jesus feeding 5000 men. In the same way the preacher seeks to act on behalf of Word of God (Jesus) by honouring his call to feed the people. Where Jesus gave bread and fish, so the lay preacher proclaims the message of Christ the bread of life, where those who come receive the promise that they will never hunger; and the message of the Church as the fishers of men, where those who participate in God’s own mission of salvation receive the promise that they will see a rich bounty and a ripe harvest.
The lay preacher is the man, or indeed in the Uniting Church the woman, who stands before God in submission to God’s glory, and before the people in humility to God’s purpose, to lead God’s people in hearing the spoken word, meeting the living Word, and giving glory and worship in the songs, prayers, and rituals of the local congregation.
In view of that let’s unpack the fourth reading this morning, our lectionary Old Testament reading which is found in Genesis 32:22-31.
So, in brief, while Jacob was left alone a stranger came and wrestled with him until daybreak. Jacob refuses to release the stranger until the stranger will bless Jacob. The man renames Jacob “Israel”, a name that indicates the double meaning of one who strives with God and one with whom God strives.
In the same way the preacher seeks to wrestle with the Word, both the word as the text and the Word as the LORD Godself as he sits in prayer and discussion with God about what God wants to say to the people of this congregation at this time from what God initially spoke to a completely different people in an ancient time. The event described this morning actually took place around 1750 BCE and in the area we now call Israel. To write and preach is to wrestle, if not to struggle.
So, getting back to Jacob and some actual Biblical teaching for the day. As your preacher I know you expect me to dig into the text a bit, pull out some worthwhile lessons or concepts, and draw some reasonable conclusions about those points that are both Biblical and relevant to life in the twenty-first century. The way I have been taught to do that is to ask questions, and then answer them. So let’s do that.
Question One: Where is the missing girl? In verse 22 we read of Jacob’s two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons. So what has happened to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah? Aren’t you worried about Dinah? Did you even notice she was missing? Should I spend the next ten minutes discussing her? This is the sort of question a good preacher will ask about the text. It’s a valid question, and perhaps if I were writing an essay on a feminist critique of the scriptures I’d go into it, but church on Sunday is not the place for essays. So I’ll not bother with that question since the absence of Dinah is not the key to understanding this passage. A good preacher sticks to what is relevant.
Question Two: So what is the key to understanding this passage? Actually I’d like to call that “question zero” because it should come before question one. Read the passage, find the key, and then ask questions about it. So we have question zero. And the answer to that question poses another question. Question Two: Who is the vampire?
Have a look at verse 26. What’s with the stranger needing to leave at daybreak? Simple, logical, Biblical answer is that he is a vampire. We all know that vampires hate daylight, so it’s obvious what’s going on here.
Okay, so the vampire is Biblical, but is he relevant to the life of a local church in twenty-first century Australia? Remember, a good preacher sticks to what is relevant. So are vampires relevant? Of course vampires are relevant, have you not seen all the fuss about the Twilight books and movies, or the new one Vampire Academy? Australians, especially teenaged Australians, love vampires. So we can go with that.
So back to our question: “who is the vampire?” And the obvious answer is…anyone?…c’mon it’s obvious…no? The vampire is Rumpelstiltskin.
Have a look at verse 29. What’s with the vampire being so protective over his name? Huh? Eh! It’s Rumpelstiltskin who would not release the maiden from her promise to yield up the baby unless his true and secret name could be recited. And so, amazingly, we have an answer to question one now. We know where Dinah went; the mad vampire imp stole her!
Question Three: Why did the vampire steal the little girl? Are you keeping up? This is culturally relevant, solidly Biblical stuff here, you might want to take notes. Answer: because the vampire is Palestinian. Scholars say, (which by the way is a great phrase to use because it suggests you’ve read the commentaries), scholars say that the stranger who wrestled with Jacob was not a real man but was indeed some sort of spiritual being. Well duh, he’s a vampire, but anyway that’s what they say. But the scholars are divided on what sort of spiritual being he was. An angel? A demon? The pre-incarnate Christ, the one who sat with Abraham beneath the trees of Mamre in Genesis 18 and stood in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3? I believe that this vampire was indeed pre-incarnate, but not Christ. He was a pre-incarnate Hamas leader appearing in the demonic form of an ancient Canaanite demi-god. Why do I believe this? Well to me it is obvious, he is trying to keep “Israel” out of “Palestine”.
So in the course of the sermon the questions are both asked and answered and we come to the logical, Biblical, relevant conclusion which is a word from God for this congregation this morning. Impish vampires, masquerading as Arab settlers, living on the occupied West Bank territories managed by the Palestinian Authority are preparing to launch a supernatural attack by blood-sucking child-stealers at the secular Jewish state of Israel. Ignore the bombs, it’s the bats and the spinning wheels with golden thread you need to be looking out for.
For the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God. Amen.
I mean, really?
gel se-ar as it is in Hebrew, because all great preachers need to quote words in Bible languages. Cattle dung. You can translate that into Australian-English if you wish, you have been doing that over the past five minutes. At least I hope you were!!
Preaching is far more than just reading and interpreting the Bible, and then speaking in front of a crowd. In theory my exegesis of Genesis 32:22-31 was logical and appropriate to the task, but of course it leads to a message of utter bullsnot, no matter how eloquent my enunciation.
As a lay preacher my first allegiance is not actually to the Bible, it’s to the community. If I didn’t go into the scriptures thinking of you then who knows what I’d find in there. Vampires? Psh!!
As I stand before you this morning, and every other morning I am offered the privilege to speak to you, I constantly remember that you are not my sheep. You are my F/father’s sheep and it is H/he who is responsible for your spiritual care. And yes I am deliberately using two senses of father here. You belong to God, and God has entrusted you to the care of Rev Rob, the man who is my dad. Now this is not a call to you to “listen to my dad”, although since he is our minister I hope you listen to him even as I do as an adult Christian. I’m not here to raise the profile of our local priest but to remind you, and myself, that the lay preacher in role is not his or her own person. I am responsible to God for what I say or don’t say to you. I am responsible to the Minister of the Word and the Council of Elders, and ultimately I’m responsible to you. I hope that if I’d not tipped off several of our leaders before preaching this morning I’d not have made it as far as I did. I mean, vampires? Come on.
Lay Preaching does not mean that “everyone gets a turn”. Paul is quite clear where he writes in Ephesians 4:10-12 and mainly verse 11 that while some are called to the ministry of preaching and teaching, many are called to other ministries. If you are not called by God then you can’t expect to be chosen by the local church. If you are called by God then what are you doing to work out your call?
What Bible study are you doing? I’m not asking where you spend your Wednesday night rather I’m asking what you are doing with the scriptures to build your own faith and life of witness.
What is your theology and what is your understanding of the Uniting Church? Are you prepared to honour the heritage of our form of Christianity or do you just want a platform to grind your own axe? What conversations have you had with Rev Rob and the elders around your sense of call?
Lay preachers in the Uniting Church are accredited so that there are checks in place to determine the call and discipline of those to whom this great privilege is offered, the privilege of proclaiming the Word of God to the people of God. It is not the inalienable right of the locals and no-one “deserves a turn”, not even the accredited. In this congregation we use recognised non-accredited people who have studied under other denominations such as the Lutheran, Churches of Christ, and Baptist Churches, but these people while labelled “helpers” on the preaching plan are still expected to be people of integrity, faith, discipline, and learning.
My job is to point you to God so that you are looking in God’s direction when God draws you close. I do this through private study that leads to public preaching, and personal devotion that leads to leading corporate worship. It is a privilege I have worked towards because I place great value on it, but I acknowledge that this pulpit is not mine; it is God’s.
Wrestle, cry, and feed. This is the preaching work of the LORD.