Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 16, 2023
[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the Romans reading is at the end of the sermon]
Genesis 25:19-34 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Addiction counseling uses an acronym to help people pause before taking action – H.A.L.T. H is for Hungry. A is for Angry. L is for Lonely. T is for Tired. Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired. Pausing gives your brain a moment to assess your survival instinct in the race to do something. Impulsive actions that feel like survival can have disastrous consequences. Just ask Esau, the impulsive, impatient older brother in our Bible story today. He could have used the H.A.L.T. acronym before swapping his birthright for a bowl of stew. He wasn’t just hungry. He was famished. Hard to say how hungry he actually was but it’s safe to say that he was hungry enough to not be thinking clearly, hungry enough that impatience for a bowl of stew was his undoing.
If Esau paused, he may have thought to ask important questions. Was Jacob the only one who had food or was someone else’s stove just a tad inconvenient? Was he really hungry enough to die? Was filling his hunger worth trading his inheritance? Esau’s decision to eat from his brother’s kitchen changed Esau life. Jacob likely knew his brother’s weaknesses and exploited them to trick him out of his birthright. We can clean it up a bit by appreciating Jacob’s determination to extract a blessing from God and by justifying it with Esau taking his birthright for granted, but the brothers’ story is not an easy one. Parental favoritism, sibling rivalry, and sly scheming, reveals a family like many of our own. Theirs is not a perfect family. Good to know that dysfunction isn’t new. We didn’t just make it up in the 21st century. There are other stories in the Bible that push back on bad behavior but for now, let’s just see the family’s story for what it is.
Esau and Jacob, his parents Rebekah and Isaac, were complicated people, just like us. Esau gives us a snapshot of the power of our flesh as Paul writes about it his letter to the Romans, our second reading in worship today. The recipients of his letter, the 1st century house churches in Rome, would be familiar with stories like Jacob and Esau’s. Bible stories about complicated people through whom God is still able to bless the entire world. After all, the original covenant that God made with Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob and Esau, is ultimately about blessing the whole earth. There were many twists and turns in the story, and those fallible moves continue right through today.
Esau has me thinking about patience. First and foremost, he makes me think about God’s patience. As fragile and fallible people go, Esau is right up there. This may come as a shock to you, but I’m not outdoorsy when it comes to hunting or farming. Either one of those pursuits would take a steep learning curve on my part. But I know from my hunting and farming friends that both take an incredible amount of patience day-to-day and year-to-year. Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower and I hear how patient God must be as the seeds fly and either die or thrive. The parable validates the power of anxiety, greed, and persecution as obstacles to faith. Rather than think about these experiences individually, and telling everyone to go be better soil (cuz that’ll work), I invite us to consider how our congregation may function as a buffer to the many kinds of soil any of us are on any given day.
Jesus points out that anxiety, greed, and persecution are toxic to faith. We only have to look at ourselves or the people around us or the social medias to see how quickly we’re shaken off of our high horses and our behavior is not what we’d like it to be. So how do we help each other pause when this is the case? How do we help each other pause when we’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (see H.A.L.T. at the beginning of the sermon)?
Confession and forgiveness give us a good start. There’s a reason we begin worship in this way for most of the year. When we give voice to the weakness of our flesh, confessing how we hurt ourselves, each other, and the earth, the truth about our fallibility and God’s goodness is laid before us. We’re right sized alongside each other, neither elevating ourselves over and against nor self-deprecating ourselves into something unworthy. Neither over-apologizing nor under-apologizing, we hold ourselves accountable to what we have done and what we have left undone because God is a God of faith, hope, and love.
The pastoral transition we’re in after Pastor Ann’s retirement is enough to cause anxiety to bubble up here and there. Add my cancer to the mix and we can easily forget to pause and trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the process. It’s way too easy to come up with what we each individually think is the perfect solution or timing or staffing model. It’s very easy to become impatient and lose sight of our collective wisdom. Collaboration takes time. Listening takes time. Process takes time.
The Transition Team meets tomorrow evening and part of their work will be to set dates for Listening Circles. Listening Circles will give everyone an opportunity to talk about our congregation – who we’ve been, who we are now, and who we dream of being. Watch for more information about the Listening Circles. Pick one to attend. They’re small. Just a few people in each group each time to give each person a chance to talk. It takes all of us to run the church because the church is all of us. The Congregation Council will also lead in this regard. They meet on Tuesday to begin brainstorming various leadership models alongside the process of the Listening Circles. Churches that attend well to transitions and the process are better equipped to move into what comes next. They also have more fun.
As Paul wrote to the Romans, “…you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since, as Paul writes, the Spirit makes its home in us, there’s a chance that the variety of dirt that Jesus talked about becomes less of an issue. On any given day, anxiety about the future may get the best of some of us. We may feel joy one minute and choke the next. But we can hope that others of us will be having a better day. Setting our minds on the Spirit, according to the letter to the Roman Church, brings life and peace which sounds a whole lot better than anxiety and greed having their way.
It’s been my experience that no one sermon is for everyone. When a sermon doesn’t resonate for me, I figure it must be for someone else. Same as when I preach. For some, it was just what they needed to hear. For others, it’s a shrug and a bit puzzling. The sermon was for someone else. It’s similar with scripture. While the Bible is for all of us all the time, there may be parts of it that leave us scratching our heads while other parts leave us with filled hearts or shattered assumptions that change our hearts.
As we continue through the gospel of Matthew and the parables that Jesus’ told, we’ll be challenged to wring a good word from them as we set our minds on the Spirit who brings us life and peace.
Being church is counter-cultural in that our collective wisdom is knowingly balanced by our collective flaws. It’s a practiced humility as we celebrate God’s Spirit making a home in us giving us life and peace. Impatience may trip us up from time to time, but it serves to remind us of our fallibility. As such, we’re reminded to look to each other, right-sizing us alongside one another.
Ultimately, we’re reminded to look to God’s Spirit who bears fruit in us for the sake of the world. The covenant God made with us through Jesus Christ expands the covenant God made to Abraham which, despite our fallibility and impatience, is about blessing the whole earth. Blessing the whole earth means blessing each other which also means that each of us will be blessed. So, we pray that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
 Joy J. Moore, Professor of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 16, 2023. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/912-seventh-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-15a-july-16-2023
 Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 16, 2023. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/912-seventh-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-15a-july-16-2023
 Romans 8:8
Romans 8:1-11 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.