The sermon for week August 06, 2014
To Do The Right ThingTO DO THE RIGHT THING, Genesis 32:22-32
This past April Sharon and I , along with Fred and Sue Crescitelli, a member of this congregation, toured the Amsterdam hiding place of Anne Frank, in the Netherlands. For two years, during WW II, Anne and her parents and sister, along with another couple and their son, two years older than Anne, and an eighth person, an elderly dentist, hid in this building, situated on a commercial/residential street, next to one of Amsterdamís many canals and a large, brick church on the corner.
They never left the building. During the daytime they had to sit in silence because there was a business in the front part of the building, the employees of which, except for two, did not know the back part of the building was a hiding place for eight Jews seeking to evade the Gestapo and the police.
Anne, a young teenager, kept a journal through their two years of hiding, at the end of which, only a few months before the end of the war, they were betrayed and captured and sent off to concentration camps where all but the father died. In her journal Anne describes a life of hiding. She describes the horror outside, the deportation of the Jews, the bombs at night, the rats in the attic, the creaking floor boards and fear of someone coming. But she also writes with appreciation of those few confidants who provided food and other necessities and news from outside. She writes of the attempt at gaiety at birthdays and holidays. But, mostly, she writes of the day to dayness of living in such close quarters, and most of all, of growing up, finding oneís way, and in the midst of a living hell outside, the striving within oneís self to be a person of character, integrity, kindness and worthy ideals.
The war didnít stop her, the yellow star she had to wear before going into hiding didnít stop her, never being able to leave a space she shared with seven others, including sharing her tiny bedroom with the elderly dentist, didnít stop her, night skies lit up with bursting bombs, didnít stop her. She was determined to live an aspirational life, a life of high ideals, a life that incarnated the best of what was in her to be, and when she failed, to seek forgiveness and reach again.
In one entry she recognizes how earlier words she had addressed to her parents, written in anger and frustration, had hurt them, especially her father, and she was devastated. On Sunday, May 7, 1944 she wrote:
ďOh, I have failed miserably; this is certainly the worst thing Iíve ever done in my life. I was only trying to show off with my crying and my tears, just trying to appear big, so that he would respect me...Itís right that for once Iíve been taken down from my inaccessible pedestal, that my pride has been shaken a bit, for I was becoming much too taken up with myself again. What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.Ē
In the midst of the flames caused by humankindís fallenness, in the midst of humankindís worst taking place outside, she sees an image not guided by this depravity, not succumbing to it, but within herself, pride knocked from the pedestal, and finding the best of how God created us to be - more loving, more kind, more forgiving of others and ourselves. It is an act of radical faith in the goodness of God, and the belief that God placed that goodness in us, to be as God is.
This person we are meant to be is what Jacob, on a journey to meet his brother, Esau, from whom he had been estranged for most of his adult lifetime, encounters on that night alone in the desert when he wrestles until daybreak with the phantom image of a man.
Jacob has carefully formulated a plan for meeting his brother, a plan that might protect him from his brother. He is half way there, half way to this meeting with his brother, Esau, but Jacob is scared to death. He is afraid of his brother and rightfully so. Jacob may be a patriarch, but he is not worthy of our admiration. He has betrayed his brother as well as their father. Jacob used his gifts of intelligence and charisma and favoritism with his mother to cleverly and deceitfully gain Esauís birthright and the blessing from the father that belonged to Esau.
Now, alone in the wilderness, having sent his wives and children, his livestock and possessions, his army away, nothing to protect him, he is confronted with this figure, perhaps representing his past, perhaps representing his consciousness, and he wrestles, as Anne might have done, wrestling to find within himself something better, something higher, the better self, the truer self, the self in whom is reflected the light of God, breathed into him by the breath of God, given to him when he was given life.
Who will he be, the man he was or the man he was birthed to be. He wrestles through the night, as we wrestle with the kind of person we will become, what we will stand for, the convictions that will guide us, the way others will know us by how we will treat them, every choice, epic in its consequences.
At the end of the night, Jacob is wounded, but he doesnít let go in the struggle. Never think that you come out of these battles with your soul unwounded. You will feel pain, as Anne Frank did when she recalled how she had hurt her father, so will you when you remember choices made, acts done, thoughts had, of which you are not proud. These wounds, these scares are forever. They insure your humility and as well enable empathy for others in their struggles.
But, remember as well, at the end of the night when dawn breaks, Jacob by his request, received a blessing and was given a new name, Israel, the name that would become the name of a nation, perhaps as in Christ, you are given the name Christian.
Jacob, alone on that night, as we all must face the battle for self alone, found the man he was meant to be, the man he knew was in him to be but never was, and the journey continued, and he met his brother and what seemed impossible became what will one day be the reality for all creation: They embraced, they reconciled,they kissed; Love, the Love out of which God created all that is, became not only the first word, but the last word, the eternal word, the world as God created it to be. Jacob found his higher self.
Anne Frank never got to see that world God created to be, but the possibility of it, because of her own wrestling and commitment to living its ideals, gave her hope and the assurance that one day it would be the reality for the whole world, Godís kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Here is recorded one of the last entries in her journal, Saturday, July 15, 1944:
ďItís really a wonder that I havenít dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I sill believe that people are really good at heart. I simply canít build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.
In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.Ē
Everyday you have the choice of what kind of world you are building by your life. Often it will seem like a battle within yourself and you must answer, what side you will be on. It is not always easy to do the right thing. You will wrestle, but remember this, at the end of the match, wounded but blessed, Jacob knows the truth of that match, Jacob understands with whom he was wrestling and he says, ďFor I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.Ē
You wrestle not alone but with God. God is determined that you will come to be the person God created you to be, that person of high ideals inspired by the love that is within you, creating a vision of kindness and justice and forgiveness that you live by, and a sense of self, that though wounded, is whole. And as God is with you in that wrestling match, so God is with the world, wrestling it into what God made it to be, a kingdom of love and forgiveness, a kingdom of justice and peace.
We are so easily effected by the world around us, succumbing to its negativism and hopelessness. We become distraught. We become numb or bitter, prone to subscribe to the ridiculous words, ďWhat the use?Ē And it is not only of our world we speak, but our own seeming inability to change. We resign ourselves to always being the person we once were, committing the same sins, making the same foolish errors, never thinking, I have a choice, I have a better self to which I can aspire.
Tragically,however, we so easily succumb to the fate of ďwhat is.Ē But, not if you are Jacob, not if you are Anne Frank. You aspire . You wrestle. You dream...and you become that person God has created you to be, not always victorious, but guided, always, by Godís goodness, Godís breath in you, Godís Kingdom on earth as in heaven, and a hope that never, never dies, teaching the world, the end is not the conflict they see, but the kiss of adversaries reconciled to one another.
You say with Anne Frank, ďI see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder...I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right...Ē
And you live it! Amen.