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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 30, 2017

 Living for the Love of It!

Genesis 29:15-28; Matthew 13:31-33

            You have heard the saying, “What goes around, comes around.”  If ever those words were true, they were true for Jacob.  You heard Stuart today delightfully telling of Jacob’s deceitfulness, of how wily and tricky Jacob was, how he tricked his brother out of the inheritance that his father Isaac had to give.  And then in collusion with his mother, Rebekah, Jacob tricks his father and older brother out of the blessing, the final blessing, the last thing that poor Isaac had to give to his older son Esau.

            You probably know the other saying as well: “That those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”  In Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, Jacob meets his match.  Jacob really meets Rachel in the passage before the one that I read to you.  When he sees Rachel for the first time out in the field, he is overwhelmed by her beauty.  He goes with great determination, and he moves a stone from atop the well and he waters the whole flock of his father-in-law, Laban.  Then he kisses Rachel, and weeps aloud when he does so.  In a word, the boy has it bad!  He has fallen head-over-heels in love with Rachel, who unbeknownst to him, unfortunately, is Laban’s younger daughter.  

            Rachel runs to her father, and probably tells him the whole story.  Laban shares many of the same character traits as our good friend Jacob, and he sees this as an opportunity to seize and to squeeze for all that it is worth.  And so he welcomes this boy into his home, this crafty, inventive, schemer of a son (whose name you will recall – Jacob – means “the supplanter.”), and after a month Laban raises the question of what some fair wages would be.  I think Laban knows in advance what is coming out of love-struck Jacob’s mouth.  We are told in Genesis “Jacob loved Rachel,” and predictably he blurts out, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”  

            Love and serve.  Those two words, if you count them carefully, occur no less than thirteen times in the story of Jacob and Laban, Leah and Rachel.  A whole lot of life turns on those two words: love and serve.  In some ways those two words tell the story of our days: What and who and how we love, and what and how we serve.

            Remember Bob Dylan’s song?  Bob Dylan, who we can now say isthe Nobel Prize Winning poet and author!  It’s called, You Better Serve Someone.  Dylan writes,

You may be an ambassador to England or France,

You may like to gamble, you may like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes

Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

            Everybody serves somebody or something, and the question of life turns so often on who and what and how we serve.  The tragic story of many lives is too many people never get past serving themselves all their days, and lying to themselves about it endlessly.  One of the things I loved the most about Michael Korda’s, prize-winning biography about Dwight D. Eisenhower called, Ike: An American Hero, was the subplot or story he told about Field Marshal Viscount Bernard Montgomery, who was the head of the British troops heading into D-Day.  He was called “Monty,” and in introducing him, Korda writes, “Monty always had been insufferably vain, arrogant and boastful.”  My hunch is none of us would want those words written about us, probably Monty did not want them written about him.  But he was, according to Korda and many other historians, an island bordered on all sides by himself.  Korda writes, “Ike’s fame never went to his head.  Monty’s fame when straight to his.”

            Montgomery commissioned the best portrait artist in Great Britain to paint his portrait, and then he refused to pay him, because he said it simply was not good enough.  He was so vain, probably nobody could have flattered him sufficiently.

            Before D-Day he wrote a long, convoluted letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggesting a worship service be held in Westminster to “consecrate the nation’s strength,” and he laid out the whole service with him as the Commander of the British Army as the central focus of it. The Archbishop replied with a kind of baffled politeness, and he passed the problem on to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who promptly squashed the service saying, “You know, D-Day, after all, is supposed to be a surprise.”  The joke made the rounds during those years in Britain: Churchill meeting with the King saying, “I’m very worried, your Majesty, that Monty is after my job.”  The King replied, “I’m very relieved to hear that, because I thought he was after mine.”

            Ike by comparison, was very interested not in himself, but in those who he served.  Korda writes, “Kansans and Texans always got a special smile from the boy from Abilene, but if a soldier was from Minnesota, the Supreme Commander would talk to him about fishing, or if he was from the South, about Southern cooking, a subject for which Ike had a growing passion.”  “He did not give soldiers lectures like Montgomery; he simply treated them like fellow citizens, and with his plain, unadorned uniform, his earnest, worried face, and his unmistakable sincerity, Ike had a genuine love for and regard for his soldiers.”  In other words, he loved the people he was called to serve.

            Self-service is not just something that you do when you pull your car up to the gas pump.  For too many people in this culture, it is a virtual way of life.  Albert Schweitzer said, “The only people among you who will ever be truly happy are those of you who learn to serve.”  He said, “Self-serving has no centennial.”  Live for yourself and you will live a wholly forgettable life, and you will make everybody around you miserable while you are doing it.  Live for others and it is amazing what God can do with your life!  I have never forgotten the quip written by William Sloane Coffin, “The smallest package in all the world is a person all wrapped up in themselves.”

            That was Jacob early in his life.  Remember how we talked last week about that dream he had, and how God came to him in the dream and promised him, “I will be with you,” and “I will keep you wherever you go”?  Jacob never changed completely from being the kind of guy that he was, but I will always believe that his dream that night made a difference forever in the kind of person that he would become.

            So Jacob sees Rachel, he falls head-over-heels in love with her, and he is so in love with her that he is blinded to the treachery and trickery of Laban, who acts in many ways exactly as Jacob was capable of acting.  At the very last minute, after Jacob served seven years for Rachel, what does Laban do, but at the end of the feast, sneak his daughter Leah into the marriage bed ahead of his daughter Rachel?  The story is unforgettable, isn’t it?  And in many ways it is utterly delightful, and it is probably illustration A under “Love is Blind.  And Deaf, Dumb and Stupid as well!”  But please don’t miss what is one of the most magnificent lines found in the scriptures.  Laban raised the issue of Jacob working for the one he loved, and here is the line in scripture: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”  Friends, that is what life is really about when you are living it the way God intends for it to be lived!  It is about serving what and whom you love, and loving what and whom you serve.

            I had lunch a few weeks ago with a terrific young pastor in our Presbytery who was moving from a church where he has served in Columbia, Tennessee to Marietta, Georgia.  Over lunch I said to him what I say to young pastors who ask me whenever they are ready to make a move, “Learn to love the church you are going to serve, because if you fall in love with that church, warts and all, the chances are they’ll fall in love with you, warts in all, as well.”  When you are working in the service of love it hardly seems like work; it seems like a joyous and life-giving calling.

            Dylan is right, “everybody’s got to serve somebody.”  And how blessed you are when the people and the things you serve are the people and the things you love.  I think that is the real power of mission trips in the life of our church, for both kids and for adults.  People get a whiff of what it is like to serve with purposes larger than your own.  You step out of your everyday life where you are enmeshed too much in your own concerns and worries and anxieties, and you step into a larger world of God’s purposes, of God’s work.  In a way it is like those little seeds Jesus talked about in His parable.  What you do is so inconsequential.  What difference can seventy high school kids make in a poor community in West Virginia?  And yet, year after year, so many lives are forever transformed by this experience of discovering how life begins when you serve, not your own purposes, but the purposes of God, that have ever and always to do with love.  Love alone has the power to change this world.  It is why we put a cross right here in the center of our sanctuary.  

            I read an article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend about how China is beginning to flex its military muscle, and I thought to myself, “I hope we don’t give in to fear and think it is our job to match power with power, because the power of the United States will never be in military might.”  It is in our ideas, the things that we believe in most deeply, not least, liberty and justice, not just for some but for all that make our country strong and good.

            Last night, Connie and I had one of those experiences that you can only have in Nashville, Tennessee.  (And I am looking at smiles on some of your faces as you where there as well.)  You will note from the flowers that Lee Holyfield, who grew up in this church, was married here last night.  At the wedding reception her father, Wayland Holyfield, got up when she was ready to have the first dance with her husband.  He sang to his daughter the song that he wrote.  (A song that probably paid for the wedding and for a lot of other things beyond it!)  It was a grace moment, this man who has loved, along with his wife Nancy, so much his family, singing, Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life.  It was a wonderful moment, where a man who has spent his life serving out of love was able to express that love through his life’s service as a songwriter, as a creator of beauty and delight in a world that has far too little of it.

            Genesis puts it like this: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”  I pray that you will find something to serve that is nothing less and nothing other than something you love, something that is worth living for, something that is worth dying for, something that makes God Himself smile.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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