“Now, More than Ever”

Genesis 29:1-15 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
February 18, 1018
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 Genesis 29:1-15 (MSG)

Jacob set out again on his way to the people of the east. He noticed a well out in an open field with three flocks of sheep bedded down around it. This was the common well from which the flocks were watered. The stone over the mouth of the well was huge. When all the flocks were gathered, the shepherds would roll the stone from the well and water the sheep; then they would return the stone, covering the well.

Jacob said, “Hello friends. Where are you from?”

They said, “We’re from Haran.”
Jacob asked, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?”
“We do.”
“Are things well with him?” Jacob continued.

“Very well,” they said. “And here is his daughter Rachel coming with the flock.”

Jacob said, “There’s a lot of daylight still left; it isn’t time to round up the sheep yet, is it? So why not water the flocks and go back to grazing?”

“We can’t,” they said. “Not until all the shepherds get here. It takes all of us to roll the stone from the well. Not until then can we water the flocks.”

While Jacob was in conversation with them, Rachel came up with her father’s sheep. She was the shepherd. The moment Jacob spotted Rachel, daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, saw her arriving with his uncle Laban’s sheep, he went and single-handedly rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of his uncle Laban. Then he kissed Rachel and broke into tears.

He told Rachel that he was related to her father, that he was Rebekah’s son. She ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news—Jacob, his sister’s son!—he ran out to meet him, embraced and kissed him and brought him home. Jacob told Laban the story of everything that had happened.

Laban said, “You’re family! My flesh and blood!”

When Jacob had been with him for a month, Laban said, “Just because you’re my nephew, you shouldn’t work for me for nothing. Tell me what you want to be paid. What’s a fair wage?”

This is the Word of the Lord.          Thanks be to God.



Lent is always sort of a mixed bag for those of us here at Fellowship of Faith, I think. I’ve learned that we all want to HONOR the season and recognize it as a time of preparing ourselves for Easter, but how we go ABOUT that changes over time, doesn’t it?

In our 20’s and 30’s we could be a little self-absorbed and judgmental, I think. It was GOOD to have Lent be a time to focus on our sinful nature of being self-centered.

And then many of us became PARENTS or we started taking care of our OWN parents Lent became more of a time of REST and REFLECTION.

The thing is … WE CHANGE.

And as WE change, the MEANING of things changes.

And as MEANING changes, our observances of Advent … Christmas … Easter … and even LENT change as well.

At least … they SHOULD change.


THIS year, Katrina and I are focusing on a rather DIFFERENT meaning for Lent. Some of you have been introduced to it already through one of the Bible studies or book groups. We’ve decided to look at PEACEMAKING. What is it? How does it HAPPEN? How can we ENGAGE in it?

And as our model we’re looking at different passages in the first book of the Bible … Genesis.


Well, for one, simple reason. We NEED peace now, more than ever. We need INNER peace … we need peace in our WORLD … we need to find and CREATE peace wherever we CAN these days.

A friend of mine, who’s a dog lover, sent me a cartoon the other day. You know those “thunder shirts” that dogs wear to help them not freak out during thunder storms? They fit very snugly around the dog and hold them TIGHTLY so that they can feel more secure in the storm.

Well, this cartoon has a dog – standing up and looking like a human, of course – wearing a thunder shirt while looking at his cell phone and he says to his other dog-friend … “I feel like I have to put my thunder shirt on just to read the news every day.”

Ain’t THAT the truth.

We are CONSTANTLY surrounded by news that is unnerving and upsetting.  I mean, here I was last week just preaching about the vulnerability of our nation and then BOOM! A 37-page indictment laying out a well-detailed case for how we were INVADED by Russians posing as Americans and successfully INFLUENCING us with false information! They INFLUENCED our elections!!! Jesus WARNED us about false prophets. And millions of Americans BELIEVED them. (That’s the thing about truth and fiction – sometimes you can’t recognize which is which until you look back in hindsight!)

That’s almost like Jacob – the guy from today’s reading. HE’s the one who cheated his brother, Esau, out of his BIRTHRIGHT.

Everybody is susceptible to being tricked. We ALL fall for somebody’s story sometime.

But anyway … we’re looking at peace … Shalom … for the next five weeks as we prepare for the resurgence of new life at Easter.

Shalom, as it says on our bulletin cover, means: peaceharmonywholenesscompletenessprosperitywelfare and
tranquility …

It’s a wonderfully NUANCED word that gets at the real MEANING of peace … the wholeness and HEALTH of a relationship – whether that be our relationship with GOD … or our relationship with someone ELSE … or even our relationship with OURSELVES.

There is a CYCLE of Shalom that happens. It has to do with thinking, speaking, and acting.

How we THINK affects what we SAY and what we SAY plays out in how we ACT. Right?

But it also works the OTHER way around, too … how we ACT can, over time, affect how we THINK.

An example of this is Civil Rights legislation in this country. We can’t legislate how people THINK, but we can regulate how they ACT. Right? And over time, those ACTIONS will change how we THINK about people.

When I was little, for instance, I don’t think any of us ever DREAMED there would be a day when gay and lesbian people would be out in the open and able to legally MARRY. But NOW – it’s not only the law of the land, but the MAJORITY of Americans support it according to a 2017 survey done by the Pew Research Center. 62% of Americans support it, as a matter of fact. In 2009 – only eight years earlier – only 38% did![i] That’s a huge change in a short amount of time.

We DO change. Sometimes it’s our thoughts and beliefs that change our actions and sometimes it’s our actions that end up changing our thoughts and our beliefs.

And when those things lead us to a greater sense of peace, well-being and harmony, we are living in a state of Shalom. The Shalom Cycle is working. Actions and Beliefs – each affects the other.

When they DON’T lead us to greater well-being, then there is a break or a FRACTURE in the Shalom Cycle.

In today’s reading, we have a story that we sort of walk in on the middle of. Our leading character is Jacob.

As I mentioned before … he wasn’t a nice guy. Well … he might have been NICE, but he was CROOKED. He manipulated his father and he LIED in order to get what he wanted. And so he left his father’s home and traveled east in order to find other family and start a new life.

That’s where we pick up TODAY’s story.

He’s traveling along and he finds this well where shepherds bring their sheep to water during the day. He begins by saying hello and inquiring about who they ARE.

Wisely, he DOESN’T start out with who HE is or how IMPORTANT he is. He is LISTENING and seeking information.

One thing leads to another and he meets Rachel … love at first sight … he shows off by moving the giant stone by HIMSELF … and he begins a many-year association with his uncle, Laban … who, HIMSELF, is manipulative and who tricks JACOB into marrying the wrong woman at first.

Well, y’know … what goes around, comes around. If you trick others … sooner or later, you’re going to be tricked, too. The lesson here? Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Our Bible study ended with this statement: “From the moment that Jacob OR I know that all is well with Laban OR YOU, we also know that the possibility of peace between us exists.”[ii]

When we know that both of us are in a state SHALOM … of wholeness and well-being … we know that there’s a possibility of peace BETWEEN us.

So to me, that begs two questions …

The FIRST is – what if one of the parties is NOT in a state of shalom? What if there is NO sense of wholeness and well-being? Can there be peace?

And the SECOND is – what if I am not peaceful within MYSELF. How can I bring peace into the world, then?

I mean this sincerely. I’m not asking just to be theoretical and to spin out some intellectual CONCEPT here. These questions are IMPORTANT to those of us who are trying to live out our FAITH with integrity.

How can we bring peace to the world that so desperately NEEDS it and LONGS for it – like Jesus tells us to DO – when the people we want to bring it to have no sense of wholeness and well-being?

How can there be PEACE, for instance, for the inner-city family in Rochester that doesn’t have enough to EAT? I read yesterday that by a recent study of similarly sized cities around the nation, Rochester, sadly … now rates #1 – number ONE!!! – in childhood POVERTY!!! Think of that for a minute.

Across this WHOLE country – our children are the POOREST in the land. Poorer than similarly-sized cities in Appalachia … poorer than those around Detroit … poorer than those on Reservations in the great Southwest … THE POOREST!

How can we expect a family that can’t afford to feed their CHILDREN … that can’t afford to buy them CLOTHES … that often can’t afford to keep them HOUSED … how can we expect THAT family to feel anything OTHER than frustration … fear … ANGER… desperation??? I mean, didn’t they grow up with the same American dream that the rest of us did? Don’t THEY deserve a sense of peace and well-being? And this IS Black History Month so it begs the question … how much of that poverty is linked to systemic racism!!!

And what about the children themselves … if they’re HUNGRY and COLD… if they have no food SECURITY for when they might eat next … if they are ANGRY because they see how kids their own ages are living in Fairport or Spencerport … in Brighton or Pittsford or Webster or Gates … how can we give them a sense of well-being and PEACE?????

Obviously, we have to take care of the issues facing them first.

And looking inside OURSELVES the same is true, I dare say … if OUR sense of Shalom is fractured because of something – it could be ANYTHING, really – worry over illness … concern about money … preoccupation with bills or mobility … how can WE bring peace to the world???

Again, we have to take care of THOSE issues facing us, first.


And not surprisingly, MY answer to how we take CARE of those issues has to do with JESUS.

I mean, he was a guy who lived as one of US. He was a dude who ALSO knew about poverty … about living with spies all around him in an occupied land … about finding opportunities for FEAR at every corner.

And he teaches us to count on GOD!!! – to DARE to believe that we are SPECIAL to the one who created us and who gives us LIFE.

And he tells us that WE are to live as his ambassadors. We are to be HIS examples to the world. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he says this about how we are to live: We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.[iii]

We’re Christ’s REPRESENTATIVES. We are his EMMISARIES … his AMBASSADORS. When we stay focused on that, then HIS peace fills our life. HIS perfect love casts OUT fear[iv] and all of the other negative emotions.

And when we stay living in that SWEET spot of his Shalom inside us, then we can TACKLE the other things we need to in order to being shalom to the world – things like INJUSTICE and HATRED and FEAR and BIGOTRY. When we have his Shalom inside of us, then we can DO the hard work of helping others, even understanding that they don’t HAVE that sense of well-being yet.

They can’t feel harmony and well-being until their inequities are ADDRESSED. There can be no warm, fuzzy love feelings until there is JUSTICE.

But it all starts with US.

And that’s why one of our focal points for the next five weeks is found on the back page of your bulletin – Let’s Eliminate Negative Thinking. L E N T. That’s what Katrina and I are suggesting as the meaning for Lent this year.

If we can eliminate negative thinking – about OURSELVES … about OTHERS … about our GOVERNMENT … about people who are different than we are. If we can just start doing THAT, then we can begin to usher in a period of SHALOM, instead.

How do we DO that, you ask?

Well, one way is to START by becoming aware of every time that we HAVE some sort of negative thought. And when we do … just pausing and saying OUT LOUD, “I am loved by God just the way I am.”

Can you say that with me? “I am loved by God just the way I am.”

And why would that be enough? I mean … if I’m loved just the way I am, so what! How is THAT going to change anything?

Well, because the more we SAY it, the more we BELIEVE it. And when we really BELIEVE that we’re loved just the way we are, we let go of some of those OTHER feelings. Our words change our beliefs and those change our ACTIONS. It’s the Shalom Cycle. Really BELIEVING we are loved changes us from the inside out.

But it has to start inside of us.

And it has to start with finding our own Shalom.

And THAT has to start with believing, as Jesus taught us, that we are loved just as we are.

Let’s Eliminate Negative Thinking … because we need that Now, More than Ever! We need the HOPE that comes with eliminating negative thinking. We need to see POSSIBILITIES again and to BELIEVE that they can happen. We need to restore our OPTIMISM of what CAN be.

And we need to show OTHER people how to do that.

As people who are trying to follow the Way of Jesus … that all begins with him.

And let the church say, “AMEN!”

[i] “Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage,” http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/ Downloaded 02/17/2018.

[ii] “Peacemaking in Genesis,” Session 1 Commentary. ©1984 by the PC(USA). No longer in print.

[iii] 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (MSG)

[iv] I John 4:18.


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