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Welcome to worship for Sunday, July 23, 2023.
One thing vacation affords is time to read. Last week while away I read a book of the kind I seldom have time to enjoy, a murder mystery. Not a dark, grizzly, despairing mystery. Not a true crime novelization. I wouldn’t even call it a ‘thriller’. Just a neat and tidy whodunit in the spirit of Agatha Christie or Murder She Wrote. It was light and enjoyable reading as much as death can be light and enjoyable! Being fictional helps.
One thing about a murder mystery is that after the crime there is an obvious suspect. Considerable time is taken to make the case that the obvious suspect is justifiably so. They had the motive, the means, and the opportunity. But, of course, it never turns out to be the obvious suspect. If it was then you would be reading a short story instead of a novel.
Instead the obvious suspect gets let off the hook by…a complication. A second murder has just taken place in which the obvious suspect can’t possibly have been involved. Or a connection to the deceased with a previously innocuous character has been revealed. Or the obvious suspect is themself killed. Aha. The game is afoot.
The book I read last week did a wonderful job of developing the characters and slowly divulging information (and had bodies piling up) until the case was solved in a satisfying way. Of course, that’s who did it! How could it have been anyone else?
Interpreting scripture is a little bit like reading a mystery novel. As we seek to unravel what a text means it would serve us well to remember that maybe the obvious suspect isn’t where our investigation is supposed to end. Maybe there is something deeper to be revealed. Maybe there is a connection to a long-lost idea that is going to emerge only after we have spent time reflecting on the text and examining the evidence.
The lesson used in this week’s service is sometimes referred to as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. That name comes from the central image in Jacob’s dream of a ladder that connects earth and heaven. “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” was an early African-American spiritual and clearly was used as a metaphor for freedom. Jesus seems familiar with the story when, in the Gospel of John, he refers to ‘angels descending and descending’. A dream by a heroic figure that re-enforces the idea of the connection between heaven and earth and thus a God who is not remote nor disinterested in the affairs of God’s people, seems to be the plot of the story. But is that just the ‘obvious suspect’ meaning.
Why is Jacob on the run? Why is Jacob, a key member of a family drama, all alone? Why should Jacob require this assurance at this moment? The plot thickens. The pulse races.
Scripture invites us to look at it deeply. Whatever meaning we take from it must, according to Augustine, pass the double rule of love. That is, our conclusion needs to reflect a love of God and love of neighbour both.
The clues are there. The evidence is in our experience. Let us solve the mystery together.
Grace and peace,
- Michael Wilson’s book “A Pastoral Pandemic: Remaining Connected in a Time of Disconnection” is available in store and online through CommonWord Bookstore (Canadian Mennonite University). For more information visit: https://www.commonword.ca/go/3408.
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- The reading for this week’s service can be found here: Genesis 28:10-19a