Today’s exploration of these ancient themes in Genesis is going to be a bit different.
We’ve been walking with Abraham the last several weeks,
seeing God move in and among the creation
choosing a people to be God’s people
and then helping them SEE differently, ACT differently
and God shapes them, molds them, guides them.
These ancient stories are about who God is,
God’s persistent, challenging, sometimes inscrutable love
and how that goes head-to-head with human proclivities
to do things our way, following our convention.
But Abraham now has died, Ishmael even comes back from the wilderness
and helps Isaac bury him, in the very cave Abraham bought to bury Sarah
and the story moves on: with Isaac and Rebekah and their own follies.
Isaac and I will always have a close bond. We father’s of twins.
But If there is anything I’ve learned as a parent of twins, its that all twins are different.
These two: Esau and Jacob, seem to be completely different personalities:
One ruddy, athletic, a marksman
the other dark, contemplative, cunning.
My girls: much more alike, much less conflicted with each other. Thank goodness.
All twins are different.
And this story in Genesis is the beginning of another sordid affair
the first act in a multi-part production where Jacob wrestles
the birthright duly owed to Esau
first through this pot of lentil stew,
and then through tricking Isaac
for a blessing a bit later down the road.
It is part of Genesis’ explanation of how the lineage of the Hebrew people
passed not through the expected right of succession…
through the firstborn son (even in the case of twins)
but through Jacob, the one who later would wrestle with God
who would be renamed Israel
Israel—the name which literally means “wrestle with God”
Jacob, the one who would father 12 sons of his own, bless his heart
and his Technicolor dream coat.
It continues the tradition of God being God, and not doing things the expected way.
God chooses the younger kid, the weaker kid,
even before they were born.
Esau would also be great, would also be the first of many nations
but the line of the Hebrews, of the covenant,
would go through Jacob.
Unexepected. Unpredicted. Unplanned.
What kind of God is this, exactly?
But we also have before us this terrific story of Jesus
that gets the same themes, the same rumblings, the same disruption.
Maybe today, rather than looking directly at Isaac and Jacob,
we could look at the parable of the sower…
Not long ago, I watched a small drama unfold
in the parking lot of a grocery store.
The principle characters in the drama were two young men I took to be brothers.
One seemed to be 18 or 19.
The other looked to be about 12.
I say they were brothers—they looked alike and talked alike.
The younger brother was over in front of the store,
trying to get a Pepsi out of the soda machine.
And he yelled over to his brother in the parking lot, saying:
“I put my money in, but nothing happened….”
And the OLDER brother said, “Go inside and tell them
and they’ll give you your money back.”
And the YOUNGER one said: “I think I can get it out.”
He then did a little kicking and banging on the machine.
Then he grew quiet.
And the OLDER brother said, “What happened?”
And he said: “I put in another dollar…”
“Well, why did you do that?”
“I thought it would push it out.”
“You put in ANOTHER dollar?” “Yeah…”
“Well, go tell them, but they’re ONLY gonna give you ONE dollar.”
“Why, I put in TWO…”
“Well, they won’t believe anybody is that boneheaded…
…they’re only gonna give you ONE.”
…And he went inside and came out with a Pepsi.
“She gave me the Pepsi, but wouldn’t give any money…”
The OLDER brother…had troubles of his own.
He was out in the parking lot,
standing next to a car that looked to be 5 or 6 years old,
with a temporary sticker in the back window—“Nebraska”
He was kicking the tires,
and banging on the trunk,
all kinds of useless motion.
I had been watching the exchange of the brothers, walking into the store.
Now, as I passed right by his car, I said “problem?”
“Oh,” he said, “I locked my keys in there.
Just bought it this week over in Omaha,
we’re down here visiting my sister.
And I locked the keys in the car.”
I told him I didn’t have a coat hanger or anything to help,
and he said, “I’ve already called my sister—she’s coming.”
And he kicked the tires,
and walked around and beat on it some more.
And I said, “Well, it happened to a friend a few years ago.
Had to pay $30, but he got it open.
I’d be happy to call someone for you…”
And he said, “No—I don’t want to spend any money on it. My sister’s coming.”
So, I ran my quick errand in the store,
and I came out in time to be able to watch and listen
to a parade of people who wanted to give him advice.
The FIRST car came by, saw what was happening,
rolled down the window and said
“You need to get yourself an extra set of keys!”
And he said, “Well, I plan to, but I just bought it—I haven’t had time”
NEXT person came by, “What happened?”
“I locked my keys in the car…”
“You need a coat hanger or one of those things you push down in there.”
And the young man said,
“Well, I don’t have one of those—if I did, I’d open it.”
And they went on.
One person actually walked by and said,
“If that were a Toyota, I could show you how to get it open…”
He said, “It’s a Ford!”
Then, just before I left, somebody came by and said: “Is that actually your car?”
And he said, “You think I’m trying to break in? Sure it’s my car!”
And they wen’t on by….
Now—what happened to the day?
Here’s a young man—late teens—bought himself a car.
Picked up his younger brother, headed to visit his sister,
pulled into this parking lot…and was grounded.
He didn’t plan it that way.
What happened? …Well, life happened.
You get up in the morning—you say “this looks like a nice day!”
You have your list of things to do.
Then a car breaks down.
And one of your children says “I’m not feeling well.”
And a toilet backs up.
And, more ominously—the routine test at the doctors…
…turns out NOT to be routine…
And its only 8:45 in the morning.
It was looking like a great day.
And there was a schedule and there were lists.
What happened? …LIFE happened.
If you’re going to have any purpose,
any peace in your life—
–you’re going to have to put it together out of FRAGMENTS
because you’re NOT going to get a long stretch
of planned, placid time!
It doesn’t work that way!
* * *
The wonderful thing about it is…the Bible understands this. 
Jesus himself understood this.
The Bible was NOT written by some person on vacation,
all lathered up with sunscreen,
under an umbrella by the beach
drinking some fruity concoction!
The bible was written by people who just had to put life together,
as Fred Craddock says, “out of short pieces of string…”
Jesus knew that.
He said: “One day a man went out to sow.
Some of the seed went on the path…and practically before
it hits the ground—the birds gobble it up.
Some went into shallow soil.
It sprang up—looked like it was going to produce something—
–but it had NO depth,
so when the sun came out—it was history.
Some went among the weeds—not enough nourishment there.
The weeds said ‘we got here first’—
–and the grain turned out nothing.
“But some fell among good soil—and produced 100, 60, 30 fold!
Such a rich crop—the picture of abundance!”
In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the story is interpreted—
that’s pretty RARE in the Gospels…
We almost never get something like that. An interpretation of a parable!
And, if I were to follow that interpretation,
we could spend our time talking about the different kinds of soils,
and what they mean,
and who they are,
and what we do about it all…
There are some people, after all, who are like the PATH.
The Word of God hardly gets there—and its gone.
These are NOT bad people—they are good people,
its just that they never seem to have any way,
any capacity to respond to the Word of God.
There’s a dullness there.
And a life of faith…can always wait until tomorrow…
Some of the seed, if I follow the interpretation, is on SHALLOW soil.
Not much depth—underneath the top inch—it’s rock.
It’ll spring up and look promising—but there’s NO depth.
We’re talking shallow.
We’re NOT talking insincere—we’re just talking shallow.
What do you think when I say “shallow person”?
…a shallow person ONLY has two categories: “I like it…I don’t like it.”
…Shallow is somebody who never reads anything that isn’t for sale
at a supermarket check-out counter.
There’s NO truth there, just a lot of pictures. Photoshopped pictures.
…Shallow is a person who stays too long in front of the mirror.
What are they looking at anyway?
Shallow. Describe it how you want: There’s NOT going to be any grain.
Now, sometimes, the Word of God falls among the weeds.
These are good people—who just have too many irons in the fire,
too much to do,
have said YES to too many things.
Almost anywhere they go—it’s just a cameo appearance.
Volunteering—just a photo op, really.
These are people who have forgotten a critical factor about life:
you have to be present to win.
They had a list—priority of this first, this second, this third—
—but they LOST the list.
And NOW, it’s a matter of where is the most pressure.
“I would have been there…but I got this other call…”
“I would have been there…but I lost track of what I was doing.”
“I would have been there…but, I just can’t seem to work through it all.”
I feel most sorry for these, because they have NO life of their own.
And decade after decade goes by…and what happened?
AFTER all that time—they NEVER really decided.
There was NEVER time to nourish the spirit.
NEVER time to CHOOSE.
NEVER time to think about life and relationships.
NEVER time to praise and thank God for it all!
There’s a little fruit…but nothing to count on…
THEN, there is the GOOD soil—this amazes me!
I stand in awe and wonderment in the presence of the true,
gentle follower of God—
—they are a mystery to me!
They live in the same world,
have the same friends,
work at the same places,
breathe the same air—but there is something different.
They love, they care,
they go, they do,
they give—and if you were to recite all the good things they have done,
they’d be so embarrassed and try to get off that topic ASAP!
Where do they get that?
I think the difference is taking just a little bit of time to tend to the spirit.
The God-given spirit,
the in-God’s-image-spirit—just to nourish that,
talk to that,
let is breathe.
Sometimes you do this alone.
Sometimes you do this in groups—
and that grows, and flourishes,
and sooner or later—is SHAPES who you are.
I think that’s the difference…
As Fred Buechner has said:
“If you want to know who you are,
as opposed to who you like to THINK you are—
–look where your feet take you…”
Well, these “good soil” people are those whose feet take them—
–CONSTANTLY—in the paths of love,
service, kindness, and justice..
So, if I was going to focus primarily on Matthew’s interpretation of the parable,
–then I would probably say something like that…
However, if ALL that we had were the parable itself
–you know, like most of the others—if all we had was Jesus’ teaching
in the form of a parable—
–THEN this is what I would say to you:
Please don’t EVER give up on anybody. PLEASE!
…Because the plain fact is—that I don’t know and you don’t know—
—whether there will be any growth.
Let’s NOT be selective.
“Oh, I will put a seed right here.
And I will place one right there.
No use fooling with him, but THIS looks like a good spot.”
During the announcement time today, I mentioned that the Kirk Landscape crew
is going to be planting some 50 plants here tomorrow.
And you better believe
they have a good idea of exactly where they want them.
This bush here. That set of flowers there.
And rightfully so. They do a beautiful job.
BUT NOT SO WITH GOD. Not in THIS story!
There it goes!
On the path…in the weeds…into the thin soil—
–some here, some there—
–recklessly strewn goes this SEED of the Word of God!
AT RANDOM, it seems.
Scatter the word of God,
and DON’T predict what the result will be—
–because you don’t know—you NEVER know.
EVERY church in the world—certainly all the ones I know—
–have in them at least a DOZEN people
who are a SURPRISE to their own relatives and friends!
“I never dreamed that he would be in church.”
“I never thought I’d find HER in a place like that…”
“I didn’t know they were concerned about spiritual things…”
You see, this is God’s business.
It’s Jesus who is sowing the seed, for goodness sake.
And what do we know about that?
How do WE know what is going to grow in people’s spirits?
I just don’t think I buy that this story is about who we are pre-destined to be:
you know: you’re a path, or shallow soil, or weeds, or good soil and all that.
Esau: he was destined to be the one. Not Jacob. Remember?
This isn’t about our fate. As WE see it.
Its about God working in and through and among us.
But please, please—let’s NOT think that it is ALL up to you.
NO farmer puts a seed in the soil…and then SCREAMS at it—
—“Now, come on—get up—GROW! GROW NOW!”
In its own good time with care and nourishment—it will come up.
You don’t have to beg it,
you don’t have to blackmail it,
you don’t have to threaten it—
–you don’t have to WORRY it to death.
Just plant the seed—It’s God’s seed, after all.
And the seed carries its future in its bosom—it’s a seed!
It’ll grow—be prodigal in planting.
Be as RECKLESS as you know how.
Anywhere and everywhere—without offense.
…acts of love, kindness, gentleness,
forgiveness, justice, peace…
…Because one will come to rest in the most unlikely place—
–and somebody might be tempted to say to you,
why’d you waste your time THERE?
What are you doing that for—there’s NOTHING there.
NO! You don’t have a clue…NOT a clue!
How do we know where the birthright belongs,
Esau, or Jacob?: it is GOD’s birthright.
How do we know the future? It is God’s Future!
This parable is the respectful opponent of careful five-year planning
and of prudent decision making.
Now, I suspect that whenever we REALLY live like this—it drives us CRAZY.
Because UNPREDICTABILITY is something we cannot stand!
Remember those brothers in the parking lot?
Remember the last day you had like that?
You got up this morning—and you could see your day.
It was all there in front of you.
THEN, this happened,
and that was said,
and this went wrong,
and that broke,
and this didn’t turn out like you planned—
—your LIFE happened—sometimes feels like RANDOM
–and it’s all scrambled up before noon!
then you have God.
Scatter it everywhere God.
Believe in everybody God.
Let it fly everywhere God.
NO neat rows. No exacting plan.
NO requirement to follow the conventional rule
NO blueprint, no balanced ledger or exacting approach!
Just everywhere…and I’m sorry if the seeming randomness of our life,
and the seeming randomness of God’s love makes us dizzy.
And sometimes it makes us AFRAID….I know it does.
But I also suspect…NO, I am quite sure:
In the middle of our haphazard lives,
and the reckless of God’s love
being sown just everywhere—
–where those two COLLIDE—we find God.
Who would have dreamed…it would happen like this!
Where the randomness of our lives
COLLIDES with reckless, generous love—we experience God…
I find that to be the most amazing—
–and the most hopeful thing—in the whole world.
 This section of the sermon adapted from a sermon I heard preached by the Rev. Mark Ramsey entitled “Random,” which he credited in large part to Fred Craddock at an earlier date.