“He did not come to judge the world,
He did not come to blame.
He only came to save the world
And Jesus is his name.
And when we call him Savior,
We call him by his name.”
“When I was young, I was taught this song at revival meetings. We sang it with great conviction and even changed the last line to ‘We call him by his real name,’ ” said the Rev. Allan Aubrey Boesak at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Thursday.
His sermon title was “When God Catches Up With Us” and the Scripture text was Genesis 28:10-17.
“I didn’t know what the world was like then, that there was so much hatred, racism, prejudice and bigotry,” Boesak said. “I didn’t know that soldiers would massacre so many people. I didn’t know that they would shoot a 6-year-old boy and say ‘I thought it was a dog.’ Or a 16-year-old would be kidnapped, have gasoline poured down his throat and set on fire. I didn’t know that there was such a world. If I had known, I might not have sung it with such conviction.”
In the Scripture, Jacob is on the run from his brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac. He has been cheating, stealing, lying and betraying them and conspiring with his mother to take away Esau’s blessing. His relationship with his father and brother was in tatters, and his relationship with God was questionable.
“There is a question of whether these relationships could be restored,” the chaplain said. “It was probably not much comfort that he was not alone — his mother was conniving with him. She had secretly listened to the instructions Isaac gave Esau and then told Jacob, ‘Obey me in this.’ She lets him believe that she will take responsibility for his actions. Of course, that is not true.
“No matter how much we love our children and want to carry their burden, they have to take the responsibility of the burden,” Boesak continued. “So many times, we say ‘Let’s not talk about this and act as if nothing happened, who will know?’ You and God will know.”
Children, he said, learn racist attitudes from their parents.
“We have to look at our brother or sister and say ‘I am sorry; please forgive me.’ We cannot escape those moments. It is too easy to turn acts of exploitation into acts of obedience, to turn acts of scandal into acts of honor,” the chaplain said.
Jacob ran from Esau and from God, and God caught up with him first at Bethel. The place where Jacob stopped for the night was not just any place. It was a place of worship of Baal; the stone Jacob used as a pillow was a stone from the altar to Baal.
In those days, Boesak said, every tribe and group had its own god, whose power was only effective in the land controlled by that tribe.
“Jacob thinks that he has wronged God and will seek protection from Baal,” he said. “This is utmost foolishness; he has forgotten his own tradition. God knows no boundaries. God says wherever you are hiding, I will come for you. This sounds scary, and I intend it so.”
Boesak said that when he learned the story in Sunday School his teacher made it sound like the loveliest moment in Jacob’s life. He fell asleep and had a dream of angels coming down from and going up to heaven.
“Now, I know that is not true either — this was a nightmare,” the chaplain said. “Jacob is hiding with Baal’s stone, and in the middle of the night God catches up with him. He dreads that God will come down the ladder.
“But what happens?” he continues. “God speaks no word of punishment, no sign of anger. He does not chastise or discipline Jacob. God says, ‘I am the God of your father, and I promise you ….’ This is a perfect moment for God to say ‘I will strike you down.’ ”
But he didn’t. Boesak continued, “I was Jacob. I deserved nothing but punishment, and when God caught up with me there was love, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. God knows what you deserve but God knows more what you need. Jacob says, ‘Today I will turn this into a house of God — the very gates of heaven.’”
Quoting John 3:16, Boesak said that God sent Jesus into the world to save the world. He told the congregation that “we have turned the world into the places of Baal; we worship violence. But God wants to change the place of Baal into the house of God. God wants to give us what we need, to remake us and heal us. It is hard to believe that it is true. God will heal the world and will be with you as you change this world.”
As an illustration, he told the story of Col. Eugene de Kock, the former chief of the “anti-terrorist” unit of the South African government.
“Remember,” Boesak said, “Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Desmond Tutu was a terrorist. I was a terrorist in the eyes of that government.”
When de Kock finally came before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, his deeds were too horrible for even Tutu to recommend amnesty. He was sentenced to 220 years in prison, where he is today.
Something happened to him in prison, Boesak said. He begged the jailers to let it be possible for him to see the families of those he tortured and killed and to ask their forgiveness.
“God caught up with him,” Boesak said. “One by one the families came. He spoke to each and asked their forgiveness, and they actually forgave him. White South Africa disavowed him and threw him to the dogs, but the victims embraced him and gave him forgiveness.”
He continued, “This world is full of violence and hate, but don’t give up on this world. This is the world that God came to save. Because Jesus did not come to condemn but to save, we can call him by his name.”
Boesak led the congregation in singing the song he started his sermon with. As the congregation stood, he said, “Stand up for justice, peace and reach out and redeem this world. We reclaim this world for the prince of peace and he brings justice to the ends of the world.”
The Rev. Susan McKee presided. The Rev. Rosie Magee, chaplain at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and a member of the New Clergy Conference, read the Scripture.
The prelude was the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio, Op. 11 played by Ann West, cello, Debbie Grohman, clarinet, and Willie La Faver, piano. The women of the Motet Choir sang “Still I Rise,” by Rosephanye Powell. Patti Piper provided the lead vocals. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett and the Randell-Hall Chaplaincy support this week’s services.