For the next couple Sundays, I'm guest speaking at the Chapel Hill Bible Church. I want to thank LeRon Shults (theology prof at Bethel Seminary) and Kara Eckman Powell (Fuller Seminary) for their excellent presentations at the Emergent Conventions this year on humanity. Their work on the theology of humanity conveyed in concepts of "face" and "facing" inspired this short series on Jacob.
A short summary of Kara's and LeRon's presentation:
• Much of the human experience is shaped by the faces of others. The human experience is also characterized by shame — we cover our faces because of our shame.
• The biblical narrative "face" and the "covering of our faces" takes on a grave theological significance. "Face" not only is used to express human emotion (for example: the biblical phrase for "joy" is literally "shining face), "face" also conveys relational encounters. The Hebrew word for "face" is also the theologically loaded word "presence" used regularly to describe the presence of Yahweh and human encounters with Yahweh.
• The covering our faces reveals the viral presence of sin our lives and community — we hide ourselves from God and from the presence of God in community. (Shame, of course, is experienced in community).
I strongly recommend getting their presentation from youthspecialties.com or emergentconvention.com. I'm just giving you a taste. Their words on the relationality of sin is a deeply provocative portion of theology that has been lost in our very individualized culture. The implications for baptism (a rite of initation into redeemed community) and eucharist (the repetitive practice of uncovering our faces to each other in affirming and accepting God's "face" or "presence" are huge in this concept. LeRon and Kara do a great job in exploring these possibilities.
I'm my sermons, I'm exploring these themes through the story of Jacob and his narrative of face covering. Note these incidents —
• Jacob disquises himself to steal his brother Esau's blessing. This, naturally, enrages Esau and Jacob must flee in the night to save his life.
• In his great dream, Jacob in his shame is blind to a facing event. At Bethel, the presence or face of God is revealed to Jacob but he proclaims his own shame and blindness with some of the most tragic words of the OT, "surely God was in this place and I didn't know it!"
• The bizarre wedding scene where he marries Leah rather than the intended Rachel. As was the custom, the face of the bride was covered during the ceremony. As Jacob goes to consummate the marriage, he finds that he has been tricked by Laban (the father of these two women). Face-covering in this scene reveals the treachery and dishonesty of all of humanity.
• The Jacob story is a narrative of two journeys — a shameful journey from home and a forced journey to home, to the place of Esau's angry face and the places (specifically Bethel) where Jacob has encountered the face of God.
• As foreshadowing of the presence of God, just before reaching Esau, Jacob encounters angels. Jacob names this place "the camp of God" (a place where God stops by on occassion?).
• As he sends his family and gifts ahead to appease Esau, Jacob wrestles with a divine figure. At daybreak, Jacob demands a blessing (literally "show me your face"). The blessing that Yahweh has always intended for Jacob is given. Jacob names this place, "Peniel" or "Face" because he has encountered the presence of God and survived.
It is a great story, an "everywoman" and "everyman" story of our fleeing in shame from the face or presence of God. Next week, I'm going to continue the story by looking at "Esau's kiss" — an event laden with divine eradication of shame and typology of Jesus.
For those who heard me today, feel free to use the comments here to share a story or a thought. The covering of our faces in a universal human experience. Freedom from shame comes in community that follows the journey of Christ.