MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“St. Theresa, the most recent one, said, ‘Be faithful in small things, because it is in them your strength lies,’ ” said the Rev. Zina Jacque. “It is the small things that go unnoticed that create the rhythm of life.”
Jacque preached at the 9 a.m. Thursday, July 8 worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Even If No One Knows, Emerge.” The Scripture readings were Genesis 38: 12-19 and Matthew 1:1-3a.
To emerge requires energy, will, strength and courage, she told the congregation. “Sometimes when we stand in the gap to provide hope and preach the word of God, we lose sight of the small things.”
Often, she said, we want to move to big things. “We have dealt with big things all week at Chautauqua. Big things can be too much.” She named issues like Black Lives Matter, the fight for a living wage, crises at the border, pervasive violence, crimes against transgender and nonbinary people, as big things that can become too much.
In the Book of Genesis, life seemed too much for Tamar.
“How many of you have heard about the first Tamar?” Jacque asked the congregation. “How many of you have heard a sermon about her? She is in the genealogy of Jesus. She was a cunning woman who got involved with a man who liked prostitutes — and it is hard to preach about that.”
Jacque reminded the congregation that there are three women in the Bible named Tamar. She cited the stories of David and his children as more familiar to most people.
Tamar was married to the eldest son of Judah, Er, who was wicked in God’s sight. God struck him dead. Judah then gave Tamar to her brother-in-law, Onan, and he refused to provide her with a child. God struck him dead as well.
Judah had one more son, Shelah, but he would not let Tamar marry him. Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house until Shelah grew up.
“This is called the Levirate law. If a woman’s husband died and she had no child, no male child, her brother-in-law was required to give her a son so the family line would not die out,” Jacque said.
The problem was that this child would supplant the father in the line of succession and disinherit his uncles.
“They were giving away their inheritance,” Jacque said. “Judah was withholding Tamar’s future under Levirate law.”
Judah’s wife died and he went to Timnah for “sheep shearing,” Jacque said. “This is the same euphemism as Ruth sleeping at Boaz’s feet.”
Tamar heard of his plan and put on the clothes of a prostitute. She sat by the side of the road near Timnah and as Judah passed by, he propositioned her. She asked him, “What will you give me?” Judah said he would send her a goat. Tamar made him give her his signet ring and its cord and his staff as a promise to send the goat.
Judah slept with Tamar and she became pregnant. About three months later, people reported to Judah that Tamar was pregnant and they planned to stone her. She told them to find the person who belonged to the signet ring and staff.
Judah acknowledged that he had wronged her by not marrying her to his son, Shelah, who had come of age. Judah said, “She is more in the right than I since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”
“Tamar did a small, great thing,” said Jacque. “Tamar was not thinking about us. She knew that as a woman of her time, without a male heir, she had no life.”
Tamar named her son Perez. There are 10 generations between Perez and David, and 14 generations between David and Jesus.
“She could not have understood this connection, but she emerged out of the limits of her broken heart, out of injustice, out of pain,” Jacque said. “She did one small thing and her emergence on the stage set the stage. Even if she had been left out, or not named, as many women were by the Biblical writers, those 1,500 years would not have lessened the act, or withdrawn the power of that act.”
Jacque told the congregation that most of us do not have a public platform like the lecturers at Chautauqua. “But that does not matter, because in the eyes of God who loves you, only you can do you.”
Jacque’s grandfather used to tell her, “There is only one unique you and you are eternal, so you need to seek what God has for you to do and go do it. You are a unique vessel and you have to share the gifts God gave you.”
Jacque told the congregation, “We are here as the beneficiaries of Tamar. We are here by divine providence and call. Do you understand your call to emerge and be the unique you? Your call might not be Chautauqua-sized; it might take 1,500 years to come to fruition; you have to emerge, whether anyone knows or not.”
We don’t know who spoke to Lewis Miller and John Vincent and told them to develop this place for ministers and Sunday school teachers, she said. “We don’t know who spoke to Barack (Obama) with words of encouragement, or to (Chautauqua Institution President) Michael E. Hill. What word, small act, seed took root?”
“Great things grow from seeds … Mother Teresa is right,” she said. “We have to esteem and honor small things and find purpose in them. Tamar only wanted a child, (but) she birthed a religion. Miller and Vincent birthed a movement.”
She continued, “Do you believe that God formed you? In God’s care there are no small things, no trivial things. Do you believe it? Then don’t ignore small things. Emerge, even if nobody knows.”
The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot presided. Jim Evans, a member of the Motet and Chautauqua Choirs, read the Scripture. For the prelude the Motet Consort, Debbie Grohman, clarinet, Barbara Hois, flute and Willie La Favor, piano, played “Warum” and “Grillen” from “Phantasiestuck” op. 12 by Robert Schumann, arranged by Adrian Fuentes Flores. Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music, directed members of the Motet Choir in “The Lamb,” music by John Tavener and words by William Blake. The postlude was an improvisation by Stafford. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund provides support for this week’s services and chaplain.