Sunday, July 20, 2014
Genesis 25: 19-34, OT pages 21-22 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddanaram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. Sermon In this second Scripture lesson, as is the case with much of the book of Genesis, there is a moral lesson, but there’s also more than a moral lesson. We Christians know all about stories with morals, so the moral lesson here is clear enough on the one hand – there’s a good guy and a bad guy – Jacob is the good guy, Esau is the bad guy, and you shouldn’t do what Esau does. What does Esau do? Esau is desperate, and desperate people are willing to take desperate measures, and desperate measures lead to all kind of desperate circumstances. He’s famished he says – and maybe you know what it’s like to be famished. There’s a commercial on television these days with comedian Tina Fey. She’s in the check-out line of the grocery store, a common enough place to be hungry, and like so many of us do she grabs a bag of what’s available and without looking at its content she stuff a handful into her mouth, only to find that it potpourri. Don’t go into the grocery store if you’re famished. That’s good advice – you’ll fill your shopping cart up and those candy bars will look better than they would usually in that long check-out line, or worse you wind up eating potpourri. But more than that – you think about hunger in a more severe sense – hunger is an obstacle to education. Our public schools serve breakfast, not just because hunger is an injustice that no school child should have to suffer, but because an empty belly will occupy your mind making learning impossible. And out of desperation, will a loving parent not steal for her child? Infant formula is now a product on the shelf that’s under lock and key – you can’t just put it in your cart, but you have to call over a Kroger employee to unlock your baby’s food – and for good reason. Hunger overshadows good judgment. Morals crumble in desperate times. We can all be good and wise and kind – we can all give to the needy when we have enough, but what about when the baby’s crying and the stomach is growling, or the bank account is empty? Interest rates don’t matter to the Esau’s of the world – they just want the cash in their hand and will pay the piper on another day because it’s going to be hard enough just to get through this one. The lesson then – do not be like Esau. The time of desperation is not the time to make a decision. Wait – think it through – walk away from the temptation for your distance from it will reduce its power. Don’t stand over the soup while you make your decision, but walk away and really think this thing through. Now that’s good advice, because you will burn through that money that you got from Quick Cash up on James Campbell Boulevard, but those loan payments will keep on coming; a Snickers bar will satisfy your hunger standing in the grocery store line, but you’re stuck with that weight around your belly; and in the same way, don’t you know that lentil stew that ol Jacob cooked up while he sat around the tent all afternoon was delicious to the famished Esau, but he would be hungry again and now he’d be hungry the next without his birthright. Don’t be like Esau. But should you really be like Jacob? Such a question complicates the story – but there’s more than a moral lesson here. Esau is a bad example but what about Jacob? Is it possible to live with yourself if you’re Jacob? There’s a story I’ve just read featuring Grover from Sesame Street, pretty high brow stuff, and Grover goes to school and because he’s just as nice as they come Grover trades his whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a couple carrots, then this other kid in his class asks Grover if he’d like to trade the toy car he’s playing with for another one, and Grover agrees, only the kid doesn’t tell him that he’s just traded for a toy car that only has two wheels. Now can the teacher stand for that? She doesn’t. Because taking advantage of desperate people isn’t allowed on Sesame Street though it is on James Campbell and good Christian people need to be asking why. Jacob gets that inheritance from his brother Esau and in so doing he takes advantage of a desperate man and not just a man – his brother. The lesson then – don’t be like Jacob. Remember that Esau got hungry again after eating that lentil stew, but Jacob; did that lentil stew ever leave his mind? I’ll be preaching from the book of Genesis for several weeks starting this morning, and so you’ll find that Jacob spends much of the rest of his life dealing with the regret and repercussions of this one bowl of soup, this lentil stew that he used to take advantage of his brother, and I can imagine that the smell of it lingered for so many years to come. That’s how it is. Some choices are hard to shake, whether you’re the one who did the wrong, whether you’re the victim, or whether you’re something in-between. Like dust from the Twin Towers, like perfume from a one night stand, like blood on the hands of Lady Macbeth, the smell of the lentil stew pervades and persists just as long as you let it. A tragedy or a mistake will do that. The jump suit comes off as soon as you leave the prison but how long will the title “felon” stick? I’ve known widows who have been widows longer than they were married, and why is that? How long must the man on the street be called “homeless”? For how many years must the addict be known by his tragic flaw? And will Jacob ever get the smell of lentil stew out from his nose? But here this Good News – Jacob did become a great nation, and while Esau grew to despise his birthright he did not grow to despise himself, for there is freedom in our Lord. The Apostle Paul said it well in the eighth chapter of Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – and for those who set their mind on the Spirit rather than the deeds of the flesh there “is life and peace.” “You are not of the flesh,” and so you do not belong to your past, your great failures, your tragic disappointments, or foolhardy choices. You do not belong to what you have done, for you belong to Christ. How long will you carry that old mistake or tragedy around? Let it define you no longer – for this is the real point of our scripture lesson from Genesis – so many of the great heroes of our faith are good, but only because God made them good. They are moral, only so much as it is humanly possible to be. The difference between them and you, them and me, so often is only this: they allowed the Spirit to set them free from the mistakes of their past, and the Spirit having done so for them, will do the same for you. You can fall down, but know that with wings as of the eagles, our God will lift you back up. Amen.