Monday, July 28, 2014

Tricked by Laban

Genesis 29: 15-28, OT page 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid. When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the first-born. Complete the week with this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. Sermon I’m glad that Jacob and Rachel didn’t come to me for their pre-marital counseling. Some of their relationship is typical enough. He saw her and immediately wanted to impress her so he rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered her sheep for her – and when you think about some of the things that young men do to try and impress young women rolling a stone from the mouth of the well sounds innocent and thoughtful. They have their first kiss that very day, and in Genesis chapter 29 Jacob kissed Rachel, “and wept aloud.” It’s as every first kiss should be. Before things go any farther Jacob goes to meet her father and Rachel’s father agrees when Jacob offers to work seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage – and that sounds about as it should be. Daughters are precious. They’re worth working for and father-in-laws are worth trying to impress, so if I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I would be pleased with this story of how they met and fell in love, but then I’d have to ask them about their prior relationships. I’d want to know if there were any loose ends that need to be tied up, any damage that needs to be recovered from, because you want to leave as much baggage behind as you can before your wedding day. That’s why I’d ask Jacob about the women he knew before he met Rachel and suddenly things would get very complicated. “So you were tricked into marrying her sister?” I’d ask for clarification. “And you didn’t realize it wasn’t Rachel until the morning after?” “And you’re still married to Leah?” What are we to say about these things? Surely you expected better of the heroes of the Bible. But it only gets worse, more twisted, more complicated, because just as every relationship should have a romantic story at its beginning, some complications when the stories of prior relationships finally come out, it’s the reality that but every marriage involves more than just two people that really muddies the water. For every marriage brings together two families who more often than not cause tension between husbands and wives – so if I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I’d have to ask about the in-laws, and I’d be concerned by what I heard. If I were counseling Jacob and Rachel I’d have to ask about Jacob’s parents Isaac and Rebecca who made Jacob who he is, but what a can a worms Rachel’s father is. Sometimes we clean up the Bible, sanitize it and romanticize it, and reduce it down to a nice bedtime story to tell children, but Laban isn’t the kind of bad guy kids are used to hearing about in bedtime stories, he’s the kind that you actually have to deal with. He doesn’t have any super powers, no horns or wings or anything else that Angelina Jolie has when she stars as Snow White’s wicked step-mother. Instead Laban is all too easy to imagine moving in next-door to you. He doesn’t treat his daughters right. They’re objects to use in negotiation, not gifts from God to be treasured and I’ll bet you know somebody like that. And he’s good at noticing what you want, he knows what you desire and in knowing that he knows how to use your desires against you. Jacob’s love for Rachel isn’t something for this father-in-law to celebrate – for Laban it’s a fulcrum that he uses for leverage. Think about this trick he pulls. Jacob works for seven years for his bride. He’s so in love he doesn’t even notice the time passing nor does he notice that on the wedding night it’s not really Rachel he’s with. Jacob finally figures it out the next morning and by then it’s too late – now what father-in-law does something like that? Who connives and takes advantage rather than assisting and cooperating? I’ll bet you know who. And if you’re anything like me you think of that person and don’t understand why God ever let him or her cross your path. You can’t understand how they waltzed right in, did you so wrong, and then slept soundly that night like nothing ever happened. You know you’re supposed to let God do the judging, you know you’re supposed to let God give them what they deserve, but the anger is still inside and the wrong is still fresh. Forgive and forget they say, move on and leave it in the rear view mirror, but can you really ever let it go and move on? Sometimes you can, but if Jacob and Rachel sought me out for counseling I’d tell them that the best thing to do is to put as much distance between their marriage and her father-in-law as possible. Some wounds don’t heal for years, some patterns can only be reversed by a miracle, and there are some people its best just to remove yourself from. If Jacob and Rachel sought me out for advice I’d tell them to move on, and maybe if I had the chance to talk to Jacob all by himself I might just tell him to get away from her and all the rest of them as soon as he can. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Especially when it’s family – especially when it’s love. Some crowds you do need to walk away from and some people you should distance yourself from, but there is something about family – you can no more write them off than you can forget half your genetic code. Sometimes it’s better to learn to deal with them than to write them off because sometimes, in dealing with their issues you’re dealing with your own. There was a preacher I knew who taught me more than any other ever did. He was full of himself, his sermons were too happy to say anything meaningful, and not only that, he never actually wrote any of them, he just downloaded them all from the internet. And I have spent so many years judging him, but now, knowing myself as a terribly imperfect pastor, I realize how God uses him even now as I struggle to accept myself and the mistakes that I make. Laban tricked Jacob. But Jacob was a trickster getting a dose of his own medicine, and only in forgiving Laban will Jacob ever be able to forgive himself. Ours is a complicated faith. The Apostle Paul uses difficult words like “predestination” and in our first Scripture lesson with that complicated word in a complicated passage hear a simple truth that may take us our whole life time to come to terms with – “We know that all things work together for good.” All things – even Laban’s treachery; even Jacob’s treachery. To fulfill the promise that God made to Jacob our Lord used Laban – and to fulfill the same promise that our God has made to you there is no way of knowing who will be used. So take heart in this – ours is a God who makes a way out of no way – who takes what is weak and makes it strong – who sees the sinfulness of human kind and fulfills the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven. When all is hopeless, when the world has turned her back, expect to see the light of dawn stream forth from the most unlikely places, for God’s promises will be fulfilled. Amen.

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