Human beings are complicated. We are a strange mix of our family backgrounds, genetic predispositions and then there is that last unknown piece that makes each one of us completely unique. As humans beings we are made to live in relationships with others. We become part of families – whether they are chosen families or the ones you were born with. Families can be blessings nurturing us and sheltering us from the storms of life. But they can also be hard places filled with division. The bible does not shy away from telling us that it isn’t easy being part of a family. We need to look no further than our bible reading for today. Talk about complicated. A divided family with the mother and son actively working against father and son.
The problems started early. As Rebekah waited for the birth of her sons, she could feel the two brothers were battling in her womb. In chapter 25 of Genesis, it says, “The children struggled 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.” (Genesis 25:22 – 26)
It almost seems as if the war between Esau and Jacob was destined to be. The bad family dynamics that started with Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac continues into the next generation. Isaac who was their laughter in their old age was also the child that Abraham bound to an altar to sacrifice. That moment may have been God’s yes to life and no to destruction but it also had to have a lasting impact on Isaac to be at once cherished and disposable.
That theme wove its way into his family. Isaac loved Esau who was a skillful hunter and a man of the field and did not pay much attention to Jacob who was a quiet man living in the tents. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:28) Isaac cherished one son and the other was disposable. Jacob knew that as the second son he had nothing so one day when he was cooking a stew and his brother Esau came in from hunting starving, he demanded that Esau sell him his birthright for a bowl of stew.
We expect our bible characters to be good, noble and upright people. We expect that they will have good values, people we’d like our children to emulate. A word to the wise, don’t let your children pick Jacob. He’s a liar and a cheat – and yet somehow not only did he find his way into the bible but God gave him a new name, called him Israel and he is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel—the father of God’s chosen people.
After Jacob conned his brother into giving him his birthright he conspires with his mother to deceive Isaac into giving the wrong son the blessing. Poor Isaac whose eyesight had dimmed had no way of knowing that Jacob would put on his brothers clothes and lie to get the blessing. And you may be wondering what the big deal is about the blessing. He already has the birthright. There is more than one blessing to give, right? But Isaac can’t give another. Blessing in the bible is not like saying, “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It means something, there is power in the words spoken. The blessing has a permanent and lasting effect. If you have ever received a blessing and not just after a sneeze you might have an idea of what they were talking about. A blessing in its deepest form is when someone surrounds you with prayer.
When I was at Greenbelt this summer, the last thing we did in our small group was to pray for one another. I’ve said prayers and had people pray for me before but somehow this was different. I have struggled, and will continue to struggle no doubt between the balance of the needs of my family and this the needs of the church. It is hard. But when Marcie prayed for me it touched a place in my innermost being that moved me to tears. It was as though in that moment I was blessed with the ability to meet this struggle head on and to do it with grace. Blessings are powerful. Isaac knew it. Rachel knew it. Esau knew it. Jacob knew it.
Which makes it the bigger crime over cheating Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. I’m guessing that Esau knew in the back of his mind that he may not have his birthright but he will get his father’s blessing. You can understand why Esau why he wanted to kill his brother. Jacob needed to flee before his brother killed him. With his mother’s help he leaves the land of his birth and his brother’s wrath. Tired from running, he finds a piece of land and lays down to sleep. Jacob is alone in the wilderness with no place to call home. He cannot return to the land of his birth, he does not know how he will be welcomed by his mother’s family. He is all alone and in a mess.
Choir Sings vs. 3 In the Quiet Curve of Evening
3 In the mystery of my hungers,
in the silence of my rooms,
in the cloud of my unknowing, you are there.
In the empty cave of grieving,
in the desert of my dreams,
in the tunnel of my sorrow, you are there.
You are there, you are there, you are there.
With a stone for a pillow Jacob falls asleep begins to dream. There is a ladder set on the earth and the top of it reaches to heaven. All night, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And then God stands beside him and says, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in your and your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 28: 13 – 15)
When Jacob wakes, he is afraid and amazed, he says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28: 17) Amazing story isn’t it? Jacob cons his brother, lies to his father and has to flee from his homeland to escape his brother’s wrath. He finds himself in a strange place lost and alone. And God chooses this moment to stand beside him. God blesses Jacob and promises that his descendants will be many and that thy will be a blessing to the world.
That’s the power of God’s grace. It doesn’t matter that Jacob was a liar and a cheat. It doesn’t matter that he made a mess of his life. Because God takes all that we are and sets us on a new path. This is God’s story with humanity. God comes to us. God uses us just as we are. God does not seek out perfection. God seeks out human beings flawed and imperfect and uses us to show the good news in the world. God is at work every day taking our messes and making something new. God did it with Jacob and God can does it with us. God walks with us each day, standing beside promising never to leave. Amen