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 Paddan-aram, 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; 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. Afterwards 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!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) 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.
Who grew up in a perfect family? I grew up in a house with 7 children. I’m the middle one…(the well adjusted one, ahem)... I look up and down the ranks of my family of origin; where people have been, what they’ve done, who has done what to whom… it's amazing we survived.
But despite what may have been going on at home, my parents made sure we all went to Sunday school. I remember sitting in a circle, listening to Bible Stories about the people God had chosen through history. They always seemed like the religious version of fairy tales; the characters were presented to me as almost perfect; and if not perfect- perfectly repentant. The innocence of Mary… the patience of Job… the passion of David… the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob... there was a sacredness to their names- we sang hymns about them… and had little cut outs of them in robes that we put on felt boards- so delicate and pure, we had to be careful even touching them.
And I remember thinking more than once, these little felt board people are nothing like me or my family. My family was crazy (in a loving sense, mom) filled with dysfunction. So the message I internalized was that if God were to ever want to use me, I would have to overcome some serious hurdles, drastically change my behavior, my thoughts, and probably get some therapy.
John read us a story today that reinforced that thinking in me for years! A Sower goes out to sow seeds, and some seeds fall on the path, and some on the rocks, and some in the weeds, and some in good soil- and the good soil is the only place in which the seed takes root and grows and bears fruit. So, mental note- I need to be good soil. And then God can plant something great in me and I can finally feel valued and loved. Anybody? If this rings true for you, then today, since its Christmas in July, let me give you a gift. And, let me start by saying that today's story then, may surprise you- because our main character, Jacob, much like you and I, is anything from perfect.
His family tree starts with Abraham and Sarah- not exactly model parents. Abe has a son Ishmael (with Hagar) and then another late in life child, Isaac (with Sarah) There is a lot of arguing between birth mothers and dad-but then, if you are Isaac, you see your older brother get thrown out into the street with his Mom… oh, and when you are just about to hit puberty, your dad brings you up a mountain, ties you to an altar and almost slits your throat! Admittedly, little Isaac grew up with some problems!
But believe it or not, he gets married to a woman named Rebecca, and she gets pregnant.
But while they are in the womb, the babies… and here is how it is literally translated… 'smash each other'!" These kids start fighting before they are even born- and poor Rebecca is so miserable she prays- “I'm in so much pain- Why am I even here?” And here is God's answer to this expectant mother: Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ Well, there goes that dream of the perfect family.
Those of you who have given birth- you know how when you are pregnant, well meaning people tell you all those horror stories about childbirth? Well, when these boys are born, the first one, Esau, comes out all red and covered with hair, and the second one, Jacob, comes out right behind him, hanging on to his heel! Not for nothing, but that’s a scary birth story!
To make things worse, the parents, from the beginning, play favorites- Daddy Isaac likes Esau because he liked to hunt (and Isaac loved to eat) and Mom Rebecca loves Jacob- who was more the 'stay at home with Mom and learn to cook,' type.
Jacob is smart, and learns early from mom how to manipulate people to get what he wants- and what he wants is to have the birthright that belongs to his brother. And who wouldn't? The eldest in the family gets everything- we learned this from the Isaac Ishmael story- the money, the land, even to being the spiritual head of the family.
Esau, however, isn’t the brightest star in the sky, and it turns out he is one of those dramatic types… everything is a crisis… everything is life or death… no delaying gratification for this guy- he wants his needs met, now (much like his dad) When he comes in from hunting one day, he is (as it's translated) “staaaarving to death” and smells the stew Jacob is cooking- and he has to have it… “Jacob, come on. man! Give me some of that stew! I neeeed it!”
Jacob, knows just how to play it… “You want this? This rich, red, meaty stew? Ummmm… its good…” swinging the ladle back and forth... Jacob sing-songs, “Give me your birthright and you can have it.”
And before you know it, the deal is done! Esau throws away his double portion of the inheritance for a quick fix bowl of lentil soup… by the way, that’s what he ends up with… soup… Jacob never gives him the red meat stew he was tempted with… surprised? Don't be.
Because swapping out stew for soup is only the first time Jacob will trick and swindle in the future… and, not surprisingly, Esau always ends up with the short end of the stick…
Through the whole story of Jacob, we never get a sense that Jacob is a likable guy- he’s a cheat and a liar and manipulates things to insure his own security for most of his life.
And now go back to Sunday school and the parable of the sower... God can only use us if we measure are good soil- or if we are morally upright, if we change our behavior, if we continually work toward the perfection of the self, open ourselves up to be fertile ground, ... right? Then it really does make you think- Why would God choose Jacob to be the one to carry on the covenant? Why would God choose a person like that- a self serving product of dysfunction- who none of us want to be like- why would God choose him to continue the promise? It doesn’t seem right…
We adopt the assumption that God can use us- sure- BUT we have something to do with it... and constantly be dissatisfied with our own performance; constantly be assessing whether we are good enough or pious enough or strong enough or moral enough… as if in some way, this whole plan of universal redemption has anything at all to do with the way we behave. How small do we think God is?
And further, we tend to think that because we are Christian that we should somehow automatically be able to achieve this perfect family, or have perfect relationships or at the very least, a better self image. We sometimes think… "why would I still be like this if I am really walking in the will of God? Why would I still think the way I do, or try to manipulate things and people and situation for my own benefit? Why can’t stop reverting back to being selfish and self centered? What’s the matter with me?"
But here’s what I know… that once we start measuring our own performance, or morality, or holiness factor, or anything else to some standard that human beings or the church have set up- then we are missing the vastness of God. We miss out on the fact that God works, not despite our faults and shortcomings, but through them! You’re no secret to God you know… the things you think and do and say and the ways we hurt each other and plan to hurt each other… God knows them all. God created you for crying out loud!
And everything you are- God loves. Everything you think or say or do- God accepts… even the things you are most secretive about or ashamed of… God accepts… Despite what you may have heard or been taught back in your Sunday school circle or dysfunctional family- you are loved- exactly as you are.
And guess what? God still has the power to work through all of it to bring about peace and shalom and righteousness to the world… and if you don't believe me continue reading the story of Jacob. God created the nation of Israel through Jacob- and he really never cleaned up his act-even played favorites with his own kids!
The change in your behavior however, that you are looking for, or hoping for, that you can be more loving in thought and word and deed begins to happen when you realize that you are truly loved by a God who accepts all of you- right now- when you realize you do not have control over God's love for you. God is like the sower who keeps throwing out seed, you can't stop God from lavishing love and forgiveness on you, no matter what kind of soil you are.
I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it up until I take my last breath… you can’t do anything to make God love you more than God does at this moment… and you can’t do anything to make God love you less than God does at this moment. I know it’s a stretch to try to believe that… and it has to be a conscious choice, one that you will struggle with every single day- maybe you'll even need therapy- but don't give up. God's love is unconditional- and it's for all of us.