St. John's, Centreville
July 16, 2017
Proper 10 A
Take my lips and speak with them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This morning we continue our journey through the Book of Genesis. Just to recap, we began with the story of the three strangers telling Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son, even in their old age. Then we heard about the birth of Isaac and the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael into the desert where God saved them. We continued with the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, which showed Abraham's radical obedience to God. Last Sunday, we heard the story of Abraham's servant being sent away to find a wife for Isaac, from his own tribe, and he brought back Rebekah to be Isaac's wife.
This morning we heard the story of the Jacob and Esau, how they were fighting even in Rebekah's womb. God tells Rebekah "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, and the elder shall serve the younger." When they are born, Esau is born first and therefore he receives the birthright. As the first born he receives a double share of the inheritance from his father Abraham.
These twins couldn't have been more different. Esau is large and hairy and likes to hunt. Jacob is a more quiet and reflective sort, preferring to stay in the tent. Isaac loved Esau, while Rebekah loved Jacob. And later in the story, that becomes a big problem when Rebekah helps Jacob steal Isaac's blessing which is meant for Esau, the first born. I wonder what a family therapist would have to say about this family's relationships.
To continue with today's story, Esau comes in from the field, probably after a long day of hunting, and he is ravenous. He wants something to eat now. Jacob has been cooking some "red stuff" and Esau wants some to eat. Instead of giving his brother something to eat, Jacob first wants Esau's birthright. Esau does not seem to care about his birthright, and swears to give it to Jacob if he can just get something to eat. Esau wants immediate gratification and he doesn't seem to be able to think ahead about what this bowl of soup is going to cost him in the long run.
In this story, God chooses Jacob over Esau, and by implication, Israel over other nations. Why? The expected choice is Esau, the first born, because that was the custom of the day. Maybe God set aside this custom because of Esau's character flaws. Esau is impulsive, short-sighted, willing to sacrifice his birthright to satisfy his hunger. Later, he marries outside the family. He makes foolish decisions. Maybe he is not the worthy son, even though he is the first born.
Jacob, on the other hand, is no saint either. He exploits his brother's vulnerability in order to gain the birthright. Later, he connives with his mother to trick his father into giving him Esau's blessing. Jacob is a schemer and a cheat. Jacob's character is no less flawed than Esau's. Why would God choose Jacob over Esau?
God chooses Jacob not because of who Jacob is but because of who God is. Throughout scripture, God shows mercy to those he chooses to show mercy, whether they deserve it or not. God chose to love Jacob. The whole story of Jacob and Esau revolves around God's decision to elect one person, who represents one people, to carry on the blessing of Abraham.
God chooses Jacob, later called Israel, not just for privilege, but for responsibility. God chooses Jacob to continue the story begun with Abraham, to be a blessing and a light to other nations. He becomes the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. But Jacob experiences many struggles before God's promise comes true. As we will read later on in Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God one night and he is transformed. He is a different person when he summons the courage to face Esau after stealing his birthright and blessing. When they meet, Jacob says to Esau, "I am your servant." Only when Jacob becomes a humble servant does God's promise come true - the older shall serve the younger.
So what does this story have to say to us today? That God loves us even when we make bad choices; that God chooses us for responsibility not for privilege; that God will help us become who God wants us to be in order to do the work God has given us to do. Jacob is the perfect example of that. The picture that we have of Jacob in today's reading is not very inspiring. But later, when he has an encounter with God, he is transformed. He reconciles with his brother and goes on to continue God's covenant with Abraham. God's people are elected to service, not to privilege.
God calls us to different ministries at different times in our lives. When a person is younger, we may not see what God sees in that person. When they are a bit older they, too, can become transformed, perhaps after many struggles, and they respond to God's calling - God's calling to service, not privilege.
I am reminded of the sermon that my father preached at my ordination to the diaconate. He recalled how he and my mother were a bit surprised when I had told them I was interested in going to seminary. But as they looked back over my life, particularly with the various jobs and experiences I had had, they could see God at work, preparing me for this call to ordained ministry.
And God calls and prepares each one of us who are willing to respond, to all different kinds of ministry. Some are called in dramatic ways, some in subtle ways, some when they are young, some when they are older. Often times when we say, "I had an idea", or "I've been thinking about a solution to this problem," that is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to the forefront of our minds something that God is calling us to do.
After the rough start Jacob and Esau had, they came to a reconciliation, embracing each other as family, each being the father of various tribes.
In the Genesis story next week, we will hear of the encounter Jacob has with God and how he is transformed. May we, too, be open to the calling of God and open ourselves to our encounters with God. Amen.