We’ve come from the big picture at the start of Genesis. Creation, Adam and Eve, the misuse of freedom, Noah floods, promises by God the scattering of people. And concentrated from chapter 12 on the story of Abraham and Sarah and God’s promises that they will become the first of a new generation blessed by God and called and charged to be a blessing to the nations.
We heard of Abraham having a child, Ishmael by Sarah’s servant Hagar, and then finally Sarah giving birth to Isaac. The story of Abraham’s faith being tested, and the assurance of God’s providence. Then the lovely romantic story of Isaac meeting Rebekah and the presence of hesed, this sense of loyalty, grace, and the loving kindness that runs through these stories and these characters, when they are at their best. A sign of their faith in God and that God is present in the dynamics of personal life and in the leading of those who have faith. Now this Sunday we are introduced to the key character Jacob who is actually going to be responsible for naming this new blessed dynasty, which we will hear about in two weeks’ time. He will become Israel and his 12 sons will become the 12 tribes of Israel.
But, the question, can God still work through the lives of what we will discover are very messed up people and their families ? As we follow Jacob’s life from his birth until his death, the persistent theme will be conflict. Jacob will have conflict with his twin brother Esau, and Isaac and Rebekah will be divided in their affections for their respective favourites. There will be trickery, betrayal and violence surrounding this unlikely figure of Jacob.
I guess we would like these stories to be all sweetness and light. But they simply aren’t. As God did in the start, bringing forth creation from the chaos, we see again this wonder and mystery of God bringing forth creation in the midst of the chaos that surrounds these families. It’s the resurrection proclamation for Christians. Whatever chaos and mess, God brings forth new creation.
A key lense which we need to focus all these troubling stories through, which speaks of God’s ways is the verse Paul has given us in the New Testament 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
“27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
So, keep those verses in mind as we are introduced today to the growing extended family.
Genesis 25:19-3419 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 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. 23 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."
24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 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.27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!" (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." 32 Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" 33 Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.Genesis 25:19-34
Let us pray.
May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in your sight – O God our strength and redeemer. AMEN
I wonder how many of us have items in our homes that have been handed down to us by a previous generation.
My grandmother gave us a small side table out of her family home when we got married. I’ve got a part of a dinner set given to my parents when they got married. We’ve got a few pieces of silver and porcelain which belonged to Sandy’s ancestors - some with an engraved letter of the name of an ancestor and some old photos.
In terms of passing things down, I read last week in a study that 90% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the third generation. The main reason for this seems to relate to a lack of inter-generational communication and discussion. A privacy. Not just about how business and savings works, but about values, faith and hopes and principles. For example, it now takes the average recipient of inheritance just 19 days to buy a new car, which is perhaps the last thing the car buyers grandparents would consider a priority. They didn’t have credit cards. They were often very averse to debt. They would have waited.
I wonder how many of us have more complex family stories. Especially about inheritance. In my wider family there are some very difficult stories of one child being especially favoured in a will. Stories of farms being handed down to the oldest son. And the way that not only wealth but a sense of hurt and resentment can also be handed down from one generation to the next.It’s into this complexity that we have to enter this story today. A close knit clan-based society that placed a real emphasis on the handing down of wisdom and accumulated knowledge and faith but also had very strict rules around marriage, property and inheritance.
So the story tells of the birth of Esau and Jacob. About how their natures were identified even before they were born. And it all builds up to the account of Essau giving up his birth right.
And his birth right here, as eldest son is that he would inherit most of the family’s wealth as well as taking on the senior role in his family for the next generation.
Esau is a hairy outdoorsman—a skilful hunter—a man of the field. But he will soon come in from the field hungry.
Jacob is a quiet man—a smooth man, an indoors man—a man who lives in tents and likes cooking... Is he too quiet—too reserved? Is he equipped to succeed in a tough world? Will he have any ambition? His father might be thinking.
Jacob one day is cooking stew. Esau’s comes in from the field and is famished. Esau says let me eat some of that red stew for I am famished. Jacob said, first sell me your birthright.
So we have this contrast here between deferred and immediate blessing. Esau is hungry and cannot wait. He’s the guy honking his horn behind us at the McDonalds drive through. We are not told if Jacob is hungry . Perhaps he is, but we do know that unlike his brother, Jacob can wait.
Sometimes we have to wait. Waiting in our scriptures has always been the posture of the faithful. Waiting can be done if we do not doubt the outcome.
I’m ready to throw the phone through the window after I’ve heard ‘your call is important to us played on a recorded message for the tenth time.’ I’m thinking other things following a car travelling between 40 and 60 kms an hour most of the way back from Kawakawa Bay on Wednesday night.
Why is waiting so difficult? We have better things to do with our time? We’re perhaps paying money to the company who we’re trying to contact? We’re left feeling helpless there is almost nothing we can do to speed things up? Or perhaps we suspect or know that wealthier or more important people don’t have to end up waiting like we do? Important people don’t stand in queue. What would Mr Trump do if he got put on hold?
I am hungry, I want the soup, I can get it, and I will have it. Jacob by contrast believes in futures to which Esau is indifferent. We believe in a future that is worth waiting for.
Jacob is someone who acts from point of weakness who can identify gifts and take risks for them.
We’ve been talking about God’s blessing and promise to each generation. Abraham, Sarah. Isaac, Rebekah. And now we have Esau saying when I am hungry, I am about to die, of what use is a birthright to me? The whole future undermined by impatience.
Questions to ask in these few weeks leading up to an election. We listen to promises but what are the things that are going to require waiting for something more important? Delaying the gratification now say for a tax cut, to ensure that work is done cleaning up our rivers, meeting the challenge of the long term homeless. Maybe the most important things do require waiting and a long term view.
God working in difficult families, choosing the least likely. Making decisions about the most important things. Looking past the immediate. Focusing on the things worth waiting for. Trusting.
What stories will we leave the third generation? A bit of silver an old photo? But what about the stories of faithfulness love generosity kindness, the hesed stories? What about the stories of their grandparents and great grandparents faith and hope, their striving for a better community and world?
We pray and wait. We strive for peace and justice even when the results take time. We love and we forgive even when that love and forgiveness is not immediately reciprocated.
Paul summed up the commitment of patience endurance and love when he wrote to the early Christian community in Rome. I want to leave you with these today:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not lag in enthusiasm, be ardent in spirit, and serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers
Romans 5 knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.