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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Getting Real With God's Family - 07/12/2020

Our readings are moving us along quickly in the story of Abraham and Sarah– the fore-parents of the nations.

Abraham died when he was 175 years old. Isaac and Ishmael together buried him next to Sarah in Hebron. By the time Abraham died, Ishmael and Isaac had a whole lot of half-siblings through their father, who fathered many more children after Sarah died. As God promised, Abraham’s descendants would be numerous.

That line of descendants continued through the children of Abraham. Ishmael had 12 sons who brought about 12 tribes in the southern desert region.

Today our story picks up with Isaac, now married to Rebekah for about 20 years. God reiterated the covenantal promise to Isaac. “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, … ‘settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’” (Gen. 26:2-5, para)

Abraham was a wealthy man and that abundance continued for Isaac. “Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.” (Gen. 26:12-14)

Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah also had trouble conceiving, but God's promise comes through and Rebekah becomes pregnant with not one son, but two. Twin sons who are at odds with each other right from their beginnings in their mother's womb. So much so, that Rebekah is at her wits end during her pregnancy. She cried out to God in prayer: “if it is to be this way, why do I live!?”

And this is what God told 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 the babies were born they were anything but identical. First came Esau, a big baby with red skin and lots of hair. And hanging on to the heel of his big brother, Jacob was born second, a smaller and smooth skinned baby.

Growing up, the boys were different in many other ways too. We understand Esau to be a man's man. He was strong, loved to hunt, and was his father's favored. Jacob was his mother's favorite, of a slighter build and he made a mean lentil stew. It's over that lentil stew we discover that Esau could be rather impetuous, and Jacob rather conniving. “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!” … Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

They are twins, but Esau is still the first born and therefore his birthright is that he inherits the majority of Isaac’s wealth when Isaac dies.

So Esau says, “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.” (Gen 25:29ff)

Division and distrust between Esau and Jacob continued and one day …

   “When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son.’ (Esau) answered, ‘Here I am.’ And (Isaac) said, ‘See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’" (Gen. 27: 1-4)

Rebekah, worried for the future of her favorite twin, overhears the conversation and immediately jumps to action. She knows what God told her when she was pregnant with these boys – that they would be nations divided and the elder would serve the younger. Armed with this knowledge she is willing to take a huge risk and devises a plan to trick her husband into giving this blessing to Jacob. They will use lambs from their own flock, prepare a savory meal, disguise the youngest as the eldest … and send him to see Dad and receive the blessing.

Jacob knows it's a risk too and tries to argue against his mother's plan at first. He worries that if Isaac sees through this deceit, he'll be cursed rather than blessed. But Rebekah is determined and confident. If, by some small chance that does happen, let the curse fall on her, she says.

And so Rebekah “took the best garments of her elder son Esau…and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of (young goats) on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.

“So (Jacob) went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and (Isaac) said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’ But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’ He answered, ‘Because the Lord your God granted me success.’ Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so (Isaac) blessed him.” (Gen. 27:15-23)

Birthday cards. I got these cards this past week for my birthday. Share cards … one from synod, one from Eden. Include blessings for me.

Blessings come up everywhere in the Old Testament and I think it's good to take a step back and think about how blessings, and curses for that matter, were understood by people in these ancient times. Then we don't glaze over them a too quickly with our 21st century eyes and ears. We don't automatically equate them with our familiars like a table blessing or even a greeting card. Those often are significant and lovely things, don’t get me wrong.

But it isn’t quite the same thing as these blessings in the Old Testament. These blessings were life-altering events. Instead of greeting cards and table grace, we should think of them on the same scale as having a baby or moving to another county.

Not getting a blessing could be the difference in making or breaking someone’s life. When Esau discovers his trickster brother Jacob has stolen his blessing, he asks. “Have you not reserved a blessing for me? … Bless me, me also, father!” he pleads. The theft of his life-shaping blessing seemed to cause him more agony then giving up his inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup.

Esau is really red-faced mad now. He's pretty much made it clear that once Isaac is dead, Jacob is next. And so Rebekah plots again and has Isaac send Jacob back to their homeland where he can find a suitable wife (and be far away from his revenge-driven brother.)

You know ….This family is kind of messed up … and, I would argue, it's pretty recognizable too, wouldn't you say so? Let's face it, one way or another, we've probably all dealt with sibling rivalries, deceit between family members, favoritism, tricksters, people who chose to be so passive in life they’ll give away their whole future for a quick fix; and people who chose to be so aggressive, that they’ll easily rationalize taking what is not theirs.

We’ve all got people … or maybe we are the very same people … who meddle and triangulate relationships in our family groups. We’ve got ancestors who made some pretty big mistakes, or have histories of making less than ideal decisions in less than ideal circumstances – maybe like people living through a pandemic.

It’s not always pretty or perfect. It doesn’t always even work right. I expect God has certain goals in mind when Divine activity is set in motion. And I expect we – God’s most favored creatures – often aim for our own goals instead when God is working that Divine activity through us or for us.

But that's the beauty of these early Abrahamic stories for us contemporary Abrahamic people. Instead of being presented with an ideal family in relationship with God, we are given snapshots of real families in relationship with God.

We can relate to these families. And like them, we can give thanks for a God who pursues us with these covenantal promises persistently and unbelievably sometimes – just like God did with Abraham, Sarah and Hagar; with Ishmael, Isaac and Rebekah, and even with our impetuous, conniving and far from identical twins Esau and Jacob who, warts and all, will still carry the story of God’s people – our story – from here.  Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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