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Two weeks ago, we began preaching from the Narrative Lectionary. Calvary has mostly used the Revised Common Lectionary, which was put together 30 years ago by an ecumenical group of Christians. But the Revised Common Lectionary covers only 6% of the Old Testament, not including the psalms, and 41% of the New Testament. So if we only use the Revised Common Lectionary, we miss hearing from a good chunk of scripture.
The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings that doesn’t include everything, and isn’t necessarily better, but it includes different portions of The Bible, focusing on the narratives, the stories, that are found in scripture.
We began on Homecoming Sunday in the beginning with creation and Genesis 1. Last week, Marci preached on Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah – a sermon worth listening to on our Facebook page or YouTube channel if you missed it.
And today, we are with the next generation of the forebearers of our faith. Isaac, Abraham’s son, has grown old, and he and Rebekah are the parents of twin boys: Jacob and Esau.
Listen now for the Word of the Lord.
Scripture: Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17
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”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 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.” …
Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids (as in baby 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.” [Isaac]did not recognize [Jacob], because [Jacob’s] hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he [Isaac] blessed him. …
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And the Lord stood beside him and said, “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 to 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 you and in 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 have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Friends, this is the Word of the Lord / Thanks be to God.
The image on the cover of your bulletin tells the story of Jacob and Esau through art. Sheila Levine, a Jewish artist, was gracious enough to let us use this image, free of charge. She created it for the Torah reading called Toldot which means “offspring” as in our children, but also means “generations” as in what any given person generates and produces in their lifetime, which can include children, but encompasses so much more than that.
The Torah reading, which spans Genesis 25 through 28, tells us about Isaac’s offspring, the grandchildren of Abraham. And it tells us how their personalities and the choices they make
then go on to generate a life filled with strife, animosity, curses, and yes blessings, too.
I recommend these chapters as your scripture reading for the week because what we are given is just a short snippet of the whole story, and next week, we leave Genesis altogether, jumping way ahead to Moses and the Hebrew people in Egypt. They got to Egypt, by the way, through one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph – you might remember his technicolor dream coat. But I digress.
Today, we are with the twins, Jacob and Esau. It seems I am surrounded by twins this fall. There’s Jacob & Esau from scripture today, but also, our confirmation class that meets at 9:00am on Sunday mornings has four sets of twins! That means half the class is a twin this year!
I should’ve asked them what it’s like to be a twin. My older brother is 8 years older than I am, so I have no idea what it’s like to have someone your own age, someone you shared a womb with, grow up with you and share a house or school with you.
What we do know is that Jacob and Esau were definitely not identical twins. We know this because of their descriptions and how very different they looked, even at birth. Furthermore, they liked very different things and had very different personalities. And scripture tells us that Rebekah favored Jacob while Isaac favored Esau.
Now Marci talked last week about generational trauma and how it often gets passed down, unless we do the work necessary to break that cycle. Presumably, Isaac has not done the work.
And we definitely see some of that trauma playing out in Isaac’s life. You remember what happened to Isaac: e was taken to be sacrificed and bound by his father Abraham on Mount Moriah. Traumatic, to say the least.
Isaac even makes some of the same bad choices that Abraham made, passing Rebekah off as his sister rather than his wife, obviously favoring one son over the other, etc. etc. etc.
And Jacob, who the first hearers of this story would have traced their lineage to, is not shown in the best of lights here.
Jacob is the trickster. The one who, with the help of his mother, sets the parent trap.
Now, unlike the movies, The Parent Trap, Jacob can’t just pass as Esau. He can’t trick Isaac that way, even with Isaac’s failing eyesight. Jacob has to put on animal fur, so he feels as hairy as Esau.
And his mother finds Esau’s clothes for him to wear and cooks food that Esau would bring,
all to trick Isaac.
Jacob, in this story, outright lies to his father and steals his brother Esau’s blessing. These are pre-commandment times, but that’s still pretty awful behavior, and those hearing this story would recognize that Jacob is breaking two commandments.
This blessing belonged to Esau as the first-born son. This practice of the first-born son would still have been going on when this story was first told and later written down. And the first hearers of this story would have felt the kind of injustice that Esau felt because of course he should have been the one to receive that blessing.
And yet here is Jacob and his mother, scheming, to steal that which does not belong to him.
Jacob, the forebearer of our faith, is far from perfect here, and indeed, he has some questionable integrity throughout the course of his life.
So, who wouldn’t feel for poor Esau as he finds out what’s happened? Not included in our reading, is Esau’s response as he cries out to his father:
“He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.
Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” …
“Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!”
And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
These are the words of a man who has lived his entire life expecting something that has now been taken from him.
While most of us probably have not been betrayed like this by family, I bet most of us have felt this kind of indignation and anger and bitterness at life when things don’t quite turn out the way we had hoped or expected that they would.
We’ve all felt slighted and scorned thinking, “I should’ve been the one to get that promotion.
I should’ve gotten the house when grandma died. Why don’t I have that kind of career or that kind of family or that kind of blessing?”
Now there are legitimately many ways that injustice prevails in our society. And there are many examples of how life can often be unfair.
But I don’t think that’s what the story of Esau teaches us this morning.
I think the story of Esau teaches us that even though we are born into power and privilege, we are not necessarily entitled to anything.
I think it tells us today, that even if our culture and tradition and society might say that we deserve what we have, that of course we should receive a blessing, that we have earned the right to our power and privilege and wealth and fortune, that according to scripture, it is entirely possible that we won’t get what we think we deserve.
Now, that’s not to say that God just takes things from us on a whim. But it is to highlight how someone like Esau, who was beloved by his father, who was given a birthright and, according to the customs of his society, entitled to a blessing, did not actually end up receiving those things.
And he can lament, and he can vow to kill his brother to try to set things right, according to what he believes is right, but sometimes all we can do is to let go and to try and make peace with the fact
that life isn’t always going to work out the way we want.
When I began at my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, there was a “Top 10 Percent Rule” which guaranteed that students in the state who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class would receive automatic admission to all state-funded universities.
That meant that your SAT and ACT scores wouldn’t matter. And whether you were at the top 10% of a prestigious, private school or at the top 10% of an underfunded, inner city, public school, you could gain admission.
Now, we know from studies that students whose families make more than $200,000 a year do better on standardized tests like the SATs than those whose families live in poverty.
Of course these students study and work hard to do well on these tests. But families with means can often afford things that some other families cannot.
1. Taking the test multiple times which has shown to improve scores
2. Getting special tutoring or classes that help you prepare for the test and
3. Having the resources and the ability to get extra time on the test for their students –
who certainly need it, but whose counterparts might not have that same kind of support
So the Top 10% Rule was one way that the state tried to make college education more accessible to all young people across the race and socio-economic spectrum.
The university has said, “The Top 10 percent law has had a positive impact on increasing geographic diversity and providing more accessibility to students from all schools around the state.”
Enter Abigail Fisher who applied to the university in 2008 and was not in the top 10% of her class.
Spoiler alert, she doesn’t get in.
But she felt like she deserved to get in; that it was, maybe not her birthright, but something she was entitled to. Her father had been a longhorn; her sister was a longhorn, she had tons of friends and family who had gone there, a legacy applicant if you will. And she said, it was (quote) “a tradition she wanted to continue.”
When she didn’t get in, however, she blamed the Top 10% Rule, claiming that her rightful place at UT was given instead to a person of color, never mind that her GPA, rank, and SAT scores were frankly not competitive with those who did get accepted that year.
So she decided to sue and eventually even brought the case to the Supreme Court. And, spoiler alert, they didn’t win.
Abigail Fisher’s life didn’t go the way she had planned, the way she felt she deserved. And she is, in my opinion, an example of what entitlement looks like.
Even worse are those who were indicted in the Varsity Blues scandal where families bribed and paid their way into universities for their children.
And while it might be easy enough to write Ms. Fisher or those other families off as out of touch or deluded by their privilege, perhaps, if we’re honest, we might find that we resonate more with this sentiment than we’d like to admit.
When confronted with a pandemic, we might feel entitled to not wear a mask or not get vaccinated simply because it is within our rights to refuse.
When confronted with worship practices with which we are unfamiliar, we might feel entitled to the kind of service that we are used to having.
When confronted with the realities of climate change and the viability of this planet, we might feel entitled to the life we have cultivated that relies on fossil fuels and plastics and easy plane travel.
Sometimes I want to take to court the people whom I feel like are preventing me from living my best life.
However, while I do believe that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
and that what God wants for us is not just survival but abundant, joy-filled life, I have also come to believe that with God, it may not always look the way we imagined that it would, or should, or could.
Esau had everything taken from him. His power, his privilege, his wealth, his blessings, and it made him murderous. Jacob had to run away, so that his brother would not kill him.
And it makes me think of those who rioted and stormed the capitol on January 6th. And sometimes I wonder if they felt the same way, like everything had been taken from them which made them feel, well, murderous.
The difference is, of course, Esau actually had that happen to him.
With Jacob and Esau, they do eventually reconcile, much later, giving me some hope for our country,
but at this point in the story, Esau wants blood revenge for what he has lost.
But I wish I could talk with Esau, asking him could this be God at work, too? When we lose what we felt belonged to us; when we don’t get what we want or feel like we deserve, could God still be at work?
I don’t believe God causes these things to happen, but I do believe that God can use all things and all circumstances, that with God nothing is beyond redemption.
The truth of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is that the worst thing is never the last thing, and that all things are redeemable.
Perhaps I would share with Esau “The Welcoming Prayer” by Father Thomas Keating.
And perhaps we would pray it together saying:
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.
And so, how might we learn from Esau and live so that we hold everything in this life lightly,
knowing that nothing truly belongs to us, but that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it, and we are merely stewards of that.
If we clench our fists and hold on tight to what we already have, we are not only unable to give, we are unable to receive.
But when we let go and come to God with open palms, we signal that we are not only willing to give,
but that we are ready to receive what God has in store for us.
All that we have is a gift from God to be cherished and to fill us with gratitude.
So let us name:
that all things come and all things go,
that all people come and all people go,
even life comes and life goes.
But the one thing that remains is love, God’s love for us, no matter the situation or circumstance,
and our love for each other, no matter how broken or imperfect it may be.
But what of Jacob? We’ve talked a lot about Esau, but what about Jacob who arguably is supposed to be the center of this story?
Well, I wish I could say that after this incident, Jacob puts his trickery aside and his conniving ways behind him. But he doesn’t.
Sure, he is faithful to God in many ways, but he is also a man of many flaws. So perhaps what we can take away from Jacob today is that God uses us, even with our flaws and our shortcomings.
We can rest assured, that perfection is not required to be an instrument of God in this world.
We don’t have to wait until we are good or better than we are now to be a blessing unto others.
We can be a blessing, not when we’re perfect, but right now, right here, in our imperfections.
It’s actually kind of scary because I would prefer to wait. I’m afraid of messing up, of being called a hypocrite, of making things worse by inserting myself into them, that I would rather just wait.
But as Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “Wild Geese,”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
Friends, we can partner with God now, today, just as we are, to share God’s love with the world. And each of us has the opportunity to be a blessing unto the world, just as it was promised to Jacob and his offspring of generations to come.
Our passage today ends with the dream of Jacob’s Ladder. And the reality is that every place we lay our heads can be a place where we say, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.”
There are “thin places” as they say in the Celtic tradition “where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.”. Certainly, there are special places where this is the case. But I think anywhere we are, this can be true, because God is everywhere.
If we are attuned to God’s presence, to the ladder where angels ascend and descend, to the love of God that surrounds each person and pervades all of creation, we can experience what Jacob did in that dream and be transformed.
We can lay aside our fears; we can hold less tightly to the things of this world; we can trust in God and love more freely and abundantly.
And perhaps we might even be that ladder for someone else, and others might be that ladder for us,
a conduit of God’s presence and peace and love. For as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is not only near, it is at hand, right here among us.
So may we live as though this is true because it is.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
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”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He 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.”
Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids 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 he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he 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 he blessed him.
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “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 to 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 you and in 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 have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
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