Genesis 25:19-34 (CEB)
Leader: These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham became the father of Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean and the sister of Laban the Aramean, from Paddan-aram.
People: Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, since she was unable to have children. The LORD was moved by his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. But the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what it’s like, why did it happen to me?”
Leader: So she went to ask the LORD. And the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One people will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.”
When she reached the end of her pregnancy, she discovered that she had twins. The first came out red all over, clothed with hair, and she named him Esau. Immediately afterward, his brother came out gripping Esau’s heel, and she named him Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.
People: When the young men grew up, Esau became an outdoorsman who knew how to hunt, and Jacob became a quiet man who stayed at home. Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Leader: Once when Jacob was boiling stew, Esau came in from the field hungry and said to Jacob, “I’m starving! Let me devour some of this red stuff.” That’s why his name is Edom.
People: Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright today.”
Leader: Esau said, “Since I’m going to die anyway, what good is my birthright to me?”
People: Jacob said, “Give me your word today.” And he did. He sold his birthright to Jacob.
Leader: So Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew. He ate, drank, got up, and left, showing just how little he thought of his birthright.
July 15-16, 2017
“No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”
We continue today in the Old Testament stories of our faith from the Book of Genesis. In the month of July, we are looking at the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, some of our ancestors in the faith. Today’s story marks the beginning of the narrative of Jacob’s life.
A couple of weeks ago, we heard the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, which was a prelude into the stories of Jacob.
Let me tell you where we are at in the story. We have fast forwarded from Isaac being a young boy, to being a middle-aged man. His father Abraham has arranged to find him a wife from among his extended family. Rebekah, who happens to be Abraham’s great-niece, is chosen to be Isaac’s wife and at the age of 40 Isaac marries Rebekah. Like his mother, Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebekah is unable to bear children. But like Sarah, Rebekah does eventually have children after many years of marriage. We are not told how old Rebekah is, but Isaac is 60 years old when we pick up today’s story of the birth of their twin boys, Esau and Jacob.
Today’s story comes from the 25th chapter of Genesis, verses 19-34. This story lends itself to multiple voices, so I invite you to join me in reading the Scripture responsively. The Scripture will be on the screens. I will read the light print and invite you to read the bold print.
(Read Genesis 25:19-34)
If you are weary of the fighting and division within our country, or between nations, or within church denominations…if you are tired of your own family challenges, or the squabbles and struggles you may see in your own children; perhaps there is a word of hope and assurance for you in our Scripture story today. We can see within this Scripture, struggles between siblings, long-term family struggles and struggles between nations.
The details of this story are a bit humorous and perhaps hard to comprehend, but the plot and the personalities of the characters are actually believable…so much like you and me…a mixture of trust and distrust, hope and hopelessness, loyalty and manipulation.
If you grew up with brothers and sisters, you most likely know this tension between sibling conflicts and reconciliation. Things such as name calling, competition, trickery, tears, hurting, and then apologizing and forgiving.
The scene shared in our story today is that of conflict between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. Jacob basically saying, “I give you lunch and you give me the family inheritance.” It gives new meaning to the old saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Esau, we are told, is a rough, rugged man, more concerned about his stomach than his future. Jacob is characterized as a quiet, introverted man, who is also shrewd, and calculating. He demands an oath before handing over the stew.
Esau seems to be an instant gratification kind of guy…he wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and could not think beyond himself and his immediate needs. It is a bit of an exaggeration when Esau says he is going to die from hunger. But, haven’t we all said, “When are we going to eat…I’m starving to death!”
Esau allows his emotions and his anxious response to be driven by his hunger. The latest name for that mix of hunger and emotion is called being ‘hangry’. Being ‘hangry’ is when your hunger causes you to be angry and frustrated. It sounds like Esau was ‘hangry.’
Or, have you seen the commercials that say, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” There are several of these commercials…here’s one of them (show 30 second commercial clip).
Esau was not himself when he was so hungry or ‘hangry’ that he traded his birthright for a bowl of stew.
If we think about being hungry and hangry in a real sense, we can think about children in our community schools. Most school districts in Wisconsin have some level of a free or reduced lunch program, which for many also includes breakfast. Statistics vary, but for Sun Prairie, nearly 30% of students are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch.
Beyond the statistics, the question for us as people of faith and the body of Christ, is how we are responding to the reality of hunger in our communities with our prayers, our presence of helping, our resources, and our voice of witness to the injustice of hunger for any school child.
Hunger overshadows learning and good judgement. We know that for ourselves and our own children, and Esau shows us that in our story. He has a hard time making a sound decision about his future, which for him in his culture was firstborn birthright. Being the firstborn male in a family offered honored identity and meant everything. It was a link to the past and it was security for the future. Birthright and blessing were a big deal in the ancient world.
These twins, Jacob and Esau, could not have been more different. They represent two distinct nations, Israel and Edom. The conflict between the twins begins even before they are born, when Rebekah reports that the twins she is carrying are tearing each other apart.
She seeks the advice of God and is told that these two brothers will be like two warring nations and will always be at odds. In fact, the message from God is, “Two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One people will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.”
Seems like quite a pre-natal message for a mother to receive!
The twins continue to struggle and fight in their mother’s womb and are born fighting. The first-born Esau, is described as red and hairy. Jacob is born close behind and is grabbing his older brother’s heel, as if he were trying to get ahead of him. This characteristic of Jacob “grabbing” will be played out in more detail in our story next week, when Jacob tricks their father Isaac and grabs hold of the first born blessing, even though that blessing really belongs to Esau.
Jacob’s actions are downright deceitful and the family splinters because of the deceit. There is also parental favoritism in our story…Jacob, is most loved by his mother, and Esau, is most loved by his father.
We hear a lot of talk in our culture about family and family values. When I think of family, my definition is broad. There is family by blood relation and there are persons we choose to name as family that may or may not be related to us and there is what we call church family.
But when we go to the Bible to find a good, solid model of family, it’s not easy to find.
If we go back to Adam and Eve, we have their eldest son, Cain murdering his younger brother, Abel.
If we look at Abraham’s family, Abraham fathered children by two women, the servant girl, Hagar and his wife, Sarah.
Jacob in our story today will eventually marry Leah and her sister Rachel and also have children by two mistresses.
The sons of Eli, the priest, were thieves and scoundrels.
David, the great king of Israel, committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed in battle. Then one of David’s sons assaults his own sister; and his other son killed the brother.
So, let’s move to the New Testament, certainly we’ll find some solid models of family there. However, we soon realize that there is little detail to any of the families in the New Testament, so again, not much help for the average family looking for a model.
Our best help comes from the life, teachings, and witness of Jesus, a single man with no wife or children. But, Jesus expanded the definition of family beyond the bonds of blood and tradition. Jesus treated outcasts as family and called his disciples “children.” Jesus gave us values such as, love God and neighbor, pray for your enemies, do not worry about tomorrow, do not judge; whatever you do for the least among you, you do for me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes God…certainly good values on which to raise a family and to live.
The family we hear about in our story today was a mess and still God loves them and calls them to be God’s people. There is a lot of hope in that for less than perfect families today. Many people are raised in complex families. And to them, there is nothing strange about it; family is family. If a complex family system is your story, don’t despair. Being raised in a complex family can get you ready to be part of God’s family.
In God’s family, we are born into different cultures, races, economic situations; and we experience a variety of family systems and lifestyles. Yet, we all get adopted into God’s family. And as with any family, in the church we have family members we don’t know very well or don’t agree with, or even don’t like very much…but we are all family.
In every family and in every person, there is the nature of good and bad, as well as right and wrong. Perhaps the best value we can teach our children and model for others is how we nurture the good nature within us, and how we contain the bad nature within us.
It is a familiar and perhaps well-worn story; but every time I hear it, it gives me pause. It is the Native American story that describes a boy who was feeling angry and upset at an injustice. So, he goes to his Grandfather for advice. The Grandfather tells the boy that he too has felt these feelings of hatred and anger.
“It is as if I have two wolves living inside me,” says the Grandfather. “One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him.”
“But the other wolf,” the Grandfather continues, “fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. The smallest thing will send him into anger. He cannot think because his anger and rage are so great. However, for all his raging, the wolf’s anger changes nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, the grandfather says, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looks at his Grandfather and asks, “Which wolf wins?” His grandfather replies, “Whichever one I feed.”
The lessons of this Native American story tie into the lessons of our Biblical story today.
As with so many things in life, in order to create big changes, we have to begin with small steps. We must become aware of how strong and powerful each of the two natures are within us; we must own the fact that our choices and actions have created these two natures; and finally, we can choose which wolf we feed, and which we do not feed.
Whether it is the hard work of raising children, of being a family, or a nation, or the Church as the body of Christ, each time we react like we are ‘hangry,’ we feed the angry wolf within us and make it stronger. But, when we respond in love and treat others as we want to be treated, we feed the peaceful wolf within us. As the peaceful wolf grows stronger we will find more ways to use the energy and outrage we have toward injustice in ways that advocate for the least, the lost, the left out, the tired, and the weary.
So, while there may be no such thing as a free lunch, the grace of God is a free gift that is not limited by our choices. We have seen in the story of Jacob and Esau that God will use even our foolishness and our sin to fulfill God’s promise for all people…the promise that we are all beloved children of God, and all welcome in the family of God.
This is the good news of God this day.
Thanks be to God.