Sunday’s sermon: Perfect God, Imperfect Agent

Text used – Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17

  • I want to tell you a story this morning. [TELL STORY OF ANANSI AND THE MOSS-COVERED ROCK]
    • This is just one of the many tales the feature the troublesome trickster Anansi. → trickster tales told in cultures all around the world
      • West Africa and Caribbean = Anansi
      • China = the Monkey King
      • Eastern Europe = the Fox
      • Norse mythology = Loki (thank you, Marvel Comic Universe)
      • Southern United States = Br’er Rabbit
      • Any number of animal characters in Indigenous tales
        • Coyote
        • Rabbit
        • Raven
        • Bluejay
    • Trickster tales
      • On the whole, trickster characters are smart and use their knowledge to play tricks and try to bend the rules
      • Told to entertain
      • Told to teach lessons about how to behave and how to treat others
    • And our central Biblical character this morning – Jacob – fits perfectly into this trickster ethos.
      • Certainly smart
      • Certainly uses his knowledge to play a trick and bend the rules (to the point of breaking?)
      • Certainly all sorts of lessons wrapped up in his story
  • But before we get into his portion of the story from this morning’s text, let’s remind ourselves about the beginnings of Jacob’s story and how it fits in with the Grand Story of faith that we’ve heard so far.
    • Last week: talked about Abraham and his son, Isaac → After they returned from their strange and sacred experience on the mountain, Isaac grows up, and Abraham and Sarah eventually send a servant back to their homeland to find a wife for Isaac – a wife from their own people.
      • Servant finds Rebekah at the local well → negotiates with Rebekah and her family → Rebekah chooses to return with the servant to marry Isaac
    • Later, Rebekah gives birth to twins
      • Esau born first: ruddy-skinned and hairy
        • Esau literally means “red”
      • Jacob born second: literally hanging onto Esau’s heel
        • Some foreshadowing in Jacob’s name: Jacob means “supplanter” = someone who seizes or circumvents, a usurper → Yes, Jacob came out seizing Esau’s heel … but that’s not where his usurping ends.
    • Tricky family dynamic from the beginning → Now, I’m the first one who will tell you that having twins is never easy! I think there can be an added element of difficulty when it comes to same-gender twins – an added layer of competition that isn’t always present with different-gender twins. And when your twins are so vastly different from one another, things can get even more complicated … believe me! In our house, we’ve always tried to discourage unhealthy sibling competition between our twins. Sure, they compete with all sorts of things, but when it comes to pitting one against the other – “You should be more like your brother in this” or “Why can’t you do this the way your brother does?” … yeah, we’ve pretty fiercely avoided that kind of competition.
      • Putting the boys to bed at night, I couldn’t tell them that they were my favorite boy in the world because they’re both my favorite boys … so I always give them a hug and a kiss good night and say, “You’re my favorite Ian in the whole wide world. You’re my favorite Luke in the whole wide world.”
        • Certainly not a phenomenon exclusive to raising twins – anyone raising children who identify as the same gender run into the same thing → I have a number of friends raising three boys (as did my mother-in-law!), and none of them can say to their kids, “You’re my favorite boy in the whole world” either.
      • Isaac and Rebekah didn’t really have any such qualms, though – Scripture (prior to today’s passage): 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.[1]
        • Makes it clear that Esau and Jacob, though twins, are very different people
        • Makes it clear that each parent favored one twin
          • Isaac favored Esau because he liked eating the game that Esau hunted and brought home
          • Rebekah loved Jacob because he stayed nearby to help her with things
  • And it’s these parental preferences that truly set the stage for what it to come in today’s passage.
    • Isaac is now old
      • Eyesight is going
      • Knows that he is dying
      • Wants to bless his eldest son … his favorite son: Esau 
    • But Rebekah wants to ensure that her favorite son – Jacob – is not left out of the blessing, so as soon as she hears what Isaac says to Esau and sees Esau go out hunting, she acts.
      • In the in-between bits not in today’s reading. Rebekah goes and finds Jacob, tells him about what his father has said to his brother, and hatches the whole plan
        • Instructs Jacob to go get the young goats for the meal and the Esau-like pelt
        • Cooks the meat the way Isaac like it for Jacob
        • Tells Jacob to put on the goat pelt to fool Isaac
        • Even goes and gets Esau’s “favorite clothes” for Jacob to wear so that he will smell like his brother!
        • In the midst of all this, Jacob voices hesitation, but Rebekah dismisses it. – text: Jacob said to his mother, Rebekah, “My brother Esau is a hairy man, but I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me and thinks I’m making fun of him? I will be cursed instead of blessed.” His mother said to him, “Your curse will be on me, my son. Just listen to me: go and get them for me.”[2] → So Jacob does as Rebekah tells him. The die is cast. The deception is accomplished. The blessing is usurped.
    • Before we go on, let’s talk about this blessing for a minute because this is far more than a simple, spiritual pat-on-the-head-and-off-you-go. → multiple elements and multiple deceptions wrapped up in this blessing
      • Blessing = means of conferring of birthright
        • Involves inheritance
        • Involves family name and family patriarchal power
        • Involves cultural and even legal ramifications following Isaac’s death
        • Lots of times that we see birthright and inheritance and blessing creating a messy situation throughout Scripture
          • First Testament: King David and his sons
          • New Testament: story of the prodigal son/reaction of the older son
      • Complicating the matter = all the pomp and circumstance around this blessing that Isaac is tricked into giving to Jacob → More specifically, there are two elements that are part of this blessing that really cement it as The Blessing (capital T, capital B) – the one that confers the birthright and everything else: a meal and a kiss.
        • (In the other in-between part of today’s Scripture), Isaac first eats the food that Jacob has brought him (the food that Rebekah prepared), then: His father Isaac said to [Jacob], “Come here and kiss me, my son.” So he came close and kissed him. When Isaac smelled the scent of his clothes, he blessed him[3] → And the deed is done. The usurpation is complete.
    • Other part of the story that we miss this morning = Esau’s reaction → As you can imagine, it’s not very good.
      • Just after Jacob and Rebekah have left Isaac’s side, Esau returns with his own hunted game → cooks the delicious food as Isaac requested and brings it to his father → Isaac is confused because he believes he already blessed Esau but quickly figures out what happened → Isaac tells Esau that he has already bestowed the blessing on his brother, Jacob → Esau is distraught and begs Isaac to bless him, too[4] – text makes it clear just how serious this usurpation is: Isaac replied to Esau, “I’ve already made him more powerful than you, and I’ve made all of his brothers his servants. I’ve made him strong with grain and wine. What can I do for you, my son?”[5]
      • And Esau becomes enraged and vows to kill Jacob after the period of mourning Isaac’s death is over. Rebekah learns of Esau’s plan and warns Jacob, so Jacob flees. He runs for his life.
  • Leads us into the third part of our Scripture reading – potentially the strangest part of Jacob’s story but also potentially the most important part: Jacob’s dream
    • Jacob has basically been fleeing all day long → comes to “a certain place” as night falls and decides it’s time to rest → pulls up a rock for a pillow and falls asleep → dreams of a ladder going from earth to heaven with angels – “God’s messengers” – climbing up and down the ladder → And then, in the midst of this dream, God appears!
      • God identifies Godself as the God of Jacob’s forefathers – the God of Abraham and Isaac
      • God promises to give Jacob and his descendants the land on which he is lying and to give Jacob a large and blessed family
      • God promises to be with Jacob → And it’s this last blessing from God that seems to be the most shocking … the most powerful … the most impactful. – text: “I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything I have promised you.”[6] → Up to this point, we know that Jacob hasn’t exactly been the picture of perfect behavior. He’s played his trickster role well. He has deceived. He has lied. He has stolen. He has created such a mess back home that he had to flee. I think it’s safe to say that Jacob isn’t perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And yet God remains with him. God protects him. God blesses him. God continues to go with Jacob and guide him. Despite all his mistakes, despite all his wrongdoings, despite all the lines that Jacob has already crossed (and all the lines God knows Jacob will cross in the future), God remains with Jacob. God refuses to forsake him.
        • Because of the grace we receive in Jesus Christ – Jesus, the one who hung out with those on the margins … those who made all the mistakes … those who crossed all the lines … those who had been forsaken by everyone else – Because of the grace we receive in Jesus Christ, God remains with us just as God did with Jacob. Despite all our mistakes, despite all our wrongdoings, despite all the lines that we have already crossed (and all the lines God knows we will cross in the future), God remains with us. God refuses to forsake us. And that, friends, is good, good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Gen 25:27-28.

[2] Gen 27:11-13.

[3] Gen 27:26-27a.

[4] Gen 27:30-36.

[5] Gen 27:37.

[6] Gen 28:15.