Sermon given at
10:30 Celebration Service
Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 13 July 2014
The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
by Rev. David D. M. King
This morning we are going to look back in on the story that has been unfolding this summer in the Book of Genesis, the story of the beginnings of Israel. You may remember the story of how God made the barren Sarah pregnant at age 90, and how she responded by laughing. Today we have the story, one generation later, of another unlikely pregnancy, and the consequences it will have for a family, a nation, and the world.
Isaac, who was Sarah’s child of laughter, has grown up and taken a wife for himself. Rebekah, like her mother-in-law, is also barren. Isaac prays to God that she will have a child, and eventually, 20 years after they were first married, Rebekah becomes pregnant.
But it is a difficult pregnancy. We don’t know for sure what the Hebrew means, but it seems that Rebekah is having a great struggle, to the point that she wonders if she will survive it, or if she wouldn’t be better off dead. So she prays to God for an answer. And God answers her. Rebekah receives a prophesy.
And in the prophesy, God tells Rebekah that the reason she is in so much pain is that there are two nations, two peoples struggling inside her womb. When I’ve been around mothers who are pregnant with twins, and they they certainly seem less than comfortable. But imagine if those two little babies were fighting, wrestling with each other. And then imagine that they aren’t babies at all, but nations, armies, waging war inside her belly. That would be more than just uncomfortable.
God doesn’t just tell Rebekah that there is a war being waged in her womb. God also says that her younger son is going to rule over the older, that he will take the rightful place of his firstborn brother. Whether this is because God is choosing the younger over the older, or whether God simply foresees that this will happen is unclear.
Some months later, the twins are born, the firstborn, Esau, and his brother, Jacob, grasping onto Esau’s heel, trying to hold him back, trying to be first. The struggle that Rebekah had prophesied was evident in the birth.
As the boys grew, they became very different men. Esau was a hunter, an outdoorsman. He is portrayed as being strong, but not very intelligent. In short, a thug.
Jacob, on the other hand, is a much milder man. He stays around the camp, watches the sheep. He’s not strong like his brother, but he is wily. In short, he is a swindler.
And it is these differences in character that lead to the unlikely conclusion: Esau sells his rights as the firstborn to his younger brother, Jacob, in return for a bowl of lentil soup. Esau the unthinking wildman. Jacob the conniving trickster.
Now it’s quite certain that the way this story is written has been effected by the later history of Israel and Edom. By the time these stories were finally committed to writing, Israel was trying to control the neighboring nation of Edom. Portraying their ancestor as a crude and brutish thug who cared more about a bowl of stew than about his inheritance was a good way to justify their war of dominance. So we want to be sure not to read too much into the racial overtones in this story, recognizing that they are influenced by the politics of a later time.
However, we are still left with same circumstances: two sons, the younger supplanting the older by rather underhanded means. And that younger son becoming Israel, the father of God’s chosen people.
Jacob is not a particularly sympathetic character. I suppose you could think of him as the hero of wimps everywhere, who outwits his older and stronger brother to win the greater share of the inheritance. But even if he does represent the victory of brain over brawn, trickery and exploitation are not the character traits we usually associate with a man of God.
But perhaps that is precisely the point. In many respects, Jacob really is not a very good man. And as the second son, he does not have the same rights and respect afforded to his older brother under tradition, even if they were born only minutes apart.
And yet God still uses Jacob. God chooses a flawed and crafty man and makes him the father of the nation of Israel. God uses the weaker brother, rather than the stronger. God uses the unexpected rather than the expected. God uses the upstart rather than the one who has authority.
In our society, we assign people value and status based on who we think they are. We may not use the same standards that were use in ancient Canaan, but we still prejudge which people are good and capable and upright and which are not. Wealth, family name, education, class, nationality, race — all these things effect the way we see and judge people.
But God doesn’t use our standards. God doesn’t care about where you come from, how much money you make, or who your parents are. God doesn’t even seem to care about who is the best qualified. God will use whomever God chooses in order to bring about the divine purposes. If God could use a weakling, mama’s boy with questionable morals like Jacob, then God could use anyone, regardless of what we might think about it.
And so that means two important things for us. First it means that God could use us, you and me. It doesn’t matter what faults you think you might have. It doesn’t matter what you think you’ve done wrong, or how weak you think you are, or how unqualified you might be. None of that matters. If God chooses you to do something, then God will give you the strength and the gifts to complete it. Don’t ever think that you are too small or too insignificant or too unworthy to do God’s work. God will choose whomever God will choose, and it just may be you.
But that also means that God will choose whomever God chooses, and it may be someone else. God may choose someone you think is rather unqualified, or undignified, or unlikable, or uncouth. But none of that matters, because God can and does use anyone, even the people we don’t like, even those who don’t have experience, even those who rub us the wrong way. And it is our job, if we love God, to make room for those whom God has called, to allow God to work even in the most unlikely of places, and not to stand in the way of the work God is doing just because we don’t approve of the worker that God has chosen.
If we recognize that God is the God of all people, and God will use any person, regardless of what we might think is proper, then we will not only be able to accept God’s call on our own lives, but we will also be able to support and encourage the call God is placing on those all around us, and we will do it without prejudging each other, and without prejudging ourselves.