Over the last few weeks, we have focused on the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith. We met Abraham and Sarah, who committed to a Covenant with God. In their old age, they had a miracle baby. Last week, we focused on the arranged marriage between their son Isaac and his cousin Rebekah.  We are fast-forwarding in time today and pausing at the moment Rebekah was pregnant with twins. Listen now to the word of God as we read Genesis, chapter 25, verses 19 through 34:

Proclamation of the Scripture            Genesis 25: 19-34              

This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 

and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aramand sister of Laban the Aramean.

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 

The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 

The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.

After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 

Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 

He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: Holy and gracious God, may your Holy Spirit give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know the hope to which Christ has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance among us, and the greatness of his power for those who believe. Amen.

Message                              A House Divided

            The stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs are stories of people who are loyal and faithful to God, but are also people who had a lot of problems and who made unfortunate choices.

            In today’s reading, Rebekah was pregnant with twins….ultrasounds and baby heartbeat Doppler monitors would not be invented for thousands of years, so Rebekah didn’t realize she was carrying twins.  She prayed to God and asked why her belly was so active—jostling. And, God’s explanation was that two nations were fighting in her womb – eventually the older nation would serve the younger nation.

            We don’t know how Rebekah understood God’s metaphoric words. But, we do know that she had twins. And, the scripture tells us Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Isaac. They each had a favorite. This practice sounds shocking to us…child psychologists and pop parenting magazines tell us over and over again not to show favoritism among our children. But, I guess Isaac and Rebekah did not get the message.

            Throughout the stories of Esau and Jacob’s youth, it seemed like Rebekah was plotting against Esau in favor of Jacob. Pretty yucky!

            When the twins were older, Jacob manipulated Esau to give away his birthright over a bowl of stew.  Later on, when his father Isaac was ill and blind, Jacob dressed up as his brother and tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was reserved for the eldest son. Esau was forced to receive the younger son’s blessing. Both Esau and his father were terribly dismayed. Rebekah colluded with Jacob to create the plot against Esau.

            Afterwards, after Jacob had received the special blessing, he ran away because he was afraid Esau would kill him. This is not a story of people who were behaving like the good guys. Instead, Jacob was conniving and unfair to his brother.

            In our scriptures, over and over again, God uses flawed people to do good things.  Today’s story reminds us that we always get the opportunity to change for the better. Even when we are the ones, like Jacob, who are guilty of harming others. Even if we are the people, like Jacob, who are guilty of harming our own family members. Over the next few weeks, we will read more about Jacob’s saga. He also succumbed to people manipulating him and taking advantage of him…..he was taken down a few notches.  In his good times and in his horrible times, Jacob remained faithful to God.  Eventually, Jacob was renamed Israel, and his 12 sons became the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel.

            So things worked out well in the end, but today’s scripture reads almost like a “what not to do” passage. Don’t favor one of your children over the other.  Don’t plot against your husband or your child. Don’t sabotage your children’s inheritance. Don’t manipulate elderly, sick, and blind people to your benefit.  Don’t lie.

            Our Bible is full of examples of people who were incredibly flawed and yet managed to do wonderful things on behalf of God and on behalf of the people of God.  This weekend, our kids have learned about three of those people.  

Gideon was the greatest of all the Judges of the Hebrew people. He spoke face to face with God. He led the Hebrew people to a great military victory against the Midianites. Yet, when he started following orders from God, he was afraid. God told him to tear down altars to false gods. Gideon was afraid of being attacked for destroying the idols, so he snuck around in the middle of the night to destroy them. He learned to trust God, but initially he was unsure if God would protect and help him.

Daniel was the epitome of bravery and loyalty to both God and his Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. He made the best of a bad situation since he was one of the Jewish people carried off to Babylon in captivity. Although he maintained his loyalty to God and followed God’s laws, I suspect that some of the other Jewish captives resented that one of their own people rose through the ranks of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian government. So, although he was perfect in many respects, he still could have been viewed by some of his people as working for their enemy.

Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ most loyal female follower. Jesus chose Mary to be the first witness of his resurrection. Yet, Mary had a sordid reputation. We can’t be sure what was real and what was made up to discredit her, but some traditions paint her as formerly being a fallen woman – Jesus welcomed outcasts to dine with him and become his followers. He overlooked their pasts and welcomed them into the fold. So, Mary’s story is truly a story of redemption and acceptance by Christ.

God uses broken, flawed, imperfect people to do God’s work in the world – people just like us. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect or stay perfect, God uses us just as we are. Jacob was selfish and mean, he made self-serving choices, and he took advantage of his brother’s weaknesses. Yet, he ended up being faithful to God. The 12 tribes of Israel each descend from him – and from those people the Christian faith was born.

We always have the opportunity to make better choices. We always have the opportunity to turn our lives around. We always are welcome to dig ourselves out of the pits we find ourselves in and turn towards God and become new people, born again and read to serve our Lord. Let us do so always. Amen.