The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Sermon, Proper 10, Year A, July 16, 2017
Lord, may we know and understand what things we ought to do and may we have the grace and power to faithfully accomplish them. Amen
There is a saying in AA that urges us to live life on life’s terms. It’s a good saying. It means we have a vision in our minds of what we would like our perfect lives to look like: No death, no sadness, no loss, no accidents, no troubles of any kind, perfect children, and the house of our dreams, etc. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it. These visions are not realistic and probably do us harm if we really believe life is going to turn out that way because we will be forever disappointed. Death will happen as I am learning this year, sadness occurs a lot, accidents may happen, troubles will plague us, bones break as I am learning, our children are not perfect as we are not perfect, and houses always seem to have a leak some place.
The solution is to live life on God’s terms; Even with our human, imperfect lives.
21-23” It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (Romans 7:24,The Message).
Now in Romans 8 we learn: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing us from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2, The Message).
Now let’s go to the Old Testament reading and the story of how easy it was for Esau to give up his birth right because he was hungry. Apparently, Rebekah, the wife of Isaac who was the son of Abraham was having a difficult pregnancy and so she asked God: what’s going on here, I can’t stand it and God told her: “Two nations are at war in your womb.
So you see we are going way back to the early history of God’s relationship with the Arameans.
“Two peoples butting heads while still in your body.
One people will overpower the other,
and the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, The Message). So right away we know there is trouble. We don’t read that there was trouble between the two boys necessarily, but that they had difference temperaments and different interests.
One day Jacob was cooking a stew and Esau came in starving and wanted the stew. Jacob said I’ll give you the stew if you give me your birthright as the first born. How many of you are firstborns? Now the firstborn son was the one who normally received a double inheritance, and was the one who would inherit his father’s role as the head of the family. It was not to be given up lightly. By the way, Jacob who was born second was holding onto Esau’s heel when he was born and was named Jacob which means supplanter which is what he did, he took Esau’s gift as the first born and put it on himself. The rights of the first born SON and only SONS by the way include a double share of the inheritance upon the death of the father and inherit the father’s role as head of the family, and he always maintained the title of the first born even if he sold his rights to the status of firstborn.
There are at least two major problems here: One is the need to immediately fill a physical need which outweighs the need to achieve long range goals: Esau shrugged off his rights as the first born in order to eat some stew. The second is when Jacob saw a way to achieve a goal of his own which is to deprive Esau of his rights by taking advantage of Esau’s desperation. As we will see in later readings, this event and later ones will see another split in this family which will lead to the development of the powerful enemy of Israel.
Jacob and Esau will split and Jacob will go off in one direction and become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel and Esau will go off in another direction and become the founder of the Edomites. Edom means red. It is believed that Esau’s descendants intermarried with Ishmael’s descendants (remember Abraham’s concubine, Hagar, who we read about a few weeks ago, and her son Ishmael who Abraham sent into the dessert), and these two groups of people are the forerunners of the Arab peoples with whom there has been great enmity win Israel for 2,000+ years. Complicated isn’t it?
I asked myself as I was studying this passage, how would it be different if this happened after Jesus’ death and resurrection? What is the moral code that Jesus preached and his disciples expanded upon that would apply to this story? Jesus wants us to love one another and treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters. We are to live life on God’s terms, not our own.
Romans tells us that “those who think they can do it on their own, meaning living a moral life, end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life” (Romans 8:5, op. cit.). We are the first born of Jesus and entitled to all he has. Jacob focused on his own needs to steal the birthright of the first born and not on doing what was right; Esau focused on filling the needs of his stomach not on preserving his rights as the first born son. Many of us do the same thing and personally I thank God that I lived through it so that I can tell people it doesn’t work. That which I would not do I did, and that which I wanted to do I did not.
The Book of Romans is often a hard book to understand; it has long, wandering, many phrased sentences typical of Paul’s writing. One of the reasons I like the translation called The Message is because Eugene Peterson translates the Bible from its original language into contemporary language and makes Paul as well as other writers more understandable to the modern reader.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is the first born of God and we are the first born of Christ and entitled to the privileges of the first born. We find references to Jesus as first born throughout the New Testament especially in Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Hebrews, and Revelations.
We are to trust God’s actions in us because God’s Spirit is in us. Obsession with self isn’t the answer. But if God has taken up residence in our lives, we no longer think more of ourselves than of Him. People who do not have a relationship with God and do not acknowledge His presence in their lives don’t understand this. They are ignoring God and God doesn’t like to be ignored. But those of us who have allowed God to take up residence in our lives, and the indwelling Spirit of Christ, for us life is very different. Even though we experience the limitations of sin, we still experience life on God’s terms. As God lives and breathes in us, we are delivered from the dead life we knew. He lives and breathes in us and our bodies will be as alive as Christ’s.
It is beautiful that this happens to us but not easy as Matthew tells us. We are the good earth upon which the seed is cast and we can hear it and take it in and are able to produce a harvest beyond our wildest imaginings. And that is what we are doing with Family Promise, for example. Our gift to them of our time, our energy, our money, and our resources is a gift that we share because of the presence of God in our lives. We give to others what we have been given. And we are blessed even more by our serving others. This is a beautiful thing, living life on God’s terms.
 Genesis 25:19-34
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23