July 16, 2017
We move ahead in our story of Genesis. Since we read last week about God's call for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, a few years have passed. Sarah has died; Abraham has remarried at the ripe old age, well I don't know exactly, but he was in his 130's! Now it can be an interesting situation when a couple marries late in life. My mother-in-law told me about a song she heard on the Gaither homecoming show last weekend. I did some looking on the internet and found it, I think. I don't know the tune so will recite it to you as a poem, the story of a couple marrying very late in life: SIDE BY SIDE
We got married on, Sunday, The party didn't finish till Monday, And when the guests had gone home, We were all alone, Side by side.
Well we got ready for bed then, And I very nearly dropped dead when, Her teeth and her hair, she placed on the chair, Side by side.
Well the shock did very near kill me, When a glass eye did fall, Then her leg and then her arm, She placed against the chair (wall?),
Well this left me broken hearted, For most of my wife had departed, So I slept on the chair, There was more of her there, Side by Side.
I'm getting ahead in our story so let's turn to today's reading. Isaac and Rebekah were unable to have children for a long time. When she finally got pregnant, it was with twins. And they were very active twins! It reminded me of Christa telling about her little one; she kept telling us how active he was. That was borne out when it was discovered that he had twisted around in such a way that there was a knot in his umbilical cord! Active babies!
At some time in her pregnancy, the Lord revealed to her the future of the two boys; two nations, two people, the elder, the stronger would serve the younger. And, as I said before, Rebekah who especially loved Isaac, made sure he got the blessings. The boys were certainly different. Esau a hunter, an outdoorsman. He and his father were of like mind and Isaac favored him. Jacob; gentler, enjoyed the things of the household more than sports and hunting. We all know families where this kind of difference in disposition has been a problem. Most of our families are grown, but the warning here comes clear as their story plays out—it is not good to favor one child over another.
But that's not our lesson for today. That comes from the deal Jacob made with Esau. The boys were doing what they do...they were maybe teenagers Esau's been out working or hunting. He was tired, he was hungry, he was in the kind of mood a man gets in when its been a long, hard day. And he wanted some of Jacob's stew. First thing we notice, he didn't use the magic word, please. He demanded the stew, not the best way to approach any request. Now Jacob may have been peeved about how Esau treated him. He came right back at him demanding his birthright for his stew. And it was done, a bowl of stew for a birthright.
Now we need to discuss just what this means. We don’t talk about birthrights in our culture today. Here's what I've learned about a son's birthright, which always belonged to the first born—Esau in this case. He would receive a double share of the father’s inheritance. Issac was rich and this would be a big difference. The birthright also made you the head of the family at the passing of the father. He would be the spiritual leader as there was not formal religious services at this time. Not that either of these boys seem particularly interested in spiritual matters. But in this particular family, being heir meant he was heir to the promise made to Abraham. You remember—he would be the father of a great nation, the inheritor of the lands; and the special blessing promised by God to Abraham.
So why would Esau give up all this so easily. He said he would die of hunger, but that was clearly an exaggeration. Our NRSV translation of how he treated the situation says this, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” As we study this passage, we discover that despised might be too strong of a word. A better translation I think is that he took his birthright lightly. He cared little about what it meant. And if he was a teenager, that may not be too surprising. But I'm finally to my point for today—how seriously do we take our birthright as Christians?
I should expound a bit on what a birthright looks like for a Christian. We know what Esau gained when he bargained for the birthright. What do we gain when we accept the birthright God offers freely? Here's an important verse for us to hear, from Galatians 3:29 “You belong to Christ, so you are Abraham’s descendants. You will inherit all of God’s blessings because of the promise God made to Abraham.” How about that, we have the birthright of Abraham's promise through faith in Jesus! And Shirley read for us from today's Roman's passage, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So our inheritance includes the forgiveness of sins; we are free from the condemnation which we deserve.
We are made heirs of God. If we look a few verses ahead in our Roman's chapter, we read this, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Esau losing his birthright did not negate his inheritance totally. But it did limit it and it indicated that he held it in low esteem. Our birthright cannot be lost. When we recognize God's claim on us as children of God, our inheritance is set. As Presbyterians, we believe that God initiates this relationship and God seals it as a done deal.
Our birthright includes the promise of eternal life. Titus 3:7 (KJV) “That being justified by (Gods) grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” As always, we come back to God's grace. Grace that brings with it the promise of life eternal in God's presence.
But with that promise of inheritance comes a change in our life here on earth. From Ephesians chapter 1, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,...so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” For God's gift of grace is not only for eternity, it starts right here, right when you have chosen to trust in Christ for that grace that is promised. We claim that inheritance and live for God's glory and that changes how we view our world. Again from today's Romans reading, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Are your minds set on the things of the flesh, of earth; or things of the Spirit, things of God? It is a question we should face as often as every day; every hour. Where are our minds, our thoughts, our plans, our dreams focused? We discovered in the story of Esau that his mind was set pretty much always on the physical. What was important in his life at that particular time. His birthright was an important promise, but he esteemed it lightly. Our birthright in Christ is an important promise; are we giving it the value it is due?
I'm currently reading a book given to me by Truman, it was a favorite of his mother's. It is called “A Testament of Devotion” and it is a series of lectures given by Thomas Kelly printed in 1941. Kelly was a leader in the Quaker educational circles. “We are in an era of 'Thissidedness' with a passionate anxiety about economics and political organization. (Did I mention this was written 76 years ago?) I submit that this is a lamentable reversal of the true order...our task is to give over this fevered effort of the self-sufficient religionist...so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something for God that (we) don't hear Him.” He points out that life is not only about our physical needs and wants. Our life is about relationship with God. When that is right, everything else will be in its proper perspective.
Esau made the mistake of taking his inheritance lightly and putting more significance to the desires of the flesh. We make the same mistake when we take our eternal inheritance lightly. The writer of Hebrews in the Message translation alludes to this when he writes, “Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late,”. Don't sell your birthright for a bowl of pottage; the things of this world that don't really satisfy. Sell out to God and God will reward you with an inheritance that is out of this world. Amen.
Hymn: Marvelous Grace of Our loving Lord 240 HLC