Chasing Scoundrels

A sermon based on Genesis 27:1-23 and Genesis 28:10-17 preached September 24th, 2107

Sermon audio

If God was the CEO of a company, in business to bring to the world some sort of decency, some moral order that would get His creation off to a booming start, picking all the right people along the way to represent him—if God was out to recruit the cream of the crop, the upstanding among us—than by now, at this point in Genesis 27 and 28, we could safely consider His tenure as CEO a complete disaster. By any standard measure of success, God is not off to a good start. We should wonder if God knew what He was doing when He spoke the world into being with those first words,

Let there be…

By every measure, God has failed. Adam and Eve have two boys, Cain and Abel. One murders the other. And a few chapters later, God comes off as a Creator who has lost complete control of His creation. He’s created a monster that can no longer be reigned back in again, so God picks one family—the best one of the bunch—and a flood comes of the earth and drowns all the rest of them. Noah and his ark. We know the story. It’s not a children’s tale. It’s a troublesome narrative of a God who needs to go back to the drawing board, erase away this first attempt, thinking it’s a good idea to start creation all over again—take two! He does so by washing away all but one small family and using them to start all over again. This is terrifying. By the end of Chapter 11 of Genesis, we should wonder if God has any clue what He’s got Himself into.

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Then, Chapter 12.

God seems to have a new idea. Instead of hoping that the next generation of human beings is entirely capable all on their own of figuring out how to treat each other and this world with some smidgen of respect and decency, what if God does something a whole lot more direct?

And so it goes. God will not leave this world to its own devices. Things quickly spiral out of control that way.

For God, there will be no more of this ‘letting us go and hoping for the best.’ God enters into relationship with His creation. He chooses now, beginning with the 12th chapter of scripture, to guide us from here on out. To enter into deep relationship with His people. One based on a promise to stick by His people no matter how rough the ride gets. There will be no more of this letting His children find their own way. We are much too clueless to figure out this life and how to live it all on our own. We need God’s help—and daily, too!

God picks out a family. We talked about this last week. In Genesis 12, God calls a wilderness wanderer and his wife, Abraham and Sarah. Out of every family of the earth, why them? We don’t know. Neither did Abraham and Sarah know. God commits Himself to this family. And so goes the rest of God’s story. All of scripture is about this one family. God says to Abraham that his offspring will become more plentiful than all the stars in the sky. God will take these regular people—completely unimpressive and unremarkable—and from them, build his future, start His story. Let that soak in: God will stake His claim and risk His reputation on this one family.

Here we are in Genesis 27. Isaac, the son Abraham nearly sacrifices, is now a blind old man. As far as we can tell, Isaac, as important as he is to God’s story, has lived a bland life. And by all indications from our first reading for this morning, he has a complete mess of a family. They’re as dysfunctional as you can get. Mother Rebekah does what no mother should do and picks a favorite out of her two sons, going so far as ensuring that Jacob—the youngest, her favorite—successfully steals out from under Esau, her oldest, his father’s birthright and blessing.

Lifetime makes made-for-TV movies like this!

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Much of this talk about a father bestowing his birthright and blessing on his child before he dies is a completely foreign thing to us. So, we need to take a moment to realize what’s at stake here.

This blessing that Jacob steals from his older brother Esau by deceiving his father is no empty gesture. There’s more than meets the eye here. In ancient culture, words shaped lives. The same words could end lives, too.

Father Isaac unwittingly gives his blessing away to the wrong son, and these spoken words cannot be taken back. Once spoken, this ancient birthright and blessing must be honored. Jacob steals this birthright and blessing from his father and his older brother. These words of blessing from Isaac’s mouth are as real and as official as if he had signed his name on the dotted line of a contract.

Jacob knows what he has done. He seems almost surprised that it worked. He also knows it’s just a matter of time before his brother Esau will come back home expecting his father to give him this stolen blessing, so Jacob runs far away, out into the wilderness where no one will ever find him.

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By all accounts, God has another mess on His hands. This is the family—the one family—God has chosen. From this wreck of a family will come God’s people, God’s salvation. God has made a covenant with this family that He cannot break. And now the future of this covenant is in the hands of a thief. God’s story—and our story, too—begins this way. With a fugitive on the run from his own family. Even his name, Jacob, means deceiver—he came out of his mother’s womb grasping the ankle of his brother, Esau! From the very start, he took a hold of what was not his to have. Jacob has never earned a thing. Everything he ever owned and enjoyed was taken from someone else. Jacob is a scoundrel. But he’s who God has to work with. We would expect God to take Jacob—this shoplifter, this swindler—and punish him, chastise him, disown him. God cannot stake his reputation on a rascal like this! But, that’s not what happens. God does not chastise Jacob. Instead, He blesses him.

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To ask the question of whether or not God blesses Jacob because he deserves a blessing is to misunderstand God and all that’s happening here. The relationship between Jacob’s dishonesty and God’s blessing of him is not cause-and-effect. God doesn’t seem to care about what Jacob deserves here. This story is one we still read today because it tells us about a God who is unlike us—who is always surprising us. Our God is a God who blesses us despite our own actions. It even seems like God doubles-down on the worst among us. We belong to a God who calls the craziest ones among us and uses them to accomplish His purposes.

This story speaks, all these thousands of years later, because it tells us of a God who continues to bless even when we don’t deserve it. Most spectacularly, though, God refuses to let us destroy ourselves. He will not leave us to our own devices. He will not leave this world to its own devices. God has and will—always and forever—pursue us—chase us down, even when we try our best to run away into our wildernesses, where we’re sure no one could ever find us, and shows us what we need to see to change our hearts and lives. To re-direct our purposes. God still chases scoundrels.

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By the time Jacob ran far enough away to feel sure that no one could find him, he was exhausted. So exhausted that he finds the nearest rock and makes it his pillow for the night. Even in his anxiousness, he gets some sleep. And Jacob dreams a big dream. Maybe this is the only way God can catch up to this weasel of a man—pursue him in his sleep. Here, Jacob’s helpless. Here, he has his guard down. Here, he can’t run away like he always has.

Jacob is as spiritually blind as his father was physically blind. This is a rare instance for God to grab the attention of this frantic and inattentive, thoughtless, self-absorbed man, and get him to see. In his dream, Jacob has a vision of heaven and earth becoming one, connected by a vast stairway.

This is no ladder. Think instead a ramp joining together the space between where we are and where God is. Heaven and earth are no longer so far from one another. This is the first glimpse we get in scripture of God’s great project to merge the heavens and the earth into one. This is the first notion we get of the Kingdom of God that, later, Jesus will usher in and spend all of his time talking about. This joker, Jacob, is the first to witness God’s tireless and eternal effort to restore heaven back to earth. What the rest of scripture, and we today, call salvation. Earth has to do with heaven. Heaven has to do with earth.

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It would be great if I could tell you that from here on out Jacob was through being a jerk. It would be even better if I could tell you that after a few failed generations, God finally figured out a sure-fire way of getting people’s attention, setting them on the right course, following right paths. But we know this is not true. We are, all of us—at some time or another just as bone-headed, self-absorbed, and self-interested as Jacob. We have to settle for less.

Here, Jacob has seen a bit of God in a bit of him. He’s woken up to a sliver of heaven come crumbling down to earth, but even the grandeur of the heavens is not enough to lift us out from our all-too-earthy ways.

God is patient with us still, tirelessly chasing His hard-headed, hard-hearted people—you and me—hoping, one day, even the scoundrels might see.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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