Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Birthright by Grace

Sermon from July 10, 2011
(Pentecost 4 – Year A)
Genesis 25: 19-34
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

I have always loved Jacob.
Jacob is the crafty schemer whose story is told in the book of Genesis.
Even during her pregnancy, Jacob’s parents, Issac and Rebekah, know that their sons are going to cause trouble.
Because while Rebekah is pregnant, her twin sons struggle and fight with each other in-utero.

At the birth of the twins, Esau comes out first, all red and hairy.
The word Esau is a word play on the Hebrew word for the color ‘red.’
Then comes out the second boy, Jacob, with his tiny baby hand gripping onto his slightly older brother’s heel.
From the very beginning, Jacob attempts to steal the favored birthright of the firstborn.

In the ancient Hebrew world, birthright meant everything.
Birthright meant a greater share of the family inheritance.
Yet, according to the Law, birthright and greater favor only belonged to the oldest son.

As the boys grow up, the older twin, Esau, loves to hunt and watch ESPN Sports Center with his father, Isaac.
Yet Jacob, the younger twin, is a momma’s boy.
Jacob is a quiet man, a crafty schemer who will do anything to gain his father’s favor and birthright.

One day, the rugged Esau comes home from football practice, after the hard workout of two-a-days in the August heat.
Esau is famished.
And Jacob is standing at the stove stirring a pot of deep, red chili.

Esau shoves Jacob in the chest and demands:
“Give me some of that red chili, you little wimp!”

The crafty little Jacob replies:
“I’ll give you some chili, in exchange for your birthright, the inheritance and favor of our father.”
And so the red-faced, red-blooded Esau eats the red chili, as Jacob steals the family birthright.

Stories of sibling rivalry are as old as the hills.
In the first chapters of the book of Genesis, the first murder recorded in Scripture involves the first brothers, as Cain kills his brother, Abel.
And although my own brother and I have never resorted to such drastic measures, we have had our moments of grabbing each other’s heels.

When my brother and I were boys, my mother would make awesome lemon icebox pies in the summertime.
Every part of the lemon icebox pie was homemade:
The graham cracker crust was formed by crushing graham crackers between pieces of waxed paper.
Fresh lemons were squeezed into the bowl, with a strainer to catch the seeds.
The white, peaked meriange was made by whipping together egg whites and sugar, using her electric mixer with two metal beaters.

When my mom had finished whipping the meriange for her pie, she pulled the beaters out of the mixing bowl – and then disconnected first one metal beater, then the second beater.
Mom would then hand one beater to me – and the other one to my brother - for us to lick the excess meriange off with our tongues.

Immediately upon seeing the beaters come out of the bowl, I would quickly gauge which one had the most excess meriange clinging to it.

As my mother tried her darnedest not to play favorites between her sons, she would insist that each beater had the exact same amount of meriange on it.
Yet cries from my brother and I would ensue:
“That’s not fair!
You are just giving him that one because he is the oldest!”
“That’s not fair!
He is getting more, yet I was the one who helped you with the pie more than he did!”

Each of us grabbed onto our brother’s heel wanting to be the first – and the most – and the best.
Each of us tried to steal the inheritance, the favor of just one more lick of sugary goodness.
Each of us brothers deeply desired to steal the birthright, the inheritance of the favored son.

Whether it is excess meriange stirred up by my mother,
Or whether it is a pot of red chili stirred up by Jacob,
Or whether it is the inheritance of the oldest and favored son that was stolen from Esau by Jacob,
I believe that we really do not want justice.

Really, deep down, we do not want to be treated equally by our parents.
Really, deep down, we want to cling onto the heel of our brother and be the first – and the most – and the best.
For all the talk in the American Declaration of Independence about how “all men are created equal” - we really, deep down, do not mean it.

Our human nature,
The nature of the scheming Jacob,
The nature of two brothers fighting over meriange,
Is not to be equal,
But to receive more than others.
A deep desire of the human heart is to steal the birthright.

I make these comments because when I examine my own heart, I discover that I want to grab onto the heel of others and steal the birthright.

When I was on vacation for the last few weeks, Susan and I went through our closets, getting rid of clothes that have gone out of style.
I took carload after carload to Goodwill, filled with shirts and pants that were “so 1990” that Susan would never allow me to wear them again.
Yet somehow I have stolen the birthright from others and convinced myself that I am worthy of wearing brand, new clothes that are in style - while letting others wear my castoffs.

If I really believed in my heart that all of God’s children are created equally,
If I really believed in my heart that all of God’s children are worthy of the birthright of dignity,
Then I would buy brand, new Ralph Lauren shirts at Dillard’s, at full price, and drive them across the bridge into East Waco and give them to the Jacobs of this world, so that they do not have to steal the birthright of dignity.
Because the dignity of wearing brand, new, in-style clothing is their inheritance, just as much as it is mine.

For in God’s story, through the entire narrative of scripture, we know that God does love all of us equally.
But in terms of the way that God treats us, God does not care for each of us equally.
In God’s upside down story, God continually gives the beater on the electric mixer with the most meriange hanging off of it:
To the runt shepherd boy, the youngest of all 8 of Jesse’s sons, who becomes King David.
And to the seemingly unwed mother named Mary from the po-dunk village of Nazareth.
And to the hookers and to the tax-collectors and to the poor.

In God’s amazing story, God continually prefers the youngest twin, the mama’s boy who steals the birthright from the eldest, just for a stupid pot of red chili.
For God continually, continually, prefers the poor, the minorities, the runts, the losers, the uninsured.

And Jesus Christ ushers in a new age, a new age where the birthright is not given to the oldest twin brother – and the birthright is not stolen by the youngest.
Through the grace and baptism of Jesus Christ, all of us receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God.
All of us receive the birthright as God’s favored daughter, as God’s favored son.

My brothers and sisters, I do not pray for God’s justice.
Because as a white, employed, educated American male, who is also the oldest son,
If I was truly treated equally,
If I truly received God’s justice,
Then I am sunk.

Yet I pray for God’s grace.
I pray that God will forgive me for clinging to my brother’s heel, demanding my inheritance.
I pray that God will forgive me for tricking my sisters and brothers into accepting the metal beater that has the least amount of meriange.

Therefore, I do not pray for justice for myself,
But I pray for grace.
For we are all Jacob, grabbing and scheming to steal the birthright, the inheritance of the saints in light.
Yet as the scheming Jacob, we are saved and loved despite stealing from the favored son with a pot of red chili.
We are saved and loved despite nailing the favored Son of God to a reddened Cross.

I have always loved Jacob.
Because as the crafty and scheming Jacob, we are saved and loved - and favored -
Only by grace.


No comments:

Post a Comment