Proper 10 A Genesis
Theme: Use our heads better
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you love us in spite of ourselves: our mistakes, our lack of good sense, our coveting of what someone else has, our favoring our loved ones over other loved ones; remind us of your command to love all others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In a time when we need more bees for agriculture, it is ironic when bees show up in places where we don’t need them. Let’s say, for example, in our tool shed. That’s what happened to Joshua Mullen of Mobile, Alabama.
Mullen moved to Alabama after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his Biloxi, Mississippi home. Mullen is a trained mechanic and has received training in the flash points and flammability of gasoline. So, Mullen pored some gas on some towels near where the bees were swarming at his tool shed and went away to pick up some trash in his backyard.
A short time later, he heard a whoosh. He turned around and the shed was in flames. The fire spread to his rented home. He rushed to the house and got his fiancée and their one year old daughter out of the house. “The blaze was hot enough that it melted some plastic blinds through a closed window on a neighbor's house.” (AP)
Steve Huffman of Mobile Fire-Rescue said that the pilot light of a hot water heater ignited the gasoline fumes. He said “There were no injuries, unless you count the bees.” (AP) Their home sustained $80,000 in damages. A hot water heater in a shed – who knew?
“’Looking at all this, there might have been a better way,’ Mullen said while a few surviving bees buzzed around the ashes of the shed. ‘It was a mistake. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I did.’” (AP) Hmmmm, no kidding?
I guess it never entered Mullen’s mind that maybe a farmer or beekeeper would get rid of his bees at no charge. We need bees! Save the bees!
When we have a problem, sometimes the most obvious solution is not the one that comes to mind first. Blunt force is not always the best solution. Deceit and conniving are not always the best solution.
Which leads us to today’s Old Testament reading. We now come upon a dysfunctional family. Perhaps Isaac and Rebekah were dysfunctional before their contentious twins were born. We don’t know. We do know that things never worked out well after they were born.
We last left this saga with the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac is a placeholder figure, used to segue between Abraham and Jacob. Rebekah was Isaac’s cousin. Isaac was forbidden from marrying a Canaanite. Rebekah was barren like Isaac’s mother. Isaac prayed for his wife and the prayer was answered when Rebekah became pregnant.
The good news of having a baby was tempered by the discovery of twins. The twins constantly fought each other in the womb – a more literal translation would be that the boys crashed. So much so that Rebekah despaired her pregnancy. The babies are fighting for position to be the first born. She preferred death to being pregnant with these two.
Rebekah didn’t find this situation normal at all, so she prayed asking why she should suffer so. God answered, “Your two sons will found two nations. They will be divided. They will be in conflict. One will be stronger than the other and the elder son will serve the younger son.” Rebekah apparently keeps this information to herself.
Rebekah gave birth. The first son was hairy with red hair and so was named Esau, which means “hairy.” The second baby came out clutching his brother’s heel. So they named him Jacob, which means “he grabs.”
The boys grew up, as children are apt to do. Esau was an outdoorsman. I don’t suppose red headed Esau is where we got the phrase, red-neck. Esau was a hunter. Jacob was a quiet shepherd and tended to stick close to home, staying indoors in tents. God, in the Bible, tends to appear in or near tents. It’s strange that the red-head liked being outside and the darker brother liked being inside. Sun block had yet to be invented.
Isaac loved Esau, because Esau brought him the game that he hunted. Jacob was a momma’s boy. One day, Esau came home empty-handed from a hunting trip and was starving. Jacob was cooking some stew. Esau said, “I’m starving. Give me some of the red stew.” That is how Esau became to be called Edom, which means “red.”
Jacob named the price for some stew, Esau’s birthright as the first-born son. Esau replied that he is starving to death, so what good is a birth-right to him? Jacob pressed him to swear over Esau’s birth-rights. Esau, the hunter, doesn’t recognize when he is prey. Jacob is a ruthless schemer. Esau swore over his birth-rights. Jacob then gave Esau a meal of bread and the stew. Esau ate and drank and left. That’s what Esau thought of his birth-rights. Neither of these brothers inspires much confidence.
Who needs reality television when we have the Bible? Greed, rivalry, deception, favoritism, are all parts of how the Bible portrays the human condition, which has not changed when we watch reality TV. But in the Bible, God invites us to see our behavior in relation to God’s behavior and God’s desire and love for us in spite of ourselves. In spite of the narrow-mindedness of these two brothers, God finds a way to work with them. After all, Jacob will be one of the three patriarchs – a position that he just inherited by grabbing it from his brother. Jacob will also be named the name of a nation. But that is for another time.
Instead of gassing bees, why not have them collected. Instead of cheating your brother, why not trust in God’s promise? Instead of favoring one child over another, why not love all your children? Why is it necessary to cheat your way to get what will be yours anyway? These are the questions that buzz in our heads.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, your gifts for us are in abundance; give us the gift of wisdom to discern our gifts and to use them for your purpose and for the good of those around us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[The Associated Press contributed to this sermon.]
Text: Genesis 25:19-34 (NRSV)
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”c So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.d Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.e) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”f So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
c Syr: Meaning of Heb uncertain
d That is He takes by the heel or He supplants
e That is Red
f Heb today
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.