Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jacob and Esau and Stewardship

Genesis 25:19-34, Lectionary 15 A, July 13, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Jacob and Esau - the perfect example of sibling rivalry. The older twin, Esau, was a strong, hairy man, whereas his younger twin Jacob was smaller, cleaner, and conniving. They were destined always to be at odds. Even before they were born, they were fighting. Their parents didn’t help matters either. Isaac clearly favored Esau, and Rebekah clearly favored Jacob. When Esau and Jacob were not instigating fights, their parents were.

So when the boys became teenagers, it is no surprise that Jacob took advantage of Esau at his weakest. Esau must have been out in the field hunting for quite some time. He came home very hungry only to find his brother slaving over a bubbling pot of lentil stew. As soon as the stew’s wonderful aroma hit his nose, Esau knew he had to have some of his brother’s wonderful food.

Seeing his brother cooking when he was so hungry, he might have thought this was a blessing from God. Esau said, “I am starving! Serve me up a bowl of this wonderful red stuff!” “No,” Jacob said, “not unless you give me your birthright.” Well, maybe Jacob wasn’t a blessing after all.

Surely trading two-thirds of his father’s estate for a bowl of stew seemed a bit harsh, but what did Esau care? Maybe he thought this vow wouldn’t stick. He certainly must have been tricked by his brother many times before. Maybe he was blinded by his hunger. He had a one track mind, and he was focused on that wonderful-smelling food in front of him.

Jacob wouldn’t back down, so Esau did the unthinkable and traded in his birthright as eldest son for two portions of their father's estate - hundreds of thousands of dollars of property and business investments - for a simple bowl of food and a piece of bread.

On the outset, this may seem like a simple example of sibling rivalry, yet it had extreme consequences. Esau’s whole future changed that day. Any hope of his birthright coming back to him was squashed years later when Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing, too. Esau, the hardworking, dedicated son was no match for his treasure-seeking trickster brother.

Esau may seem like the model citizen, yet he always got the short straw. His brother never properly earned anything, yet he got it all. He got his brother’s birthright, his father’s blessing, two wives, and a dozen sons. He carried on his father’s name, not Esau. It is clear from the Bible that Jacob didn’t rightfully earn much of anything, yet God blesses him more than Esau. We would call this grace. 

As scholar Juliana Claassens writes, “There is nothing in Jacob's behavior that deserved God's favor -- actually God's favor comes in spite of Jacob's actions. This line of interpretation makes a strong case for God's grace -- a God who already is involved with people in their mother's womb, within the very messiness and conflict of relationships.”

It may not seem fair that we are descended spiritually from Jacob, yet it is fitting. We too are sinful people, tricking our way out of work. We do not deserve what we have. We have not earned anything on our own.

We do not deserve the jobs and homes that we have, yet God has blessed us.
We do not deserve the family and friends that we have, yet God has blessed us.
We do not deserve the church and faith that we share, yet God has blessed us.

Unintentionally, we follow Jacob’s example with stewardship. Before we give to the church, we ensure that our own rewards are tenfold more than the ten percent - or less - that we give. Isn’t this consumerism at its best? We think that we are getting the best bargain when we only put a few dollars into the offering plate.

But this isn’t how stewardship works. We don’t pay into the church so that we can reap the benefits of membership. We shouldn’t give because the church needs it; give because God has blessed us.
For all that you have and all that you are God has provided for you. Yet - here is the tricky part - we do not own anything. God allows us to steward, or take care of, all of God’s resources. Yet God does not ever transfer ownership to us.

We put in our hours at work and we receive a pay check, yet that money belongs to God.
We use our paychecks to pay our rent or mortgage, yet our home and property belong to God. The river on which we live and work is God’s good creation.

We care for our families and carefully choose our friends, yet God has put these people in our lives.
Even this church, including the building, the land, and the people inside it, are all God’s. 
Most importantly, our faith is provided to us by God, and we steward our faith carefully.
So, if everything we think we own actually belongs to God, how do we care for it?

Professor Charles Lane writes, 
“Since God is the owner of all that is, and since God is the source of all the abilities and resources that allow me to live a more than comfortable life, then there is no room left for me to imagine that I am the source of my good life. God is. 

“The proper response to the blessings of this life is not to pat myself on the back and try to find a way to get more stuff. The proper response is to give God the glory and the thanks and to ask serious questions about how I am called to use what God has entrusted to me.” p. 25
“No longer is the question, ‘How much money should I give to God?’ Now the question is, ‘How much of God’s money do I dare keep for myself?’” p. 29
“How much of God’s money do I dare keep for myself?” This is a powerful question. How we use all of our money - from our monthly expenses to our impromptu splurges to what we put in the offering plate - represents how we steward God’s resources. Everything matters, not just the ten percent, or five percent, or one percent that we return to God through the church.

Like Jacob, the younger, lesser brother, let us, a small seemingly insignificant congregation, rise above to claim our identity as God’s beloved. Let us show our community and the world who we are as God’s children. We will do this not just with our parking lot but with our words and actions. Let us share the love of God so that nobody can doubt how God blesses us to bless others! Amen.

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