Sermon July 16: Coming of Age

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Faith United Methodist Church

July 16, 2017

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Genesis 24:19-34, Psalm 119: 1-5-112

Prayer for Illumination:

Nourish us, O God, with your word of life.  Bring us to our senses so your purposes may be apparent to us.  In our sharing and our reflecting, may we rejoice with our sisters and brothers as we find new life.  Amen.

Sermon:  Coming of Age

I am probably not the most qualified person to be giving today’s sermon.  You see, I am an only child and today’s story is about brothers and, more specifically, sibling rivalry.   I didn’t have brothers or sisters to compete with for Mum or Dad’s attention.  No one compared me to an older sibling or told me to be a good example for a younger one.  So, today, I am going to ask for your help with the sermon.  We warned you that you might have a chance to tell a story today!  But first, I’m going to set the stage a little bit – give you a chance to think if you have a story to share.

So, let’s consider, if you had a choice, would you want to go back and live your childhood over again?  Childhood.  Our first experiences with accomplishment and our first glimpses of defeat.  It seems like childhood is, in some ways, the time in our life that holds the greatest possibility, while also forcing on us the most change.  As Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic Calvin and Hobbes, once said, “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

It is probably no wonder that many people look back on childhood with a bittersweet feeling.  Childhood days were filled with play and laughter to a degree that we don’t often experience as adults.  But childhood was also when we faced life’s first hard lessons.  Our first skinned knee.  Getting teased in school.  At a tender, young age we learned that the world is not always a happy or safe place.

The Scripture hints that Jacob and Esau most likely didn’t have an easy time in childhood.  Isaac and Rebekah ~ the lovebirds from last week’s story ~ were not the best parents.  They chose favorites.  For twins, Esau and Jacob were nothing alike.  Esau was the type of boy who loved to hunt and be outdoors.  He and Isaac probably spent a lot of time together in the fields.  Jacob was a quiet boy who liked to stay inside, probably helping Rebekah with the household tasks.  Isaac and Rebekah, whether wittingly or unwittingly, created competition between their sons instead of love and mutual respect.

The first example of this is from our lesson today.  Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew.   Now this just sounds ridiculous.  Don’t you think?  Jacob was greedy and devious.  Esau was impulsive and short sighted.  Esau was so hungry that he thought he was going to die.  Jacob took advantage of his brother’s vulnerability.  Jacob one-upped Esau and we get the feeling he was pretty happy with himself.

But Jacob didn’t stop there.  His deviousness continued.  He had his brother’s birthright and he wanted his blessing, too. If we read on in the book of Genesis we see the family story take a tragic turn. While Esau was out hunting game, Jacob sneaked into his tent to deceive their old, blind father.  Jacob tricked his father into thinking he was Esau and he, Jacob, received Esau’s blessing.  First a birthright and now a blessing.  Once Esau discovered what had happened, he vowed that he would kill Jacob.  This part of the story ends with Jacob fleeing for his life.

Whenever I hear this story I feel sad.  As an only child, who hasn’t had to deal with the complicated issues of siblings, I wonder, Why couldn’t they just get along?   Why couldn’t they have appreciated each other?  And I also wonder what God is trying to teach us through the lives of these two imperfect brothers coming of age together with two imperfect parents.

So, I wonder what stories you may have about siblings or coming of age?  I wonder what wisdom you might share about lessons learned the hard way?  ……….

(Congregation Shares Stories)

One of the gifts of the stories we’ve looked at these past few weeks is that they show people being… people.  While the story of Jacob and Esau does not paint the prettiest picture of sibling relationships, it’s relatable.  Their childhood was not perfect.  Their parents made mistakes.  They were subject to the same sorts of temptations we face.  Ands this family ~ the family of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and, yes, Jacob ~ was the family on which God built the promise.  If God can use this imperfect family to bless the world, what might God do with us?

Will Jacob and Esau grow up and grow past their sibling rivalry?  We’ll just have to see how the story unfolds.  And that’s the same with our story, right?  None of our stories are finished.  Each day we write the story of our life.  So onward we journey.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.