Out Of The Stew
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Out Of The Stew
The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Lori, the young girl in the Walnut Cove cartoon is in the kitchen with her friend Carmen and tells her, “You need to be careful when you turn on the dishwasher, Carmen. It uses a lot of hot water, see, and you should always get as much benefit out of it as possible.”
Carmen asks, “So when do you turn it on?”
Lori says, “When someone’s in the shower!” (1)
Lori sounds a whole lot like Jacob doesn’t she? And although we don’t like to admit it, there’s a little bit of Jacob and Lori in each of us.
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I. JACOB THE TRICKSTER:
A. We find out from this passage in Genesis, that from the very beginning, Jacob and his brother Esau didn’t get along. They played out World Class Wrestling in their mother’s womb. It was such an arduous pregnancy that Rebekah asked God if she could just die instead of going on. But God wouldn’t let her quit. God had plans for her offspring.
Rebekah finally made it to the delivery room and none to soon. The boys even fought over who would be born first. Jacob was pushing and shoving trying to be first in line. Esau beat him to it but Jacob was born dogging his heals. His name, Jacob, even meant “heel.”
That name sort of has a double meaning in our society. A double meaning that fit Jacob quite well, for Jacob turned out to be a real heel. The name Jacob also meant to supplant or to grab and as we found out, he was very grabby.
Jacob would have made a good villain for Batman in the comics or the old TV series. My favorites were the Joker and the Riddler. Well Jacob could have been the Trickster. He was sort of an Old Testament Ferris Beuhler. Remember the movie, Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off?
Well, that’s the sort of life that Jacob the Trickster lead. He was a rebel, self centered. He would twist and break every rule possible, mainly just because he could get away with it. He was very likable. And he was lucky. Luck just seemed to follow him. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he always came out smelling like a rose when he really should have had his nose rubbed in it and sat in the corner for about a million years.
Jacob the Trickster was the original Dennis the Menace. He could have been the model for Calvin in Calvin and Hobbes.
In one of the strips Calvin and Hobbes are riding in a wagon at break neck speed. Calvin says, “From now on, I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. The world OWES me happiness, fulfillment and success!”
Hobbes comments sarcastically, “Well, lucky you!”
It goes right over Calvin’s head and he says, “Yeah, I’m just here to cash in!” (2)
That was Jacob’s attitude.
B. That was the attitude which lead him to steal his brother’s birthright.
Now what you need to understand is that the first born son was the one who received his father’s blessing AND was the recipient of the lion’s share of the estate. The first born received two thirds of the estate and the rest was divided up among the rest of the heirs.
The first born also became the head of the household when the father died. It was a position of power and a traditional blessing came with it. It was a blessing which empowered the first born with God’s blessing.
So here’s Jacob the Grabby, Jacob the Trickster, Jacob the Heel and he’s jealous because he wasn’t the first born. All of his life he’s been trying to think of a way to get Esau’s place in life without resorting to murder.
Esau wasn’t a whole lot better. He was nothing but a bunch of appetites gone wild. He was a big hairy man with red hair. He came in one day after a failed hunting trip, just starving to death. Jacob the Trickster saw his opportunity and he took it. He was preparing a pot of lentil stew but he added something to it to make it look red and meaty. Esau saw it, his stomach growled and he told his little brother to give him some of that red stuff, and hurry.
The Trickster had him. He had him and made him sell his birthright for that bowl of red stuff, that bowl of mock beef stew. Esau’s appetite got the better of him and he sold his birthright to the Trickster for a bowl of lentil soup and was tricked twice.
II. WE’RE LIKE THEM:
A. We don’t like to admit it, but we’re a whole lot like Jacob and Esau.
At times we’re like Esau: we’re consumed by our appetites and sell our birthright for a mess of cheap lentil soup, or something even less nourishing. When that happens, life can get pretty hairy. Especially if those appetites get out of control. Or lead to addiction and a life out of control.
Other times we’re like Jacob, grabbing things that aren’t ours, doing things our way, pushing the rules to the limit, pushing our relationship with God and seeing just how far we can go.
Sometimes we’re like the Trickster and we rationalize our wrong attitudes and actions and go to amazing, sometimes convoluted, lengths to get OUR way. Sometimes I wonder how the Good Shepherd puts up with us and our wayward, bleating, stubborn shenanigans in the name of God.
The Good Shepherd sees it all: every better than thou look; every ugly act; every snide and cutting remark. AND YET He still loves us. God in Christ still works ceaselessly to bless us.
And that’s the Good News. Because God in Christ works ceaselessly to bless us and to carry out God’s end of the Covenant: God is able to redeem even our worst effort.
And that’s a major part of what the story of Jacob and Esau is all about. God is faithful to the covenant. Jacob trusted in God’s promise and purpose. His only downfall was that he tried to get there on his own.
And that’s when he got in trouble. All of his tricks; all of his selfishness and rationalizations caught up with him. God was faithful but Jacob had to admit his greedy, winner take all, win at any cost attitude before he could claim the inheritance which God had promised.
B. The only way Jacob got out of the stew he had created for himself through his greed and deception was to admit his greed and self-centeredness.
When we’re SELF centered we think the whole world revolves around us. Unfortunately we’re sadly mistaken and often times, we wind up terribly embarrassed.
One morning on the TODAY SHOW, a few years ago, Willard Scott was talking about that very thing. He said he had occasion to fly into a small community airport that only had a single runway and one small hangar. As he was getting off the plane he noticed a group of about 75 people all cheering and clapping. So, he made a sweeping bow and waved.
And that was when he noticed that the folks weren’t watching him at all. They were watching an air show.
Pride or self-importance keeps your sight, your vision, your focal point on your self. When that happens, pretty soon, like Calvin a little earlier, you begin to think that God and everybody else owes you something.
III. IT’S ALL GRACE:
A. Paul reminds us that none of us got here on our own. We all got here the same way, through the Grace of God in Christ our Savior. It’s not our works or our deeds, it’s God’s loving Grace that redeems us. It’s not what we do, but what has been done for us that gives us meaning and purpose in life. When we depend upon ourselves, when we depend on what is called “works righteousness”, we only set ourselves up to fail.
“Amy, 15, had always gotten straight ‘A’s’ in school, and her parents were extremely upset when she got a ‘B’ on her report card. ‘If I fail in what I do,’ Amy told her parents, ‘I fail in what I am.’ That message was part of Amy’s suicide note.”
Dr. Darold Treffert of the Winnebago Mental Institute in Wisconsin uses this story to illustrate how American teenagers are being victimized by what he calls “The American Fairy Tale.“ This fairy tale has two themes.
FIRST: “that more possessions mean more happiness”
And SECOND: “that a person who does or produces more is more important.” (3)
B. Dr. Treffert is right. I’m sorry if this is how you believe, but that’s not the Biblical witness. That’s works righteousness.
Amy didn’t need to die because she wasn’t perfect. We don’t need to be perfect. The Bible teaches that it is not what we do but what has been done for us that matters.
We can’t earn our salvation. We aren’t redeemed because our prayers are so wonderful. We aren’t reconciled to God because we work so hard in the Church. We aren’t justified by all of our good deeds or the committees we serve on.
If we could earn our own salvation, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die on the cross. It is nothing that we have done on our own. It is simply what Christ has done for us.
Our salvation comes the same way Paul’s came by admitting that we can’t do it on our own, that all of our tricks; all of our selfish rationalizing to get our own way; all of our work so that God will like us is for naught. Like Paul we have to admit that we are first class sinners in need of help, super-hero plus type of help. Help like only the Son of God can give.
Paul reminds us that Jesus came as one of us. He was just like Jacob, just like you and me. Human with all the temptations that you and I have every single day. He could have done all the things Jacob did or the things that you and I have done. Just like Jacob, Jesus could have done things a little more expeditiously on his own, that’s what the temptations in the wilderness were all about.
The main difference between Jacob and Jesus is that Jesus didn’t try to take the shortcut to God’s promise. Jesus didn’t try to take the painless way. But instead, Jesus went to the cross and opened his arms in forgiveness. And forgiveness is at the heart of life in the spirit.
I read a story of an east Texas town which decided to have an Easter pageant. All the townspeople came together and planned all the details of the Easter story. They needed someone who could carry the heavy cross through the town, so they chose the biggest, burliest, redneck guy in town to play the part of Jesus because he was the only one strong enough to endure the long road to the hillside where the crucifixion would take place.
The townspeople lined the street and began jeering at the redneck Jesus as he made his way through the center of town. One of his friends got a bit carried away. As the redneck Jesus walked by, his friend spit at him and cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
This really got to the redneck and in a voice heard above the noise of the crowd, he hollered: “You just wait until after the resurrection and I’ll get you.” (4)
That could have been Jesus’ response to the crowds all along the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. Jesus could have looked out at the crowds who mocked him as he struggled, he could have looked at the Roman guards and the Jewish leaders, he could have looked at the disciples who deserted him and said,“You just wait until after the resurrection and I’ll get you!”
He was just as human as you and I and the redneck Jesus of that pageant. Jesus could have responded like that but he didn’t.
With nails in his hands and feet, with a crown of thorns jammed on his head, with his back a bloody mess from the whipping he had received, with blood flowing from his side from the Roman spear, Jesus looked out at the crowd and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
The heart of our life in the spirit, the heart of living the resurrection lifestyle is forgiveness. We’re simply called to accept the forgiveness which God offers through Jesus.
When Paul Powers was seven years old, his mother died of pneumonia. After his mother’s death, Paul’s father became an alcoholic. He also began beating Paul on a regular basis. Paul joined a street gang for protection. Soon, he spent all his time in stealing and street fights. At the age of twelve, Paul accidentally killed a woman. He spent the next four years in a juvenile prison.
At 17, he was removed from the prison and put in the care of an elderly couple called Mom and Dad Adams. The Adams loved Paul in spite of his violent temper and rough ways. They were always ready to forgive him and offer a second chance. Through their influence and a message at an evangelistic crusade, Paul Powers gave his life to Jesus.
A few years after giving his life to Christ, Paul met and fell in love with a young woman named Margaret. Margaret loved Paul, but after hearing about his rough background, she wasn’t sure about marrying him. So one day, Paul took Margaret walking on the beach.
Margaret remarked that just as the tide was washing out their footprints, maybe their relationship would soon be washed away too. But Paul assured her that he was fully committed to her for life. That night they became engaged.
After their romantic walk, Margaret returned to her room and wrote a poem based on trusting God, even when you can’t see him working. It is a poem that has inspired millions. You may know the poem as“Footprints.” (5)
Paul Powers did not become the kind of man that Margaret could love because he made up his mind to do so. Paul Powers was changed by the power of Christ’s love. That’s Grace. And that is the only way real change ever comes, we can’t do it on our own.
We’re called to live what Paul calls “Life in the Spirit.” We’re called to live the Resurrection lifestyle. And it’s hard.
It’s hard even with our full dependence upon the Spirit. Just like Paul understood, like Jacob came to find out and what the poem “Footprints” describes: it’s impossible on our own. Like Jacob we can’t get out of the stew of our own making, we need help. We need God’s help in Christ Jesus.
This morning I challenge you to trust God, and trust in the promises of God. Accept the forgiveness which God offers to you. Accept the grace of God through Christ to live the resurrection life. Trust in God and not yourself.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Walnut Cove by Collum, 7-7-93
2. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, 7-8-93
3. Homiletics, July-September 1993, p. 6.
4. Preaching Magazine, May-June 1993, p. 54.
5. Mike Trout. Off the Air (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), pp.4-23