Sermon Sunday, July 24, 2011

Genesis 29:15-28

“Will Work For Blessings!”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris

Listen to this sermon on Podcast HERE:  110724SermonPodcast

Did you know blessings are hard work?  They are!

Poor Jacob has found out the hard way!  In today’s slice of this magnificent epic story, Jacob has his eyes set upon the younger daughter of Laban, Rachel, to be his wedded wife.  But rather than simply take her hand in marriage, Laban insists Jacob work for seven years to earn the privilege of being blessed with Rachel’s companionship.  When the time comes and the wedding feast is over, Laban switches his older daughter, Leah, in for Rachel and the either too drunk or too lustful Jacob goes too far before realizing the deception.  When he confronts his mischievous new father-in-law the next morning, Laban defends himself by deferring to the custom of never marrying off the younger daughter before the older daughter, and suggests Jacob work for him seven more years to earn the privilege of marrying “the graceful and beautiful” Rachel.  Which Jacob does.  He ends up with two wives for the price of… er… two wives.

Fourteen years!  That’s a lot of work, hard labor, for the blessing of marriage!  And this isn’t even touching on the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of the women, especially Leah, whose “eyes were lovely” the text almost condescendingly says, not to mention the maid, Zilpah, who seems just a throw-in to the story.  She will become important later in the story, when Jacob starts to have babies – twelve sons and one daughter – with both wives and their maids!

Jeez!  Fourteen years hard labor, two wives, sex with almost anything that moves, thirteen children…  I’m getting the feeling that I just can’t use any of this biblical text in my wedding counseling, can I?  So much for the biblical model of marriage as “one man, one woman…”  😉

Blessing, in the biblical sense, is to invoke God’s favor, to cause to prosper, to be abundant.  The Hebrew word for “blessing” is “barak.”  (1) Anyone who has sat in on a Jewish Seder or Shabbat knows the word well, for it is the start of many a recited prayer for our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Oh, and Jacob has received his fair share of blessings – and more!  He literally steals his older brother’s birthright and tricks his ailing, sight-impaired father into blessing him, which Isaac does:

May God give you of the dew of heaven,

   and of the fatness of the earth,

   and plenty of grain and wine…

Cursed be everyone who curses you,

   and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’  (Gen. 27:28-29)

Then, as we explored last week, in a dream, God reminds Jacob that he is in a long lineage of those who would be blessed.

And your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. (Gen. 28:14)

Those are two most incredible blessings!  And yet, as Jacob fell in love with Rachel and began to think about those offspring who would be “like the dust of the earth,” I don’t think he seriously took into account that blessings are hard work!  Well, to be fair, the blessings themselves were free gifts, from his father in the first instance and from God in the second.  What takes hard work is in the realizing of our blessings!

This is a critical point.  Blessings, like faith, are not earned.  God blesses us all, and faith is available to anyone and everyone.  What we forget is that with any gift comes an equal or more demanding responsibility.  This is the hard news Jacob had to learn from his very wily and wise father-in-law.

Now, lest you be sorry for Jacob and angry at Laban for the trick about the daughter/wife swapping, you must remember that all his life, Jacob had been a trickster.  With the stealing of his older brother’s blessing through outright lying to their father and the collusion of his mother, Rebekkah, Jacob set his place in history as the ultimate biblical trickster.  So, in some sense, the trickster became the tricked.

Old Testament professor Kathryn Schifferdecker notes the double poetic justice of this scam.  Not only is the deceiver deceived, but by his own particular brand of deception!  Jacob had broken the law of the firstborn when he tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright.  Now, Jacob is caught by another “law of the firstborn,” when Laban explains that that the younger daughter cannot be married off before the firstborn daughter.  Truly the punishment does fit the crime!  (2)

But let me get back to my main point here.  Biblically, the truth that blessings are not earned or worked for, but are graciously given, is reinforced over and over again in the sacred text.  Likewise, the truth that with every gift comes an equal or even more diligent responsibility is also reaffirmed time and time again.  First Testament and Second Testament alike!

But what is so amazing (which is to say sad) is that we seem to get it completely reversed!  We think that we need to earn God’s blessing, God’s love, God’s promises and then the realization of these blessings are supposed to be free, an entitlement!  We hold up a sign at the side of our journey of faith that says, “Will work for blessings” all the while they are already ours!  But we won’t see this if we think the blessings are the material things themselves.  They aren’t!  The blessings are the grace which frees us, the hope which sustains us, and the love which redeems us!  The knowledge of these blessings, which for those of us who are Christians see fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ, can empower us then to work for the fulfillment of our blessings, not just for ourselves, but for all the people of the world, to whom God always intended the fruit of our blessings to be extended!

Thus, one of the single most important spiritual truths to learn, and Jacob does learn it eventually, is that the gift of God is in the blessing.  What we do with that gift is our blessing back to God.

Amen.

(1)  Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for barak (Strong’s 1288)”. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 24 Jul 2011.  Found at:

<http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=H1288&t=KJV&page=2 >

(2) Commentary, Genesis 29:15-18, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org,  Found at: 2008.http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/27/2008&tab=2

Advertisements