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Pentecost 6, 07/16/2017

Sermon on Genesis 25:19-34, by Evan McClanahan

Pentecost 6 (Proper 10): Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


Have you ever been in so desperate a situation, you would compromise your core values to solve the problem? I suspect you have. I suspect we all have. And more than once at that. The situation may have been of our own making or we may have been a victim of circumstance. But when we find ourselves in less than ideal conditions, the normal commitment to our values we would ordinarily hold to evades us.


When we are tired, when we are hungry, when we are lonely, when we are depressed, when we are anxious, when we are afraid…these are all the times that we will compromise what we hold dear. For a little relief of food or drink, for companionship, for hope, even if false hope…we place to the side the things that are most important to us. You see, if asked what our values are in a vacuum, or when times are good, the answers are generally consistent. We know that moderation is good. We know that monogamy is good. We know that obedience to God’s law is good. We know that trusting in God’s provision is good. And when times are good, our values and our behavior line up well.


But when the situation becomes desperate, we are open to negotiation. It is then that the depth of our character is tested and it is then that our commitment to our values is measured. This was the situation in which Esau found himself. The firstborn of twins, the grandson of the Abraham, the father of the great covenant of promise, a covenant we still live under, Esau was in prime position to be a great man of history. He was in line to possess the birthright and to be the next great patriarch of promise. Isaac preferred Esau while Rebekah loved Jacob. Everything was in line for Esau.


But he was a man of limited virtue. He wasn’t as bad as Cain, perhaps, the first pair of brothers. But when he encountered his own desperate situation - in this case, he was hungry - he traded away his birthright for food. (Maybe this is a lesson in how much we can manipulate others if we really learn our way around the kitchen.) But in reality, what we see is a man who traded away a lifetime of responsibility and a lifetime of value, for one lousy meal of stew.


It may be easy for us to judge Esau. But don’t. For we have done the same thing again and again. How often have we been ravenously hungry only to eat more than we ought? How often have we been so lonely that we sought companionship in the wrong places? How often have we been so afraid of taking a risk or following our calling, that we made the wrong decision for our future? We all have done that and more besides I’m sure!


Jesus speaks of this mentality when he speaks of the kinds of soil as kinds of men who do not receive the Word of God. He says in this parable, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” Yes, the word is proclaimed and it is heard. But many will reject it because they know what they will lose. The temptations of the good life are too strong to constrain the Esaus among us, to live in a way so the Word can thrive.


So the solution is to be good soil, right? Well, in a word, “Yes.” And if you think you can be such soil, I wish you well. No, the good soil wherein the Word is received and bears fruit is a gift of God, just as Jacob’s selection over Esau was also a gift. Was Jacob perfectly virtuous? Of course not. Even before he was born he was competing with his brother, holding onto his heel to slow his delivery! And taking advantage of a hungry brother as a way to get his birthright hardly strikes me as compassionate! He saw his brother in need and saw an opportunity to get what he always wanted: first-born status as a second-born son. And as the story of Jacob continues, Rebekah and Jacob conspire against Isaac and Esau so that Jacob, disguised with animal’s hair no less, he receives Abraham’s deathbed blessing instead of Esau.


And yet, God favored Jacob. Just as he favored David and Moses and Isaiah…other men who were not perfect and yet were used in God’s Kingdom. And so too can we be used in God’s Kingdom in spite of our sin, in spite of our weaknesses, in spite of what we have done when we found ourselves hungry or tired or lonely. God gives us the gift of faith so we will be good soil, so we will receive God’s gifts and forsake the temptations and the distractions and the cares of the world.


You see, there is no plowing we can do to be this good soil. Good soil hears the Word of God proclaimed and receives it gladly. There is not a prescription for this. You just know it when you see it. If the Gospel of God, the news that God became flesh, lived a life of obedience, brought the kingdom of God to earth, and went to the cross and rose from the dead is the news that you want and you need to hear, you can know that you are good soil. That is the soil that describes you. But if you continue to be distracted or tempted away from the Word by the things of the world, then pray to God for a spirit of repentance. Pray for faith. And the Holy Spirit will come to you, and he will take your heart of stone and break it. Your heart will become fertile ground for God to live within you, and the fruit will be 30 or 60 or 100 fold the seed.


Look at Jacob. Though he was one man who would have twelve sons, his blessings were generational. His twelve sons would become the twelve tribes of Israel, and from Israel would come the savior of the world. We have been grafted onto the tree of Abraham, and so long as there are men and women, the story of Jacob will be of upmost importance.


The 30,60 and 100-fold fruit of the good soil should also be understood in generational terms. This isn’t about a “pay day” or a financial breakthrough. It’s about the generational blessings of faith in the family of God that comes from hearing and receiving God’s word. So even when we are blessed to be good soil, we still must be patient. For the good soil will bear fruit. And that fruit will be far better than the easy offering of the world when we are tired or anxious or afraid or alone. Might the Holy Spirit give us the strength to always receive that fruit, and not the world’s offering of a bowl of soup at the moment we are hungry. Amen.

The Rev. Evan McClanahan
Houston, Texas 77004
E-Mail: emc2@felchouston.org