Oct 12, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 29:15-28
Sermon Title: "The Choices Others Make For Us" (pt. 1)
The fall TV season has begun, bringing back familiar shows, one of them being the comedy "Ugly Betty" about an awkward girl with a big heart. The show’s title is meant to be ironic, because Betty is beautiful in more ways then one.
Part of Betty’s beauty is her faith in humanity. In last week’s episode, things are not going so well. Her boss is accused of attempted murder, and her umbrella, which sits in the hallway outside her apartment door, is missing.
Her Dad, upset that she’s moved into the unsafe city, calls Betty naive. Betty disagrees. Yes, her umbrella is missing, but she believes it was only borrowed and will be given back. And she believes with her boss is innocent.
Halfway through the episode, Betty begins to doubt his innocence. Feeling broken down, she admits that perhaps she is naive, but her father has a change of heart and corrects her "You’re not naive, mija" he says. "What you have is called faith."
By the episode’s end, the truth comes out. Her boss is innocent and her umbrella is safely returned, with a note: "Sorry, I borrowed it. Ken in 5H."
Betty held onto her faith, even when things seemed unsure, and in the end, things worked out. Smiling, she leaves the umbrella in the apartment hallway, right outside her door.
Our nation is having what can be called an "Ugly Betty Moment." It’s as if we have all collectively left our umbrella out in the hallway, only to discover that it’s missing, the skies have opened up, and those in power are accused of things they may have knowingly done wrong.
It’s enough to make one lock their doors, lose their faith in humanity and question everything we know...but life without faith, well, that is just plain ugly.
So, in the midst of the storm, we come to church to dry off, to hear a word, to see if God is still moving, wondering just what is going on and what we should do.
And God speaks to us, as God often does, through a story. It’s the story featuring a young, penniless man; an older, tricky uncle; and ultimately, of God, who works through all this mess to fulfill his promise and bring salvation for all.
To sum things up, Jacob has tricked his way into getting the family birthright and blessing. In fear of his life, Jacob runs away, where he has an encounter with God where he is given the promise of God’s eternal presence and that his family will be a blessing to all the families of the world.
In today’s reading, young, penniless Jacob has traveled to Haran, where his relatives live. He immediately falls in love with his cousin Rachel, is warmly greeted by his Uncle Laban, and invited to stay in their home.
Jacob was a trickster, but in Laban he is about to meet his match. A month goes by and Laban asks "If you work for me, what would you like me to pay you?" Let me stop right here to give you a tip: in the businness world business, if someone offers you a job but invites you to set the fee, they are setting you up for a scam.
Jacob, who is clearly in love with Rachel, states "I will work for you for seven years if you let me marry your daughter."
"Done" says Laban, and with that Jacob becomes Laban’s servant, indebted to him for 2,555 days. Jacob thinks he got a good deal, but, as he soon finds out, when something seems to good to be true, it usually is.
7 years pass, and the wedding day arrives. But Laban does something deceitful and shameless. He tricks Jacob into marrying his daughter Leah instead, and Jacob, full of youthful naivitity doesn’t notice it until it is too late.
Now, he’s obligated to Laban in an unethical business pact. Sure, he still gets to marry Rachel, but now he owes Laban another 7 years of service.
Jacob’s life is not his own, but belongs to the man who tricked him, and in the process, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and their maids pay for the deceit of Laban.
But notice who seems to be missing in this particular story: God is not mentioned once.
We hear no mention of God when Jacob arrives at Laban’s hometown. We hear nothing about God when they struck their business deal. And we hear nothing about God on the wedding day.
It’s as if God has forgotten his part in the story, as if God was only joking about blessing Jacob’s family. Its as if God is asleep.
It is enough to make one give up their faith.
But although this story does not mention God it is more about God and faith then we can realize.
Yes, Jacob has been wrongfully deceived, yes he’s indebted to someone who was untrue to him, and yes, now his family is paying the cost. But this is not the whole story, but a part of it.
Because, ultimately we know that God will work through this mess to fulfill his promises to Jacob and to all of us. This is a story about how earthly problems can weigh us down, but God’s heavenly purpose will work them out.
Things in Jacob’s life are not so good. There is deceit and abuse of power, but somehow Jacob remains patient and holds on.
Instead of just giving up, instead of drowning himself in liquor or taking his own life, Jacob found a way to gird up his strength, to face the situation he was in, and to get through it, although not perfectly or without feelings getting hurt.
Jacob held on, and he was strong. Through his perseverance, God found a way to work through the mess that was created, and God found ways to ensure all his promises would come true.
How could God possibly work through this mess?
First, God blessed Jacob and his wives with an abundance of children. 12 boys and a girl with names like Reuben and Dinah, Judah and Joseph.
God was able to bless Jacob with a flock of sheep, lambs and goats. A small flock to start with, but one that grew into a mighty number.
Then, Jacob began to accrue pennies, silver, and gold and Jacob, through patience and the sweat of his brow began to accumulate camels and tents, donkeys and servants.
But it did not happen over night, or in a year, but over 20 years. 20 years of hard work, 20 years of God working through and with the family to fulfill his promises.
The deceit of Laban’s business practice was enough to bring anyone to their knees, but Jacob, by recalling God’s promise, was able to hold on when there was not a single thing left in his hands.
Today’s reading is a reminder for us that there is no easy, pain-free way into the future. That the blessings of God’s people is not worked out solely by nice situations and high times. That it can seem as if God is absent.
But God is never absent. God sees our afflictions, God hears our groans and knows about our sufferings. And God acts to lifts us up, even when we are not able to see it.
The people of Israel knew this. When they heard this story, they remembered who they were. They knew that Jacob’s situation, as bad as it seemed, was only temporary. They knew Jacob would become Judah’s father. And Judah the great-great-ancestor of David and David the father of Solomon.
They knew that although times were tough for Jacob, that his descendent David would become the greatest King who ever lived, and Solomon would build God’s holy temple.
As Christians, the story doesn’t stop there. For Jacob’s lineage continues, long after his story ends. For as the Gospel of Matthew theologically proclaims, Jacob will become the ancestor of Abor, and Abor the great-ancestor of a carpenter named Joseph, and as any child can tell you, Joseph became the father of Jesus Christ.
Where was God in this scripture? God was working, through all the deceit, through all the financial ruin.
Where was God? God was working through generations of Jacob’s kin to bring about the promise he had made so long ago.
Where was God? He was working through their family tree to usher in Jesus, his son.
God did not wait for human perfection or the right financial climate to make things happen. Nor did God allow human failings and tough times to get in the way. God found a way to use them to fulfill his promise and to make a way.
And if God could work through Jacob’s mess to bring about a king, a temple and savior, image how much God can work through you.
Ugly Betty was accused of being naive for believing the best in situations. Today’s Scripture reminds us that belief is not naive, but a product of faith, faith that says "As tough as things are, I am willing to hold on, to see this through, because eventually things will clear up, if not in my lifetime, then in the lifetime of my kin."
Scripture reminds us time and time again that God is not absent, God knows exactly what we are going through.
As humans we make our share of bad choices, as humans we fall victim to the choices others have made for us. But we can be assured that God will fulfill his promises.
Though Jacob, Leah and Rachel can’t see it, their lives are making a difference, for through them will come David, Solomon and Jesus Christ.
Where is God? God will be present in the faithful ruling of his people. God will be present in the Holy Temple. And God will be found in the life, teachings and death of His son.
Even better yet, God will ultimately be found on Easter morn, when it is discovered that Christ is not dead, but alive.
Sometimes when it rains people will borrow our umbrella but it doesn’t mean we give up in the middle of the storm.
Sometimes people will take advantage of our situation but it doesn’t mean we have to remain victims forever.
And sometimes it seems as if God is asleep, but God is never asleep; he’s working through the mess our lives are in, trying to make something good come out of it.
What God asks is that we don’t give up, we refrain from doing anything rash, and we keep our eyes on the future days ahead.
As Christians, our faith leads us to the cross, there is no avoiding that. But as Christians, we are also lead beyond, to the good news of the resurrection and the promise of God’s redeeming love.
The situations we face are but only for a moment. Glory will last always.
All thanks and praise be to the Spirit for breathing life into us, to Jesus who came to set us free and to God, who works for the care of all his children.