From Eden to Egypt Part 8: Muck Dynasty
EIGHTH AFTER PENTECOST JULY 26TH, 2020 GENESIS 29:15-28
From Eden to Egypt: 8
If there were a hall of fame for super-heroic-adrenaline-junkie-tough-guy-adventurers, there’d be an entire room dedicated to Erik Weihenmayer. Erik has kayaked all 277 miles of the Colorado River including through the Grand Canyon, which, they say is, one of the most formidable whitewater venues in the world. He has climbed the Seven Summits, that is, the highest mountain peak on each of the seven continents. He has climbed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. And He has cycled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a distance by road of 1,700km.
All of that, of course, is super-human, especially as for many of us, the most adventurous activity we’ve engaged in in the last four months has been binge-watching the Great British Bake-Off. But there’s one characteristic of Erik Weihenmayer that makes him even more semi-divine than you’d expect. Since the age of 13 Erik has been totally blind.
When asked to name his most interesting adventure, Erik smiles and describes a descent of the face of El Capitan with several other climbers. They were trying to get off the mountain before evening, a goal they failed to achieve. Night fell and they were smothered by the dark. So they turned to the one man who had the most experience climbing in the dark: Erik. And the blind led the sighted to safety. When the blind lead the sighted to safety you know something amazing is happening. Keep that truth in mind and we’ll return to it later.
But first, if you have listened to any of our sermons in the last few weeks as we have been journeying through the summer from ‘From Eden to Egypt’, you have probably reached one or two conclusions. First, the family we’re focusing on, that began with Abraham and Sarah, continued with Isaac and Rebekah and is now with Jacob and his twin Esau, are not the Brady Bunch. Neither is there a John boy Walton to be found, and not even a hint of a Little House on a Prairie. Abraham and his dynasty are not the subject of a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Norman Rockwell drawing. In fact, this family is a bit too alternative for the Kardashians or Honey Booboo. Forget Duck Dynasty, this is Muck Dynasty. Today’s episode is a reality show called ‘The Real Tentwives of Old Israel”.
No one needs telling that families are complex. Relationships within the home can be the trickiest to maneuver, and the hardest to survive. Well, imagine how complex they were in a polygamous culture, such as the one we confront in Genesis 29.
Instead of families, as we know them, Genesis gives us households, which are usually large social institutions, made up of dozens of people These households have well-defined power structures. Polygamy added a certain dynamic that made it even more complicated. Inevitably some wives were more favored than others, and the children of a favorite wife tended to lord it over the other offspring. Bear that in mind in two weeks, when we meet the next generation of our dysfunctional family: Joseph was the child of Jacob’s favorite wife, and we all know how pompous that made him, and how resentful it made his eleven brothers.
Now one other conclusion you have come to is that the family sin of Abraham’s dynasty is lying. In fact, the air is thick with smoke coming from all the pants that are on fire. No less than a quarter of the chapters of Genesis contain stories of deception. Most obviously, the trickery of Jacob in swindling Esau out of his birthright that we read two weeks ago. But it is there also in the passage we read just now. Here’s Jacob. He’s run away from his twin brother, and he’s now staying with his uncle, Laban, doing some work on the farm. Laban insists that he pay Jacob, and asks him what he’d like as wages. And Jacob, rather surprisingly asks for the hand of Laban’s daughter, Rachel. Let’s not dwell on the fact that she is his first cousin, let’s just be caught up in this touching love story. Because Laban says, OK, I’ll give you Rachel as your wages, as if she were a head of livestock, but she’s pretty expensive, you know. She’s worth seven years of work. So, work for me for seven years and she’s yours. Now Jacob must really be in love. It says he worked the seven years but “they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Can I get an ‘Aaaah’?
So now the seven years are up, Jacob demands his wages, and Laban’s daughter is brought to him, wearing a veil, as was the custom. They have a big marriage celebration, Jacob takes her to the marital tent, and in the morning wakes up to discover, sure this was Laban’s daughter, just not Rachel. This was her sister – Leah. Now, not surprisingly, Jacob is a little aggrieved by this, and he goes to Laban to demand an explanation. And Laban says it’s no big deal, it’s just that Leah is the older daughter and it’s their custom to marry off the older girl first. But, Laban says, if Jacob works for him another seven years he’ll give him Rachel too. And Jacob, clearly sick with love, agrees.
The trickster is tricked, the manipulator is manipulated, the conman is conned. Jacob has met his match in the scheming department. Laban and Jacob deserve each other. It’s poor Rachel and Leah I feel sorry for. Can you feel the poetic justice? Jacob had broken the ‘law of the firstborn’ when he tricked his twin Esau out of his birthright and now Jacob is himself convicted by the ‘law of the firstborn’.
Remember Erik, the blind adventurer? When the blind lead the sighted to safety you know something amazing is happening. Jacob is utterly blind in this story. Blinded by love, blinded by passion, blind to what is really going on. But unknown to him he is on the move, and so is everyone else in the story. Because there is a guide leading him, guilty of many sins though he is, to safety and dynasty. Someone is absent from this story – God. The name of God is nowhere in the text. The actors are blind to his presence, unaware of his gracious, miraculous hand at work. But God is there anyway. Can you see God in your life at this moment? Can you see him at work in quarantine, in pandemic, in isolation, and restrictions and chaos? Because that is where God lives. So look at your life. Can you see God moving people and events to bring you to a new place where you are blessed in a new way?
God is weaving pandemic, isolation, and disruption into our lives. If you can’t see his hand, then just wait. Maybe for the moment you are supposed to be blind. But one day, your patience and faith with come to fruition and you will see that this time was crucial in God changing you, forming you like a potter at a wheel, growing graces in you, getting you ready for what is coming next. God wove deception into a design for Jacob’s life that was rich and unpredictable.
One on the most thought-provoking TV series in recent years has been HBO’s show, The Leftovers. The series is set in a small American town, three years after 2% of the world’s population has disappeared. Millions of people just vanished at the same moment. And they have nothing in common – they are from all religions and none, all social backgrounds, all nationalities, ethnic identities, and ages. And the 98% who have been left are trying to find answers and meaning to the disappearance, including an Episcopal priest. And for Fr Matt this means conducting a one-man crusade against the idea that the vanished were taken by God because of their holiness. This is not some kind of rapture, he insists. And so he sets about finding embarrassing and scandalous details about the departed, and dishes the dirt on them. He digs into their personal lives until he finds something immoral or ugly and then he publishes it in posters and leaflets.
At first, we don’t like Fr Matt. He trespasses on people’s grief, and sullies the reputations of the dead. But then, part way through the first series we learn that his wife is a quadriplegic. She cannot move any part of her body and cannot communicate in any way. But Matt loves her devotedly. He cares for her at their home, and as we see his pain we start to feel slightly better about him. Eventually we learn how his wife became a quadriplegic. She had been in her car at the moment when the 2% vanished. Another car, which was being driven by one of the disappeared was suddenly left driverless, and that empty car ploughed into hers, causing her terrible disability. Fr Matt’s passionate desire to expose the sins and crimes of the disappeared was fueled by his grief. Saints are not always full of piety and awesome encounters with God. Saints are flesh-and-blood sinners, whose sin is permeated by the irresistible grace of God.
If we had written Genesis we may have cut off the dynasty by now. All this deception, all this manipulation, all those oppressive customs. But in time things happened just the way God wanted. You see, one day, 36 generations after Jacob, a baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem. And the Muck Dynasty had one final remarkable member, one who did not mess up like his ancestors, but who redeemed them – and who redeemed us who are his followers. And which of Jacob’s wives did Jesus trace his lineage back to? Rachel, maybe, the beautiful one, the beloved one, for whom Jacob had toiled fourteen years? No. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and Judah was the son of Leah. Plain, unwanted, unloved Leah. The Beloved and the Beautiful was not chosen by God to be the women through whom the world would one day be saved, that was preserved for the ordinary, the victim of rejection.
Hear the Word of the Lord: God has plans for you and even now he is at work, even if we are blind to it right now. Like a GPS, we have a destination. We may make a mistake, we may turn right instead of left. It might mean you arrive at your destination a bit later than you’d hoped, or after spending more money on tolls than you’d planned. But God, our guide, will still get you there.