These are the words of God, for us, God’s people. They are true in the stories they tell, even if they didn’t happen. Because who doesn’t know a story of siblings who didn’t handle the death of a parent well, or fought over who got grandma’s ring, or dad’s antique rifle, or what to do with the house. Someone is convinced they deserve something particular or something more. Someone is convinced that they are the favorite and mom didn’t really even like that one. You know what I’m talking about.
Our stories in the bible are true, because they are filled with people who are doing the best that they can, like us, and sometimes they make a mess out of things.
Jacob, the second son of Isaac, the only son of Abraham Jacob battled with his brother Esau in the womb, came out gripping his older brother’s heel, his name means and he is called heel, and he is also often described as a manipulative jerk. And, Jacob is not great. He works for one of his uncles for the right to marry his uncle’s youngest daughter, and while that takes years and he gets tricked into marrying both daughters, he also manipulates and tricks his uncle out of many of his sheep and goats by effectively breeding speckles. On his way home, years after this story, back to his brother’s tents, he sent his wives and children first, thinking then maybe Esau won’t kill him. And before our story today, Jacob convinced Esau to trade this inheritance as the firstborn for a bowl of soup. He doesn’t come off well. Manipulative, coercive, slippery, he tricked an old man who could neither see clearly nor clearly comprehend what was happening around him.
Rebekah doesn’t fair well in interpretations and imaginations either, forcing her son to lie, manipulating her husband, choosing favorites, pitting her kids against one another.
But here’s the thing we might miss as people of modernity–We would look at Jacob as someone with some privilege, a nice tent, a wealthy family, connections with other leaders, a large extended family with resources of their own. But Jacob is destined to get almost nothing. It is assumed known that in the context of this story, the oldest son gets the bulk of everything. He gets the primary wealth, the resources, the livestock which will be used for making more wealth. He gets the connections with the other leaders because he carries the honor, the respect, the name, the authority of his father. So if there are trade deals, land deals, rights to pass through a region, those are passed down from father to oldest son.
We are to assume that the inheritance and the blessing from God that was given to Abraham and passed down father to son are different things. The inheritances are the tangible resources and the interactions with the world. The Blessing is the covenant with God, that they will have a land, a nation, and that they will then be a blessing to the world. Now, the other children aren’t abandoned, they get something. Some amount of resources to go forth and start their own name with their own oldest son. Unless they are daughters, they just have to get married, run the household, stay in the tent, safe and protected, but with no real power, no say in what goes on. That is to say, the youngest son and his mom were not functioning from a place of power.
What Rebekah did have was an unexpected promise, that her younger son would be the child of promise, would receive the blessing not the oldest. It is a promise given to her by God at the time of her labor. GIVEN TO HER! Not her husband, not some other man who was standing nearby or far off but her. Rebekah received a prophecy, a promise, a word from God. Imagine living primarily as a sidekick, an accessory in someone else’s story and not even imagining a different life for yourself because this is all you knew, this is all your mother new, this is all that you could expect, then hearing a word from God.
Did that color the way she treated the 2 boys? Yeah, probably. Did she love Esau any less, of course not. But as the preparation for the giving of the blessing started, I’m sure she wondered at the word she heard from God, and what God was doing in this moment, and how this would turn out. And from a place of powerlessness, she, with nothing of her own to claim, she did the only thing that she could, she became the chef and the encourager of God’s plans. We can blame her, call her names, use all kinds of adjectives like deceptive, manipulative, conniving–some might then apply that to all women throughout all of time,
There’s a show we watched last year called “Why Women Kill,” not everyone was a murderer. And I know there are a few of you who listen or watch true crime stories. They tell stories women who felt powerless, and like they had nothing at all, and the lengths they had to go to to have any influence on the world around them. So I wonder if we could offer Rebekah some grace, for finding a way in a world that didn’t give her any resources to find one. For she also was creative, innovative, a laborer for the will of God.
Because God telling her that Jacob was going to be blessed wasn’t just a statement of good will, it was a statement that of the world that God was imagining, that the way God wanted the world to work was not the way that was expected. God was about to choose the underdog, the second born, the one without the power. The systems of the world were about to change.
And Jacob, Jacob wasn’t supposed to get much of anything. He was supposed to support his brother, lag behind, accept the leftovers. He was powerless. He was supposed to accept the world as it had been given to him and accept that it was fair. He was supposed to accept that his mother was ignored even if she was right. He was supposed to accept that the powerful would make the rules and structures that suited them and he would go without. But he didn’t. He didn’t accept that he would get whatever sheep would be spotted by happenstance. He didn’t accept that he couldn’t have a share in the inheritance. He didn’t accept that he wasn’t part of the blessing of Abraham, given by God, and passed down through the family.
He had no power, and when the blessing was given to him, he had to go on the run. He found himself in the middle of no where, with no things, no resources, no mother, no support, nothing but a rock to lay his head upon.
It’s in the nothing-ness, the nowhere-ness, in the space between what is and what will be that God shows up.
It wasn’t in the moments of having much and it wasn’t the places of power, it was in this time of uncertainty and this place that was no where.
God is showing up in unexpected places, to unexpected people. God is offering blessings to those who would usually receive nothing. and it is a covenant, a promise that all Jacob receives will be a blessing to the world. It is not from a place of power that Jacob will bless the world, but starting in this place of nothing and no where. In the time between the times, from where we are to where who are called to where we are going to next.
God shows up when we are desperate. God shows up in our grief and loss. God shows up when we are without certainty or status. God shows up when resources are running low. Gods shows up when we have lost direction or we have no hope. When we don’t know if we can take one more step, and if we could, we don’t know which direction would step in. When we’re overwhelmed with life sitting in the middle of broken dreams or chaos of like, God shows up, offers a way forward, a blessing.
I have been given such blessings: a gift from a friend when I was working 3 jobs and still barely making ends meet. When I was overwhelmed by life and someone came to make me a meal and we cleaned my house together. A kind word of affirmation when I didn’t have anything nice to say about myself. Just before I went up for my ecclesiastic council, which is the part of the ordination process where folks get to ask you a lot of questions about what you think and believe, one of my favorite professors and I ran into each other and he said I was one of his best theology students.
And God might show up in a whisper, in the reminder of a story of a time you’ve made it through. God might show up in a friend who just sits with you or cleans your house. In the generosity of strangers, in the laughter of a child, in a compliment that, even if it’s an exaggeration, still means a lot.
We are changed when we meet God on the way, in the place between, in the no-where, when we are focusing on what we don’t have, God reminds us that we are! We are beloved, we are God’s children, we are enough, we are blessed and that blessing is to be a blessing to others. Jacob was called to be a blessing to the nations not because he was powerful on his own, or he was wealthy, or because he made the world work for him, but because God showed up and blessed him.
We are changed when we meet God, not because we aren’t good enough, but just because an interaction with the divine will change us. and we are blessed, so we can be a blessing to others. When my friends were struggling with his health, I helped his wife clean their house, do the laundry, calm the feeling of her home. I looked after my friends kids so they could have an even of relaxation and romance, or just quiet. We find ways to be a blessing, to pass along the gifts we have been given, the hope we have been given, the moments we have been given to another, so they can have hope too, so they can know they are enough too, so they might be blessed too, and, maybe, they will find someone to bless along the way, in the places in between.
Whether you have been traveling the same warn path for years or you are in the middle of no where. Whether you are filled with certainty of your next step or your frozen in place. Whether you are seated comfortably with your life or you life has fallen around you. Whether you are Rebekah-who couldn’t even imagine a different world for herself or Rebekah-helping God’s dreams and visions unfold. Whether you are Jacob in a moment of promise or Jacob with nothing and on the run. God shows up, names you love, calls you beloved child, gives you blessing, and says you are enough. Helps with the next step, points a direction, lifts up from the rubble, offers a dream of the future, and gives hope. So in case no one told you today: you are loved, you are beloved, you are a child of God, and you are enough. You are blessed and when your encounter with the divine reveals how you have been changed–may you too be a blessing.