Genesis 46:1-7 January 28, 2018
Jacob seems an unlikely choice to be the father of God’s Chosen People. He doesn’t fit the mold of what we normally think of as a hero. Jacob lived a roller coaster life. He was his mother’s favorite, preferring to stay home with her unlike his brother Esau. His name meant “Grabber” as he first stole his brother’s birthright and then his blessing. Because of that he ended up running for his life to live with his uncle Laban in the old country. On the way he had a beautiful dream and encountered the Living God. When he got to Uncle Laban’s he worked for seven years for the privilege of marrying the love of his life, only to find out that he had actually married her older sister. Then Jacob worked for seven more years and finally married the woman he loved, but things went downhill from there. His uncle changed his wages ten times trying to get the upper hand. Finally things got so bad that Jacob and his new family, two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter had to run away for fear of their lives. They ran back to Isaac’s home and back to brother Esau. Fortunately things between Jacob and Esau had healed by then and they looked like they might work out. God even changed Jacob’s name to Israel, “He struggled with God and prevailed”. This name was a harbinger of the rest of his life. Not long after Israel returned to Canaan his daughter was raped and his two sons got revenge by killing all the males in the village where the rapist lived. Then his oldest son dishonored him by sleeping with one of his concubines. Then, the worst of all Jacob learned that his favorite son, Joseph was apparently killed by wild animals. From then on, Jacob lived his life in fear that his youngest and new favorite son, Joseph’s brother, Benjamin, would die early as well. Jacob, Israel, truly did struggle with trusting God, but somehow he is a hero of the Old Testament.
When I think about it, Jacob’s life is not so much different than ours. We also live rollercoaster lives. Sometimes we feel so close to God that we think we can’t get any closer, at other times, we think God has forgotten us. Many of us live our lives in fear of what might happen next.
There is a lot to fear. There are hundreds of wars and conflicts, including the threat of nuclear war that could destroy the world. Climate change, extinction, and other environmental problems threaten our world as well. Then there are financial fears: national and personal debt and unemployment. We also worry about our health and our ability to access and pay for health care. There is no shortage of reasons to be fearful.
There is much to fear and there is no shortage of people willing to use that fear to shape our attitudes. Politicians regularly play on our fears, either telling us that people will die if we don’t do what they say or trying to convince us that those who are challenging our status quo are out to get us. Advertisers seem to make their entire livelihood out of playing on our fears. Next time you watch or hear a commercial, listen for this message, “You need what I’m selling or you will not be safe or acceptable to others.” Or you may hear, “If you don’t get what I’m selling someone else will take advantage of you.” One of those messages is going to be there. The media seems intent on only telling us about the things that are crises, or if a story is not a crisis, they make it one. Think of all the dire reports we get over a snowstorm prediction. Unfortunately, churches also use fear to shape our belief in God. We all know that sin is what separates us from God and so we should avoid and fear sin, but too many churches use that fear to make us conform to their teaching and belief rather than helping us know that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a way to overcome death and separation from God.
But let’s go back to the story of Jacob. He wasn’t a good hero, but Jews and Christians count his story as part of our heritage; something to be joyful over rather than something to fear. Why Is that? It is because the stories of Jacob and the rest of the stories in our Bible are not stories to glorify heroes. The stories in the Bible are there to glorify God. God is the hero of all of our scriptures. While Jacob was living his roller coaster life, God was preparing the way. While Jacob lived and worked for his swindling uncle for twenty-one years it was God who was watching over Jacob. It was God who gave Jacob his family and it was God who blessed Jacob. Each time Laban changed Jacob’s wages, God changed the circumstances to bless Jacob. When Jacob was mourning the loss of his favorite son Joseph, God was using Joseph to prepare the situation in Egypt to ensure that the young nation of Israel would survive its first years. When the time was right, it was God who brought Jacob and Joseph back together and gave Jacob the command to not be afraid and the promise that Joseph himself would close Jacob’s eyes in death and return him to the Promised Land.
We can celebrate over this story of God’s greatness and we can celebrate even more over the fact that when the time was right it was God who sent his son into the world to restore the loving relationship God wanted for us since the beginning of time. God sent Jesus to live as an example for us. God sent Jesus to restore our relationship by living in perfect obedience to God, even up to the point of death. Even, or maybe especially when Jesus’s way of life threatened the status quo of humanity so much that he was threatened with death, he went to the cross instead of choosing escape. Christ died for our sins because we, humanity chose to put him to death instead of stop sinning.
The truth is that we do live in a world of fear. But because of the work of Christ we can live without fear because when we live as children of God, we know that God is working in all things for good for we who love the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.