Readings: Psalm 105:1-11, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52, Genesis 29:15-28
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 30 2017
Jacob had a dream. A dream that a lot of people have had. The kind that has consumed generations before and ever since. He’s in love. His dream girl is called Rachel. Leah, Rachel’s sister was OK, she had nice eyes, but when Jacob thought about Rachel, “Oh mamma, that lady was fine.” He promises himself; “She will be mine!”
In our lives we have dreams and passions. We have dreams for our lives, for our relationships, maybe even for our community or our church. The lesson we learn from Jacob is that seeing our dreams come to something can take a while and we might not always get exactly what we expected.
- Firstly, this passage reveals that we are broken vessels that have to live within the consequences of our own shortcomings.
- Secondly, that we are surrounded by those who do not share our values and are as equally broken as our selves.
- Thirdly, this passage has something overwhelmingly positive to tell us. That whenever love is real, it can change things. God has an unusual way of turning our dreams into His plans!
Firstly this passage reveals our broken lives
Let us remind ourselves of whom Jacob was. This is the mommy’s boy who deceived his visually handicapped father to get an inheritance that should have been his twin brothers. This is the Jacob who was doing all he could to avoid a confrontation with Esau, who had vowed, “If I ever see Jacob again, I’m gonna kill him!”
This is the Jacob who had become aware God was on his case after having a strange dream of a stairway to heaven. Far from comforting him, this dream terrifies him. It makes him rethink his relationship to God and gives him a sense that life may turn out better if he started trying to do things God’s way, instead of listening mostly to his mothers’ advice!
Jacob is no wide eyed innocent enduring his first teenage crush. Life was actually passing him by at speed and it seems relationships weren’t something he had a lot of time for. But then he sets eyes on Rachel and something goes ‘zzzinngg’.
Who can explain that? The mystery of human attraction! Crazy thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter if one is a sinner or a saint, once Cupid fires his arrow people are rendered helpless.
And it looks like things are going to work out. Rachel’s dad, Laban, seems to like Jacob. Because of family connections he takes pity on him and even offers him a job. When the subject of payment comes up Jacob says, “All I want is your daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage”. Laban smiles and it seems like it’s a done deal.
Seven years later it turns sour. Jacob is getting ready for his wedding night. No doubt there was much partying and probably a bit of drinking involved, but the upshot of it all is that when Jacob awakes in the morning, it is not Rachel laying at his side, but her sister, Leah.
Laban has turned out to be snake! He turns out to be as cruel and devious and sly and calculating and shifty and unreliable and untrustworthy and manipulative as … well … he turned out to be as much of a sneak as Jacob himself. They do say ‘what goes around comes around’ and Jacob encounters in Laban somebody who has ‘out-Jacobed Jacob’.
We sometimes think that in life we can escape our shortcomings and that we can gloss over our failures. The scary thing is they can actually confront us in the bad behavior of others who share our faults to such an extent that we finally see what fools we can be! How many times have we said, “There but for the grace of God, go I?” How often do we find that we recoil at others actions, because actually, we have a horrible fear we could have done that ourselves?
We never truly escape our upbringing or the mistakes of the past. They come back and haunt us in the most unlikely of ways. At events like school reunions, you go there recalling the good times, but sometimes memories of the bad times also resurface. ‘I can’t believe we used to call him that’ or “What were we thinking!”
Friends, we are all broken. Paul in the Book of Romans simply says ‘There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23 NIV). Life can, as it did with Jacob, bring along experiences that reveal our broken-ness. That’s not a bad thing. Because oftentimes it’s only when we see where we are going wrong, that we start wanting to put things right!
A second thing revealed in this passage is that we are not the only broken ones.
The actions of those who are broken around us can cause us great pain. Laban hurts not only Jacob, but also Rachel and Leah. Because of the tension he creates between them all, he also will hurt their children. We don’t get to hear the whole story of Jacobs’ interactions with Laban, but I can tell you, things did not improve further down the line.
What we did get to hear in our story was Laban’s lame excuse for marrying Jacob to his older daughter instead of his younger one. He tells Jacob that, ‘Well, it’s just the custom around here. We don’t allow the younger one to get the inheritance before we’ve taken care of the senior child’s needs.’
Was this God’s way of making Jacob understand just what a rotten thing he had done to his brother Esau? Esau, was after all the oldest child who had deserved to be taken care of first, even if he was only older by an arms length! One of the twins had to be born first, and that counted for something back in those days. Once again some kind of negative karma seems to be impacting Jacob and enabling him to see the error of his ways.
We have no control over what others do to us. If folk are mad at us or uncaring towards us or disrespectful of us, then whilst we don’t have to be a doormat and let them walk all over us, we also have to accept that there are some folks we just can’t change. Why? Because...they are, like us, broken. That is not to excuse bad actions or reprehensible behavior, just to say that some people are resistant to change.
We don’t have a choice in the way other people act towards us, but we can choose the way we respond to them. We can choose to go beyond gut reactions and the search for vengeance. We can come to the realization that when we hold anger towards others, it is chewing us up far more than it is them.
And our model for doing so is our Savior Jesus Christ. In Him we see a compassion that refuses to be sidelined by those who reject us. As we take our hurts and our failures to God in prayer, so we seek for the strength to overcome our very human reactions, that they may become something more, something that carries the acceptance and love of God that we ourselves have found in Christ.
In the midst of this crazy story about Jacob we see a little miracle. Love changes Jacob. When Jacob realized he has been tricked by Laban, the natural ‘Jacob’ reaction would have been for him to totally lose it. To storm off back home to mother, who would create a fuss, and other family would get involved and pretty soon it would be like the set of a Jerry Springer show. Family Feuds part 2!
But what happens in this story? Jacob asks Laban; “What’s going on?” Laban lays it out for him and says if you want Rachel, then you have to work another 7 years. The miracle here is Jacob’s silence. There is no argument. Laban says, fulfill your duties to Leah, then get back to work”. We read “And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week; and Laban (after 7 years) gave him Rachel his daughter as his wife” (Genesis 29:15-28)
And this moves us quickly to the positive point in this story.
When love is for real, it can change everything
There is, of course more going on here than the fact that Jacob is crazy in love with Rachel. That is a huge part of it, but the other side of it is that Jacob is beginning to realize that the love God has for him requires him to change.
Jacob already knew God was on his case. He had understood that when he experienced the dream of a ladder going up to heaven and was aware that God was covenanting with him to walk with him and lead him in his life. When he met Rachel, he must have thought, “Yes, this could work!”
But Jacob also had to come to a place where he could be confronted by his sins in such a powerful way that he would determine that this time around, things were going to be different. Through the love of a woman and the love of God, change was happening!
We can run from our sins and our failings for a long time. But there needs to come, to all of us, those moments when we realize, we need help. And the only true hope of forgiveness and change is the love of God that we can discover in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only His life-changing Holy Spirit can take what is broken and make something beautiful out of it!
We are victims of our own actions and we are victims of the actions of others. Jesus Christ went to the Cross, as a victim, to totally identify with our situation. The story did not end in death, but in new life. In the birth of the Church. In the blossoming of hope of in people who recognize their need and encounter God’s love.
We like Jacob, live our lives, may well fall in love and face many strange twists and turns. We will sin and be sinned against. So we can learn from Jacob.
We learn that we are all broken.
We learn that, through the love of God, broken lives can be remade.
We can learn to watch and wait and trust that in God’s time, all things are possible.
And to God’s name be all the glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.