We begin with questions: That call to worship—what was that about? Psalm 119 has 176 verses celebrating God’s “word” which can also be translated as God’s instruction Students have asked, “Why is the psalm so long? Why can’t the writer say it once and be done?” What is discovered, when the psalm is read as a prayer, is that Ps 119 isn’t about information. It’s an exercise to help us align our spirits. The repetition of the verses help us deepen our sense of life so that we can be better partners in the intricate dance between divine prompting and human decision. It can be experienced as part of the “life” force field. What am I talking about?
What makes human beings unique? We’re unique—not better than any other part of creation—and out uniqueness comes from our capacity for self-reflection. Self reflection—self awareness. To become aware is the first step to any type of change. And the first thing we need to be aware of is that everything is connected.
To paraphrase Paul in the Book of Romans:
“As it is there are many parts. The human cannot say to the river ‘I have no need of you’ nor again to the moth ‘I have no need of you’. On the contrary the parts of the body that seem weaker are all the more essential to the whole body.” For all of creation is waiting with eager longing to be transformed.”
This also means that once we were called homo sapiens (the wise ones) but now we are called homo universalis (the connected ones). It means that the whole universe participates in divinity and the entire universe together represents that divinity better than any of the parts separated. The ever creating energy, we call God, is at the heart of all the scientific processes (like evolution) Evolution is the history of the realization of new possibilities which work within creation enabling it to choose life in whatever form that may take. Together we are partners in transcendence and transformation. Christianity states that all our gifts are for the good of the whole.
What then is connectedness? It’s what the Don/Dawn Faris’ friend Rupert Sheldrake talks about—it’s the morphogenic field—it’s everything inter-related and the resonance of that inter-connectedness reverberates in all the universe.
We can see this at St Aidan’s—we sitting here are a microcosm of the universe. We here this morning are only a fraction of all the people that are members of St Aidan’s yet we represent all of those people and are connected to each of them in many ways. What I’ve tried to do during the community prayer time is give you a sense of the larger field; if we pray together often enough, long enough we will start feeling everyone else that is connected to that praying time. We, ourselves expand to fill as much space as we can. It is also what happens during communion when we talk about being connected to all the saints who’ve gone before us and all those who will come after us. More practically speaking: each of you are interested in/like to do different things in the church (Paul says we all have gifts differing…) some of you are interested in church décor, or social justice, or music, or the history of Christianity, or the thrift shop, or…..but together we make up the whole of St Aidan’s United Church. Together we form a unit; just like the cells of our bodies with each having a specific function but together we are more than the sum of our parts.
Caroline Webbs says: “our bodies express all the history of life on this planet. And that history is also the history of every mountain, river, ocean, pond, rock and soil, every wisp of water vapor and breath of atmosphere blowing ceaselessly around our globe. In our bodies flows the knowledge of an entire planet, an entire solar system and the universe.”
The psalmist responds: Lord, o Lord, how excellent are all your ways in all the earth!
What does any of this have to do with the ancient story of Esau and Jacob? There can be few families where feuding has not played some part at some time. In my own family, I remember my two aunts and mother telling me and my cousin Louis about when they were young women, fairly close in age, and all three of them really liked the same boy. Who seemed smitten with each of the girls and was secretly flirting with each of them. And when the three of them got together and compared notes they found out that he was flirting with each of them. For awhile they weren’t speaking to each other—maybe in the telling of the tale years later it seemed to the girls a harmless thing. However, my grandmother said, at the time, there was a lot of friction in the house until this was sorted out by my grandfather who refused to let any of the girls ‘walk out’ with this young man. And that ended thing. I’m sure that many of you have your own tales to tell of family feuds over all sorts of various subjects—men and women included.
Put this in the wider context of the human family and there are many reasons for feuds. We in Canada are all relatively wealthy because of an accident of birth, just as many people in other parts of the world are at subsistence levels because of an accident of birth. Jacob & Esau times thousands.
Some scholars look at this story and say the underlying motif is about when Israel stopped being purely hunters and started farming the land. It’s set within the saga of Father Abraham, because he gives grounding/solidity to the people.
Around 1700 BC, when Isaac’s wife Rebekah who had been infertile for years, suddenly produced twins, there must have been terrific rejoicing, especially as Rebekah had had such a difficult pregnancy so much so that she seeks out God to ask what’s going on. The unrest of the twins in the womb was, of course, an omen of things to come for the boys never got on. The characters of Jacob and Esau symbolize the two sides of a deep fault line running through Israel’s national life. They weren’t identical twins and it seems that they were as different as chalk and cheese. Esau the eldest was an outdoor type- -a herder of animals, a man of the hills. He grew up to be a renowned huntsman so that the family was well supplied with delicious food, and since the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Esau was dearly loved by his father Isaac.
Jacob, on the other hand, was quite different. He was not for the hunter’s life but preferred tilling the soil; a man of settled communities, of agriculture and trade. The character of Jacob is a deeply ambiguous one; at times, we don’t know whether we are supposed to love him or hate him. Yet, he is strong, resourceful, and self-reliant — characteristics necessary to cement the Abraham covenant and establish it for the future. He was a good chef and his mother Rebekah loved him perhaps because he was around much more and was therefore good company for her.
As the boys grew up it seemed that the stronger one was Esau and that the one who served was Jacob. And that was the way it was set to be, for Esau the elder by an accident of birth would inherit a double share of everything, the land, the flocks, the herds, the wealth. He would also be the one in the highest position of honour in the family after Isaac died.
Rebekah was unhappy with this, perhaps because she loved Jacob more, or perhaps because she had the wit to see that brainy Jacob would make a much better leader than Esau. The later story of Isaac’s death shows Rebekah’s scheming, so it’s likely that she put Jacob up to his actions in today’s story.
When Esau came in from hunting, he was starving. He hadn’t eaten for several days. He was so famished when he reached home that he would have done anything for food. When Jacob offered him food in exchange for his inheritance, Esau didn’t need to think twice. As he so logically said, “If I don’t eat I shall die and what use is the inheritance if I’m dead and gone?”
That wasn’t quite good enough for Jacob. Jacob needed a contract, in case his brother later reneged on the transaction. So he made Esau swear an oath and then Jacob fed Esau. From that day to this Esau is known as the man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
There’s a corollary with modern life, with regard to the world’s most impoverished countries being in a debt crisis. Many of the poorest countries, mostly in Africa, have already paid their debs several times over, with interest, yet they still owe more money. Their first priority is paying their debt rather than spending the money on vital healthcare and education. The UN estimates that 7 million children die unnecessarily each year, from diseases that can be cured, and from unclean water. Many third world countries owe more in debt repayment and interest than they earn in a year from exports.
Like Esau, these impoverished countries are forced to sell their inheritance in order to eat. Their inheritance is in the form of their children and human resources. The wealthy countries are like Jacob, who manipulated his brother when his brother was particularly vulnerable.
But all is not lost. God took a hand in the story of Esau and Jacob, and redeemed Jacob’s sin and Esau’s lack of foresight. God made the Jewish nation from Jacob’s descendants. Esau married and went to live in the hill country south of the Dead Sea called Edom (because of the red sand stone). The Edomites eventually faded from history after the death of King Herod.
God can redeem the present situation too. Perhaps the birthright will be returned, so that the rich North and the impoverished South don’t need to be divided as the Israelites and the Edomites were divided. Perhaps, if we allow God to redeem (I know we don’t usually use the word ‘redeem’ but here I do think it appropriate) our sin of greed, and the lack of foresight of some impoverished countries, then we may be able to rectify situations of inequality and once again the whole cosmos can sing in harmony.
Material for this sermon from Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato, and Rev. Janice Scott