Welcome and call to worship
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccles 3:1)
Now is the time to come together in spirit and truth, as God’s people, to open the scriptures and seek his word, to pray for ourselves and the world, and to offer our praise:
Prayers of adoration and confession
O God all-powerful, true and incomparable,
we adore you.
You are present in all things, yet limited by none,
untouched by place, unaged by time,
unhurried by the years, undeceived by words,
not subject to birth nor in need of protection;
you are above all corruption,
you are beyond all change,
living in light that none can approach,
invisible, yet you make yourself known to us;
in your Son Jesus Christ,
You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
Of all the ages, and of all who hope in Christ.
You are our God; we are your people, we adore you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. (Psalm 67)
Prayer of confession
Friends, Jesus said:
‘Come to me,
all who are weary and carrying a heavy load,
and I will give you rest.’
We therefore bring the burdens and our lives to Jesus, to seek Jesus’ rest and God’s forgiveness.
you love us, but we have not loved you;
you call, but we have not listened.
We walk away from neighbours in need,
wrapped up in our own concerns.
We have gone along with evil,
with prejudice, warfare, and greed.
God our Father,
help us to face up to ourselves,
so that, as you move toward us in mercy,
we may repent, turn to you, and receive forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,
not counting our trespasses against us,
and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
Hear once more Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Prayers of Intercession
We pray for all those we meet as life slowly changes to a new normal, especially those for whom it means vast changes to life and work.
We pray for our environment. Despite the lockdown, earthquake and storm, wildfire and drought, flood and destruction continue to happen.
We celebrate the reduction in human-made air pollution. Now that we have seen how quickly the eArth responds, grant us the will to care for our whole ecosystem.
We pray, giving thanks for the things we have rediscovered this year:
The beauty of silence and birdsong
The letting go of busy, over-committed lives
The time to savour in many ways the gifts of word, speech and friendship
The time to be in your world as your house.
Among all that we have, there are so many hurting and needy people.
We also pray for the people sick with Covid 19. We lift them up to you and ask that you would bless them, help them and heal them. May your peace and joy fill their hearts.
We pray for your wisdom for the leaders of our nation in these uncertain times.
We pray for our church council as they work towards reopening our church.
We pray for the joint nominating committee as they discern your plan for Carlingford Uniting Church.
We pray for John and Bronwyn and those in care or shut in: Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila.
We ask that you fulfill their needs according to your will. We also pray that you use us to help them in any way we can. Open our eyes and make us aware of the opportunities we have to bless others in need. All that we have is yours and we surrender to you.
Genesis 25:19-34 (NIV)
Jacob and Esau
19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
23 The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
The value of things
Have you noticed how common takeaway coffee cups are these days? It seems that you can’t go anywhere without seeing people drinking takeaway coffee.
Several years ago, the Sydney Morning Herald reported how John Singleton would buy his coffee every morning. In his office building, like so many others, there was a coffee bar in the foyer. Office workers would queue up for their morning caffeine fix, the barrista would take their order, write it on a cup lid, and the cup lids would be lined up on the bench. At the time, a large coffee cost $3.
Mr Singleton would arrive, and the barrista would notice him approaching the door, and immediately abandon the coffee orders in the queue, so he could make Mr Singleton’s coffee. By the time Singo got to the coffee bar, his coffee would be ready: the barrista would hand Mr Singleton his coffee, and Mr Singleton would hand the barrista a $50 note. Transaction completed, the coffee man would return to the next in the queue, the businessman would carry on to his office.
So how much do you think John Singleton’s coffee was worth? The $50 he paid for it? The $3 someone else would have paid for exactly the same order, but would have had to wait? The dollar or so cost of the ingredients?
At one level, $50 for a coffee seems completely bizarre. But at another – well, the Herald did the calculations of the value of John Singleton’s time, and found that he would need to be earning “$156,250 an hour to maintain his current ranking in BRW. That would mean five minutes of his time is worth $13,020.83” and concluded it that was “not a bad return on $50”.
We encounter similar apparent distortion of the value of things in today’s reading from Genesis – but with the scripture reading it is about the value of a bowl of stew. Or maybe, it’s about the value of a birthright.
When Isaac, the son of Abraham, was forty years old, he married Rebecca. But they didn’t conceive a child, so we read in verse 21 that Isaac appealed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was barren; and while verse 21 also tells us that the Lord answered their prayer, it’s easy to miss the time taken. Verse 20 tells us that Isaac was forty when they married, but verse 26 tells us that Isaac was sixty when Rebecca gave birth. From the marriage, through the prayers, the entreaties to God for an heir, to conception of their children had taken nineteen or twenty years. That’s a long time. A long time to be praying for something specific, a long time to be waiting, a long time to have faith that God would – or indeed could – answer prayer.
And when they did conceive, when their prayers were answered, it was not as they probably expected. It was twins! And the twins fought in her womb – verse 22 “the children struggled together within her”.
It was certainly disturbing, and quite likely painful for Rebecca as well, she said “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”, and prayed for guidance.
And God answered her prayer. But God didn’t answer with an assurance that ‘everything will be okay’ or even tell her to be patient. God told her something quite unexpected:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen 25:22)
And so, when the twins are born, we read how Esau, the stronger one, was delivered first – his body all red and hairy. But almost at the same time, grasping his brother’s heel, came Jacob. Jacob, who was the weaker, who it seems had lost the struggle to be the firstborn.
Verse 27 tells us that “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.” There’s a lot to be inferred from that verse – I think we all have known children like Esau and like Jacob. Esau was the tough one, he spent his time outdoors and hunting, if there had been rugby played at the time, he would have been in the first fifteen. And he would have been in the thick of the action.
By contrast, Jacob was a quiet boy. He liked staying indoors, and the rugby field would have had no appeal to him. He certainly would have been looked down on by his elder brother.
And not only were the twins very different, but their differences divided their parents as well, as we read in verse 28 “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Just like, I think, we want our children to be friends, we don’t want to have favourites among our children. We want to treat our children equally, and yet, well, Isaac loved Esau because he brought him game.
And it’s noted that Rebecca loved Jacob over Esau, we’re not told why. It could be she didn’t like Esau’s toughness, or because she liked his company indoors – or at least in the tent – most of the time. And to be fair, it could have been because she saw her husband neglecting their younger son, and sought to ‘balance things out’.
We don’t know the details, or Rebecca’s motivation, but we can understand that it wasn’t an ideal situation – it wasn’t a happy family. There were tensions between the twins, there were tensions between the husband and wife.
And then “One day while Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field. He was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished”” (25:29-30)
He’s not just hungry, but he’s ‘famished’, and the implication is that he was very hungry – maybe not literally starving to death, but he may have gone several days without eating, having been out on an unproductive hunt.
Jacob answered, “First, sell me your birthright.” (29:30)
Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (29:31)
Now, it may have been hyperbole, but it could be a reasonable point.
But Jacob answered, “Swear to me first.” (29:33)
Christians often focus on Esau’s apparently foolish decision to give up his birthright for a bowl of stew. But if we declare Esau a fool, where does that leave us in terms of how we should regard Jacob?
If Esau was really starving, was it in any way right that Jacob demand is birthright in exchange for food? Or if Esau was really just a fool, was it right that Jacob take advantage of his brother’s foolishness?
If Esau did the wrong thing, does it follow that Jacob to the right thing? They were twins, so in some way the birthright should have been Jacob’s too, shouldn’t it? And even if it should have been all or partly his, was it right to take advantage of his brother to get it.
If we miss out on something, do you think it’s okay to be a bit underhanded, to take advantage of others, to make things a bit fairer?
But regardless of the fairness of the transaction, Esau made the vow and gave his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave him some bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank and then got up and left. (25:33-34)
The narrative makes it clear: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Gen 25:34b)
We know that Jacob gave Esau some lentil stew, and some bread. By no means an exciting or interesting meal, but certainly one that was satisfying – one that satisfied Esau’s hunger, his immediate need.
But on the other hand, what Esau gave Jacob didn’t really have an immediate value – while their father Isaac was still living, the birthright couldn’t be realised. And the potential value of the birthright was not that much – some land to occupy, some livestock, and not so much as a house – only a collection of tents.
In this transaction – the “selling” of the birthright, Esau had sold off of potentially great value (God’s promises to Abraham, no less, “I will make you into a great nation” (Gen 12:2)), to satisfy an immediate need.
We would never do that today would we? Or would we? I know of discussions around church property where there’s often a desire to sell off property – land and buildings – to fund mission or ministry, or even simply to sell some buildings to maintain others. While I wouldn’t claim it is the same situation, it is still about balancing immediate benefits – the bowl of stew or some cash in the bank – and the potential – whether the value of the buildings present day Christian’s have inherited from the generations that have gone before us, or the promises of a birthright.
So what is it that we should learn from this passage? Is it simply that Esau didn’t value his birthright, and that we should be careful we don’t undervalue the things that we have?
It’s sometimes observed that when we open the scriptures, we look for instructions that we should follow and warnings that we should heed. But the bible is not simply a “book of lessons”, it’s the story of God’s relationship with creation, his people, and God’s promises for the future.
Often, when we read the bible we learn not just lessons for us, but we learn about people – about ourselves, and most importantly, we learn about God. God who created all things. God who created us. God who people turned against. God who sent his son Jesus to save us. God who has a plan for the future.
So if we look at this passage from that perspective - what do we learn about God from it?
The first thing that we probably note is that God works through flawed people. Isaac and Rebecca are both flawed – they each favour one son over the other son – Esau is flawed – he sells his birthright for a bowl of stew – and Jacob is flawed too – he takes advantage of his hungry brother.
And that’s a fair conclusion – that God works through flawed people. But if that is the central thing to take from this, an awful lot of the Old Testament teaches the same lesson over and over again. The bible is full of stories of flawed people: Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and so on and on. In fact, it’s not until the New Testament that we encounter someone who isn’t flawed.
So the fact that God works through flawed people is perhaps not the main thing we can learn here.
We can also see that God also works things despite flawed people. Even in the face of rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, God put in place a plan to reconcile creation with him, even in the face of almost all creation doing evil, God saved the world through Noah, even in the face of Isaac and Rebecca’s partiality to their particular favourite, God was working through them to establish the people of Israel.
And not only does God work despite flawed people, but God is patient. He was patient with the patriarchs and the matriarchs, with the nation of Israel, with the disciples, and God is patient with us. Of course, we should be patient too, just like Isaac and Rebecca were in this reading – waiting twenty years for their prayers to be answered.
One of the big things we can learn from the story of Jacob and Esau is that the true value of things is not always apparent - that we don't always appreciate what things are worth. And this works both ways - that bowl of stew turned out to be very valuable! It may be that the things we would typically regard as low value are of great use to God and the growth of God's kingdom.
What does it mean for how we treat the things we have? Do we give up future possibilities, for what we see as the needs of the present? Do we not use the gifts God has given us because we feel they are insignificant? Do we think our small contributions to the sharing of the good news of Christ with others aren’t going to make much difference?
This passage confirms that we must trust God! That God has plan - a plan for us as individuals, a plan for us as a community here, a plan for his Church, and a plan for his whole world.
We must be faithful. Answers to prayer do not always come quickly or in the ways we might like, but we should be assured, that even if we are flawed, that we do is important, and has ramifications that we cannot always foresee, but in all things, God is in control. We saw it a couple of weeks ago in the story of Abraham and Isaac, and we see it again today: God is in control.
God is in control and has a plan for you and for me, and not just for us as individuals but also for the congregation here at Carlingford, and for all people, and for the whole of creation!
We read in 1 Peter that God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV).
The things that distract us from that inheritance may not be as obvious as a bowl of stew for a hungry man. But they will be tempting. Fame? Fortune? Family? Health? Security? They can all tempt us away from that inheritance.
We must appreciate the value of our inheritance – the living hope that we have in Christ.
And as we go about our lives, we must also not undervalue the gifts God has given us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a church.
What if we're the person with modern day equivalent of the bowl of stew - what could we achieve with our item of little apparent value, by the grace of God?
We should never underestimate the value of the gifts that God has given us.
Jacob's bowl of stew bought a birthright, and founded the people of Israel.
David, the shepherd boy with his sling, saved the nation of Israel from Goliath.
Much later, five loaves and two small fishes would feed the five thousand (John 6:5-15)
But most important of all, in Christ, the death of one man brought salvation for all.
Father of all, you have given us so much, that we so often fail to appreciate the value of the things we have. Open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the possibilities that the gifts you have given us represent, and guide us in their wise and faithful use, to the glory of your Son.
We are all flawed people, but more importantly, we are all God’s people. A people for whom Christ lived and died and rose again. Let us remember that no matter how small our gifts may be, that what we do matters, and let us also remember, that God is always in control.
And as we go out from our time together, let us go out confident in the blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymns for this week:
Next week (19 July):
Lectionary: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or Psalm 86:11-17 Every Breath you take 145
Genesis 28:10-19a or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25
Theme “Every breath you take”