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Sell Me Your Birthright Today

Genesis 25:19-34, 58-67; Psalm 25; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23



What a wonderful work our Bible is. The stories are old, but they are new again in our lives as human beings in the 21st Century…in the life our country and around the world.

I signed up for a Disciple Bible Study class at Billings Hope United Methodist Church in 1996, a few months after the first woman to be appointed as their pastor had been welcomed to the pulpit. Sandy Storment watched over us for two years of classes devoted to a one-year curriculum.

There was just too much to talk about to get it all said in one year. As we read the old stories and the shared experiences from our own lives it became clear that the Good Book was indeed the Book of Life and Book of Truth.

It also became obvious early on that the Hebrew Bible…what we typically call the Old Testament, was also the story of families and stepfamilies. Abraham and Sarah…Sarah and Hagar…Isaac and Ishmael…and Jacob and Esau.

It is the story of people coming together to create a common narrative…one story out of many…what Americans call e Pluribus Unum…out of many one.

So we have two creation stories. The Seven Days of Creation comes from one tribe. The Garden of Eden is shared by another.

The blessing of Abraham and Isaac by the three visitors at the Oaks of Mamre comes from one family and Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael is told by another. It is a story of history and rights…blessing …injustice…blessing…injustice.

Somehow humankind has been able to tell and retell countless stories from countless families to produce the greatest work of literature in their history.

They…we…all have to participate in the story to give it context and meaning. We…and they…all had to be part of those stories…or the world as we now know it would not have arrived at the threshold we all now call Today…the day that the Lord has made.

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of those stories. Twin boys are born to Isaac and Rebekah. The oldest is entitled to a double portion of the family wealth and the father’s blessing.

Struggle defines these boys’ lives from the outset. Esau wins the race into the world, but Jacob is a contender, grasping at his brother’s heel when he is born.

They could not be more different. Esau is the rugged outdoorsman. He boldly risks his physical safety to bring home food and other prizes from the adventure of the hunt.

Jacob is a homebody, a mama’s boy who learns what to do with the booty Esau brings home to make them tasty, nutritious and fit to eat.

One makes his mark with physical strength. The other finds a place in the family with subtler skills forged with his mind.

It is the classic contest of brawn and brain…of impulsive, decisive action …versus reflective contemplation of the possibilities to find a new way forward.

Both of these qualities have brought us to the present day… through war and peace…feast and famine…in sunshine and in rain.

In our story today we see the Old Order upended…the way things were supposed to be is overthrown.

Esau’s champions charge Jacob and their mother with trickery. Jacob’s defenders counter that Esau and their father are inattentive, despising any sense of propriety beyond brute force and an inflated sense of entitlement.

Brute force is not enough, as we will see when we get to the stories of Moses and Pharaoh. Sly cleverness is not enough, which we will see when we pick up the stories about Herod and Judas.

The strands of human progress have to be woven together to make any and all of us what we are today. Who wins and who loses does not determine which side will disappear forever.

Norman Maclean put it this way: Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.

Chance and circumstance can force that river to overflow its banks and cut a new channel…giving victory to the owner on one side of the stream…dealing a blow to the other.

The race is not to the swift, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.

We can debate whether it is the immutable will of God that determines the outcome from day to day or the fickle finger. But finally we all need to turn to the task at hand and move forward as well and as faithfully as we can…keeping the long view in mind…but watching what is before us, too.

Jesus takes up this message today, too. Those who have ears to hear, listen. He is becoming known as a prophet and there is speculation that he may be the one for whom Israel has been waiting for so long.

They want to know if this is the time and he is the one. He says if you want to know what kind of tree you are looking at, look at its fruit …and he has been performing great miracles…speaking deep truths.

The Pharisees ask for a sign and he tells them that the only sign they will get will be the sign of Jonah who was three days in the belly of a sea monster and the Son of Man will be three days in the heart of the earth.

Then he gets to the point we are looking at today when such a large crowd gathers that he has to get into a boat to preach the Word to them…from the sea to dry land.

A sower goes out to sow. He is the sower and the Word he speaks is the seed. He sows some seed in places where it does not bear fruit.

It is eaten by birds. It does not get enough water. It is choked by weeds. But some seed lands on good soil and produces fruit.

The seed that does not produce fruit is the Word that is heard by those who cannot find the grace to believe. They have all they need right there in front of them but they do not do what they are told.

The seed that lands on the good soil is the Word heard by those who believe and act upon it. That would be us.

He knows he speaks to a generation he describes as “evil and adulterous.”They want to believe what they want to believe. They do not want to be bothered by information that does not confirm what they wish to be true.

Here he is…the gift of God…sent to save sinners from a fate that is not worthy of the love of God. All he can do is speak and act. Those who see and hear must do the rest.

Our present public health crisis gives us a good metaphor for this whole process. We can tell people to stay home, to keep a safe distance from others, to wear a cloth mask whenever they are in public, to cover their cough…to wash their hands often…but no one can make them do it.

The people of Israel were waiting for someone to do what they wanted done for them. Jesus tells them that they are the ones who have to do the doing.

There are consequences for their bad actions, but there are consequences for their good actions, too.

We pray every Sunday that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But who is it that can do God’s will here on earth? It is us. I went to Boys State in 1966. The Governor, Tim Babcock, came and told us not to let George do it.

Someone has to do what needs to be done. There is no money in it. There is no fame in it. Maybe there is glory in it…and maybe not.

Forty-six years later he came to Billings to keynote a prayer breakfast. I went up to him and shook his hand. He knew me… Democratic firebrand…State Party Chair…nemesis of many of his friends.

I told him I remembered his speech that day in Dillon…and I told him that I had not let George do it. We shook hands as friends…and I think we still are. He is one of the friends who waits for me on the other side.

It is a sad insight we receive today that it had to take a pandemic to get us to pay attention. We have had to have a spike in covid numbers to convince us that it isn’t everyone else who has to do it. It is us.

It took a cartoon character named Pogo to tell us, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We are our own worst enemies. But we are also our own best friends.

We want to believe…but we act so often with our disbelief. We need to do the right thing again and again and again …to not just say, but act, one more time…until the day is done and our battle is lost or won.

Be kind to yourself. Listen. Hear. Do good. Do no harm. Stay in love with God. Repeat.

Steve Garnaas Holmes found a far more graceful way to put it than I seem to have done today…in his Unfolding Light offering Thursday.

God will sow the seed of herself in you

and sometimes you won't know it.

Sometimes you'll suspect but not trust.

Sometimes you'll believe but chicken out.

Sometimes you'll do your best to receive but fail.

And sometimes grace will bear fruit in you.

You'll need to forgive

and sometimes you won't try,

or try and get hung up on your own deserving,

or get discouraged when the other doesn't get it.

And sometimes forgiveness will set you free.

God will sow you in the world

and sometimes you won't belong.

Sometimes people will misunderstand.

Sometimes they'll dislike you or use you.

And sometimes you'll blossom.

Sometimes you'll try to sow seeds of justice

but you'll do a lousy job.

Or do it well, but folks will resist.

Or they'll care but they'll be overwhelmed by an unjust society.

And sometimes your witness will bear fruit.





All of it grace. All of it.

May grace fill us…and all our hours …and all we do…this day and all our days. May we never sell this, our birthright of grace…and blessing…for any price.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.