Posts tagged ‘Holidays’

A Very Good Blessing for Esau…and Us

“Esau and Jacob” by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari / Wikipedia

In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob famously steals his brother’s blessing from his father, Isaac. Jacob, who dresses up like his brother to dupe his near-blind dad, receives this blessing from Isaac:

Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed. (Genesis 27:27-29)

In this blessing, Isaac promises Jacob four things. First, he promises Jacob material blessing – he will be blessed with much food and drink. Second, he promises Jacob political power – that nations and people will bow down to him. Third, he promises Jacob familial patronage – he will be the patriarch and guardian for his whole family. Fourth, he promises Jacob a spiritual legacy. Isaac’s words “may those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed” echo God’s words to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:3). Jacob, rather than his older brother Esau, will be the one to carry the spiritual mantle of Abraham forward in the family – and for the world.

This is quite a blessing. And unsurprisingly, when Esau finds out that his brother Jacob has received such a stellar blessing, which his dad intended to be his, he is furious – and desperate. He pleads to his father, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me” (Genesis 27:36)? What his father musters for him sounds quite meager:

Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck. (Genesis 27:39-40)

This seems more like a curse than a blessing! Isolation from others and subordination to a scorned sibling hardly sound enticing. And yet, embedded in this “blessing” is a glimmer of hope: “But when you grow restless, you will throw off his yoke from your neck.” When Esau first hears these words, he immediately interprets them as a license for violence. In the very next verse, we find Esau looking forward to his father’s imminent death and saying to himself: “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Murder is how Esau believes that he will throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal.

But things don’t turn out the way Esau plots them.

Instead, Jacob, learning of his brother’s secret plot, flees. Over five decades pass before they see each other again. But when they finally do, the scene is moving:

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33:4)

At first, Esau believed that he would be able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by exacting vengeance from him. But, it turns out, he was only able to throw off the yoke of his brother’s betrayal by forgiving him.

As the holidays approach, many of us have family members – or others – by whom we may feel betrayed. Perhaps this is the time of year to trade a weak hope for vengeance for a better blessing of forgiveness. This is the only way the yoke of the betrayal someone has committed against you can truly be removed from you. This is what Esau learned, and this is the way Jesus shows.

It turns out Esau received a pretty good blessing after all.

November 9, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Everyday Thankfulness

Praying HandsIt was truly a mountaintop moment. I’ll never forget seeing her rush down Concordia’s breezeway in her stunning white dress, bursting through the back doors of the worship center, and coming toward me. The day I married Melody was a day I will always cherish. But, as seems to be the way of life, you must eventually leave the mountaintop moments of life and tread into the valley of reality.

The valley of reality struck less than a week after our wedding. By then, the ceremony was ancient history, the reception had long passed, and we had returned from our brief honeymoon to the apartment we were living in at the time, littered with wedding gifts – lots of wedding gifts. Mixers, crock pots, flatware, bed linens, personal effects, and hundreds of dollars of gift cards to Target. “Okay,” Melody announced, a towering stack of cards in her hand, “It’s time to put this stuff away, but as we do, we need to write a thank you card for each of these gifts!” Each of these gifts? But there were hundreds of them! Nevertheless, gift after gift, I wrote these thank you notes, even though my hand got cramped and my tongue got dry from licking all those envelopes. I must confess that that more notes I wrote, the briefer my expressions of gratitude became. I appreciated the gifts, but the overwhelming task of writing hundreds of cards led to the underwhelming nature of my notes of thankfulness.

Sadly, like my thank you cards, many modern day expressions of gratitude are underwhelming. We do not respond adequately to, or even bother to notice, the many things for which we have to be thankful. This is what makes some words from the famed poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in a sermon he delivered on Thanksgiving Day of 1830 so striking to me: “At first, brethren, consider whether each of us has not had some reason to acknowledge the special favor of God Himself.”[1] Emerson is calling on us to reflect on our lives and find some gift from God for which we might be thankful. This kind of a call from a pastor to his people at Thanksgiving is common. And yet, the reason Emerson offers as to why we should give thanks is striking: “Twelve months are past.”

Did I hear that right? We ought to be thankful to God simply because a year has passed from one Thanksgiving to the next? Sure enough, Emerson’s first reason for thankfulness is the simple gift of time. Perhaps the simple gift of time was especially poignant to Emerson because his beloved wife Ellen lie sick in bed during this period with tuberculosis. She would die from the disease the following February. God’s gift of time with his wife, then, became suddenly precious to Emerson.

The text on which Emerson based his sermon for that Thanksgiving Day was from the Psalms: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). The Psalmist, like Emerson, references time. Except the Psalmist does not call us to give thanks for twelve months; rather, the Psalmist calls us to give thanks for “forever.” For long after our lives have passed from this earth, we will have an eternity with a God who loves us. And that should be enough to move any heart to thankfulness.

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving this week, do not let your expressions of gratitude wallow in mediocrity. Instead, make them hearty and overwhelming. For God’s gifts are hearty and overwhelming. And if you need something for which to be thankful, consider this: twelve months have passed. Not only that: eternity awaits. Give thanks to the LORD for this!

___________________________

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3 (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 46.

November 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Problem with Poverty

Poverty 1“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said (Matthew 26:11).  This is most certainly true.  Our best-laid plans to abolish poverty have fallen woefully short.  New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof shines a spotlight on just how short our plans have fallen in his recent column titled, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy.”[1]  His opening paragraphs are bone chilling:

This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America:  parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way – and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

A plan that seeks to alleviate poverty in the form of Supplemental Security Income in some instances actually perpetuates it.  After all, there is no immediate economic payoff for having a son or daughter learn how to read, only a potential loss.  And though a myriad of statistics could be marshaled concerning how, over the long haul, children who enjoy solid educations early in life enjoy economic and social stability later in life, these parents can’t afford to concern themselves with “the long haul.”  They’re just concerned about their next meal.  And so these parents are pressed into a self-perpetuating poverty.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said.  This means two things.  First, it means that the sinfulness that leads to poverty will always be with us and in us, at least on this side of the Eschaton.  There will always be some people who are lazy and refuse to work, placing themselves in poverty’s grip and on the government’s dole.  There will always be some people who are victims of economic injustice – just ask those who were bamboozled by Bernie Madoff.  There will always be some people who, because of some fortuitous tragic circumstance – a devastating illness, a lost job, a natural disaster – find themselves with bills they can’t pay and a family they can’t support.  Satan will continue to find delight in impoverishing people.

And yet, Jesus’ words are not only a commentary on human sinfulness, they are also a call to Christian action.  For with His words, Jesus opens for us plenty of opportunities to show mercy.  After all, there are hungry people for us to feed.  There are naked people for us to clothe.  There are hopeless people for us to encourage.  There are plenty of people to which we can offer a cup of water in Jesus’ name (cf. Mark 9:41).  In fact, I love how Mark records Jesus’ statement:  “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want” (Mark 14:27).

Jesus says, “You can help.”  So let’s get to it!  How and who can you help this holiday season?  Maybe you can serve at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you can visit someone who is lonely.  That’s your mission.  That’s your calling.  And, as Jesus says, you can carry out that mission “any time you want” – even beyond the holidays.

I hope you will.


[1] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” New York Times (12.7.12).

December 17, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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