Scripture:  Genesis 28:10–19 and Romans 8:12-25
Title: “Legacy”
Preached: Pioneer/FPC – 7/23/17

With the passing of my mother and my dad receiving hospice care, I have been giving quite a bit of thought to the legacy my parents left me and my brother.  I find a lot within the story of Jacob and Esau to relate within my own family of origin.  Like Esau and Jacob, my brother and I are complete opposites in many ways.  And like Isaac and Rebekah, my parents often played favorites. My dad and I always got along better together and my mother and brother had a close connection.  From my own experience, just as we see with Jacob and Esau, and later with Joseph and his brothers, playing favorites doesn’t usually work out too well.  It can often cause distances between siblings and even between parents.

This emotional distance was so great in Jacob and Esau’s case, that Jacob had to flee from his home to get away from Esau who wanted to kill his brother because Jacob had tricked and stolen his father’s blessing away from Esau.  Therefore, Jacob left his home in Beersheba, what is now Southern Israel and left for Haran, now North Western Syria, to his Uncle Laban’s land in order to find a wife and start a new life.  On the way, Jacob falls asleep and has this incredible dream where he is met by God and before him is what is described as a ladder where angels are ascending and descending to heaven.  Remember that in the Bible, angels don’t have wings so they can’t just fly up and down to heaven.  This image reminds me of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom has a dream that he dies and ascends to heaven on an escalator for judgment, only to be sorry for how he has treated Jerry.  As Jacob is gazing on this image, the Lord stands next to Jacob and re-affirms the covenant that God made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham.  He says,

“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

As I hear this promise, I can’t but help but think that it all seems a little unfair.  Culturally and relationally, Esau should have had the blessing of Abraham.  Esau was the oldest.  He was also the strongest, and he was his father’s favorite, while Jacob tricked his way to getting the blessing and it is Jacob whom God meets and reaffirms his covenant.  Jacob was a bit of a mama’s boy.  He relied upon his cunning and mind to get ahead.  He wasn’t a very honorable sort.  So why does he get God’s blessing?  Couldn’t a just God just bestow his blessing on Esau instead?  But he doesn’t and he doesn’t in order to make a point to the people of God.  The point is that:  God’s blessing isn’t earned!  Over and over again, God bestows his blessing on the undeserving:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, Solomon, the Apostle Paul, the Bible is filled with stories of the undeserving receiving God’s blessing and promise.  And so it is the same with us.  We have received God’s blessing, not because we deserve it, not because our parents favored us or didn’t favor us, whether our culture says that we deserve it or not.  We have received God’s blessing in Jesus Christ because God has chosen to bestow it upon us.  It is God’s choice and not ours.  As we baptize children and adults, this is an important part of our faith as Presbyterians.  It is God’s choice and action which brings salvation.  In our baptism, we affirm that God chose you.  You are God’s elect and God’s elect are the ones who answer the call of Christ to follow him.

And this is what we see in Jacob.  He responds to this great dream in two ways:  First he sets up an altar as a symbol of this covenant and then he promises to follow God by giving a tenth of what God’s blessing to God.  God acts and the faithful respond.  For over a hundred and fifty years, this church has been built upon God’s action and the faithful response of our parishioners.  This is our legacy of faith to this community.

Now, as we follow the story of Jacob, we see that he didn’t completely change his ways.  He continued in his fallen and sinful ways.  Likewise, when we become Christians, although we repent and strive to be better, we also find ourselves wrestling with our sinful selves.  Old habits die hard.  In our epistle reading today, Paul encourages the Romans to not follow the flesh, which leads to death.  This is a euphemism for sin.  Instead he encourages us to live by the Spirit which leads to life.  Paul is pointing out an advantage that we have as followers of Christ that Jacob did not.  Jacob had God’s blessing as we do, but he did not have God’s Spirit.  In our faith in Jesus Christ, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit helps us to fight our sinful selves and renews our faith.  By turning towards the Spirit instead of the flesh, we can overcome our sin.

As faithful Christians accepting God’s love and grace and living that out, we live out our lives as flesh and spirit.  In the incarnation, Jesus was fully God and fully human.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the baby Jesus became the convergence of Spirit and humanity.  So too when we take on Christ and live out Christ, we too become like Christ; we become incarnational, the convergence of heaven and earth. However, where Christ was without sin, we are not.  Our human sinfulness often gets the best of us, so we must put to death the ways of the flesh and live according to the Spirit.

How do we do this? By obedience to Christ.  By taking on Christ and his teachings, we take upon us his sacrifice.  As Paul writes:

I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Over the years, although I gravitated towards my dad and had a strong relationship with my dad, I realize more and more how much I am a product of both of my parents.  Some of those traits that drove me crazy about my mom were the very traits that I didn’t like about myself.  And there is also a lot of my mom in me that I am proud of as well.  Accepting this has brought peace to my life.  In the same way, we are a product of both our flesh and Spirit.  There are parts of my humanity that I struggle with and there are parts that are a great gift.  Paul, was not suggesting that our humanity is all bad, for then he would be speaking out against Christ who was also fully human.  We must reconcile the good and bad of our humanity through the Spirit in order to find true wholeness and peace.

And we need to help our community to find that same wholeness as well.  For over a hundred and fifty years we along with our sister churches in the area have lived out our legacy of faith in Jesus Christ.  We have answered the call and provided traditional Sunday worship, Bible study, baptism, confirmation, and benevolence.  You have been faithful in your commitment and dedication to Christ.  However, we are finding that the way we have done church for the last 150 years is no longer working within our community, at least not in the way that it once did.  Our faith still works, but how we as a church carry out that faith is not.  That is the question that we must wrestle with:  How do we carry our faith in Jesus Christ out in new ways to this new generation.  Like Jacob, we are embarking upon a new and scary adventure.  We are traveling into unchartered territory.  However, remember that God’s promise is always with us.  He will meet us.  We need to remember where we come from, but also need to be open to where God is taking us by listening and interpreting the dream that he has laid out before us.  Then we will walk into our new life with Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. Amen.