Grace in a Brothers Face
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 6, 2018
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I had intended to present a five-week series on Grace and had to shorten it down to just one sermon, due to my leave last month. So, I selected the story of Esau and Jacob out of all the amazing grace stories out there. It spoke to me, I hope it does you also.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Sibling rivalry, we all know what it is, right? Who all has brothers or sisters? Do you remember when you were young, the rivalries that took place? I was the youngest of four children who had been born within less than five years of one another – my brother, the oldest was 4 ½ years older than me, the youngest. We were always close, my sisters, Sue and Sally and my brother, Jim. We spent hours together playing games, traveling with our parents, doing the things that kids do.
As the youngest I did get some perks. I was the smallest, so I got to sit in the front seat with my parents while my three older sibs had to squish in the back seat. By the time I was a teenage my parents had gotten the whole parenting thing down pretty good. To my siblings it looked like I was getting off easy – later bedtimes, a car to drive, seemingly I had free reign. At least from their viewpoint, they had all moved out and left me home alone with mom and dad. To them I was a spoiled kid. Sometimes they were jealous and teased me about it, but for the most part we worked together and supported one another.
Not all siblings share this type of comradery. Esau and Jacob were rivals from the beginning. The twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, began their struggle before they were even born. In Genesis 25:23 God told Rebekah that was because there were “Two nations in her womb, and two peoples born to Rebekah, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
When they were born Esau was red and hairy. Jacob was born, holding onto his brother’s heel. As they grew Esau became a skilled hunter and was described as a “person of strong feelings and little patience.” His younger brother Jacob was quieter, more domesticated, a man of culture, today we could imagine him enjoying an afternoon with a good book. Scripture tells us that Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. I think sometime rivalries begin when parents take sides, favoring one over another.
As the first-born, Esau was the legal heir to the family birthright, but Jacob convinced Esau to sell his birthright to him in exchange for a bowl of stew. The story is that Esau came in from working hard all day and was “starving to death,” so Jacob convinced him that he should exchange a bowl of stew for his birthright. All Esau cared about was food! He was hungry. Do you know people like that? They can’t think straight when they’re hungry. My oldest is that way. You can’t even talk to him when he’s hungry.
Esau was so focused on getting his physical needs met that he didn’t seem interested in the lawful rights given to him by birth and in essence threw them away. I wonder if Esau had any idea what he was giving up. I believe Jacob knew exactly what he had gained.
When they were older, and their father Isaac was nearing his death, with the help of his mother Rebekah, Jacob devised a plan to steal the blessing owed to his brother. Jacob took advantage of Isaac’s failing eyesight and impersonated his brother by putting a fur on his arm and neck so that when Isaac reached out to him he would feel Esau’s hairy body. Jacob stole the blessing that was to be given to Isaac’s oldest son, it was tradition and Jacob deceived both Isaac and Esau.
When Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob which forced Jacob to flee for his life. For years Jacob lived with his mother’s family, marrying his uncle Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob endured being cheated by his uncle in order to marry Rachel, the woman he loved, working for 14 years instead of only seven as a bride price. Jacob was a good businessman and their crops and livestock grew under his management. He became quite wealthy, even paying Laban justly before he made the decision to return to his homeland and make amends with his brother Esau, twenty years after they had parted.
After Jacob set out with his family and all his possessions in tow, his scouts went ahead and learned that Esau was traveling to meet him with 400 men. Jacob was afraid that he was going to be killed by his brother. Here he was traveling home, hoping to repair the relationship with his brother, but it didn’t look good. As they got closer to Esau, Jacob sent his servants ahead with gifts, livestock in the hundreds and the slaves were told to present each drove to Esau in an attempt to appease him; his last chance to make amends with his brother for what he had done so many years ago.
Finally, before he was to be face to face with Esau he arranged his family from least favored to most favored – the servants and their children were first, then Leah and her children, then finally Rachel and Joseph. Jacob went out ahead and bowed down seven times – a gesture of upmost respect, a gesture of submission, the younger to the older. Jacob in these simple acts, let Esau know that he is rightfully restoring his birthright to him.
Still nervous how Esau would receive his contrition, Jacob is surprised to see Esau running to embrace him. Esau threw his arms around Jacob and scripture says, they wept. It reminds me of “Jesus’ story of the prodigal, we read that when the son came home, “while he was still far off, his father saw him and…ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). This was an act of grace.”
As the two families greet one another, Jacob tries to give Esau the many gifts he has brought. Esau refused them, and they become trivial in the presence of grace, in Esau’s ability to forgive and set aside the bad blood between them and offer the precious gift of grace.
The point of this story is that grace is not earned, it’s not purchased, it is simply unmerited favor. It’s a “get out of jail card,” it’s being let go when you are pulled over for speeding, it’s having an apology accepted, it’s knowing you deserve the book to be thrown at you and instead you are embraced in love and forgiveness, and restored to favor by grace.
Has someone done something to you that is unjust? Do you feel justified in harboring negative feelings? Do you, as Esau, feel justified in murderous thoughts? The injustice is overwhelming. It is up to me to make them pay for what they have done!
But where is grace? As followers of Jesus Christ we have been given many examples how we are to respond to negativity, to harm, to family members who “done us wrong!” It’s called Grace.
“Grace is God’s unique gift, an utterly divine initiative. Its ultimate origin is God, because only God is of such quality as to administer it.” As humans we are called to be conveyors of God’s grace, to humbly receive grace when it’s undeserved and then to offer grace to others in ample measure.
Grace can’t be earned, it can’t be bought, it can’t be stolen. It is offered and received, because that is what Christ asks of us. We are to turn the other cheek, we are to image the best of others, not the worst. It is up to us to see others as God sees them, as worthy of grace. When we think that we don’t need to be grace-filled toward others, we forget the amount of grace that has been heaped upon us, even when we might not even be aware.
Seeing grace in our brother’s face is like seeing God face to face. And God’s grace is enough. Amen.
 Kalas, 27