by Pastor Doug Stratton — July 12, 2020

Genesis 25:19-34 (Is 56:1-8)

This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram[a] and sister of Laban the Aramean.

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. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

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.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 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.

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. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

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.

CCI: Our origin stories set the path of our lives.

In March 1681, a cash-strapped Charles II, unable to repay a debt owed to Penn’s late father made the young heir sole owner of 45,000 square miles of land south-west of New Jersey and north of Baltimore. As a feudal-style proprietor, Penn could in turn grant out land as he saw fit.

Within a month, he published the first in a series of promotional tracts with the aim of generating investor interest in his plan to “settle a free, just and industrious colony”. His promised land guaranteed freedoms, rights and liberties.

The city was laid out in even grids, while unusual, it was not unheard of. What was unique was the intentional plan for Philadelphia to be a green city. Every housing plot was to be large enough for a garden and a small orchard. In addition 4 public squares and a Center Square were envisioned that would be parks for the use of the general public.

This was the original plan for the city. And the story of that original plan continues to impact the development of the city. In fact, while the 4 public squares for more than 100 years were not parks, the original vision lived and finally came to fruition. Today Logan, Rittenhouse, Franklin, and Washington Parks exists because of Penn’s original vision. 

This is an origin story that the city could use to continue to become a green community. That was Penn’s vision. Each of us have origin stories, they are not limited to cities, or churches, or nations. Sometimes they are immigrant stories, or stories of survival, or stories of values. They are often the stories that are told when we reminisce as we talk to our children or grandchildren.

Origin stories may be factually true, but seldom are they remembered perfectly. The power of the story is not in the facts that are presented, but in the message they carry. 

And in the scripture we just read we find the origin story of the children of Israel. It is a story of deceit, of blessing, of love, and of identity. The first line of the text tells us it is an origin story. “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.” In other words, folks, this is your story. 

The story tells the people many things about their identity. They are the descendants of the second born, not the first, and so they are underdogs. Their enemies, the Edomites, are their relatives, but their ancestor is barely human, even at birth their progenitor was more like an animal than a person, covered with red hair at birth. And while these brothers were twins, they were not even a little bit alike. We are told that even before they were born the fought with each other. The older one was called Esau which means “Hairy,” the second born was called Jacob which means, “heel grabber” or “deceiver.” This story of the origin of the Israelites and the Edomites tells us that from the beginning they were enemies. Jacob, the hero in our story, is not that great a character. After they have grown and not yet been married, Jacob cons his stupid animal like brother out of his inheritance. Esau, the foolish one, sells his inheritance for a bowl of “stew” called “red stuff” because he was starving to death. Can you imagine parents telling their children this story to convince them not to waste their time with the foolish Edomites?

But the other side of the story, that parents would also tell their children is that God is willing to use the underdog, the one who was weaker, the one who was younger. God accepted and blessed that one despite his deceit – and so when Israel saw they were a small nation, they remembered that God blessed the younger. When they faced powerful enemies, they recalled the victory of David and Gideon and remembered little Jacob. These stories brought hope and reminded them that God would be faithful to his promises even when they failed.

The origin stories we tell all have just enough history in them to ground them but then they are told in a ways that can give life or bring death. 

As a nation, the story of 6 year old George Washington confessing to cutting down a cherry tree, while not being historical is told to teach the importance of honesty in our nation. That is potential positive power of our stories. 

But we also know that we have been told stories that have been destructive. In Israel the story of Jacob and Esau became the justification for war and enslavement between the two. The stories told of Africa in the 19th century were told to tell white Americans that Black men were inferior, were violent, were oversexualized, and that together with the Native Americans were less than human. Their only value was found in the service they could provide to superior races. Yes, our stories can be very destructive and set entire people on a destructive path.

As a nation we have a responsibility to change these stories by replacing them we stories of African empires and culture. 

That is what the prophets and Jesus did with Israel’s history. They established new stories. Throughout the books of Moses, outsiders are presented as problems. Those who did not come through the line of Jacob, for the most part were not to be included. Immediately after the return from Exile, this story was continued. In the book of Ezra we learn that after Ezra read the scriptures, he ordered all the men who had brought foreign wives back from Babylon to send them home, to break up the families, to divorce the foreigners. That was the impact of the origin stories of exclusion.

But there was another prophet teaching at the time. In Isaiah 56 we read:

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,

    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”

And let no eunuch complain,

    “I am only a dry tree.”

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs I will give within my temple and its walls

    a memorial and a name

    better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

    that will endure forever.

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord

these I will bring to my holy mountain

    and give them joy in my house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

    will be accepted on my altar;

for my house will be called

    a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah was writing a new story, a story where all were welcome, a story that did not exclude people because of their nationality or forbearers. And that is the story Jesus continued to write when he heard there were Greeks seeking him, he said, “Now the time is right for the Son of Man to give his life.” When the Samaritans came out of the village to meet him, he said, “The harvest if plentiful but the laborers are few.” And when Peter was given his vision of the heavenly banquet filled with unclean animals, he wrote a new story with the words, “God has shown me that God is not a respecter of persons.”

These new stories rewrote the narrative and put in place a new direction for the people of God. 

And that is what God wants to do for us. God longs to rewrite our stories. Many of our origin stories are stories of values and love. But there are other stories, usually buried deep within our spirits. It may be the story of sexual abuse that told you directly or indirectly that you had no value except for your body. Perhaps it was story of racial exclusion that you have heard from teachers and churches and classmates and employers and family members. A story that said unless you can change your skin, you will never be a success. Perhaps it was a story of failure that began with striking out, then missing a catch, then losing a race or failing a test, and each time your story of failure was written permanent marker on another place in your mind. Loser! Failure! Worthless! And anytime you face a challenge, you inevitably review that story. 

Friends, Jesus wants to rewrite your story. He has called you friend. He has raised you when you were dead in your sin. He has washed you and even cleansed your feet. He has introduced you to the Father as his own. He has given you a new name. And he had done all of this because he loves you. 

Don’t let your story trap you in a cycle of despair. That is what the new birth is all about, it is a new origin story and it is yours for the asking. 

As we sang earlier:

Tell me the story of Jesus,

Write on my heart every word.

Tell me the story most precious,

Sweetest that ever was heard.

Because we’ve a story to tell to the nations.

~ Pastor Doug