July 16 2017

BLESSING: THE BUMPER CROP

Rev. Aubra Love

Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119: 105, Matthew 13;1-9, 18-23

I recently read an article about Birth Order Theory. Some may go so far as to call it Birth Order Science. It seems that there is an entire school of thought that asserts that the order of someones’ birth can determine their personality traits and skills, life ambitions and goals.

Now, I don’t know if I believe all of that. But the study I read was from MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.1 It was published in January of this year. I picked it up last week in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, a newspaper that I read frequently. So, the findings of this Birth Order Study had determined that second-born children (particularly second born sons) were more likely to be rebellious in school and to interface with the criminal justice system, as teens or adults.

I don’t believe everything I read but I still found it compelling that these behavioral scientists had determined that the reason the second born is so difficult is because they are raised, at least in part, by an irrational, demanding and domineering two year old.

The firstborn is raised by adults, their parents. Then, the second born has a two or three year old as their primary role model and companion. As the grandmother of a two-year old, I could relate to this. Most of my negotiations with my sweet and amazing granddaughter conclude with “No!” or “Mine!”

I was amused by this article, also, because I’m number four in the birth order of my family, “the baby” as we called it when folks had bigger families. It seems sort of like earlier generations reasoned, “we’ve got these new skills and all of this equipment, and toddler paraphernalia….we can stay in the business for a little longer…increase our inventory, have a few more babies.

Well, this Birth Order study formed the backdrop for me as I studied out our Old Testament text for this morning. Our text is taken from the Book of Genesis in the 25th chapter. Here we find an exploration of the relationship between Jacob and Esau. They are brothers, twins in fact, with very different outlooks on life. Esau is the oldest and Jacob is the second- born, but they are twins.

In this Old Testament text, we find a sibling rivalry story of Jacob and Esau. It is written that Jacob and Esau are as different from each other as the day is from the night. It seems one is driven by a reckless ambition and the other is driven by a raging hunger!

According to these passages, they fought in their mother Rebekah’s womb—-even before they were born. Rebekah is reputed to have cried out to God, “What good is my life?” because they fought so desperately in her womb. Isaac, their dad, was about 60 years old by the time the twins came along.

The sibling rivalry was so deep that as Esau, the older twin was being delivered…Jacob, the baby brother, was yanking on Esau’s heels trying to be born first, himself.

Some of you parents and grandparents know exactly where I’m going with this.

Children, given the same rights and privileges, raised in the same household, with the same parents, given the same guidance and opportunities can grow up completely different…believing very differently, motivated by totally different stuff.

Esau, we’re told, was an outdoors-man who loved to till the fields. He was a hunter and a fisherman. He was known to bring home venison to his father who enjoyed feasting on the hefty venison steaks.

Isaac, the father of these twins loved Esau! Esau was his boy, if you get what I mean! And Isaac delighted in him. Esau was a laborer and a sower, a fisherman and a hunter, the kind of person who understood the balance of nature. Esau knew how to love and honor the Creation, striking a balance that allowed him to share in Mother Earth’s bounty without depleting her.

Esau probably recycled everything and cared for the environment. Maybe he served on the community’s Green Team. He was just that kind of guy. And Isaac loved Esau, especially!

Jacob, on the other hand, was well versed in home, hearth and hospitality. He was a skilled householder who knew all about hospitality, comfort and care of guests. I understand that Brother Jacob was quite the host. When he took care of you, you knew that you had been taken care of. He really knew how to roll out the “red carpet”. And Rebekah, Jacob’s mother adored her domesticated son. She couldn’t help preferring Jacob to Esau. Rebecca and Jacob got on famously, scheming on the rest of the family.

Simply put, Jacob just seemed a little bit more civilized than her furry, red-haired, hairy son, Esau.

This story is all about Esau as the eldest son, coming in from a day of “taming” the out of doors. Turns out Esau was hungry to the point of being wobbly on his knees. Indeed, the Word tells us that Esau was famished. Said Esau was worn out, hungry…dare I say “hongry”. That’s exponentially hungry, “HONGRY”!

You ever been like that? Having pushed yourself to do one more thing, expended all of your energy only to find yourself at mealtime without a plan and not even enough energy to prepare a meal. It’s a struggle. It’s a bad feeling, just in case you don’t know anything about it.

It’s a bad feeling when we can’t even discern between moderate exertion and unhealthy exhaustion. Workers sometimes call this workaholism; just working, on auto-pilot. Esau had exerted himself in the fields, and made his way back home probably just following the scent of the hot stew.

You’ve read the story, Esau appeals to his brother Jacob for a bowl of the hot stew. And here it comes…wait for it…Jacob tells him, only if you promise to give up your birthright. He says, “Sure, you can have some of this stew, in exchange for your birthright.” Jacob says to Esau, how about letting me hold that birthright?

The birthright was an inheritance of all of their father, Isaac’s, possessions. Isaac was a wealthy man with cattle and livestock. Isaac had vast real estate holdings. Sound like anybody you know? The birthright was a big deal. It was not only material possessions. The birthright was influence, dignity, respect, legacy and all kinds of unearned power, authority and privilege. The birthright was conveyed with the patriarchal blessing!

Jacob says, stew for your birthright.

This, we understand, was customary, at that time. The first-born son received the birthright, this good inheritance. This was their custom and their social policy.

Esau, in his compromised state, is reputed to have lightly regarded his birthright, reasoning “What good is a birthright to me, if I’m starving, right now?”

Esau is compromised, with no physical energy. We don’t know why on this particular day, coming in from the fields, he is weary beyond what he expected. Maybe he was a diabetic and needed to eat more often than Jacob, or you or me. Maybe his zeal for the outdoors caused him to lose his grip on reality.

Maybe he had “hit the wall”, that place that allows a worker or a runner to keep going after their human capacity is exceeded. Perhaps, Esau didn’t even know that he was tired because of the adrenalized state that ruins the kidneys and other vital organs of the overworked. 2 We don’t know. The text doesn’t bother to tell us. But we know that he was famished to the point that a vision of the future was impractical in his eyes. You know, Esau is thinking, “I have immediate needs. I’m starving and they trying to talk to me about a deferred annuity.”

Have mercy.

People of God, I ask that you enter the story through Esau’s eyes, this morning. Esau gets a bum rap. Some say that Esau’s belly was his God; that he was trifling to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. They say Esau was just trifling. The reading goes so far as to say, “Esau despised his birthright.”

Even in the kindest portrayals and scholarly commentaries on these passages, they say that Esau is at the very least, “apathetic”. What some would call “apathetic”, I ask that you consider that Esau’s life has demanded that he focus on the fierce urgency of NOW. This is the way the FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW, looks on Esau. This fierce urgency of now is often misread as “apathy” on folk like Esau.

We already know Esau as a sower, a tiller of the fields, a human roto-tiller! This means that he understood the concept of deferred gratification. He knows how to break ground, sow seed and wait for a harvest. We know Esau as a fisherman and a hunter. We know that he knows how to wait.

Don’t miss this, People of God, listen up! We know that Esau’s ingredients were in that stew. Esau was the tiller and hunter for this ancient family. His ingredients were in that very stew!

Perhaps, Jacob knew which fork to use and which beverage glass was appropriate, but Esau’s ingredients were in that stew. And instead of creating a Welcome Table, Jacob, his brother, created a LINE OF SCRIMMAGE. Esau is seeking a place at this Welcome Table with his brother. The table doesn’t belong to Jacob or Esau. The table is God’s providence!

I’m reminded of the current dilemma of seeking a sane healthcare program in our country. It reminds me of the “line of scrimmage” regarding public policy related to affordable healthcare options.3 The reluctance and mounting fear about the costs of Medicare and Medicaid Expansion.

We’ve got a brother, or a sister, who has labored in our fields; fruit harvesters, farm-workers, I’m talking about. We’ve got a brother and a sister who are laboring in our factories and mines. We’ve got brothers and sisters laboring in our hospitals, food service industry, our schools and every nurturing institution. They are coming to the table for care and restoration.

They are sick and tired. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “They are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”4 They are ground up, seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage. And the Welcome Table has become a line of scrimmage!5

According to the Gallup Healthcare Well-being Survey—the number of people without health insurance has risen by 2 million, while we seek to agree on and pass a healthcare bill. 6 Or to simply repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act without a replacement.

We all need to remember whose ingredients are in that STEW!

Nearly 45% of all expectant mothers access Medicaid at some point during their pregnancies.7 Forty-five percent. Some folks are just quiet about the help they get.

And we are losing new mothers to maternal deaths at a rate higher than ANY industrialized nation. The United States has more maternal deaths than any other industrialized nation.

Research and read about the current study in the State of Texas on what is causing maternal deaths. Do this in your private study time. Surely, poor prenatal care, lousy delivery options that push artificial hormones to speed up the birth process, and virtually no post partem care are sure to be factors in these increasing numbers of maternal deaths.8

Reproductive healthcare is just one of the areas where tragedy is imminent without humane affordable healthcare options. Not attending to our healthcare policy in a compassionate way is to abandon our children, our neighbor and God’s creation. Need I say that, this is not a Christ-centered love?

No one denies that new life is a blessing that is far too precious for humankind to attain. Oh my people, but we’ll never see the bumper crop of blessings if we fail to attend to these issues in a responsible, loving way.

During General Synod 2017, a couple of weekends ago, our UCC General Minister and President previewed a missional initiative called the “Three Great Loves”.9 I read about this with much interest because it sounded a lot like a C.S. Lewis title in my theological library. C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”, yes?

And while there was a good bit of context-setting in this report from Dr. John Dorhauer, we will take the liberty of summarizing and say that our UCC President shared about these “Three Great Loves” as an initiative to set a direction that builds a just world for all.

These “Three Great Loves” are simply described as a Christ-centered love of CHILDREN, a Christ-centered love of our NEIGHBOR, and a Christ-centered love of CREATION.

Obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, this direction is inspired by Matthew’s Gospel. In Dr. Dorhauer’s presidential report, he charges each of us to more clearly define what it looks like for us to become the fullest expression of these Three Great Loves.

Maybe, you weren’t at Synod. But, the message was for you, too. With technology, the folks at home often have the best seat in the house. Technology permits us to see whose on the dais, all of the milling about in the exhibit halls; sometimes even behind the scenes and cameo interviews at a gathering of thousands.

Ours is a denomination that is known for casting a far-flung vision that is far enough away from the despair of the current reality and temporal struggle…so far-flung as to keep us striving toward the realm of God. The realm of God, you know, formerly known as the Kingdom of Heaven.

This bold vision-casting causes me to purpose in my heart to read anew. To understand more deeply. And to preach toward the Realm of God like never before, in a way that cuts through our collective despair.

The vision doesn’t end at equitable social policy, though that seems rather unattainable at times. It urges us to believe and act from a place of Christ-centered love. We get to run toward this vision of not just a harvest…but toward the expectation of a bumper crop; that is building a just world for all.

Some of us have lived through movements where we’ve seen legislation change in a way that affirms the humanity of many people. I have lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the template for all contemporary movements. I was introduced to the Feminist Movement on the campus of Cornell University as an early admissions college student. I lived through the resistance at Stonewall in New York State and the uprising of the LGBTQ movement…The Occupy Wall Street and various classism strategies and workers’ rights movements!

Yet, the freedoms gained through agitation in our movements seem to last only for a season. We are struggling today for many of the same freedoms that were won 50 years ago. We struggling for stuff our mammas and daddies fought for!

Bernice Johnson Reagan tells us that the only freedom we have is the freedom that we are protecting “right now”.10

We can strategize for a blessing, but it is only through a radically, inclusive love that we have any hope of sustaining a blessing.

Lest you go on worrying continuously about our Brother Esau, I’ll remind you that Esau continued to provide for himself as a laborer, once he was fed and restored. My Bible tells me that Esau lived off the land, sowing and reaping; hunting and fishing. This sacred Word tells me that Esau apparently found the strength to live a full and satisfying life, once he received the necessary care; once he was fed and restored.

Esau was blessed to be fully present and conscious in every moment of his life. In fact, Esau traveled and married two African wives, causing his mother Rebekah to cry out to God, once more “What good is my life?” Blessing is in the eye of the beholder, People of God. Esau was blessed!

Our LGBT sisters and brothers may know something about controlling family who might cry out to God,” What good is my life” regarding partner choices. Somehow, who Esau married became all about Rebekah’s life. Why is Rebekah asking God what good is her life?

Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems, today.11 I’m quoting the Big Book, here.
Girl, couldn’t stay on her side of the street. Church, let’s move on?

Onward, our Psalmist pens a love song to God, saying “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet. And a light unto my path.”

In this ancient love song, we have a testimony that God has something to say that can lead us through the messes that we find ourselves in. God’s Word can show us the direction and even illuminate our paths, so that we might act in compassion.

Matthew’s account of the Gospel, in this morning’s reading, testifies by parable to the power of the sacred teachings in this allegory of the Sower. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells of a farmer who scatters Her seeds, without prejudice, indiscriminately. Some of Her seeds are sown on a path and the birds come and eat them up as birdfood. They are immediately consumed.

Some of Her seeds are sown on rocky ground, with not a chance of growing roots. As soon as a challenge comes along, like the sun comes out, they are immediately scorched up. She is still sowing, indiscriminately. Some of Her seeds fell among the thorns and weeds. And you know like I know that a weed grows faster than anything you can plant from a seed. The weeds and thorns choke and overtake the seedlings.

Yet, She is still sowing, liberally and upbraideth not. Because She sows indiscriminately, some of Her seeds fall on fertile, good ground to bring forth the bounty of a bumper crop!

If we can accept that God is portrayed as the Sower…and indeed She is.

If God’s Word can be accepted as the seed of any good gift, as “all good gifts come down from above”.

And if we can go so far as to imagine ourselves as fertile, good ground!

Church, I want you to declare that you are good ground, this morning.

Say it with me, “We are good ground! I am good ground!”

It is promised that we can expect a blessing that we will not have room enough to receive…by demonstrating a Christ centered love of our children, our neighbor and God’s creation.

We are looking for a bumper crop in this season!
Hallelujah, may it be so.

Notes for the curious and compulsive justice-maker and co-Creator:

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Birth Order Study,
-Birth Order and Delinquency: Evidence from Denmark and Florida, January, 2017
MIT Study Finds Second Children Are Far More Likely to End Up in Jail |, Atlanta Journal, July, 2017

2. “adrenalized state that ruins the kidneys”-
-Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison’s Disease, What is adrenal insufficiency?
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease

3. “line of scrimmage” regarding public policy related to affordable healthcare options. The reluctance and mounting fear about the costs of Medicare and Medicaid Expansion.
-Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Cuts to Medicaid,By ROBERT PEAR and THOMAS KAPLAN, New York Times, June 22, 2017

4. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
-Fannie Lou Hamer: Tired of Being Sick and Tired | The Nation By Jerry DeMuth
APRIL 2, 2009

5. They are ground up, seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage. And the Welcome Table has become a line of scrimmage!
-How states are crushing the $15 minimum wage movement
Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute
Thu, 30 Mar ’17 | 1:26 PM ET
CNBC.com

6. According to the Gallup Healthcare Well-being Survey—the number of people without healthcare will go up 2 million, while we seek to agree on and pass a healthcare bill.
-The Number of U.S. Adults Without Health Insurance Has Risen by Two Million This Year
RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR / AP, TIMEinc.net
JUL 10, 2017 8:11 AM EDT,

7. “Nearly 45% of all expectant mothers access Medicaid at some point during their pregnancies.”
-Maternal and Infant Health Care Quality. Nearly two out of every three adult women enrolled in Medicaid are in their reproductive years (ages 19-44), and Medicaid currently finances about 45% of all births in the United States.
https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/quality-of-care/improvement-initiatives/maternal-and-infant-health/

8. “Research and read about the current study in the State of Texas on what is causing maternal deaths.”
-Texas has highest pregnancy-related death rate in developed world, study says– Meredith Hoffman, Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2017
Associated Press

9. “During General Synod 2017, UCC General Minister and President previewed a missional initiative called the ‘Three Great Loves’.

10. Bernice Johnson Reagan tells us that the only freedom we have is the freedom that we are protecting “right now”. Sweet Honey ‘n The Rock

11. Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems, today. I’m quoting the Big Book, here.
-Big book, Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417, Copyright 1976 A.A.W.S. Inc.

Acceptance
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

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