A few weeks ago I had one of those windshield conversations with my eighteen-year old son, Casey. We were heading home after a week of fishing in the High Sierras when, quite unexpectedly, he asked if I was nervous about preaching my first sermon at St. Andrew. It’s a beautiful thing when your eighteen-year old son asks you a question that doesn’t end with the words “money,” “credit card,” or “car keys.”
“Dad, are you nervous about preaching your first sermon at St. Andrew?”
I was touched by his apparent concern for me. I said, “Well, it’s like this: are you nervous about heading off for your first year at Kent State?” He said, “Yeah, a little. But the waiting is the hardest part.”
And he’s right. We’ve been waiting for this day for more than four months. As I’ve said before, it feels like we met on match.com back in March but had to wait four long months for our first date. I imagine that some of you may have gotten cold feet in the meantime, and while I wish I could say that there’s no absolutely pressure today on this blind date, the truth is that, before this day is over, we’re actually going to be married. I hope you’re okay with that.
During this time of waiting I’ve said farewell to the faithful people at San Dieguito, whom I have loved and served for eight incredible years; and you’ve said your farewells to Rev. Phil and Elaine, whose influence on your lives and on this church will endure for years to come. I’m grateful for Phil’s leadership over the last five months, and blessed by the grace with which he’s passed the baton to me in these early days of the transition. I’m grateful for the staff and lay leaders who’ve worked so hard to bring me here and to make this day so meaningful. And I’m grateful for Rev. Dale – for his pastoral leadership and deep wisdom, his endless energy and creativity, and his love for this congregation.
I am here, but Lori remains in San Diego for a few more weeks. She sends her love this morning as she packs boxes and prepares for the move at the end of this month. I can’t wait for you to meet her and Matthew on August 3rd, and they can’t wait to meet you.
A few months ago I looked at the lectionary passages for today and chose this provocative, scandalous text from Genesis 25. It’s a peculiar choice of texts for my first Sunday at St. Andrew – a story about two embattled brothers, Jacob and Esau, and the fateful day when each made a momentous decision that would change not only the course of their lives, but the very future of God’s people.
Jacob and Esau – Rebekah’s improbable twins, Isaac’s impossible sons. Impossible because they were constantly going at each other, improbable because they were conceived in barrenness, just as their father, Isaac, had been years before. Do you remember that story of Isaac’s conception? Abraham’s aging wife, Sarah, posted on Facebook one day the news that she was pregnant, and Abraham laughed so hard in disbelief that his dentures came unglued. So when Sarah finally gave birth to her son, she tweeted all her friends that she had named the child Isaac, which means “Son of Laughter.”
Isaac’s conception and birth was a biological impossibility. And while Abraham may have thought it was God’s practical joke, God had a high and holy purpose for Isaac. This child would become the critical link in the lineage of God’s chosen people.
It all began improbably, with a old pensioner named Abraham, and it would continue with Isaac, the next patriarch born out of impossible circumstances.
And then along come Isaac’s twins, Jacob and Esau. The doctors had told Rebekah that she’d never have children, but Isaac knows better. And would you believe that there’s not just one baby boy in her womb, but two? The first baby to see daylight would be the next patriarch in the lineage of God’s chosen people. The first-born would get the birthright, the future, the crown of glory, and the extraordinary mantel of leadership.
And this, of course, is where it gets complicated. Esau comes first, but Scripture says that Jacob comes out of the womb clutching his brother’s heal, which is why his parents name him Jacob, which means “heal-grabber.” And the name fits, because Jacob never stops grasping after things, tripping up his brother Esau. Right out of the gate, Jacob is driven. He wants what belongs to his brother, and he’ll go to any length to get it. Jacob will not settle for second place.
And on one fateful day, Jacob finally wins the prize. Esau is out hunting in the fields when he sends his brother a text message. “I’m starving, I’m on my way, what’s for dinner?” That’s when Jacob schemes up a little plan, so that when Esau returns home, hungry and exhausted, Jacob the “heal-grabber” proposes his impossible, outrageous deal: “Esau, I’ll give you this bowl of lentils, and you give me the birthright.”
And that’s when Esau asks the question that’s as relevant for us this morning as it was for Esau on that decisive day: “What good is a birthright when I’m hungry?” What good is tomorrow’s glory when today’s belly is growling?
Have you ever met Esau – the brother of all of us, the brother that dwells in each of us, the brother who’s inclined to barter a future promise he does not yet see in order to gain what he must have today? Have you ever met Esau – that brother of all humanity, who’s held so captive by his own urgent appetite that he cannot imagine that beyond that bowl of soup in front of him is a crown of glory that awaits him? Have you ever met Esau – that thirsty soul in all of us that craves salt even as the cup of life is overflowing? Have you ever met Esau, that hungry soul in each of us that eats the bread of anxious toil even as God sets a feast before us?
Have you ever met Esau?
Every one of us, every church, has that bowl of soup we think we can’t live without.
Comedian Paul Reiser tells the story about going into a stereo store one day. He said,
“I was looking at this VCR/CD player/laser disc/pants presser combination thing. I wasn’t even thinking of getting it; I was just playing.
Salesman comes over. “You know, that CD player’ll hold up to 20 discs at a time.”
He says, “Yes-siree-bob. That’s at least 18 hours of music.”
“Okey-dokey.” And he wraps it up.
You see, he opened my eyes. I hadn’t done the arithmetic. Eighteen hours, sure. Who wouldn’t want that?
Then I got home and realized, Wait a second! I’m not even up 18 hours. When would I use this? The last four hours will actually be keeping me awake. This is not something I need.
… You know why I got this thing, truthfully? Because I wanted one more remote control unit in my life… I now have 12 of them lined up on the table. I invite friends over and say, “See those? They’re all mine. And I don’t know how to work any of them.” 
Have you ever met Esau?
The late missionary, Jim Elliott, once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
But what can be said of those who give up what they cannot lose in order to gain what their appetites cannot live without?
The truth is that while Esau may be hungry, he’s not starving. His belly may be empty, but he’s not going to die. But his flaw is that he lacks the wisdom to know the difference.
And yet I remind you this morning that we share the sidewalk everyday with those who do know the difference. Did you know that one in six Coloradans, 840,000 people, do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families? 22% of Colorado’s children experience serious food hardship; one in four families in Colorado do not have enough food to meet their basic needs; and one in seven seniors are unsure of when or where they’ll get their next meal.
We live among people who, every day of their lives, must barter their futures for a bowl of soup, who are held so captive by today’s basic human needs that they have little time and energy to dream about tomorrow’s promises. But Esau is not one of them. And we know that neither are we. For to many people, living hand-to-mouth is not a choice, but a daily necessity. But for us, and for St. Andrew, we have a choice in how we will live, and how we will order our future life as a congregation.
We can choose, like Esau, to live hand-to-mouth, to live essentially for our own needs, in the moment. Or we can choose, like Jacob, to believe that God’s purposes will be carried out through us. That is our birthright. That is our promise. We can choose to live hand-to-mouth, or we can choose to live heart-to-hand, to think outside the bowl, to feed rather than to be fed.
NPR ran the remarkable story recently of Mark Weingard. On September 11, 2001, Weingard was working as a trader for Fuji Capital, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He’d worked late the night before and decided to sleep in an extra hour or so before going to the office. When he called his office on the 76th floor to say he was on his way, he was told that a plane had just hit the North Tower. Moments later, a second plane hit the South Tower, killing 23 of his fellow employees at the firm.
Thirteen months later, Weingard traveled to Bali with his fiancée when a terrorist’s bomb exploded in a hotel bar. His fiancée was killed. Weingard survived, but he was dead on the inside.
Two years later, he was vacationing in Thailand, when the Dec 26th Tsunami slammed the island, killing 230,000 people. Weingard, again, survived, cheating death on three separate occasions. And that’s when he finally came to his senses. He decided to do something meaningful with his life, which, as he says, was always self-serving and lacked real purpose. He set up a foundation in Bali, in memory of his fiancée. It’s now more than $10 million strong, providing health care and education services for the poor. He says he finally has a mission, that he now has something to do with his life that is meaningful and true to his own values. He’s no longer living for himself, in the moment, but for others, and their future. It marked a new beginning for him.
We stand today at the threshold of a new beginning for Saint Andrew. It’s a day for choosing between a bowl of soup or a crown of glory, between our belly or our birthright, between our own needs and the needs of the world.
And I look out on you this morning and I know that you have already made the right choice. You’ve been making that choice for years, and you’ll make it again today. When you roll up your sleeves today and package 40,000 meals for hungry Coloradans, you are making that choice. You are picking up your crown and claiming your birthright.
As you package those meals today, I hope you’ll pause to hear again Esau’s question: “What good is a birthright when I’m hungry?”
You already know the answer. It’s everything. It’s all that matters. Amen.