‘Ohana’ Means Family
I spent a couple of days last week helping out at the Michigan Congregational Summer Camp. A few of you, I know, have helped out at Church Camp in the past or have had children attend. As I posted pictures on Facebook of the kids singing about the camp fire with Claude, and climbing the rock wall and zipping away down the zip line… I appreciated reading your encouraging/ memory filled responses.
This week, it was a true camp experience, ( I gotta tell ya) it rained (like, torrential rain) every day- so the kids had plenty of time to bond in the cabins or at the arts and craft pavilion. When those big/ heavy clouds finally parted there was always this manic dash down to the beach for swimming… oddly enough…
One little moment that will stick with me… was on Thursday morning during the staff meeting, the “counselor of the day”/ who was perhaps a junior in high school, he stands up to lead the group in devotions. And says simply this:
“To quote my favorite Disney movie – Ohana means family! And family means that no one gets left behind! – So, folks… May God help us not lose any campers today! Amen.”
It was my privilege and joy to led our congregational kids from around the state in Bible study and discussion for a couple of days…
Good and Gracious Lord, we thank you for the opportunity to open your Word and receive it’s inspiration and truth. May you guide and redeem this message today for your glory. Amen.
Our Genesis passage, is an Ohana story/a family tale. But… This is definitely not a tale in which “no one get’s left behind”…
Rebekah, after years of waiting and worrying and praying, she gives birth to twin boys.
These two won’t grow up to share a special twin language, or swap identities to pull hi-jinx on their teachers (they are defiantly not Fred and George Wesley). In fact there is nothing identical about them. Not in their appearance, not in the nature, even their parents prefer one twin over the other. Scripture tells us that the only thing that binds them is enmity. Even in the womb they were at war with one another.
Esau and Jacob.
Right after Isaac marries Rebekah… Abraham dies, at the young age of 175. So the pressure is on for the newlyweds to carry on the Covenant. They have to have some kids, and fast… And to make this task even more urgent, Ishmael (if you can remember him, the other son of Abraham that he had with the servant Hagar)… well, he already has twelve children by this time!
Now for a slight tangent:
You may have noticed that infertility is a common story in Scripture. The Bible is filled with strong figures that have struggled to bear children, or had problem pregnancies and difficult births. There is Sarah before Rebekah, and Rachel after her. Later on the same struggle would be shared by Hannah, eventual mother of Samuel. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.
By the time that Isaac and Rebekah are pushing 60 years old, the biology of this situation is not looking good. It is at that point that Isaac takes a spiritual risk and hands the whole situation over to God. He let go of any control…
Rebekah and Issac, had to learn an important lesson. One that Sarah and Abraham had to learn before then… When it comes to God’s work, we have to get out of the way.
But this isn’t a lesson that can be taught or wisdom that can be shared… it’s only one that can be experienced.
The very idea of telling a young couple that is struggling to have children to trust and get out of God’s way… it’s just cruel, isn’t it?
To pat someone on the head and say, “All in God’s timing, my dear.” Seems like an empty platitude- one that leaves no room for fear, or grief, or frustration. At best it’s artificial. At worst it implies that someone isn’t faithful enough.
And in Rebekah and Issac’s era having children was more about security and identity and status than a happy extension of a family… In this culture the platitudes would have been utterly unbearable.
Know that this theme in Scripture of “the barren women” is meant to be a spiritual metaphor far more than it is a physical reality.
In the Hebrew language, fertility is spoken of as God opening and closing the womb. In Genesis, for Abraham’s descendants, the ability to bring about the next generation of God’s people is about struggling and finally accepting the Lordship of God.
When Rebekah finally become pregnant, she and Issac knew that these children were part of God’s plan to move the covenant forward… rather than simply the product of biology.
And it’s a good thing that Rebekah is described as a physically strong woman… for as the story goes: “The boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what it’s like, why did it happen to me?” And the Lord said to her, two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.”
Even as babies Jacob and Esau were war-ing against each other. This wording in the Hebrew pops up again in the Book of Judges when there is talk of skulls being smashed (Judg 9:53; Ps 74:14), or in Isaiah referring to reeds being broken (Isa 36:6).
When the children are finally born. The first child comes out red and hairy – and named Esau, meaning “Hairy One”. The second baby emerges hanging on to his brother’s heel, and is named Jacob, meaning “The Heel.”
If anyone of you wrestled back in school, you may know that there are wrestling moves that involve grabbing on to a person’s heel to make them unstable/unbalanced. That’s exactly what this is.
The events of their birth, characterizes the rest of their young lives. Filled with divisiveness, and attempts to unbalance the other.
The story tells us that Esau would grow up to be an outdoorsman.
One commentator that I read this week said, “I think if Esau were around today, he’d be driving a 4 x4 with massive tires on it and a gun rack in the back window! … And if you went to his house, he’d have a magazine rack filled with Field and Stream.”
Esau is more brawn than brain.
But lucky for Esau, his father liked him. Isaac had a taste for wild game, and Esau kept him well supplied.
As they say, “The quickest way to a man’s heart…” (is what?)
But unlucky for Esau, his brother Jacob was more brain than brawn!
The birthright is naturally passed on to the eldest son: this is a double portion of the inheritance, but more importantly the one with the birthright becomes the head of the family- both in governance and spiritual leadership.
Jacob was not okay with Esau being the intended recipient of the birthright.
So when Jacob, The Heel, sees his opportunity to unbalance Esau, he takes it.
After a long hot day of hunting, Esau comes back to the tents and sees Jacob cooking up his favorite stew. Esau demands to be served, saying he is inches from death.
“Here’s my chance!” Jacob thinks. Again, “The quickest way to a man’s heart…” (is what?)
Well, it turns out that the quickest way to a man’s birthright is through his stomach as well.
“Sell me your birthright.” Jacob says.
“He ate, drank, got up, and left, showing just how little he thought of his birthright.”(CEB Genesis 25:34)
Back in the late 1800s, in Mayfield County, KY. There were two deacons at a small Baptist church. These two men, they hated each other! Always trying to get in each other way. On one particular Sunday, a deacon put up a small wooden peg on the back wall of the church near the door so that the minister had a place where he could hang his hat. When the other deacon discovered the peg, he was outraged! Absolutely furious that he wasn’t consulted. The congregation was forced to take sides and eventually the church split. And to this day in that county, there are Peg Baptists and Anti-Peg Baptists…
This congregation is a little like the twins. The deacons had one task, to let God lead. But they let their rivalry get in the way, which tore the family apart…
The next 12 chapters of Genesis are devoted to Jacob’s story. He is a compelling anti-hero. He is smart and cunning, driven and insightful… And he has Issac’s birthright and blessing. But it takes him a long time to accept God’s Lordship in his life. In the chapters to follow, we see God’s hand seeking to guide Jacob, and often it is spurred/ only being accepted if it gave Jacob what he wanted. It get’s to the point where God meets him, in the flesh, on the banks of the River Jabbok to physically wrestle him. As the Scripture goes, “A man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. When the man saw that he still did not prevail again Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint…” But still Jacob hangs on saying, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Jacob is always twisting things to his own will!
Nevertheless, he would eventually receive God’s blessing, and be given a new name: Israel.
His name would eventually become synonymous with God’s people. And for good reason… perhaps we are all a little like Jacob. Always trying to have our way. Only accepting God’s guidance when it points us in the direction we want to go, or open doors to opportunities that serve us. We too are locked in a wrestling match with the Lord.
Frederick Beuchner wrote this:
“Luckily for Jacob, God doesn’t love people because of who they are, but because of who he is. It’s on the house is one way of saying it and it’s by grace is another, just as it was by grace that it was Jacob of all people who became not only the father of the twelve tribes of Israel but the many times great grandfather of Jesus of Nazareth, and just as it was by grace that Jesus of Nazareth was born into this world at all.”
Children of God, Jacob and Esau’s story reminds us God never abandons us to our own fickleness or self-interest or scheming. In fact, it would seem that throughout the Bible, God is always gravitating towards those in need of redemption. Those with much to learn: the proud, the powerless, the bruised and vulnerable. While these people, may not be any better than the powerful or naturally humble… they are nevertheless those who God generally chooses to work through to move the covenant of God’s relationship with humanity forward
It would seem, through the work of the Holy Sprit, no one, not even a trickster like Jacob, is unqualified to do God’s loving/merciful work on Earth.