Messages for the 21st Century Christian
In years ahead, what will we remember about 2019? Will it be remembered as the year we finally freed ourselves from the European Yoke? Will it be the remembered as the year we finally came to our senses and did a U turn and remained in Europe? Perhaps it will be remembered for the huge division across the whole country, a division that became so bitter that it literally broke the country apart?
I have never known a time when the country has been so divided, and what is even sadder is that division is spawning hatred, abuse and mistrust that may take a generation or more to heal. The country needs to be reconciled back together, to a position where we may disagree but where our disagreements do not lead to hatred and abuse.
Esau and Jacob were two individuals who were sorely in need of reconciliation (Full Story read Genesis chapters 25 to 33). Rivals even in Rebekahís womb, these twins would be separated by jealousy and bitterness for much of their lives. Esau, the first born, the man of the field, the hunter, the son noted for his hairy body but most importantly the fatherís favourite. Jacob, the quiet one, the home loving boy, more comfortable in the kitchen preparing food rather than in field catching it. Different in so many ways from his elder brother including the smoothness of his skin. Jacob, the motherís favourite but someone who was also both cunning and clever.
We first read how Jacob is in the kitchen preparing food when his brother, Esau arrives home starving with hunger after being away hunting. Before Jacob would give Esau any stew he asks his brother to hand over his birth right in exchange. I can imagine that Esau saw it simply as a joke, a bit of banter between the two. A kind of exchange that may have happened many times between the two twins where Esau would clearly identify himself as the elder and the one destined for Isaacs blessing. Jacob however was deadly serious, he knew what he wanted, he wanted Isaacs blessing , he wanted to be head of the household and he was clever and cunning enough to achieve it.
In our reading from Genesis, Isaac was growing old and had lost his sight. He could only differentiate his sons by his other senses, hearing, touch and smell. Isaac had called on Esau to go and hunt some game in order to prepare him a stew. Rebekah overheard the conversation and instructed her favourite son Jacob to disguise himself as his elder brother in an attempt to falsely receive Isaacs blessing. So Jacob approached his father with the game stew but dressed in the clothes of his brother and with pieces of goat skin attached to his smooth arms and neck in an attempt to deceive to deceive his father. Initially, Isaac was not convinced, he felt like the voice belonged to Jacob but the smell of the clothes and the feel of the false hair on Jacobís body convinced him.
Jacob successfully deceived Isaac into giving his blessing to him, the younger son. However, the deceit was exposed when the rightful heir to the blessing returned with his game stew. Esau was furious, and sought to kill his brother but Rebekah knowing these plans quickly dispatched Jacob off to her brother Laban many hundreds of miles away in the city of Haran.
The next few chapters of Genesis cover the twenty or so years that Jacob worked for Laban. I will briefly cover those years when Jacob was dealing with a man just as cunning and clever as himself. How he worked for seven years to earn the right to marry Labanís daughter Rachel, only to receive the other daughter Leah, another seven years to eventually earn Rachel, how Laban altered Jacobís wages some ten times for managing his flocks but on the other hand Jacob somehow become the owner of large flocks of sheep and goats, more productive and healthier than Labanís.
Eventually, Labanís sons became jealous of their successful brother in law and turned their father against Jacob. Jacob, his wives, children, servants and flocks had to flee Laban, and where was the only place to go was back home to his father Isaac and his estranged brother Esau.
We assume that the two brothers had not contacted each other for over twenty years. They had parted on extremely bad terms which you would think was all caused by Jacobís deceit of Isaac but maybe Esau had played his part by flaunting his position as the eldest son?
The relationship between the two brothers had broken down and had probably festered in those intervening years. A broken relationship, a family split, that had produced anger, hatred, resentfulness and fear. If there were ever two people who needed reconciliation it was Esau and Jacob.
Reconciliation, means restoration of relationships. Resolving a conflict between parties. Coming to an agreement. Achieving a compromise. Being able to live in harmony again.
As Christians we have all been given a mandate for understanding and practicing reconciliation. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, "17. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! 18. All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19. that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting menís trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.ÖĒ
Reconciliation is at the heart of Christian theology because without reconciliation there would be no Christianity.
God made the first step in that reconciliation with mankind. He made an offering, his son. God sent his son so to die as a sacrifice on the cross so that he could set aside of those trespasses and failures that blocked our access to Him. But that tremendous act on Godís part did not alone bring about reconciliation with man. For reconciliation to be complete there has to be a response from you and me.
We must follow Godís example and take a step towards him. We have to reach out and accept the gift of forgiveness and in the process acknowledge our failings, those things that have separated us from God.
Think about the acts that are required to bring about reconciliation.
Firstly there is ĎTruthí. We have to be honest both with ourselves and with God. It is no good denying wrongs because that neither fools God or ourselves.
Acknowledgement. We have to acknowledge before God those truths about our failings.
Lament. It is no good just simply acknowledging our failings but there must be genuine regret or sorrow about our failings.
Repentance. Only when we have lamented about our actions can we begin the act of admitting to the one we have offended or sinned against and seek their forgiveness.
Forgiveness. It is only following the act of repentance that we can be forgiven or grant forgiveness. It is a two way interaction. Forgiveness cannot be granted to the unrepentant. How can we be forgiven if we fail to recognise our wrongs?
Justice. Only when we have been forgiven or we have forgiven others is justice established.
Restitution. And only when justice has been established can restitution take place. Only then can relationships be restored and debts are repaid.
So to return to the two brothers who had spent twenty years apart. Their relationship had been left in tatters. The change in circumstances for Jacob and his family had left him and his family with no option but to return home and to return home in fear of his brothers retribution.
As Jacob nears his destination he is only too aware of what may await him. So he sends messengers with a grovelling message to his brother.
"I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my Lord that I may find favour in your eyes.Ē
In effect he was saying, what happened twenty years ago, my stealing of your birth right and our fatherís blessing, letís forget it as I have no need of our either because I have acquired all these possessions. Then by referring to Esau as Lord he acknowledges his place in the pecking order, that he would be subservient to his elder brother. He finally hopes that he can find favour with his brother, in effect Jacob is seeking Esauís forgiveness.
Jacobís fear of his brother acknowledges the truth that he was in the wrong those twenty years earlier. By referring to his possessions he is not only saying I donít need anything of yours but as we see later, seems to be suggesting some kind of recompense for his earlier acts of deceit. Jacobís actions and words are typical of someone who is repentant and who is seeking forgiveness.
So the moment arrives when Esau and his four hundred men appear over the horizon. Jacob still fears about what Esau will do and so he organises his family and possessions into a defensive order and he himself steps forward ahead of the rest to grovel on the ground seven times as he prepares to meet his fate with his brother.
Jacob must have been both shocked and amazed at the reaction of his brother. Esau ran towards Jacob, arms wide apart to welcome lovingly his long lost brother. They met, they embraced, they wept, they were reconciled. That embrace and those tears acknowledged the truth of the past, the deceit and the jealousy of their earlier relationship. But that embrace and tears also signalled that they had forgiven each other for the past wrongs and that they now wanted to rebuild their relationship. Two men who were prepared to step towards each and who were ready to offer and accept unconditionally from each other forgiveness. The brothers were reconciled.
During Easter 2017, there was a peace march in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq. Twenty European Christians were joined by local Christians, Muslims and Yazidis to proclaim peace in a land that had seen so much warfare. On Good Friday, the walkers arrived at a village about 30km from the city of Mosul. The village had been destroyed by ISIS and the villagers had fled. The village church was still standing though it had been desecrated. The alter lay broken in the rubble.
The walkers held a service within the ruined church. They laid candles in the shape of the cross in front of the wrecked alter. They prayed the prayers of Good Friday, the pain and lament, prayers for healing, prayer for the end of conflict, for peace and reconciliation.
On the following Easter Sunday, the party returned to that same ruined church. The rubble was still there, as were the bullet holes and the same broken cross. But on this Easter Sunday, the church was full of people from the surrounding villages, there were flowers on the alter and the children were dressed in white.
The congregation was there to proclaim the hope of the resurrection, the hope of peace and the possibility of rebuilding that community. A process had begun, moving from despair to hope, hostility to peace, conflict to reconciliation.
Grappenhall IM Church