There is an old joke told about three clergy people. A Baptist minister and a Roman Catholic priest were fishing in a boat together along with an Anglican clergy. The Roman Catholic priest and the Anglican clergy got to talking about their life challenges. “I confess” the Roman Catholic priest said “that I have a terrible problem with alcohol. I’m drunk most of the week and I worry that my bishop will find out and take me out of my parish.” “Well, you think that’s a problem,” the Anglican clergy said, “I’ve got an even worse problem. I’ve been stealing money from the church funds and I’m terrified that the police will find out and I’ll go to jail.” Finally, they turned to the Baptist minister and asked, “what’s your life challenge?” “Oh, I dare not tell you,” the Baptist minister replied. “Come on” the Roman Catholic priest and the Anglican clergy chimed in together, “we’ve told you our deepest and darkest secrets.” “All right,” the Baptist minister replied, “my worst sin is that I love to gossip and I can’t wait until we get home!”
Even brothers and sisters in the faith struggle! We have found this as we have been walking through the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis takes through the beginnings. Beginnings of creation and beginnings in relationships. It continues to teach us about ourselves. Abraham, who we have spent weeks with, was Jacob and Esau’s grandfather. Within rememberable past, the promises of covenant faithfulness that God who make of Abraham a great nation, as many stars in the sky resonated as God’s burgeoning faithfulness being filled in as lives were lived.
However, from the beginning, there was a struggle. As Rebekah carried them in her womb, there was a struggle. Jacob and Esau were as different as night and day. There entrance into the world was defined by their differences, not their shared values, commonalities, or traits. Esau as the hunter, outdoorsman, favorite of his father. Jacob as the quiet, inside dweller, favorite of this mother. Of course, our parents never had favorites, right? We know nothing of the sibling who spent more time with mom or could never fail in the eyes of an adoring father.
Can you see now why this story of Esau and Jacob is such a troubling story for you and for me? This story is our story. As Esau comes in from hunting, famished and distracted, Jacob offers stew with the condition of giving up his birthright. Esau loses track of what is important in the long term, and Jacob exploits his brother’s short sidedness. It is our sibling rivalry as we fight for the blessing of our parents, our families, our communities. It is our struggle when the deal which seemed so good at the moment seems not nearly so good when viewed in the light of eternity.
In America, millions of people struggle with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, and other addictions as well. This is your brother, your aunt, your dad, your neighbor, your cousin, your daughter, you. In the last year, we have listened as requests for those in the throes of addiction have come up in our prayers. We have walked alongside family members as they have confronted and supported loved ones who have sought recovery. We have worried about telltale signs and indications. On the strength of our learnings from AA and others, we have kept anonymity.
Over the last year, we, as a local church here and as a community, have buried loved ones, young and mature from the epidemic of addiction, particularly opioid addiction. Opioid addiction affects people across the globe and in our own community. One of the most common stories is of those who were prescribed pain pills after surgery or injury and got hooked on them after the pain could not be satisfied.
Addiction is a medical reality, not a moral failing. Let me say this again: addiction is a medical reality, not a moral failing. From the twelve-step process consistent for all who struggle with addiction, this prayer is offered by those who are at the third step: “God, I offer myself to you – to build with me and to do with me as You would. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your power, Your love and Your way of life. May I do Your will always.1 (Amen.)” Brothers and sisters asking for the work of God in their live as they struggle against addiction. Addiction is not overcome once and for all. Addiction is dealt with day by day by day. Recovery is lived out one day at a time. Recovery is brave and delicate.
Our brothers and sisters in recovery know how hard this work is. It is again in the seventh step, this prayer is offered, “Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do your bidding. Amen.”
Many people would imagine the Bible has little to say about addiction. There is no passage to turn in a biblical concordance labeled Jesus’ teachings on addiction. And yet, the Bible has much to say about the way we treat one another. Listen to the prayer of Jesus in the gospel of John. Jesus prays for protection. Jesus prays for truth and sanctification. For every parent who has worried as their high schooler went to homecoming or prom. For every partner who has carried the weight of waiting up for someone to return home. For every sibling who was fretted about the decisions their sibling made. For every child whose anxiety about their parents’ well-being grows. For every friend who feels as though there is nothing else that can be done. We pray for protection and truth.
However, in many churches, we have never heard someone talk on issues of addiction, even though we have seen it and lived it. This is the work of the church, the body of Christ. If you cannot be ‘not okay’ in the church, where can you be ‘not okay’?? This may be the first time that you heard about this real-life issue spoken about in worship, but it will not be the last. Our brothers and sisters known real pain and struggle. Jesus was always in the habit of meeting pain where it lived and offering hope.
So, what are we called to do? How does God call us to move beyond the sibling rivalry that keeps us in struggle, pain, and fear? We need to first reduce the stigma. Our fear leads us to ostracize and exclude those who struggle with addiction. This stigma hangs around the neck of addicts and sometimes weighs them down and other times, kills them. It is our brothers and sisters in the faith as well as familial brother and sisters who we do this too. The ones who bring out the worst in us at holidays and occasions. I hear it all the time – even yesterday, I heard it: “Pastor, do me a favor, pray for me; I have to be around my sister all day today. It’s bad.” Overcoming addiction, living in recovery, seeking ultimate peace is not a onetime effort. Abstinence is a daily struggle. Dependence on God and community is essential to healing and wholeness. Those in recovery and those pre-recovery need our love, prayers, and elimination of stigma.
Next, we need to stop trying to sell/steal the birthrights of siblings. Like Jacob, we also tend to create a moral high ground. Scholars have attempted for centuries to explain Esau as less than Jacob, because he was hungry, red and hairy, man of the field, concerned first with caring for physical needs. Like Jacob, we find ourselves imagining that there is only one blessing to receive, there is only one birthright to be given. So, we must rush in and make sure no one else gets it. Others of us, like Esau, find ourselves so stuck in the hold of addiction, ready to give up everything just for a fix. Inheritance battles often have a winner and a loser. Someone who got what they were looking for – special furniture, jewelry, money, sentimental items and someone who is left feeling like they lost the birthright and blessing of their loved one. We have been ready to steal the birthright of our siblings from them in their times of challenge. We have made them feel badly about themselves and then required much, instead of offering more.
Then, we need to learn what support looks like. Peace with justice is the most complex and sustainable path. It is the way of God. Today, we have with us a peace window from the Narberth United Methodist Church. A congregation that began as a house church in 1925, erected a building in 1929, and flourished for many years until its closure in 2013. At the time of closure, the departing congregation gave their then pastor, Rev, Lydia Munoz, currently appointed to Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, the mandate that the peace window, made to commemorate the spirit of peacemaking, be shared with congregations to share the call to peace with justice. Throughout the fall, churches within the Mission ConneXion of Southern Chester County will pass the window and raise issues of peace and justice within worship.
Later in the saga of Jacob and Esau, the two make peace. It takes a carefully choreographed meeting including 800 people to bring about such a tenuous peace. For addiction, we know that support sometimes means intervention, carefully choregraphed, maybe not quite 800 people. We know that support is not enabling. We know that support is not forgetting the past, but rather allowing the past to bring hope into the future.
We know this work is hard. To love our siblings in the midst of their struggles challenges every default reaction we have, for most of us. And yet, this is the work of the church – peace with justice. Let us walk together as a community to care for our siblings, familial and community calling each of us into the light of who has made us to be, not siblings of rivalry, but siblings of peace.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shared fellowship with drunks and addicts, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 25: 7-11, 19-34
The Death of Abraham
7 This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. 11 After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.
The Birth and Youth of Esau and Jacob
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”[a] So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Esau Sells His Birthright
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.[c]) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[d] So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Gospel Lesson: John 17: 11-19
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[a] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,[b] so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.[c] 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.[d] 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, September 24th-Saturday, September 30th
Sunday: “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah.” Genesis 25: 9-10. Isaac and Ishmael had more reasons to fight than work together. Yet, they came together to bury their father. Where are you being called to come together with those you would rather fight with?
Monday: “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So, she went to inquire of the Lord.” Genesis 25: 21-22. Sometimes the pain is too much and the struggle too hard. Like Rebekah, inquire of the Lord. Turn to God in times of struggle.
Tuesday: “And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’” Genesis 25: 23. Pray for those who are fighting against addiction.
Wednesday: “Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So, he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus, Esau despised his birthright.” Genesis 25: 32-34. In a moment of weakness, Jacob took advantage of Esau. Pray for those who are taken advantage of. Inspect your own heart, to make sure you do not take advantage of your brother or sister in moments of weakness.
Thursday: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” John 17: 11. Who are you asking God to protect? Who is heavy on your heart for care and concern?
Friday: “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” John 17: 13. Christ brings joy! Thanks be to God for the joy of our salvation.
Saturday: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” John 17: 15. Let us join together in our prayers for all those who need protection from the evil one.