Monday, May 14, 2012

May 13, 2012 - Welcome to the Real World

Genesis 29:14b-19; 21a; 22-23a; 25-28; 30b

Does anyone remember the TV show An American Family?  Premiering on May 30, 1971 on PBS, there were twelve episodes featuring Bill and Pat Loud and their children.  It was the first reality television show, and was quite controversial at the time.  It took a “typical” American family, placed them in front of the lens of a TV camera, and then broadcast their lives to the world.  In the process the family unraveled, and millions of people were riveted to their TV screens to watch.  Before that show, most families were seen on TV as a Leave It To Beaver family, with the appearance that everything is fine in most homes.  An American Family lifted the lid off of the American home and presented the real world of family life.

As I’ve said before, the Bible presents the lives of its characters in all their dysfunction, struggles, ups and downs – it shows us the real world of human life.  There are no illusions or false pretenses given in Scripture.  What churches have tended to do, unfortunately, is to polish up the lives of the Biblical characters, put halos on them, and thus removed them from the reality of every day life.

We can do the same thing with Mother’s Day.  It’s a great holiday but it can also mask a lot of pain that people face – the pain of wayward children, the pain of struggling relationships, the pain of missing spouses, the pain of a missing mother, and the pain of those who were unable to have children.

Our Scripture reading for this morning presents some interesting characters to us, and it gives us a glimpse into the very real world of their relationships and struggles.  This is a small part of the longer story of the life of Jacob, and as we examine what happens between Jacob, his father-in-law/uncle Laban, and his wives Leah and Rachel, we find their real world was one of struggle, pain, conflict, deception, and heartbreak.  I would encourage you to find time and read the entire story of Jacob as found in Genesis chapters 27 – 37 and 49 – 50.  It will make you feel better about your life and family.

Today’s part of the story begins with Jacob living with and working for his uncle, Laban.  After a month Laban comes to Jacob and tells him he would like to pay him for his labors.  Laban had two daughters – Leah and Rachel, and he was certainly aware that Jacob was in love with Rachel.  The Bible describes Rachel as lovely in form, and beautiful.  She was hot.  Leah is described as having weak eyes (17).  Poor Leah!  The good news is she is immortalized in Scripture, but the bad news is that it’s with the description of having weak eyes.  It was a nice way of saying she was not very attractive.  It's the Biblical way of saying she has a nice personality.

Jacob is so head-over-heels in love with Rachel he is easy picking for Laban.  Love is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes cloud our thinking.  When I first met Tanya I started showing up early in the morning at the library because I knew that’s where she would be.  My roommate had to tell me where I could find the library.  I started going to Shakespeare plays with her, and at that point in my life I had absolutely no interest in Shakespeare.

Jacob has it bad.  So bad, he tells Laban he will work for him for seven years if he can marry Rachel.  Laban, I imagine, was quite shocked.  And Genesis says that Jacob served seven years...but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her (20).  Now there’s a Mother’s Day story.  You know kids, your father loved me so much he worked seven years for my father before we were married.  I’ll leave out the part about your grandfather cheating him and all the other things that happened, but isn’t that a nice story?

The seven years are finally complete and Laban gives a feast but there is no happily ever after.  Jacob wakes up in the morning and finds he is married not to Rachel, but to her sister Leah.  Jacob reaps what he has sown.  Jacob, the deceiver, has been deceived.  Entering his father’s tent, Jacob deceived him in order to steal away his older brother’s blessing.  Now he entered into another tent only to find he has been deceived by his father-in-law.

We could ask how many people find out the person they married is not really the person they thought they knew?  What happened to that kind, funny person I was dating?  There is never any harm in taking plenty of time to get to know the person you are going to marry.  There is never a need to be in a hurry.

Jacob is incensed by the deception and confronts Laban.  Laban, who plotted to do this from the beginning.  Laban calmly tells Jacob it is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  At that point Jacob is probably ready to say you could have mentioned that seven years ago!  Laban tells Jacob he can marry Rachel, if he agrees to work for another seven years.  Jacob agrees, and a week later he and Rachel marry, and Jacob goes to work for his father-in-law for another seven years.

Verse 30 gives us this interesting piece of information – and he loved Rachel more than Leah.  Now there’s a reality show for you.  And also a source of clients for a counseling service.  Your father-in-law deceives you, you end up married to two women who are sisters, you love one of them more than the other – what a mess!

But isn’t that where we often live our lives?  How often do we look at our lives, throw up our hands, and say what a mess!  I can’t even trust my own family, my marriage isn’t what I wish, and let’s not even talk about my job!  I’m working in the family business and my father-in-law is my boss and he hired me through a deceitful arrangement!

Is your life looking any better to you?

So here we have a polygamous marriage, a deceptive father-in-law, a deceived son-in-law, and no mention of God anywhere in this part of Jacob’s story.  So what do we make out of this story?

This is who we are – a collection of people who believe we must do what it takes to survive, and doing what it takes to survive can lead us down the road to some very bad decisions and very bad situations.  But these are the people God used, and used in such dramatic ways!

Churches too often communicate that you must get your life cleaned up, shined up, and halo worthy before God is going to be interested in you or willing to use you.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  These are the people God used – Jacob, a deceiver who lived his life by treachery and built his fortune through deceit.  Rachel, the loved wife, but also the insecure wife, who was so jealous for her husband that she later made some very tragic decisions.  And poor Leah, the unloved wife, who had to live with the knowledge her husband’s heart was with another woman.  And the struggle doesn’t end with this generation of the family.  Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers?  Guess who was Joseph’s mother – Rachel.  Do you know who was the mother of the other brothers – Leah.  That explains some of the animosity of the brothers toward Joseph.

God uses people who live in the real world of struggles, and problems, and failures.

When I was a junior in high school we had a very interesting event take place in worship one Sunday morning.  When it came time for the sermon, one of our elders stood up from the choir where he was seated and made his way to the pulpit.  He began to criticize our minister over something he had said in his sermon the previous Sunday.  I remember what he said – if you can’t say something nice about someone you should keep your big, fat mouth shut.  As I remember it most of us laughed and agreed when he said those words.  I imagine this particular elder had it in for our minister, and this was his excuse to get rid of him.  After complaining about the minister using such language from the pulpit, he said I believe we should fire him immediately.  Chaos broke out as people were trying to speak at once.  In the middle of the chaos a young lady who was my age stood up.  She was seated on the other side of the sanctuary from me.  I knew who she was, but I didn’t really know her as a friend.  Everyone in town, in fact, knew who she was.  They knew who she was because she had been the subject of a great deal of whispering and gossip around town, because she was pregnant.  When this seventeen-year-old pregnant girl began showing up in church there were a lot of people unhappy.  But she stood up in the middle of the chaos that day and spoke out.  She said our minister had reached out to her and to her family and so she started coming to church.  Unfortunately, she was met with a lot of stares and whispers, but she kept coming back.  Up until that moment, I didn’t know why she had started coming to our church.  I admired her courage, because it was obvious she had not received much of a welcome.  But I learned something incredibly important that day.  I learned that you do not have to have your life perfectly put together before you come to God, or have it perfectly put together before he will love you, or have it perfectly put together before he will use you.  God used that young lady to teach our church a lesson that day, a lesson we had been to blind to see.

We live in the real world, and that is where God meets us.  You don’t have to have a halo or a perfect life before God will love you or work in and through your life.  God wants you just as you are. 

May we pray.

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