Genesis 29:15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

SERMON       Betrayal, Deception, and Other Family Matters      July 26, 2020

Remember when you longed to have more time with your family? For those of us living alone that feeling is probably stronger than ever, but for those who are cooped up inside the same four walls with their family they might be thinking, “OK, God. That’s enough now.”

When this first started a colleague said to me that he thought there would be a lot more babies born as a result of us being shut in with one another. My response was, “Really? I was thinking there would be a lot more domestic violence.”

There is such a tendency to idealize family, isn’t there? This may especially be so for those of us who grew up watching Ozzie and Harriet, or Father Knows Best. I suspect those who grew up watching the Simpsons or Roseanne have a real advantage in this regard. But one thing you can say for sure about family in the book of Genesis is that there is no attempt to idealize anything. From Abraham and Sarah all the way down to Joseph and his brothers, the book of Genesis keeps it real.

The reading assigned for today is the story of Jacob and Laban, but allow me to back it up a bit. I figure we could all use a break from the pandemic and the social justice preaching I usually dole out, so this morning I’m going to talk about family…Jacob’s and ours.

Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Yes after the whole Hagar fiasco that I spoke about a few weeks ago Abraham and Sarah do have a child of their own named Isaac who marries Rebekah and the two of them have a set of twins – Jacob and Esau – twins, but in many ways different as day and night. Esau is sort of a man’s man: sturdy, active, a hunter. Jacob is in many ways a mama’s boy: the intellectual of the family – would prefer staying home and reading a good book to hunting any day.

But Jacob is also very clever. As the twin born second, he should have spent his life living in the shadow of the firstborn, except that Jacob figures out a way to trick both his father and Esau and he steals all the rights to which Esau would have been entitled as the firstborn. If you don’t know how he did that check out Genesis 25 sometime. Great story.

Esau is understandably furious when he figures out he’s been tricked so Jacob, being no fool, does exactly what any of us might do under the same circumstances. He RUNs AWAY. He hightails it out of town.  Running away is a recurrent phenomenon among the great leaders and prophets of Israel by the way.

Feeling pretty lost Jacob has that dream about a ladder that reaches to heaven. And the dream ends with a promise from God. God says that through Jacob and his offspring, all the families of the earth will be blessed. After that, you’d think things would look up for Jacob. After all, he’s got a promise from God in his pocket. But then comes the story for today.

It begins with Jacob encountering a beautiful woman named Rachel at a well. As chance would have it, (or maybe as God would have it) it turns out that Rachel is a distant relative of Jacob’s so her father, Laban, welcomes this down-on-his-luck cousin into his house.

At first things go well, and Jacob may be feeling grateful that he has fallen into the hands of family who will care for him and pay him as he works for him in the family shepherding business. After all, if you can’t trust family who can you trust?

Yeah right. If there is anyone here this morning who is thinking of going into business with another member of his family, then let this serve as a cautionary tale.

Laban has two daughters…Rachel, with whom Jacob falls in love, and another, older daughter named Leah. Jacob makes a deal with Laban that he’ll work for him for seven years if at the end of that time Laban will give him Rachel’s hand in marriage.

Now notice what Laban says when the deal is made. It’s pretty ambiguous. “It is better that I give her to you than I should give her to any other man.” I mean what does that really mean? For one thing it means that a person needs to listen very carefully before closing any deal. It turns out that Jacob is not the only clever one in this family.

And then they shake on it. That’s it. No contract – no lawyer – after all this is family and if you can’t trust family who can you trust? Right? Yeah right.

Jacob fulfills his end of the bargain, but Laban tricks him and on the day of the wedding Laban slips his older daughter Leah into the wedding ceremony instead of Rachel. Hey it was dark and women wore heavy veils back then. It could happen!

It isn’t until the next morning when Jacob rolls over in bed that he realizes he’s been tricked. “Laban…How could you do this to me?”  (Which is pretty interesting given Jacob’s own history of deception.)

Laban says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Didn’t I tell you? I certainly meant to make it clear.  In our culture it would be terrible for the younger girl to marry first. I thought you knew that! Oops. Sorry. My bad.”

But then Laban offers Rachel as a second wife (yes, polygamy was the norm back then) if Jacob agrees to work for him for another 7 years – which Jacob does. I figure Jacob decided that after what he had done to Esau he had this coming in life. And so 7 more years and Jacob ends up married to both Leah and Rachel.

So now we’ve got two sisters married to the same man. Let me tell you your family problems are nothing compared to that! Resentment…jealously…you bet. But finally the sisters decide this is really their father, Laban’s, fault and they decide to team up with Jacob and get even with their father for what he did and with a very clever, ingenious plan they end up ripping off Laban for just about everything he’s got. How they did that is another great story worth checking out sometime.

And that’s where I’m going to leave the story for today.

Now, what are we supposed to do with all that? What shall we make of it?

Well I find this story remarkably realistic. I know, two wives isn’t commonplace these days – thanks be to God – but the more I know about families the more I am convinced that every family drama includes deception, betrayal and underhandedness . O sure, that’s not the whole story, but one can find almost all those elements in every family history.

I remember my son finding out something about me he hadn’t known before and he said to me, “What else is there? Do you have other secrets you haven’t shared and I said, “Of course I do. And I bet you have tons of them too!” He didn’t even try to argue back.

Every family has secrets…..skeletons in the closet…rivalries and resentments.

So we can stop pretending we’re the Brady Bunch. This story from Genesis invites us to let go of some of our ridiculously high expectations when it comes to family….to stop doing such a number on ourselves and our mates and our kids and our siblings and our parents…to start accepting our families for what they are in all their brokenness, in spite of all the dysfunction.  We could all stand to be freed up from false images of what a real family is like.

But then consider the possibility that it is through a real family like Jacob’s or yours or mine that God intends to bring us and our world a blessing. Remember God’s promise? God said that through Jacob and his offspring all the families of the earth would be blessed. Through this family – this messed up family – consider the promise God made.

It’s interesting – if you watch the Simpsons you’ll notice the irony that by the end of every episode, after all the self-centeredness and stupidity, somehow by the end of every episode that family is filled with love for each other. So too in Jacob’s story, with two sisters married to the same man, they somehow still manage to love one another.

And maybe that’s because while it may seem like God isn’t present in this morning’s story from the life of Jacob, yet and still God is there. God is there, working behind the scene – in the shadows – offstage – but there still and all. And maybe the same can be said for our own families…that even when we can’t see or hear God, God is present, nudging us forward by the power of God’s love if we will allow it….and if we look closely enough.

At this point in Jacob’s story it might not be easy to see how, but the story isn’t over yet. And neither is yours – and neither is mine.

Listen, I don’t know where you are with your family today, but it seems to me that we all have things to work out with our families, even with members of the family who are no longer with us. It is possible you know, I have seen many people work out things with members of their family who died long ago. In every family, along with the love and the joy there are also struggles and conflicts. That’s the way it is with families; and that’s the way it’s always been since the beginning of time.

So no matter what you can say against your family – no matter how bizarre you think it is – no matter how many pieces of rotten fruit on your family tree – no matter how estranged or strange – wild or weird – boring or bland – dysfunctional or dissatisfying your family relations may be – the promise of God is that yet and still – in spite of all that – even through all of that – the blessing of God is given.

Can’t see it yet – then keep looking – look harder – and wait – it ain’t over yet. The story of Jacob’s family actually comes to a remarkable ending in Genesis, but that’s a story for another Sunday….say next week…so stay tuned. This ain’t over yet.