Genesis 33:1-11

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.

SERMON                                                           Unexpected Gems                                               August 2.2020

According to the Book of Genesis Joseph saved the world.

If it wasn’t for Joseph’s savvy, his political expertise, and his ability to think on his feet, then according to the book of Genesis, civilization, the entire known world, would have gone down the tubes.

Jacob’s son Joseph did all right in life. Actually he did more than all right. He went from the pits to the pinnacle. But it all could have gone to pot were it not for his capacity to forgive.

I suspect most of you remember at least some of his story. Joseph was the first son born to Jacob’s second wife, and the true love of his life, Rachel. As such among Jacob’s 12 sons Joseph was clearly the favorite. (By the way, he also had one girl, but apparently she doesn’t count.)

Of course, favoritism in any family is a real problem. Resentment brews. Jealousy burns. Bitterness seethes. And intentionally or not, Joseph played right into it. He flaunts it in the faces of his brothers who at some point decide they have had enough and it’s time to do him in. And they would have had one brother not suggested that perhaps it would be better not to kill with their own hands, but to just throw him in a pit without any water and let him die there.

And so they do it. They throw him in a pit and then they sit down to have lunch together, which seems awfully cold, doesn’t it? But then they see a caravan of traders passing by and they decide, “Hey, why not make a few bucks off of this. Let’s sell him to some traders and let them do with him what they will.”

And then they take his famous “coat of many colors” about which he was always bragging, dip it in some goats blood and bring it back to their father, Jacob and show him: “O Daddy, something terrible has happened. While we were out caring for your sheep some wild beast must have gotten Joseph and tore him to pieces. Here. This is all that was left. This piece of his beautiful coat. It’s so terrible.”

And Jacob believes them and grieves as deeply as any parent can, for Joseph really was his favorite.

But it turns out that those traders end up selling Joseph to a guy who was one of Pharaoh’s right hand men down in Egypt. And with great skill and perseverance, even after being thrown in jail for a while, Joseph is able to somehow eventually waggle his way into the courts of Pharaoh himself, becomes Pharaoh’s most trusted advisor, and famous for his ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh loves this guy.

Well one day Pharaoh tells Joseph that he had a dream about 7 plump and beautiful cows coming up out of the Nile and then after that 7 skinny and ugly cows. And Joseph tells him that it means there is about to be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine in the land….so Pharaoh had better start storing up some grain for what lay ahead right away. If nothing else the story of Joseph reminds us all of the importance of having a savings account….of putting away what you can for a rainy day.

Pharaoh listens and does exactly as Joseph says so when the years of famine come there was plenty of grain stored up for all and his people are spared.

Unfortunately the years of famine don’t just hit Egypt. The drought extends all the way up to Canaan where Jacob and his family are still living and they face the real threat of starvation. But the word had spread that there was plenty of grain down in Egypt so out of desperation Jacob sends his 11 remaining sons to buy grain from the Egyptians. Little did they know that they’d end up having to beg for grain from Pharaoh’s right hand man, their brother, Joseph.

When they go before Joseph they don’t recognize him. But Joseph recognizes them and then there are a couple chapters in Genesis describing how Joseph tests and maybe even psychologically tortures them for a while until finally he can’t take it any longer. Jis love for them overwhelms all the pain and even hate he must have held in his heart. It all falls away by the power of love and he reveals himself to them. And they are speechless….presumably terrified and expecting revenge. But Joseph is unable to control his tears and he tells them not to be angry at themselves for what they did to him.

And then he speaks words that live on in the hearts of many even to this day. “You meant it for evil. But God meant it for good…God placed me in Egypt to preserve life.” And grain is shared and everybody lives happily ever after, especially Joseph who gets all the world’s money and property and wins the monopoly game. And in the process of doing all that he also saves the world.

But that isn’t what really matters about this story. Lots of people unexpectedly get rich. This story is really about forgiveness. It turns out that the power broker’s greatest power is the power of forgiveness. He makes the one move that had to be made in order to not just save the world but also his family. He did the only thing that could heal all its brokenness. By the power of forgiveness Joseph becomes the balm in Gilead for his family, redeeming this incredibly dysfunctional family.

Now, I ask you, where in the world did that come from? Where did he learn about the power of forgiveness. Show me his family tree and tell me who might have taught him about amazing grace.

Good people of Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ, this morning I present to you Esau. Esau….often overlooked….rarely appreciated, brother of Jacob, Uncle of Joseph, Esau.

Hopefully at least some of you remember last week my sharing with you the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright and then hightailing it out of town with the expectation that when his brother figured it out what he’d done he’d be in deep trouble. And then how Jacob was taken in by a distant cousin named Laban who first tricked him into marrying Leah rather than his younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob loved, but then how Jacob got back at Laban with another ingenious trick and made out very well for himself.

Well eventually the time came for Jacob to return to his homeland….to his father Isaac and his mother Rebecca. And so he headed off, with his wives and children in tandem, to return to the land of his birth.

The problem was Esau. Esau was still back there and Jacob had terribly wronged him. Jacob was understandably afraid to face his brother again. So, (get this) when Jacob is about to arrive back in town he sends the women and children out in front of him….uses them as a shield. (I guess that adds new meaning to the phrase “women and children first.”)

Jacob sees Esau approaching with 400 men and then Esau starts to run but not with a weapon in his hand. He is running with his arms open, running to embrace the brother who had tricked him out of his birthright and stolen his father’s blessing. Here comes Esau…tears running down his face…overcome by love for his brother …no resentment…no bitterness…just love for the brother who had cheated him of all that should have been his.

Could it be that it was Esau who taught Joseph about forgiveness?

After all, guess who was there that day when Uncle Esau ran to embrace his brother. Joseph was there. Little Joey was there. Did you catch it?  I didn’t until very recently.

According to Genesis when Jacob saw Esau coming toward him with 400 men he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the maids and he put the maids with their children in front, then Leah and her kids and then, (here it is) Rachel and Joseph last of all.

Little Joseph is there, right there beside his mother, probably clinging to her skirts, watching his father Jacob as he kneels down before his hairy uncle Esau and begs his forgiveness. Can you imagine what that would be like for a little kid, seeing your father begging for mercy? Little Joey was there. Can you imagine the impact that moment had on a little boy. God bless Uncle Esau!

While many of us have heard the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob it turns out that the influence that may have mattered most for the salvation of the world was the influence of one who was off to the side – uncle Esau – smelling like a sheep, cheated out of the inheritance, yielding his birthright for a dish of stew, no great achiever, but long on forgiveness, somehow able to put it all aside, to embrace and forgive his cheating, lying, sneaky brother Jacob.

Esau is the completely unexpected gem of this family who shows Joseph and all of us, the power of forgiveness.

You know all the stories related to this family in Genesis really are wonderful. And perhaps that is why this story about Esau is so often overlooked. And yet all those other stories of scheming and visions of heaven are simply no match for this, this completely unexpected moment of grace in the middle of a messed up family system. It sits there like a golden thread that weaves its way into the next generation…the completely unexpected gift of Esau’s amazing grace is given.

So what might we make of all this?

Well first ask yourself this. Where are the unexpected gems in your family’s story? Who is uncle Esau on your family tree. Who is the one from whom unexpected grace flows? The one who may be short on wealth or schooling or fame, but who is long on forgiveness?

And then, maybe ask yourself this. How might you become that person in you family’s story, engaging in some act of reconciliation, embracing a sister who wronged you long ago, offering a word of much-needed forgiveness to a nephew.

And then finally, consider this. Consider what that might mean for some little Joey clinging to his mother’s skirts who is watching you. Think about that, my friends…that the next generation is watching.