Don't Trade It Away - Genesis 25:29 34
Have you traded or sold something off without realizing just how valuable it was, or would be? Have you had a trade that you wish you could go back and undo, but it was too late?
I’m sure it has happened many times during my life, but as I was reflecting, one of my occasions was an Ebay transaction. Back in early 2000, when we were living in Rich Square, we did a lot of shopping online because it was a good thirty minute drive to the nearest Wal-Mart, and forty minutes to the nearest mall. At that point in my life, I had stopped collecting comic books. At the same time Ebay was rising in popularity as a way to find good deals and make some good sales of things you did not want any more. I decided, because at that point I had moved three times in seven years, that I would sell off stuff that I did not want to move any more. Unfortunately, as I see now, I started with parts of my comic book collection. I was doing pretty well that spring, actually selling enough of my comics to purchase an entire season’s wardrobe for Anita and Natalie—and the clothes were not generic Wal-Mart/Kmart clothing but top line name brands. Among the comics I sold was the 100th issue of Uncanny X-men. I had paid $32 for it a few years earlier, when I was reading comics and wanted it for my collection. I had thought it would sell high being a 100th issue, but was only relieved when, after starting at ninety-nine cents, it sold for about $36, so at least I got my money back from the purchase. This was early spring 2000. Folks that know comic books know what happened in the summer of 2000—the release of the first X-men movie. With Marvel’s successful movie franchise, that comic valued then at around $35 now sells on Ebay in the neighborhood of $150-$185—about five times the value of what I sold it for.
If you think I feel bad about that, think of the folks who had stock in this little computer company called Apple…some of them purchasing it at its opening price of $2.75. Then when it looked like Apple was going to be a flash in the pan and the home computer market was going to be ruled by the Windows world, sold off their stock in 1997 after watching the value climb to $72 a share and then fall below $13. Now with the overwhelming popularity of iPods, iPhones, and Macbooks, those same shares closed Friday at $492.81.
What was it for you? Was it something as small as Clayton Kershaw’s rookie trading card during his second year in Major League Baseball? Was it something as large as trading in your 1976 Maverick for a 1985 Yugo? Maybe you’re a high school or college student and you have one class or professor that you had planned to take but find out it has tons of reading and so you drop that class and add another, only to learn you have a fifty page paper to write. Maybe you trade jobs, giving up a nine to five leave it at work when you come home job to find out that the new job, with slightly higher pay, demands you to be on call 24/7 even when you are on vacation.
Hopefully, it was nothing like Esau’s trade. Esau and his brother Jacob were twins—not identical twins, but twins nonetheless. These two had been tangling with each other for position since they were carried in their mother, Rebekah’s womb. They even tangled as they were born. Esau was born first, but Jacob was grasping his foot as Esau emerged. The fact that Esau emerged first, though, was significant.
In today’s time, a parent making out their will can distribute their property in any way they like. They may consider their offspring and divide the property out equally. They may have a child that has been difficult and decide to give that child less, or in some way restrict that child’s access to their inheritance. They may consider their children and decide that they are going to donate all their worldly possessions to some charity because either their children have no need of an inheritance, they have deemed the charity to be in great need, or they have deemed their children to be completely unworthy of an inheritance and want to make sure that they get nothing, and others who deserve to be helped will be helped.
In the time of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob, though, that is not how it worked. The firstborn son, even in the case of twins, received a special status. Among the rights of the first born was to be understood as head of the family and entitlement to a double portion of inheritance upon the death of his father. How would that work in the case of Jacob and Esau? Let’s say, Isaac had 300 acres of land—Esau, being the firstborn would inherit 200 acres and Jacob 100 acres; 600 sheep would result in 400 for Esau, 200 for Jacob; 750 denarii would end up being 500 denarii for Esau and 250 for Jacob. As head of the family, Esau would be in line to be part of the covenant that God established with Abraham that was carried out through Isaac and his offspring:
Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”[i]
The scriptures tell us that Esau was a outdoorsy kind of man who loved to hunt while Jacob was more of a homebody, a stay-at-the-tent- avoid-roughing-it-type of guy. One day Esau had been out in wild hunting, probably rising before dawn and quietly moving out and sitting in his deer stand all day—or possibly tracking a tower of giraffes over rough terrain. We don’t exactly know what he was hunting, and it really doesn’t matter. What we do know is that he comes in from a long day of hunting and is extremely hungry. As he makes his way back home, he comes upon Jacob who is preparing lentil stew—a thick bean soup kind of dish. Esau comes up to Jacob and says, “Jacob, let me have some of your stew for I am starving.” Jacob, who, though enjoying his mother’s favor, has most likely always envied the status Esau had gained by pushing his way through the birth canal first, sees an opportunity—that is if his brother is really as hungry as he appears to be.
Picture Jacob preparing a bowl of the stew and sitting there, maybe a spoon in hand, saying, “so you want a bowl of this stew, huh? You’re about to starve to death, huh?” He scoops a spoonful of the soup and plays it up, enjoying the aroma. “Just how hungry are you? Are you hungry enough to sell me your birthright for this bowl of stew?”
Break from this image for a minute. How many of you have ever said, “I’m starving” or “I’m starved to death”? Now keep your hand raised if you were really at the point of physical danger when you said it. Keep that in mind now as we consider Esau’s response.
Esau looked at Jacob like he was crazy, “What are you talking about, I’m starving here, what good is my birthright to me if I die from hunger right here. You can have whatever you want, just give me a bowl of that stew.” Picture it, Jacob starts to hand over the steaming bowl of stew and then draws it back, “swear it to me first.” Esau, stomach growling, “Whatever you want, I, Esau, do hereby swear that as far as my birthright goes, I give up my position of firstborn, and in exchange for of a bowl of that red stuff, my brother Jacob is to be considered firstborn of Isaac’s sons.”
“Preacher, that’s a nice history lesson, but what does that have to do with us if we don’t inherit things the same way?”
The thing is, my brothers and sisters, we must be careful that we do not trade away our birthright, our inheritance, for something as temporary, in the scope of things, as a bowl of bean soup.
Consider these words from 1st Peter, chapter one, beginning at verse three:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
This is the inheritance, that we need to guard carefully—the salvation that we have received in being joined to Christ the firstborn of the resurrection.
“But preacher, don’t we believe that once we have been saved, once we have confessed our sin, and surrendered our lives to the saving grace of God found in Christ, that we are forever more saved—that we cannot lose that which God has given us? In other words, don’t we believe ‘once saved, always saved?’”
Actually, no we do don’t. As Methodists, in the tradition of John Wesley, we believe that along with the undeniable gift of our salvation that is a pure gift from the God who loves us enough that He gave His only Son for us—that His love for us was so great that He didn’t turn us into robots with our salvation and remove the gift of free will from us—God loves us enough that He still gives us the ability to walk in His grace or walk away from it. We can choose to trade our salvation away for a bowl of lentil soup.
That bowl of soup may be our hunger for pleasure and we decide indulge in drugs, sex outside of marriage, or deciding that our bed is more comfortable that the pew on any given Sunday morning.
That bowl of soup may be our hunger for power and prestige and we decide it doesn’t matter who we have to step on to get to the top, or that those who are not like us are less than us, and are there to serve us.
That bowl of soup may be pride in which we decide that we are the standard by which everything must be judged.
That bowl of soup may be anger and vengeance and we try to get even with those who wrong us or we rejoice at seeing someone else getting what we think they deserve.
That bowl of soup may be money flavored either by an effort to make a profit regardless of whether what we sale is overpriced or immoral or by and effort to save as much as we can on our purchases, regardless of ethical conditions under which our stuff is made or harvested.
That bowl of soup may be served in any number of additional ways that we face every day…and we have to ask, are we willing to trade away our new birthright—what will we sell out our salvation in order to have?
Have we traded it away?
If so, there is hope, there is good news. While Jacob never offered Esau his birthright back, and later own, under the encouragement of his mother, took not only Esau’s birthright, but the blessing Isaac intended for Esau as well, God’s desire is that we reclaim our inheritance.
Just as God pursued the faithfulness of His people over and over again through the Old Testament, having chosen them, refusing to walk away, and like Hosea pursing his unfaithful wife, God in Christ came, not to call the righteous, but to call the sinners to repentance…we are invited daily to give up that bowl of lentil soup we have taken and surrender once again to the redeeming grace of God, allowing Him to cleanse us, and fill us with what will truly satisfy us, His very presence and an unbelievable inheritance.
My friends, let us not trade our inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup—for with our inheritance, more than a bowl of soup awaits us—there is a full-fledged wedding banquet in store.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.