This week’s sermon passage: Genesis 49:28-33
Alot of people live up to their names. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone named Scripture, Christian, Bible or Shepherd end up being a pastor:) Others tend to live down to their names. Jacob was clearly one of them. Jacob can best be translated “Grabber” because he was born hanging onto the foot of his older twin brother, Esau. Jacob spent his life, at least his early life, ‘grabbing’ things that weren’t his.
First he stole his brothers birthright by leveraging his brother’s hunger pangs. Then he disguised himself to smell like his outdoorsy older brother and tricked his aging, blind father into blessing him with the blessing of firstborn. He tricked his father-in-law, Laban, out of the best lambs of his flock. Later he would wrestle with God and refuse to let go until God, “blessed him.” All in all he certainly lived to the level of his name. Until God gave him a new one. Israel.
Then it can be said, Israel lived up to his new name. Mostly translated as ‘prince’ or ‘saved by God’, I prefer the hybrid of these two; Chosen. Given that new name, the patriarch joined the line of Abraham and his children are the children of Israel that we have come to know as this great people.
In the story of Joseph, the passing of Jacob/Israel is a notable one. It gives my older congregation the opportunity to look back on their lives and see that there is clearly a choice to be made. Do we choose to live by the name we’ve made for ourselves or do we live by the name given to us by God. Rarely at the end of life do we revel in the successes of work and play. The real celebration is in the gentle spirit that has visited us by grace. We revel in the love of our family and friends. We also can experience the joy of being loved by God. As I visited Jan yesterday in the last days of her life, she is joyful and unafraid. This is the joy that Israel experienced at the end of his life. These are the gifts of God that come with Him naming us as well.
This week’s Scripture: Genesis 48
A youthful memory I have is of the groundbreaking television variety show hosted by the Smothers Brothers. PBS has done an interesting biopic on the method with which Tom and Dick Smothers used their variety show to infuse social commentary into the evening programming. During the turbulent 60’s and 70’s, they offered many cutting edge messages to their skits. The genius of the method was from Dick Smothers, the one normally known as the goofball of the duo. Since Dick lives here nearby, I often see him at local grocery stores, the car wash or just out playing golf. Whenever I see him I always remember him throwing out the famous punchline; “Mom always loved you best!”
In our story of Joseph, chapter 48 summarizes the last few days of his father, Jacob’s, life. It recounts the moments when grandpa Israel (Jacob) meets his grandkids, Ephraim and Manasseh. During the blessing of the two boys, Jacob gets the boys mixed up and affords the firstborn blessing to the wrong boy. Joseph tries to correct him but Jacob won’t hear of it. He continues to steadfastly use his patriarchal authority to bless the one he wishes.
Stuart Briscoe’s commentary is insightful as he suggests that even Joseph, the grand Vizier of the might nation of Egypt, must bow down to the cantankerous moodiness of his own elderly father. Perhaps, too, there’s a bit of irony to be found in the way in which Joseph must now handle the prospect of the younger being blessed ahead of the older. Something which Joseph was a bit naive about in his youth (remember the coat of many colors?)
In any event, there’s plenty of blessing to go around and the lives of Ephraim and Manasseh have been properly prepared by their righteous and wise father to carry on their role in the world. It’s also one of the privileges of infusing our stewardship into a younger generation. When we make the effort to pass on not only our material legacy but also the fiber of our convictions for good, we see a rich blessing added to the cloth of our own coats.
Tracey was rescued from a drunken foster parent who had taken her into his home to entice her to marry a cousin living in the Philippines. One night in a rage he began shooting up the house with a .22 rifle. She ran from the house and called me because I was providing counseling at the time. She was six months pregnant when she came to live with our family and stayed with us for the next two years.
Though my wife and I had not yet had children we were thrown into the swarm of roaring hormones and cravings. Tracey was still a child herself but was soon to be a birth mother. Her deeply scarred background meant many long hours of listening and support. On a Sunday night in the middle of a church service that I was leading, Tracey rose, went outside and headed to the hospital. Four hours later she gave birth to a boy and twelve hours later that boy was adopted out to a family in Portland.
For eighteen years we talked about that young baby as he grew in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest. We prayed for him and for his adopted family. We prayed for Tracey, too, as she left our home and built a life for herself. Tonight as I was reviewing my sermon for tomorrow, I reached for and found a photo of the first time I met that same boy, Cory, as a young man of twenty. He was long, lean and very outgoing. He was headed to Cornell University to do his upper division bachelor’s work.
It makes me think of Joseph’s introduction of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, for the first time to their grandfather, Jacob, . Having thought Joseph dead, it was a shock to Jacob to find his son as prime minister of Egypt. He is shocked all the more to discover he had two grown grandsons! His joy held no bounds as, in his old age, he was blessed twice.
One of the deep privileges we will receive when we wait on the promises of God is to discover how marvelously God has blessed our faithfulness. When we see that our life lived for God has blessed so many we will be shocked at how many “spiritual” grandchildren we really have. It’s one more blessing found in the life of grace.