Professional speakers and trainers have long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes. Others assert that these first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make.
As it turns out, both may be underestimates. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," the decisions may occur much faster—think instantaneously or in two seconds. - https://www.thebalancecareers.com/why-blink-matters-the-power-of-first-impressions-1919374
However, as Gladwell points out in his book, we can be and are often wrong. We can be thrown off, we can misjudge people and situations. We’ve all probably at time been embarrassed at best, or have offended someone at worst when we made a judgement call about someone, only to later come to realize that we had it all wrong.
I tell you this as we come to the story of Jacob’s sons, in particular the two sons were focused in on this morning Joseph and Judah. It’s weird isn’t it? Moses starts telling us the story of Joseph, a story that will take the better part of the rest of the book of Genesis to tell, and right as he begins getting into the story, he takes a time out and tells this horrifically scandalous tale of Judah and his sons, an Tamar’s shaming of him. It’s weird right - maybe you heard the story of Joseph from Sunday School or saw the stage production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and say down with your Bible to read the story of Joseph, and then you turn the page and suddenly - whoa! where did this come from? They didn’t talk about this in Sunday School!
I think God knows something about how we judge individuals based on first impressions, and that God has something to show us about ourselves and about himself that we need to come to grips with if we are every going to truly understand and embrace the gospel of grace.
We come to the last two chapters of telling the story of Jacob this morning, and, apart from the first few verses, these chapters seem pretty easy to skip over as they seem to simply record a few random stories, some deaths, and then a long genealogy. Yet these chapters, in bringing the focus on Jacob to a close, act as a summary of some of the key themes of his life. A theme that can be summarized very easily: God is Faithful. God is Faithful. If there ever was an appropriate summary to Jacob’s life, it is that God is faithful.
This is one of these chapters that God is not present. Of course, He is present in that he is an omnipotent God, and we are dealing with his covenant people. However, he is not directly referenced. There is no mention of him, no prayer, no intervention. And it is no coincidence that this chapter contains one of the ugliest and depraved incidents in the Bible. This chapter was written to the children of Israel who were facing hostility from their neighbours in Canaan, yet attracted to their ways of life, yet it also causes us to consider our response to the evil in the world around us, particularly as if comes to harm our own household. And its here in this interaction that we see two basic responses to evil, that to this day we go to when we are confronted with evil. One is silent passivity (moral compromise); the other is immediate vengeful retribution. Think about our day and how we a a church and how we as a society confront evil in our day, be it evil such as what has been revealed in the Catholic Church hierarchy over the past few weeks, or evil such as the #metoo movement is calling out, or evil as in the tragedy of abortion - that more lives have been ended through abortion in the past 40 years in the US and Canada than the population of Canada itself, or any of the other sins or manifestations of evil that we face daily in our lives and in our news. Either we ignore evil, or the outrage mobs take out their vengeance without due process.
Our passage today is very appropriate as after the service we will be baptizing three young ladies who grew up in the church, and are being baptized today as a big public step that the faith of their parents is their own. It’s an appropriate passage, because I really believe that this is the moment in Jacob’s life in which God truly becomes his own.
Now we know on the one hand that Jacob was marked for God, elect, from before he was born, as God set him apart for his promise before he had done any good or evil. Yet God’s election took some time to work itself out in Jacob’s life, in fact for a lot of Jacob’s life, he seems like one of the more unlikely people to be a follower of God. And when God does reveal himself to him, at a low point when he was fleeing from his brother, God’s words to him make it clear that Jacob does not yet know God for himself.
And so we being our message today with Jacob on the run again fleeing from a family member, but this time he is fleeing not so much from the consequences of his own sin, but from this worldly exploitation back to God, back to God’s call, back to God’s land, back to God’s promise. So how would I describe Jacob’s spiritual life at this point? I’d say he’s a follower of God, who has some understanding of how God has blessed and protected him over the years, but who has sadly spent most of his life as a follower of God more captivated to the world’s values and conflicts than the life God offers and provides. Maybe many of you can identify with Jacob in that way. And so this is a message on how to break free.
This is what I’m most interested in this story of Jacob and Laban, for there are principles and a paradigm here that extends beyond a simple blow-by-blow account of these two men. God is doing something spiritually in Jacob’s life through these years, and God may similarly be doing something in your life, that you my find encouragement and hope and courage this morning. Courage to break free from the bondage to sin and to conflict that has robbed you these years.
Scammers and conmen. The reason hardly any of us pick up our phones anymore if we don’t recognize the number. Its the reason that a lot of us have spam folders in our email that keep growing and growing. Some of us work for people like this - bosses who change job descriptions or hours on us, or promise promotions and raises that never come. Some of us are married to them. Some of us are them.
Jacob and Laban were like two professional boxers. Heavyweights in the world of scams and cons. In this corner we have Jacob, the heel grabber, jockeying for position. Here he is scamming his brother Esau into selling his birthright for a pot of stew. Here he is posing as Esau to deceive his father and steal his blessing. He had quite a resume before he encountered Laban, but in Laban, he had met his match - his equal in equivocation, his competitor in con. Laban was no amateur. Jacob fell in love with his younger daughter and pledged to serve Laban for seven years for her. Well, Laban perceived Jacob’s infatuation with Rachel as weakness and gave him the surprise of his life by substituting his older daughter, Leah, on the wedding night. In doing so he was able to manipulate Jacob into working fro him seven more years. During which Jacob’s family has grown, with at least 12 sons and daughters born to him. And that’s where we pick up the story in Genesis 29:25: “As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” If the wedding night switch was Round #1 between these two professional conmen, we’ve got another few rounds to go.
In the U.S., the average divorce comes after eight years of marriage. Celebrity’s are notorious for having shorter marriage. Kim Kardashian was once married for 72 days, Pop singer Brittany Spears for 55 hours. 55 hours is quite amazing, as nearly everyone is still in honeymoon phase for much longer than that. Yet perhaps the record for the shortest honeymoon phase ever is recorded for us in Genesis 29, when Jacob woke up, and as the Bible so concisely and eloquently puts it - “behold, it was Leah.” That honeymoon was over.
The honeymoon always ends. We can be talking about marriage, or that new job, or that new phone you bought, or that new course you’re taking, it don’t matter, the honeymoon ends. Today we will be considering three questions:
How the honeymoon ends for some people
Why the honeymoon ends for most people
What to do when the honeymoon ends?
I just returned from Colorado. Now some of you know that the reason for my trip was to help my brother out, but the beauty of the place still was stunning. I’ve had amazing experiences of God in Colorado.
Thin Places: A recent article in the New York times described these places as “thin places”:
“locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine”… “Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”
Spiritual Tourism is a $40 billion industry. That’s as big an industry as laundry, and legalized marijuana. The Mecca, Christian pilgrimages, yoga retreats, etc.
Is there anything to this thin place idea? At first glance, this seems to be an emphasis of the passage: notice how often the place is referred to.
When you watch the movie Thor, its called Thor, because Thor is the hero. When Loki uses deceit to usurp Thor’s position as heir to the throne, we understand that Loki is the villain. And we know that while Loki may steal the throne for a period of time, he can’t remain king, because that wouldn’t be fair. It would violate everything we’ve been taught about the morality of storytelling and heroes and villains. Loki can’t win. Thor must win. Yet in this story, Jacob wins. And not just in this episode with the soup, but he actually is the chosen son through whom God will execute his purposes. God not only chooses Jacob in spite of his deceitful character, but brings about his purposes through Jacob’s deceit.
Some preachers seem embarrassed by this passage, that it would be this superfluous love story in the middle of such a serious theological work, and so the labour hard to imagine that this text is some sort of allegory for evangelism - and such it might be! However, it is first and foremost the story of Abraham securing a wife for his son. So before we get into any more fanciful interpretation, let’s not despise this passage as it speaks of marriage. As John Calvin writes in his commentary on this text, it is precisely because we do not hold marriage in honour, that Moses would insist on giving us a detailed picture of the marriage of Issac.
Now when we say this is a text about marriage, and an important text about marriage, and we can take some principles from this text without getting absorbed into the details and say, this is the key to finding a wife - first, get a really rich dad; second, have him send his servant back to his people and find a wife for you; third, there’s a lot of camels involved for some reason. Right, so we want to listen to the text, and what it might teach about marriage, but not get overwhelmed by the particulars.