Two brothers and what forgiveness means – Sermon

Genesis 33:10 (Briarwood, July 2012, Jacob/Esau ‘II’)

Good Morning.

“…for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”  Jacob to Esau, Genesis 33:10

In this book, Why is Forgiveness So Difficult, Fred Craddock says this:

“Forgiveness is in our vocabulary: in the church we say it quite a bit.  Our frequent use of the vocabulary of forgiveness should not dull our conscience to the fact of its importance, its absolute irreplaceable importance to all of us.  We cannot have friends without forgiveness, we cannot have family without forgiveness, we cannot have lasting marriages without forgiveness.  But it is difficult, very difficult.  It is very difficult to turn loose pain, especially if the pain has become the new center of my identity:  the new definition of who I am –– the wronged, hurt person.  Only the person that hurts, only the one who has been hurt can forgive.  The rest of us are just advisors and commentators.

This is a story about forgiveness and reconciliation.  We left Jacob and Esau last time, as Jacob was deceiving this brother with a pot of red stew.  That looked better than it was.  That Esau, in satisfying his immediate craving, in his worldliness, traded his birthright for.  And we left Jacob and Esau, two brothers, deeply divided.

As it turns out, the story went on.  And things got worse.  Jacob, eventually has to flee his brother, having deceived him again, this time with the help of his own mother.  And Jacob runs for his life, afraid that Esau will kill him.  And Jacob runs.  He runs away.  He runs all the way back to the land of his ancestors, and to his Uncle Larry, in the land of Haran.  And he stays there a while.  Longer than he expects.  There, Jacob the deceiver, is tricked himself.  And stays 14 years.

When he leaves, he leaves prosperous, with a huge family, and a big farm.  It has been a long time since Jacob fled his home, after deceiving Esau.  But those moments and those acts of trechery, have stayed with him.  We wonder, how often Jacob has laid awake at night, under the stars in the fields of Haran, counting his sheep, and listing the number of things he would have done differently with his brother, had he had the chance to go back.  We wonder, in which ways Jacob felt badly for his mistakes.  If guilt haunted him.  We wonder, how often things back home were on his mind and if he thought he could ever return.

And in this story we get an answer.

We’re never told the mind of Esau.  We don’t know what his heart is like.  Whether he has held a grudge against Jacob, after all these years.  Whether, he, awake at night under the stars of Canaan, has laid there thinking up ways to get even with this brother.  Planning his revenge.  A dish best served cold, he might have been thinking.  Steaming, brewing, planning, secretly rejoicing in how he will make his brother suffer for his wrongs.  We’re never told….But Jacob thinks this way about Esau.  Jacob, when he comes back to the land of Canaan, and hears that his brother is near.  He goes into panic mode.  He’s quite sure that the wrongs he’s committed against his brother are irreversible.  That the relationship is damaged forever.  That there is no possibility of healing or forgiveness.

That Esau wants his life.

And so Jacob, sends gifts on ahead to meet Esau.  To appease him.  Jacob prays to God for help.  And then, once they’re nearer, Jacob, being the brave hero and unafraid, protector father that he is, sends out ahead of him his children, first, with some of the maids, their mothers, then his wives, and their children, and then, lastly, after they have faced the supposed wrath of this brother for him, then he and Rebekkah go last.  Bowing down 7x times.  Bowing to the ground.  As they approach his brother.

And his brother, whom Jacob fears after all these years and all these hurts and wrongs that he has committed against him,

comes running

embracing him

kissing him,


Come, put a ring on his finger, get my best robe and put it on his shoulders, Go and kill the fatted calf – for my son who was lost, is found.  Says the father to the prodigal.  Says Esau to Jacob.  Says Jesus Christ to each of us.

You see, there is something of God in Esau.  Of God in Jesus.  There is forgiveness.  There is grace.

And with God, there is always grace.

But it isn’t cheap.

One minister tells a story about a six-year old boy whose mother asked him to stop running through the house because he might stumble and fall and hurt himself or break something.  So, of course, he ran and stumbled and fell and broke a vase.  His father saw this happening.  And when he did, went over, picked him up and said, “Don’t worry about it.  It’s just a vase.”  But the boy’s mother, went over, knelt down, picked up the broken pieces and said quietly, “It wasn’t just a vase.  It was my favourite vase.  My mother gave it to me, her mother gave it to her, and I was looking forward to give it to my children.”  And she cried, and the little boy cried, and the mother hugged the boy and he hugged her back.  This minister (Fred Craddock) asked, “Who forgave here, the father or the mother?”

The grace that Jacob receives in this story is not cheap.

We don’t hear all of what Esau might have said.  But the hurts in his life were real.  Actual.  Damaging.  But so was the forgiveness he offers his brother.

Jacob comes to this story, doesn’t he, with a limp.  On his path to reconciliation with his brother – Jacob is changed.  His encounter with Esau is paralleled with his encounter with an angel from God.  An encounter that is tied to this one.  Where Jacob, praying for strength to meet Esau, is met by an angel, who wounds him.  In the struggle, Jacob feels pain.  A pain that is real to him.  And he carries that pain, a sign complexity of reconciliation, he carries that pain into his encounter with Esau.  Jacob, the one who has done the hurting, is hurt himself.  The wrong doer, they are injured too.  And so we meet Jacob, not as one unscathed by the complexities of a broken world, but as a person very much in one.  He meets Esau like this and is forgiven.

And we, today, are inheritors of Jacob’s way.  He is our grandfather in the faith, Jacob is.  Through his family, Jesus comes into the world.  And we’re found by the  love of God.  And so, we have to ask ourselves, this question, posed by Walter Brueggemann:

What does it mean that we are heirs of that man – crippled, blessed, bowed down, forgiven?

I remember Glen Inglis, a mission partner of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, addressing a meeting here.  Told the group about his recent time in Malawi.  Described the kinds of challenges facing the church and the people in that country.  He said one, was the theology of the Prosperity Gospel.  He remembered how he had gone to one large church in the country, who had invited a guest speaker from Nigeria.  And how this speaker started his sermon jarred him:  said the man started it like this:   Good Morning.  I can tell there is no faith here.  Because on the way in, I did not see one porsche in the parking lot.  Went on to say, that if their faith was real and they were real Christians, they would be more prosperous than their neighbours.  And Inglis asked, where is the humility in this?  Where is the suffering, the bowing down?  Where is the cross of Jesus?

Because part of the answer to the question – what does it mean that we are heirs of Jacob, part of the answer is about Jesus – who knows all about bowing down, cost, and forgiving.

Friends, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is this:  that Jesus came among us, lived and died on a cross, for the forgiveness of our sins, and rose to life again, and sits at the right hand of God, and prays for us.  If we want to know anything about God, today, we’ve got to look to this Jesus.  And he wasn’t somewhere up in the clouds.  He was beaten down.  He was betrayed.  He was hurt.  But, it is in him, that we know forgiveness.  Hope beyond hurt.  And in Jesus, we, with all of our limps and broken parts, are brought into the very heart, the loving, compassionate, forgiving heart of God.

We’re forgiven.

Jacob’s limp, our limp, we read about in Corinthians – “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;  perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

And God’s forgiveness and reconciling love, we read there too, in one of the first churches – …In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;  we entreat you, be reconciled to God.  For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over. Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let those events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories. (Bread for the Journey,January 29).

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