Sunday, January 13, 2013

"A Blessing Given" - Genesis 27:27-19 - January 13, 2013

The childhood playground response sings out; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Sadly, as adults, we know that it is not true.  By the time I had turned eighteen I had experienced a broken wrist, eighteen stitches across my head, and a wide array of other bumps and bruises long since healed, but the words that I heard remain.  There words that I heard that hurt my heart and  words I said to others that I have never forgotten.  Words matter.  Words are more powerful than sticks and stones and broken bones. We carry them with us.  Words spoken for evil can wound us.  Words spoken for good can help shape us.

We listened moments ago as Lane shared the power of the blessing of his father.  You could see the pride in his face and hear the power that these words have had as he spoke.  Lane, thank you for sharing an important part of who your life story with us.  Over the next three weeks we are going to be looking at the power of blessing based on Genesis 27.   We will look at a blessing given, a blessing lost, and a blessing restored. Over the course of these three weeks I believe we can be strengthened, encouraged, healed and affirmed.  We will hear what it means to be blessed and work together toward creating a culture of blessing.

Blessings matter in our lives.  They help give us identity.  They help give us confidence.  They can impact our sense of self worth.  A blessing given can make us better.   A blessing withheld can create an unfulfilled longing.  In the Old Testament the blessing was offered at a specific time.  It was designed to transfer the role of the patriarch from one generation to the eldest son of the next generation.  In that era, while each child would receive a general blessing, the eldest son received a special blessing, preparing him for his role as leader of the family.  I want us to hear this blessing as a model for how we bless our children, our grandchildren, and all of those that God places in our lives.

Next week we will look at the intrigue and deception tied to this story, but I want to start this series looking at the blessing itself.  The blessing speaks with a loving father’s heart for his son. It is an act of culture; setting a stable future for the family.  It is an act of intimacy; affirming and encouraging the one who will now carry the burden of responsibility for the family.  The power this blessing is set out earlier in the chapter when Isaac summons his eldest, Esau, and tells him the get ready for the moment “That I may solemnly bless you.”  The Old Testament scholar Robert Alter tells us that the Hebrew literally means that “my life-breath may bless you.”[i]  It is a blessing that emerges from the very depths of Isaac’s being. Walter Brueggemann contends that “the blessing is massive and unqualified.” The blessing speaks of earth – well being, prosperity; of history –political power and preeminence; and of the hedge of protection and the promise of a future.[ii] Andy read the blessing passage in its entirety earlier in our service, so let’s now take a closer look at it together.

It begins; 27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him.  “It is important that we hear that the blessing begins with an act of intimacy and validation.  Some scholars contend that Isaac drew his son close because there might have been lingering doubt because the voice sounded strangely different.  But, we see it is more than one more effort to define his son’s identity.  Isaac has bought into the deception and now acts with the heart he has for the one for whom this blessing is intended.  He draws him close and kisses him. This is the holy kiss of love and affection.  It is the kiss of identity we hear in Psalm 2.  It is has cultural and communal significance. It is what makes Judas’ kiss of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane so painful.   It is what makes this moment so bittersweet.

But as we look at this moment, there is an unmistakable model for the power of the human touch.  This is not something we can do via a text or email.  It is a picture of more than a hand shake at arm’s length.  It is more than a model of a slap on the back. It describes an embrace and a holy kiss born in a loving relationship.  It is a worthy model for us to see and seize in our families and in our family of faith.

Isaac speaks; Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. This is a blessing for who is son is.  It not a word on who he wishes he was or his own dreams for him.  It is a blessing based on Esau’s work and passion.  It is too easy to project our own expectations on others. Sometimes we project on our children or grandchildren.  Sometimes we project on our friends and family.  Sometimes we project on those that we believe should work hard or smarter or should make other life choices. Hear that Isaac’s blessing was for who his son was at his heart.  Bless your children and bless each other not for who we wish they were, but for who they and we are at heart.  Hear that this is not a call to bless self-destructive behavior, but it is a call to embrace those God places in our lives for who God created them to be.

Isaac continues. 28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of grain and new wine.  Isaac’s prayer for his son is that God will provide for him all he needs.  It is easy to be drawn to the second half of this sentence, a call to for an abundance of grain and new wine, but we cannot miss the first half, the call for heaven’s dew and earth’s riches.  This was not just a blessing for God to provide his son the material things that he needed, it was about having the kind of walk with God where God provides him what he needs from heaven and earth. It is a blessing for a place on earth and a walk with in the presence and provision of God.

Some of you have heard me share that this year I am trying to live into The Lord’s Prayer.  That little line that I pray where I ask of God to give me this day my daily bread is a place of growth for me.  It is a prayer of absolute trust and absolute reliance.  This is what Isaac prays for his son.  Is this something we are prepared to model?  Are we willing to truly trust God for heaven’s dew and earth’s riches?  Are we willing to live in a way that shows our children, our grandchildren, our friends, and our families of faith that we are God’s and live out of God’s provision rather than chasing the false sense of security we find in our own quest for wealth?  Will we offer the life blessing God reliance or self reliance?

Isaac finishes; 29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”  This is a blessing of position, heritage, and responsibility.  Isaac prays that that God will entrust him with leadership for the family and others in his sphere of influence. 
Isaac prays a prayer of blessing of leadership that will lift his son up and provides a future for the family.

While the culture has changes with the passage of time, we still live in a culture that encourages us to look out for ourselves and to make sure we are secure in our position; so secure that no one can challenge us.  We learn to play King of the Hill as children and tend to live out of that game the rest of our lives.  The problem is that for us to be the King of the Hill we have to push others off – others away. 
 We live in a world where we are more likely to be blessed out rather than blessed by another. Too many live lives longing for the blessing of a parent or from another they love. Too many long to hear their father or mother or mentor to say to them that they are worthy and valuable.  Too many have been wounded by words of pain rather than words of blessing.  Too many have been pushed down and pushed away for so long they wonder if they matter to God or anyone else.  Too many languish with broken hearts waiting for a good word.  Many of them are a part of our church family.  Many of them sit in the pew next to you.  You may even be one of them.

Galatians 3:28-29 tells us: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  No matter whom you are, if you belong to Christ you are the heirs of Isaac’s blessing.  But is blessing is not something we hold for ourselves but instead we are called to share it with others liberally and with abounding generosity.  I want to call us to a culture of blessing. There is an incredible power blessing has on the one who gives it and the one who receives it. If we are to embrace a culture of blessing then we need to intentionally choose to lift others up, not push them down; to draw people close rather than to push them away. We need to be a people that offer words of blessing, seeing them as a wonderful unique creation of God –male or female, rich or poor, white or black. We need to be a people that offer words of blessing on what God is doing in peoples’ lives. Our words of blessing can touch the heart of those around us and point them to that place of love at Jesus’ feet where they can find wholeness and healing only God can provide.

[i] Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary,(W.W. Norton Co.: New York, 1996), p.137.
[ii] Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching, Genesis, (John Knox Press: New York, 1982), p. 232    

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