“Only” and “almost” do not sound like particularly harsh words on their own, but when you hear them in context their power is painfully evident. The father looks at his child’s report card and pronounces, “You only got four As; I think you could have done better if you had really tried.” A mother looks her teenager and the art project from school and with that familiar glance retorts, “That is almost as good as what your sister did when she was your age. Maybe if you work harder you can get close to being as good as she is.” Without raising their hands or their voices, these two bruised their kids. Each had a moment where they could bless their child, but instead dangled it in front of them, just out of reach. What could have been a moment of celebration was transformed into a moment of pain. There are so many people that live everyday dealing with the pain of the elusive blessing of one of both of their parents. They have constantly tried to measure up. They have done all they can to try to make their parent or parents proud, only to discover no matter what they achieved or how hard they worked, it was never quite enough. So, they – no, so you - spend the rest of your life trying to prove that you are worthy.
Others know a different story. You were simply expected to excel. There were no words of affirmation. You either meet the expectation or you are considered a failure. This leads to a life where you constantly strive and strive and strive but never allow yourself to feel successful or fulfilled. The shadow of doubt and the weight of unrealized expectation weigh you down. Still others grew up in a world where there was a relational or emotional disconnect. Sometimes the disconnect was the ripple effect of a parent with addition or arises from homes with emotional or physical abuse. This can leave a hole in your heart and can shatter your confidence. You find yourself second guessing yourself and struggling to ever really be happy.[i]
In last week’s message I observed; “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.” Each of these scenarios and countless other variations describe a heart that struggles because that vital affirmation, that blessing, has been withheld.
Our Scripture for this morning calls us into a dramatic scene of filled with agony and tears. It is the moment when Esau comes back into his father’s tent only to discover that Isaac had already blessed his brother. It captures the moment of brokenness born in a blessing withheld. We listen as Esau cries out in bitterness; “Bless me—me also, O my father!” Isaacs speaks the hard and difficult truth to his eldest son; “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.”
It is interesting to hear from a diversity of scholars on the two brothers. Some will speak to struggle that emerges when each parent has a favorite child and the two are played against each other. We see this lived out too often in families across our community. One child lives in the light of blessing; the other always feels like the other child, left in the emotional and spiritual cold. Other scholars with focus on this passage and speak of Jacob’s great act of deceit. But I was most intrigued by the responses from JewishEncyclopedia.com. It introduces the view of Esau from the rabbinical tradition where he is most often seen as vile, violent, godless and unworthy to sustain the patriarchal line. [ii] The reality is that each is trying to speak into this moment when one son is blessed and the other is forced to live life without the blessing. Listen again Esau’s cries; (36) “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and now look, he has taken away my blessing!” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (38) “Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me—me also, O my father!” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
This is the hard and tragic scene. In the midst of Esau’s tears we hear the familiar sounds of brokenness. The blessing he desired has been given to his brother. We recognize the sounds of one who longs for a blessing that they will never receive. You understand the depth of his tears. This scene is so compelling and the emotions so recognizable that we can be tempted to linger too long in the pain. But we have to stop here. We have to come to a complete and dead stop. Esau’s tears will turn to anger, bitterness, and hatred. He will become so consumed by his emotions that it will reshape his relationship with his father for the rest of their lives.
As we look at this story it appears that we only have one of two choices. We that struggle with a blessing lost or a blessing withheld can either follow Esau and be defined by a heart of anger, bitterness and hatred. We can live the balance of our lives looking for the lost blessing or the withheld embrace never to find it. We can live in the brokenness. OR….”or” is a big word – it requires us to be willing to let go and find our sense of value in different ways….”or” means that we quit carrying the baggage that weigh us down…“or” invites us to move forward boldly with God and one another. Or we can choose a different path where we can find the blessing we need from the voice of others and at the feet of God
Recently William Dooley gave me a book as a 50th birthday gift. It was written by an English monk from the shattered Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, England, a remarkable place we visited together. The monk was named Aelred and was abbot at the abbey from 1147 to 1167. The book was entitled, Spiritual Friendship. I came to the short book with keen interest because I understood the vital role the old monk played in the life of a place that is special to me. But, more importantly, I came with keen interest because I believe we use the word “friend” way too casually. A friend is not someone we know by name and can speak to in the hall. A friend is not someone we share a meal with on an occasion. It must be more than that. The old monk, Aelred, spoke to the kind of friendship where Christ is at the center of the relationship and where the model of friendship is open-handed, open-hearted and life giving. Aelred sees an authentic spiritual friendship as one place we can find the blessing we need.
Scripture is filled with pictures of what this kind of friendship looks like. Aelred used the picture of David and Jonathan’s enduring friendship. David desperately wanted to please King Saul and never could. King Saul’s son, Jonathan, reached out and became David’s enduring friend despite his father’s displeasure and repeated warnings. Their friendship was self-sacrificing and life sustaining. Scripture speaks highly of Timothy’s mother and grandmother but makes no meaningful reference to his father. It is clear that the Apostle Paul stepped into his life, referring to him as “my loyal child in the faith.”[iii] I want to call us to claim this kind of relationships in our lives. This kind of relationship will invite those at our side to speak into our lives. This kind of relationship will allow us to both bless and be blessed by those that we call friends. This kind of relationship will place Jesus at the center of our walk with one another and help us serve as people of encouragement and voices healing for one another.
We are also called to be people of encouragement and voice of healing for others. We hear the voice of Jesus telling us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, our soul, our strength and might, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. [iv] In Philippians 4 we hear Paul teach; Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.[v] These two passages, and countless others that reflect the same heart, remind us that our love is not intended only for God and those we call family, but all of those that God makes our neighbors. Many of them; too many of them; live with the same sense of brokenness because they too have to deal with a blessing lost or a blessing withheld. They need to hear that they are worthy because they are created in the image of God. They need to hear that they are worthy because God was willing to leave the realm of heaven to come and walk beside us, to live for us, to die for us, and to rise again for us that we might become the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. They need to know that they are so important to God that if there was no one else in the world, Jesus would have still have come for them. I want to challenge us to continue to look for ways to step into people’s lives and bring them a word of God’s blessing.
Yes, we can hear words of encouragement, words of healing, and pronouncements of blessing from one another. These words matter. But, if you hear nothing else I say this morning, I want you to hear a personal word of blessing from the God that created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.[vi] You are God’s workmanship – God’s great work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works, which he had prepared in advance for us to do.[vii] You are worthy, not because of who you are, but because of God’s work in your life. You do not have to wonder any longer. You do not have to try to prove yourself again and again and again. Hear that you are worthy because God has made you worthy. The blessing that was lost is now found, the blessing withheld is now freely yours. Feel the blessing of your Father in heaven Feel the blessing of God.
[i] This introduction was shaped by Gary Smalley and John Trent’s The Blessing, (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1986),pp. 117-146.
[ii] Available online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5846-esau on January 18, 2013.
[iii] I Timothy 1:2.
[iv] Matthew 22:37-38.
[v] Philippians 4:4-5
[vii] Ephesians 2:10