Sunday’s message …
- Marveled at Jacob’s resume of wrecked relationships;
- Actually included some “write these down” applications;
- Landed at a bottom line I like very much: “What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with.”
I know you all well enough from conversation and from social media and from some of your bumper stickers to know that you stand for things. You have causes & issues that set your blood to racing, your feet to marching and your hands to building. It goes from the relatively insignificant – like I ALWAYS stand for Roger Federer the way some of you ALWAYS stand & cheer for the Panthers – to the much more important. A lot of you stand for victims of human trafficking. Others stand for this church. Some of you have stood for your candidate, others stand for the rights of an embryo to grow into birth, and then some of you stand for a sustainable planet with breathable air. I recently joined a group working on more schools for SW Mecklenburg even though my own kids are grown and gone & won’t benefit from what gets built.
Now: for a few of you that thing you stand for, that cause you have to do with your career, your reputation, even your next acquisition. But all in all, what I am saying is normal, it’s fine, and it’s a much better option than living a life of apathy. In a lot of ways for a lot of us, what you stand for defines you.
And it’s only natural for moms and dads and grandmoms and granddads to involve their kids in what they stand for. One of my earliest memories comes from the time my folks took me to some kind of political rally where I actually shook the hand of a candidate for the presidency of the US (he lost, though I never blamed my handshake). You may have done that – a rally, a march, an event, a something. Because these causes you stand for are vital and it is almost inevitable to turn them into a family affair. So again, for a lot of you a lot of this is natural, almost inevitable because you have your causes, that which you stand for & they can be all-consuming
If that’s you, you got NOTHING on Jacob. If you’ve been with us during Where Apples Fall, you know he’s at the center of a lot of the ashes AND a lot of the beauty in this messed up, mixed up extended family at the center of the novella that is Genesis 12-50. And through it all, there is one thing he stood for: he is the champion of, the carrier of THE COVENANT. The special arrangement between God and the Jews. He has to ensure that they are a PEOPLE with a PLACE and a PURPOSE. And so Jacob, by hook & by crook (mostly crook), ensures that Israel will prevail and its destiny will be secure. It’s why he deceived his father Isaac, shafted his twin Esau (twice!), devastated his mother Rebekah, got played by his Uncle Laban, wrestled with God, and even alienated his favorite son Joseph from Joseph’s 11 brothers. Whew! What a resume of wrecked relationships! And his passion of his cause, his stand, is best summarized at the end of the wrestling match with God: “I won’t let you go til you bless me!”
His absolute commitment to what he stands for extends beyond his life. Look at this odd set of stories that SEEMS not to fit the overall story arc of Genesis. Look at 49:29-32:
29 Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.[a]”
Command given, death embraced. Now look at 50:12-14:
12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
Command obeyed, commute undertaken, burial in place. Listen: it is one thing to READ about this trip from Egypt to Canaan on paper; it would have been quite another to undertake it. Do you know what travel was like in ancient times? There were no roads, no roadside hotels, not WiFi hotspots. There were instead potholed paths, hiding vandals, scorching sun, and we figure the trek took about six weeks to make. Nothing easy or convenient about it. Honestly, I’d have been like, “Hey dad’s not here anymore. He won’t know the difference! Let’s save ourselves the hassle AND THE GAS MONEY and bury him here in Egpyt.” That’s me.
But that’s neither Jacob nor his kin. And so you know why this incredible effort to secure a burial spot? Do you know why the big deal? Ah, in the ancient mind, PLACE, territory was everything and Jacob was so insistent throughout his life and into his death that his people (Israel) were destined to have that place in the PL of Canaan. So it was absolutely vital in staking claim to that land that they wouldn’t inherit and inhabit for 440 years or more! that his bones reside there. Jewish bones. Staking a claim to the land bones. It seems bizarre to us; it made perfect sense to them.
Getting those dry bones to Israel in hopes they’d later come to life in descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore was the driving passion of Jacob’s life. What he stood for. And it worked. Mission accomplished.
But. However. Yet. At what cost? I look back over Jacob’s life and his relational resume. Hear it again: he humiliated his father Isaac, shafted his twin Esau (twice!), devastated his mother Rebekah, got played by his Uncle Laban, wrestled with God, and even alienated his favorite son Joseph from Joseph’s 11 brothers. Whew! What a resume of wrecked relationships! At every turn, it is as if God worked in spite of him and not because of him. That he was God’s adversary as much as his ally. Because you can’t treat the ppl you should love the most like dirt just because you have a higher calling and a covenant passion. It WORKED but the cost was enormous.
And I tell you that sordid side of Jacob’s tale because I don’t want you paying the same cost, regardless of the nobility of your cause. Especially for you moms and dads and those of you who have had them. Because here it goes, here’s the lesson to draw from a six week journey to bury bones in the Promised Land, here’s the point from a resume of wrecked relationships: What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with. I don’t want you to be so wrapped up in your causes – even the good ones, especially the good ones, that you overlook the apples that have been entrusted to your tree.
In our little family we
So I have to ask: what might your causes be? How migh your standing FOR something come at the expense of standing WITH someone? I don’t suspect many of you will lack subtlety in answering this question quite as much as did ER, the most influential First Lady of them all. Well known champion of workers rights, civil rights, womens rights. Good stuff, fine stuff. But also quite overt in letting it be known that the extent to which her own children, four of them, kept her from working on her causes, gave her no little frustration. Common knowledge … even to her kids. Is it any wonder that between her four children there were 16 marriages & almost as many addictive tendencies? So, no, I don’t expect any (or many) of you will be that obvious.
But … is it YOUR politicians? Your social media? Your kids athletic career? Their musical career? All in hopes of that ever elusive athletic or band scholarship to college? Good Lord: the sheer volume of time modern parents have their kids invest in those activities versus time spent on growing a living relationship with Jesus Christ is simply stunning. And depressing. It just strikes me as sad that we NEVER miss a game or a practice but student ministry, life groups? Optional. And I think we make those decisions because subconsciously we got our WHATS and our WHOS all confused. What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with.
Or … is your cause just YOU? Your career or your hobbies or your interests or YOU YOU YOU. Listen to this piece: READ Self Centered Adults Blamed For Decline Of American Family. Gulp.
You know who & what really has to guard against this? Churches. This church. Because when you value WHAT over WHO, when CAUSES take priority over PEOPLE, then the people you got can just be pawns in the mission you’re taking. It’s why we are very diligent here to do and host funerals/memorials. (Not all churches do, bizarrely.) And not just to do them, but to do them well. Because they may not necessarily advance the mission or bring in the bling, but I will tell you there’s no better way to stand WITH somebody than in those vulnerable moments of death & beyond. What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with.
In all this, I remain convinced that standing FOR something and an over-emphasis on causes is ultimately a distraction from and defense against intimacy. So many of our households spend time talking about news, views, events, games, and never get to heart, soul, feeling. Don’t use the Panthers game, the Trump presidency, the latest cause du jour be that easy partition to hide behind so you never talk about feelings, emotions, love. What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with.
So how do you stand WITH? How can you have your family treat your bones with care but do so without the resume of wrecked relationships? Let me get very practical if I may: 1) Parents: say to your kids, “I’m not going to be distracted by my device and I’m not going to let you be distracted by yours, either.” I think we ought to practice that together! You know these have been around since 2007 & most of us got along pretty well without them. And we can again. 2) When you feel conversations veering toward the intimate & personal RESIST the temptation to deflect with “How about those Panthers?” “Can you believe what The Donald did now?” Nope. Lean in. Vulnerable & honest. Those relationships will last longer than this NFL season or even than this presidency or crisis. 3) Parents: when is the last time you’ve told your kids you are FOR THEM? “Hey, I am FOR YOU. Not just my cause, but I’m for you. That’s why I stand with you.”
My goodness it starts young. Back in 1924, an American rower named Bill Havens was destined to win three golds at the Paris Olympics. However, his wife was expecting and due during the Games themselves. In those days, of course, there was no intercontinental flight, you’re talking six weeks of travel to and fro, and so Havens decided to stay home, by his wife, and give his Olympic spot to another. (One of his teammates was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the “Baby” Doctor!). Anyway, 28 years later, 1952, Bill Havens received a telegram (1952, OK?) that put his decision in perspective. Because it came from his son who had just won a gold in the 10K canoe final in the Helsinki Games of 52: “Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the gold medal you should have won. Your loving son, Frank.”
What you stand for is never as important as who you stand with.