VI Pentecost

July 16, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

Many years ago, I heard the story which took place at a college of one of the two famous University’s in England – either Oxford of Cambridge.  It was so long ago that I forget which University, but that is not important for the purposes of the story.

It seems that one of the buildings which had been built in the 16th century was having problems with some of the beams in the ceiling.  These beams needed to be replaced.  But the college wanted to be as historically accurate as possible  and they wanted to replace the beams with the same wood used in the original.

The problem was that as they searched they could not find a supplier who had that particular type of wood.  They were in a panic, when one day they decided to call the Forester for the University.

“I was wondering when you were going to get around to calling me”, he said.  “When they built that hall, they planted trees of the same type in the forest, so that when the time came for replacement, the wood would be available.”

We just don’t do things that way anymore, do we?  We live in a very “here and now” world.  We very rarely look at the consequences of our decisions.  I believe that I have gotten a bit of a reputation at our Diocesan Convention for being someone who raises questions about future difficulties which may occur if we were to pass a particular resolution.  All too often, I think we rush to make a decision which will be a good fix in the short term, but we do not look at the long term ramifications.

I have sort of done this sermon backwards.  I have made the point that I wanted to make before talking about the
lesson on which these thoughts were based.  I was drawn to the story from Genesis -- Particularly the end of the
story.  Let me read it for you again:

“Once when Jacob was boiling pottage, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished.   And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let
me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!’ …Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’  Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’   Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’  So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.   Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

We read in the beginning of the lesson about the birth of these two very different twins.  Esau was born first.  This may not mean much in our society, but in their society, it meant a great deal.  It is the same principle as the line of succession in the monarchy.  To the oldest go the spoils.  

At Isaac’s death, Esau’s birthright would give him all of his father’s possessions.   He would inherit it all.  And yet, he traded that for some lentils and a piece of bread, because in that moment he was hungry.

When I teach this story to children, I usually begin with setting up dominoes.  We would line them up carefully, and then push the first one and see them all fall down.  It was a very easy visual example that decisions which are made now may have consequences in the future.

When we take the time to review our lives, we can point to particular decisions which we made, which upon hindsight we realize caused certain consequences. We might have chosen differently had we taken the time to think about these
possible consequences in the moment we made that decision.

I think that our culture encourages us to make decisions for our benefit in the moment.  We live in a culture of instant
gratification.  But, as we look at some of the consequences of our momentary decisions, we find that they have had costs that may have been avoidable.

What I think we can learn from this story of Jacob, Esau, and the Lentil stew is that we need to fight the temptations of our culture in decision making.  We need to look at the long term consequences of our decisions and not simply the immediate gratification of a present need. 

We need to be more like the people who built that great hall at a University in England – we need to look at the future and not just the present.  Let us not give up our birthright for a bowl of Lentils!  AMEN.