When I was in the 1st or 2nd grade my parents gave me this really cool looking spaceship complete with action figures and light-up screens for my birthday. This spaceship could fold up like a little briefcase so that I could take it to school and play with it during recess.
I had this spaceship for only about two weeks when I noticed that a buddy of mine had a really awesome spinning top that I had always wanted. I think they were called wizards back then. And I really wanted his spinning wizard top.
And this buddy of mine, knowing that I had the coolest toy in the entire school, and knowing that I really liked his wizard top, offered a straight up trade with me. “I’ll give you the wizard top if you give me your spaceship.”
Not knowing the long-term ramifications of this toy exchange, I said, “Sure.” And so I made the trade. After just one day of this trade, I knew that I had made a terrible business decision because I ended up really missing that spaceship. And when my parents found out what I had done, I really knew that I had made a bad trade.
As you can tell, I’m still not over it. I miss that spaceship!
Sometimes, we make bad exchanges as we go through life, don’t we?
Our scripture reading from the Book of Genesis is about a different kind of exchange that happened a long time ago between two brothers, Jacob and Esau, an exchange in which one of the brothers, Esau lived to regret it.
Last Sunday, we focused on the story of Isaac and Rebekeh. Isaac, the son of Abraham, marries Rebekeh, and Rebekeh becomes pregnant with twins. Our hopes are raised as we come to this story of Rebekeh’s pregnancy because we see God’s promise made to Abraham being fulfilled - the promise that God made back in Genesis chapter 12, that God would make of Abraham a great nation.
Our scripture reading this morning says that the first twin which was born had all of this red hair which is why mom and dad named him, “Harry” or actually, the Hebrew word is “Esau.” And just a few seconds after Harry is born, out pops Jacob, which means “Heel Grabber” because he had been gripping Harry’s heel during the delivery as if he was trying to be the firstborn.
And so we have the birth of these twins, “Jacob” and “Esau.”
We are told that Esau became a skillful hunter and that Jacob was more of a homebody. And one day, Jacob was cooking one of his specialty dishes called “Red Stuff.” At least this is what my bible translation calls this dish.
Have you ever brought a “red stuff” casserole to a carry-in-dinner? The NIV bible translation calls it “red stew.” The King James Version calls it “red pottage.”
The Hebrew is obscure, but my guess is that it looked like and tasted a lot like Skyline Chili.
I don’t know what exactly this dish was but it must have been really good because it ended up costing Esau his future inheritance.
Esau comes in from his hunting trip and he is starving. And he smells this skyline chili and he is ready to give up just about anything to have a plate of this red stuff.
Now here we have some suspense. Esau is the firstborn of the twins and as firstborn, he has the birthright. The family inheritance is his. And Jacob, knowing that his brother is starving, makes Esau a deal right there on the spot.
A straight up trade – A delicious serving of Jacob’s famous skyline chili for Esau’s birthright and the family inheritance.
This is why you should never buy groceries when you’re hungry. We will put things in that cart that we know won’t help our diet or our budget, but when you’re really hungry, the temptation can be too great to overcome.
Esau makes the worst decision of his life in his moment of weakness – he makes a straight up trade. The family inheritance for some red stew. Now, even if that stew was the best tasting stew in the known world at that time, it still wasn’t worth blowing the family farm over it.
As I think about this story of Jacob and Esau, I think of the bad trades that we sometimes make in our faith. What looks to be a great trade at the time, ends up being something that actually moves us away in our relationship with Christ.
This morning, I want to look at the Esau Principle. The Esau Principle is a principle that I just made up. The Esau Principle says to never make a trade that will lead to a negative impact on your relationship with God.
I want to quickly cover some potential bad trades that can set us back in who God is calling us to be.
Trading True Identity for a False Identity
The first bad trade is to trade your true identity for a false identity.
That’s essentially the trade that Esau was making to Isaac. He was giving up who he was as the first-born. By making the trade, he was making himself something other than who he truly was. He was accepting a false identity over a true identity.
So what is your true identity? Even if I don’t know you very well, I know your true identity. You are a child of God and you were made in God’s image. That’s a very “book of Genesis kind of thing to say” since the creation story is how this first book of the bible begins.
In the creation story, which we focused on back in the month of May, we saw how we were created in God’s image and God called us, “good.” That’s why the Bible includes the creation story because God wants us to know from the get-go what our true identity is.
We were made in God’s image. What does that mean that we were made in God’s image? It means that God created us for purpose. We were created to live our lives in such a way that we are always reflecting God’s glory back onto God which is what worship is and we are also always reflecting God’s glory back into the world, which is what service is. The creation story wants us to know that each one of us was created for worship and service. Worship and service. Worship and service.
Say that with me. “Worship and service.”
Being created in the image of God means that we are meant to always be in relationship with God, to know that we are loved by God, claimed by God, and given a purpose by God. That is every human being’s true identity.
The problem is that we sometimes forget. We’re like Esau who trades away his heavenly banquet for some leftover stew.
Whenever we trade away our true identity as God’s image bearers, we accept a false reality of who we were created to be. We weren’t created to just live according to our instincts and our impulses. We were created to be part of this magnificent overarching biblical purpose of being an important part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth. How cool is that?
It’s a game changer when we accept and live out the awesome identity of who God created us to be from the very beginning. It can be the most freeing thing we ever experience. Accepting our true identity can be a game changer.
I remember when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I went on a church youth retreat to the beach one summer. There was just something about that week that helped me to experience God’s love in a very real way that became very personal and meaningful.
I’m sure it had something to do with the bible discussions we had during the week. But what really did it for me was in the singing of praise songs around the campfire every night. One of those songs was a song that is now in our United Methodist hymnal, “Pass It On.”
That song helped me to connect with God in a way where I was able see my true identity. God loved me unconditionally, pimple face and all. God loved me for who I was.
That was a life changing event for me because I couldn’t stop singing that song days and weeks after that youth retreat. I still think back to that time of my life. I mean, I already knew that God loved me but it was the first time that I really, really experienced that love and accepted it.
It was that chorus that I think really spoke to me. “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it. You spread his love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”
Thanks to that summer youth retreat, I knew what my true identity was. I was loved by God in a very real way, not just in a theoretical or theological way. God’s love was something I could experience and receive in any given moment.
Now, it’s also true that since that time many years ago, I have needed to remind myself of my true identity over and over again, because we easily forget. It’s easy to forget who we are as people who are loved by God.
Sometimes we accept a false identity of who we are where we never measure up to our own standards let alone the standards that others have on us. In one of my churches, I remember needing to wake up at 4:30 in the morning so that I would have time to make it to a hospital where a church member was going to have major surgery.
The alarm went off. I got in my car and drove to the city where the hospital was located. I had timed it just right because as I got out of my car in that hospital parking garage, I was thinking how I had just enough time to see this person back in pre-op before the surgery.
As I was scampering through that parking garage to go into the hospital, that’s when it suddenly dawned on me that I had driven to the wrong hospital. It needed to be in the other hospital that would probably be another twenty minutes away. There was no way that I was going to make it on time.
I quickly turned around, got in my car and started driving to the other hospital. I probably drove too fast and went through some questionable yellow traffic lights to get there. I go into the hospital, rush to the pre-op area, and I am told that my church member had just been taken back for surgery.
In that moment, my heart just sunk. I felt terrible. I said a little prayer there in the hallway, and I went out into the hospital lobby. I was already doing the negative self-talk and beating myself up over my mindless mistake.
To my surprise, a pastor of a church near my church was in the waiting area of that same hospital during that early morning hour. He was there for a church member having an early surgery as well. When I told him about my mistake, I’ll never forget this.
Knowing that I was upset with myself, he grabbed my arms, looked into my eyes and he said, “God loves you, Robert.” He said it again, “God loves you, Robert.”
I needed that. I always need that reminder because I can so easily forget of this basic truth of my true identity.
So I’m going to tell each one of you, straight up. “God loves you.” Let me say it again. “God loves you.” Don’t trade your true identity for anything less than that. That’s always a bad trade.
Trading Christian Community for Solo Christianity
Let’s look at another potential bad trade. Trading Christian Community for Solo Christianity.
We live in a culture which is trading in Christian Community for Solo Christianity. People don’t see the need for the church if they can pray just as easily in their home. Or maybe they see the hypocrisy of the church and they say, “I don’t need to be part of a church that gossips about each other or where the people hurt one another, sometimes even maliciously. I’ll just live the Christian faith on my own.”
And yet, the Bible reminds us again and again, that our faith is not meant to be lived in isolation. Hebrews 10:25 is probably the kingpin verse for this bad trade. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
When we get out of the habit of meeting together as the church for worship, fellowship, study, and service, we end up falling short of the biblical model of Christian community. The Esau principle reminds us that even with all of the shortcomings of the church, this is a trade that we don’t want to make.
One day, I caught up with a pastor and I asked him to share something good that was going on at his church. And by the way, he’s not United Methodist. That’s important to know as I share this with you. He paused for a few seconds and then his eyes started to light up. And he proceeded to tell me about a new small group ministry for men that had just started attending his church.
And he said, “It’s been so great to see people in the church growing in their faith through this small group ministry.” And then he said, “We’re using the John Wesley model (and he gave me this big smile knowing that I’m United Methodist.) “We are using the Wesley model of having members of the church participate in small groups to receive encouragement and strength through the other members of the church.”
He said how people in these small groups are really opening up and sharing about their struggles and how the members of the small groups are giving each other support and encouragement in dealing with these issues that all of us deal with on a day to day basis.
You can’t have this kind of spiritual growth without Christian Community. Solo Christianity will take you only so far.
The Esau principle reminds us to not trade Christian Community for Solo Christianity. Solo Christianity can easily turn into “no Christianity.”
Trading Our Faith for a Life Without God
Let me offer one more bad trade. Trading our faith for a life without God. That’s the ultimate bad trade, isn’t it? I run into people all of the time who say that they started out in the church as a child, maybe they were baptized, their parents took them, but over the years and into adulthood, they just kind of fell away from their faith.
And it’s not like they don’t believe in God, but they are not attending any church, they’re not reading the bible, they’re not active in a prayer life, and they’re not using their God given gifts to serve others.
Most of the time, they don’t even realize that they made the trade. They just gradually fell away from their faith.
Jesus told a parable that explains how easy it can be for people to make this bad trade. In this parable, he talks about a farmer who scatters seed with the hopes that all of the seed will eventually grow into beautiful and productive plants.
Some of the seeds fell on the hard path and before the seeds could take root, birds came along and snatched up those seeds. Other seed fell on rocky ground and this produced some plants but because there wasn’t enough soil, the sun scorched them and they didn’t make it.
Other seeds fell among thorns and those thorns ended up choking those plants.
But then Jesus went onto say that some seed did fall on good soil and it brought forth incredible and unbelievable amounts of grain.
The point of the parable is that seeds need to be planted in the right soil in order to grow and flourish.
And whenever we make bad trades as Esau did in our Genesis reading, we can end up cutting ourselves off from God’s promises.
Maybe you have heard the story of the farmer who was getting tired of farming and so he contacted a realtor to help him sell his property. And the realtor asked the farmer to describe his farm so that he would be able to put a description of the farm in the newspaper.
And the farmer thought a moment and he said, “Well, I have 100 beautiful acres with a fenced in meadow, a freshly painted barn with plenty of storage. A meandering stream runs through the green meadow and there’s even a couple of acres of wooded land."
The realtor thanked the farmer for the information and he said, this will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper and hopefully this will catch a prospective buyer’s eye.
Around the middle of the morning the next day, the realtor receives a phone call and it’s this farmer. And the farmer says, “I changed my mind. I don’t want to sell my farm.” And the realtor said, “What caused you to change your mind?”
And the farmer said, “I read the description of the farm that was in the newspaper and I decided that this is just the kind of farm that I’ve always wanted to have! I just didn’t realize until now, that this is the farm I’ve always wanted.”
Isn’t it true that we often forget to appreciate what we have already been given by God? Sometimes, all it takes is for us to step back and to appreciate what God has already given us.
I think of a dear friend of mine who passed away a couple of years ago. Even with his leukemia and blood transfusions which were every other week, it was a struggle for him to attend church but he did week after week.
His faith remained strong to the very end. The spring before he died, we had met for lunch and he offered a prayer before our meal. As he prayed for my family, my ministry, and for me, I was reminded of just how much I had missed his prayers. Even in his failing health, he continued to inspire so many people, including me.
Here’s a man who lived out his faith the right way. He didn’t make trades that would lead to a compromise of his faith. He remained faithful to the Esau principle which is to never make a trade that will have a negative impact on your relationship with Christ.
My friend is an example that if you want to stay strong in your faith, stay rooted in the good soil and don’t give away the farm.
The Esau Principle
Small Group Questions
Genesis 25:19-34 & Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 23, 2017
We continue our stories of the Book of Genesis this summer by focusing on the birth of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Rebekah and Isaac. In a moment of weakness (hunger!), Esau traded his birthright to Jacob in exchanged for some stew! Pastor Robert invites us to think about three bad trades that we may be tempted to make in life.
#1 Trading Our True Identity for a False Identity
What helps you to remember and claim your true identity as a child of God, an image bearer of a loving God who created you and called you, "good?" Why do you think we sometimes forget who our true identity is?
#2 Trading Christian Community for Solo Christianity
How have relationships with other Christians helped you to grow in your faith? Why is your small group important to you?
#3 Trading Our Faith for a Life Without Christ
What are some reasons why we might fall away in our faith? Share a time when you stopped praying, or reading your bible, or attending church. What brought you back?
List some ways that can help us to maintain a strong faith as we go through the ups and downs of life.