July 23, 2023 SERMON: ‘Family Reunions’
Rev. Jane Courtright
One of my favorite comedians through the years
has been Chevy Chase.
Some of you may remember him from the late night show
‘Saturday Night Live’ …the original ‘Saturday Night Live!’
Somehow, just looking at his face, with his own unique smirks,
was enough to make me laugh!
A really classic Chevy Chase movie is ‘Vacation.’
If you have taken a family vacation this summer, or still plan to….
you may want to rewatch this movie!
In this movie, a typical family sets out to drive from Chicago
across the country, singing songs together as they drive away,
camping out together, visiting relatives along the way,
seeing sights along the highways of America.
THE TYPICAL, CLOSEKNIT, WONDERFUL, ALL-AMERICAN VACATI0N!
But what follows is a bigger series
of misadventures than one could imagine!”
First, they take a wrong turn in St. Louis,
& end up in an unknown neighborhood AT MIDNIGHT!
Then, they take a wrong turn in Arizona,
and end up stranded in the desert AT NOON!
What next? Well, on a stop to stretch their legs
& do whatever else it is one does at a rest stop….
they tie their elderly aunt’s dog to the bumper of the car,
so he can get some fresh air, too.
Only trouble is, they forget the dog….
until they hear his empty lease flapping against the car
as they drive down the highway!
WHAT A VACATION!!!!!!!!!
And why are you laughing? Because you know,
in one way or another, exactly what I’m talking about!
How often have YOU & I set out to have the
perfect family vacation or reunion…
only to have it turn into a family nightmare
when things didn’t turn out exactly as we’d planned!
I have some ‘special’ memories of my own about extended family times These times always begin with hugs,
and of course, food. We reminisce about old times.
But sooner or later,
we begin to slide back into some of our old family patterns.
Some members of the family begin to argue,
to talk about past slights and hurts.
Soon enough, the habits of one another
begin to annoy & disturb old wounds.
We start to remember why
we only have these kinds of reunions
a couple of times a year:
-Grandma’s controlling clean-a-holic’ habits;
-Grandpa’s pessimistic, biting political views;
-Uncle George’s dirty jokes;
-Aunt Clara’s obvious dislike of children;
-Uncle Harry’s chain smoking habit.
Sound familiar at all?
When it comes to our families, OUR REAL FAMILIES,
things don’t often out the way they are portrayed
in movies or in resort or cruise ads.
These ads show happy families lounging on the beach….
BUT IN REALITY:
*One or more of the kids throws up in the car, or airplane
*The pool at the motel is out of order for the month
*The rental car has a flat tire in the middle of nowhere
*Or your teenagers gaze at their Iphones for 2 weeks of vacation.
Let’s revisit the Biblical Family saga we’ve been following
in the book of Genesis this summer!
Today, we are back with Jacob: the grabber….the heel.
He’s still on the run after cheating his Bro Easu
out of his birthright and blessing!
Last Sunday, we heard about Jacob’s incredible dream…
in which a staircase or ladder was let down from heaven,
& Jacob was blessed with a wonderful message from God.
That vision left us with the feeling that MAYBE
Jacob’s life was about to take a turn for the better!
Alas, for now, he is still financially broke and on the lamb.
Today’s story begins
with Jacob running into a beautiful woman at a well.
[Does this familiar?
Isn’t this just how his father’s wife Rebeka was found?]
Jacob helps this woman, Rachel, to water her father’s flock.
He discovers that Rachel is none other
than the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban.
Fortunately, for Jacob,
Uncle Laban welcomes the down-on-his-luck nephew
into the family household.
At first things go very well.
No doubt, Jacob is grateful that he’s ended up among relatives,
family who will take care of him.
They even let him work in the family business!
But remember, things don’t always turn out
the way we think they will in families!
GOING INTO BUSINESS
with your family can be an ‘IFFY’ proposition.
If you are in business with your family,
you many already know what’s coming next in this story:
We already know that Jacob has fallen in love –
at first sight-with Laban’s daughter Rachel.
So, he approaches Uncle Laban with a business proposition:
He’ll work in the family business for 7 years
in order to make enough money to marry Rachel.
Laban’s reply to this business proposition
is something ambiguous like:
“It’s better that I should give her to you than to any other man.
Stay with me.”
They shake hands, it’s a done deal.
Nothing is put on paper, there are no lawyers involved.
AFTER ALL, THEY’RE FAMILY!
Jacob works, slaves, for 7 years for Rachel.
The text says “they seemed to him but few days
because of the love Jacob had for Rachel!”
Finally, THE END OF THE 7 YEARS COMES.
Jacob says to his ‘Father-in-law-to-be,’
“This has been great! Now, hand over my new wife.”
Then, in the words of Genesis:
“In the evening, he took his daughter Leah
& brought her to Jacob.”
Whether it was because women wore heavy veils back then,
or whether it was dark,
or whether much wine flowed freely at the wedding party…
for whatever reason,
it wasn’t until morning that Jacob realized
he had married Rachel’s older sister Leah.
Jacob says to Laban, “What is this that you’ve done to me?
I worked for 7 years to marry RACHEL.
Why have you tricked me?”
Laban says, “Oh, didn’t I tell you?
I thought you already knew that in our culture,
it would be terrible for the younger daughter to marry first.
Thought you knew that. Ooooooooh, well!”
And so, Jacob was stuck. He had to stay married to Leah.
If he worked for 7 MORE years, Laban would give him Rachel.
AT this point,
you may remember the way Jacob tricked his Bro Esau.
You may be thinking that ‘Trickster’ Jacob
is getting just what he deserves.
Now it’s Jacob’s turn to feel what it’s like to be conned.
Maybe it’s Jacob’s turn to be a sucker himself.
What can Jacob do?
He works 7 more years and marries Rachel.
So, the story goes on…and the conflict.
Because of course, Rachel and Leah quarrel.
Then these 2 women team up with Jacob
to trick their father out of most of his property.
IT ALMOST SOUNDS LIKE AN ANCIENT SOAP OPERA!
So, why in the world would the Bible include such a sordid story?
IT’S A FAMILY….A FAMILY IN A MESS!
Do you know any families like that? I do.
It seems that most of the serious damage
that happens to us in life is done in our family.
We mean to love one another,
but somehow, our love for ourselves…
gets the better of our love for each other!
Sometimes we deceive each other.
And the person you married is not exactly
the person you thought he or she was.
And your in-laws seem more like outlaws.
SUMMER…time for family reunions, family vacations.
Time to spend more time with family.
Good news? Bad news?
If you listen to this family story
of Jacob, Laban, Rachel & Leah,
It sounds strange, foreign at first.
Then, it starts to sound close to home,
maybe TOO close to home!
This story from Genesis becomes for us,
A REUNION of sorts.
A FAMILY REUNION in which we are joined together
across the centuries, with our long-lost, all-too-human family.
And through it all, God does not appear to fix things
or to settle family arguments.
But through it all, none-the-less, there is God.
Remember the promise which began the story.
God’s promise to Jacob’s grandmother & grandfather,
Sarah & Abraham….
a promise to make of them a family of God.
And Jacob is not just another annoying, ambitious son-in-law.
God is going to use this Jacob, and the rest of the family,
to bless the world.
After all, from the family lineage of these all-too-human people
came JESUS…they are the descendants of Jesus!
I don’t know where you are with your family today.
I suspect, that along with the love & joy,
there is probably pain.
There are past hurts & lies,
a long history of disappointment and disagreement.
That’s the way it is in families….
that’s the way it’s been since GENESIS…
which means literally, the BEGINNING.
What about your family?
The good news is that God loves us just as we are….
and WILL WORK good through us. IMAGINE THAT!!
The grace of God
includes strange, funny, conniving families like ours
in the grand, magnificent scheme of things!
I say, Alleluia! Thank God! Amen!