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What's a Birthright Worth? -- Jim Eby -- July 15, 2008 What's a Birthright Worth? -- Jim Eby -- July 15, 2008

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   Discussion: What's a Birthright Worth? -- Jim Eby -- July 15, 2008
Jeanne Gay · 10 years, 2 months ago

Summit Presbyterian Church                                                                                                    July 13, 2008

Delivered by Jim Eby                             What’s a birthright worth?                                   Genesis 25:19-34


There is always the temptation to do what will bring immediate gratification. Why wait until we have the cash in hand when we can just Acharge it@? It is hard to discipline ourselves to wait and work for that which brings fulfillment in the future. We want it when we want it, and we want it right now, thank you very much.


That’s sort of the way it was for Esau that day. He was a hunter, by vocation and avocation. He was very different from his twin brother Jacob. It had been apparent from the days of their childhood B almost from their birth. Esau was the outdoors man, a man of the field, and he was the apple of his father’s eye. Jacob was the second born, the one who could always be found around the tent. If there was a scholar in the family, it was Jacob, and he was his mother’s favorite. Esau was the kind who enjoyed hunting and fishing and exploring. Jacob was the kind who enjoyed reading and caring for the sheep and staying close to home.


What kind of a day had it been for Esau? The kind when you fished all day without success, and had counted on eating one of the freshly caught fish for strength to make the journey home? Was it one of those days when you are out hunting, and you see the animal you are hunting, but it is too far away or some other animal spooks it and you don’t bag anything B you make your way back to camp in a state of exhaustion.


It must have been something like that, for Esau felt like he was about to die when he finally made it back home and stumbled upon Jacob who was cooking a pot of wonderful red stuff. The scholars think Esau imagined it was blood soup, which was supposed to have almost magical qualities that would restore a person who was dying. Give me some of that red stuff, for I am famished! Esau said.

I wonder how long Jacob had been waiting for that moment. I wonder if he and his mother had discussed this very scene sometime earlier. Most of us would give our brother or sister a cup of soup, wouldn’t we? Particularly if it were lentil stew. But Jacob used Esau’s hunger and the prepared stew as a bargaining chip. First sell me your birthright.

What’s a birthright worth?

It was the inheritance of a double share of the family resources. It was the right to make decisions for the rest of the family when the father died. It was the opportunity to immediately inherit the place of responsibility in the community that the father had carried. If the father was a priest, then the eldest son was expected to be a priest. If the father was the leader of the clan, then the eldest son was expected to step into his shoes. The birthright was worth wealth and prestige but it also brought with it responsibility. In many countries today, they practice the rights of inheritance that are identical with those practiced in the days of Isaac and Jacob and Esau. The eldest son has special privileges but also special responsibilities. Even while the father is alive, if the father gets sick, it is the eldest son, not the wife or the mother, who carries the mantle of authority.

First sell me your birthright.

We don’t know what went through Esau’s mind. Maybe he thought that his father would never let such a thing happen. Maybe he felt he would rather be free to hunt and fish rather than settle arguments and take on the responsibilities of the future of the clan. We don’t know. We do know that he must have wanted what he wanted and he wanted it right now. He lost tomorrow because he snatched so greedily at today.

And we see all the examples around us. We hear the statement: “I’ll just die if I don’t get that...dress, car, computer...” -- you fill in the blank. We see it in the ads that promise comfort and ease and convenience for the individual, regardless of the long term effects or the needs of the larger community. There are those in public office who will sell a birthright of great ideals to satisfy immediate promises of a future vote.

Have we sold our birthright for a mess of immediate gratification? Is that our red soup?

We have a birthright. We are the eldest children who have already received a double portion of our family inheritance. We have the privilege of what previous generations have passed down to us in our sanctuaries that were built by previous generations; there is the inheritance of the chapels that have provided space for small services and a quiet time for prayer. There is the education wing where groups still learn today and where community groups are formed and nurtured. We have charters as a Presbyterian congregation that is our heritage from more than one hundred and twenty five years. We have funds provided by members who wanted to reach across the years to help us maintain the physical plant, and the program budget. We have a birthright and a legacy that has to do with those physical aspects of those who preceded us.

But we also have a birthright that has to do with spiritual aspects. We have a birthright that is meant to be lived out in community, caring for each other as you often do so well. In the Summit family yesterday, a memorial service celebrated the life of a young man who had special needs, and you ministered to him and his family. At the same time there was a wedding, and additional folk were there to support the new family that has been created in the exchanging of vows and rings in a covenant.

There is another aspect of the birthright which we have inherited. It’s the part that has to do with education. The study of the Bible, of course. If we don’t teach the stories to the next generation, who will?

Are you involved in the responsibilities of that birthright? Or are you selling that to gain some extra sleep or more hours before the computer or the television set? Are you one of the teachers, or one of the students, or one who has sold the birthright, with the results that the next generation will be shown by your example that they really don’t need to be involved in education B that’s not necessary in being faithful followers of our risen Lord.

Sally Brandenburg is one of those who has not sold her birthright. She is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Tower Hill in Redbank, New Jersey. She has written:

I teach children in the church school because I care – care about them and care about sharing my faith. I would like to help all children feel good about themselves and about God’s love for them. A long time ago, I read that our purpose isn’t to make “good children” out of our girls and boys, but to make “God’s children” out of them.

You grow up in a church physically, mentally, and spiritually. If you believe, then you are compelled to share what you can. In order to share, you are compelled to learn more about what you want to share, and how best to share it. I know my teaching has to do with faith, but I think it has to do with growth as well....

The excitement of our freedom to make choices, the challenge of presenting a loving God to a growing individual, growth for children and for me that’s what teaching is all about!

A sign in our kitchen says: A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of one youth. That sums up how we feel at our house.

How do we sum up how we feel at this house? Do our actions fulfill our words. Do we still value our birthright? How are we doing with teacher recruitment for the fall? How are we doing with building maintenance?

God help us live out our special responsibilities as we enjoy our special privileges.



God, you have blessed us in Jesus Christ. You have given us a birthright. Now, by your Spirit, help us to live it out in the way we are stewards of all your good gifts – knowledge, inquisitiveness, honest doubts, sure faith. Help us care for each other and this week so we return next week with a sense of fulfillment. In Jesus name we ask it. Amen.

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