Amazing Grace is, perhaps, one of the best known songs in Christian music. In fact, it is so well known that when Nicole chooses a more contemporary version of it, I still hear how “they should have left well enough alone” from a number of well-meaning parishioners. As each of you knows, I am very fond of some of the traditions of the church. While I recognize that King James’ language is perceived like a foreign language by contemporary society and I understand that the evolution of language almost dictates that most churches use Rite 2 as the primary worship service, I would feel something amiss were it not for the early service each Sunday. There is a continuity that stretches back nearly to the formation of our church in that language. Similarly, while I great enjoy some of the modern “re-do’s” of Amazing Grace, I find myself needing to hear what I think of as the original every so often to remind me of where I have been and Who it is that leads me now.
That similar theme of hearkening back and remembering the familiar, as well as the idea of Amazing Grace, are prevalent in our story from Genesis today. Those of us unfamiliar with the story might wonder “why the big deal?” What makes this story significant? To remind you of God’s narrative, Jacob is on the road. Once again, unsurprising to those of us who have followed his journey thus far, Jacob has schemed, plotted, and tricked his way to get what he wants. What’s worse is that he did all these bad things to his twin brother! Perhaps you have heard the stories of how close twins usually are, often to the point of making people think ESP is real. I know there is a tennis doubles pair of twins, and I am certain that some of their advantage is their opponents’ belief that they are communicating in ways unavailable to most of us. That close twin, Esau, is the one whom Jacob has wronged. Of course, Jacob’s plotting has not been in isolation. Sweet Rebekah, you know—the lady who watered the camels a couple weeks ago, the mother of Jacob and Esau has conspired to elevate her favorite son to the detriment of her other son--talk about playing favorites! As her husband Isaac was dying, she helped trick him into believing that Jacob was Esau. So, when the time came and Isaac was to give his dying double-share blessing, he gave it to the second son rather than the firstborn. Esau, predictably, was furious! In 27:41-42, Esau vows to kill Jacob. Of course, this is the same Esau who gave up his birthright for some lentil stew. Nevertheless, Rebekah has to plot and scheme some more. She sends Jacob away ostensibly to look for a wife, providing, she hopes, some time for Esau to forget his anger. Of course, what should be a journey of a few months ends up being a quest of some dozen years!
But now, Jacob is simply on the road. He knows what he has done. Worse, he knows that what he has done was wrong! Terribly wrong. He tricked his father. The real victim was his twin brother. And now he cannot stay home because his brother is, rightfully so, enraged. How did he feel? What must have been going through his head? Maybe you are fortunate to live in a family that has no plotting or no scheming, but I rather doubt it. How have you felt when you tricked or ripped off a close brother or sister? What shame have you felt when scheming to take advantage of a parent? Perhaps, just perhaps, you have used the confusion and fear at the end of life to steal your own inheritance? A piece of furniture was promised to someone else but you weaseled your way into it? Perhaps you have been the victim of a family member’s machinations. Maybe, being the victim, you acted like Esau and started doing things which enraged your dying loved one simply because you felt them careless enough to allow themselves to be tricked! This is a well known story. Yet even when things are darkest, even when we are least deserving (can you imagine anything worse than screwing over a family member?) we are not cut off.
God appears in a dream to Jacob and reminds him that the covenant which He swore with his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac is available to him, even when he least deserves it. Such is God’s grace that He is willing to extend His mercy to Jacob, if Jacob will choose to follow God. There is still time, if Jacob will choose wisely. Amazing Grace, indeed!
Jacob awakes and realizes that he has slept on holy ground. Even there, on the road of dejection and deception, God is with him. Better still, the Lord offers Jacob a choice: follow Me and your family will be present everywhere like the dust on the ground, ignore Me at your peril. Jacob awakes and creates an altar. He names the place on the road bethel, which means “House of God.” And Jacob, in that moment, chooses to follow God wherever He leads. And notice what he asks of God – if You, O Lord, will lead me to my father’s tent in peace, then You shall indeed be my God! He does not ask for wealth, he does not ask for land, he does not even ask for a suitable wife, he does not ask for anything but to return home in peace. He recognizes the harm he has caused. He recognizes the evil he has done. And He realizes that the only one with the power to bring peace to what he has done is the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, perhaps you have found your family history in our story today. Maybe you are Jacob, maybe you are Esau, maybe you have been a co-conspirator like Rebekah, maybe you have been careless like Isaac. Maybe you are fleeing that evil. It does not matter who or where you are, however. The same covenant which He offered to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, He offers to you! That you may know that He knows the evil of your actions and heart at times, He offered His Son! And that you may know that He has the power to redeem all our evil, He raised that Son from the dead! There is no place in your journey too far away. There is nothing you have done which He cannot redeem. And such is His grace, His amazing grace if you will, that He gladly accept you into that amazing covenant of love, and promises to see you blessed, just as He has each of His sons and daughters who came before, if you will simply accept His proffered grace and commit yourself to go where He leads, serve whom He places in front of you, and share your story of His amazing grace in your life with all who would ask it of you.