“Holding On To Our Birthright”
Pentecost 9A, Proper 10 – July 16, 2017
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Our Gospel lesson reminds us of the importance and need to get God’s Word into our souls. It is seed from which the life of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven will grow in us and in our relations with others. This is a birthright God has given us.
Our July 4th celebrations reminded us of the importance of hanging unto birthrights, and the responsibilities that go with them.
Merriam-Webster defines “birthright” as “a right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled at birth”, and is to last for ever. Part of our American heritage are the birthrights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They were intended to be permanent foundational birthrights, ordained by God.
They are true birthrights because they protect an individual’s right to act apart from the coercion of others – including government – and to pursue whatever is in his/her heart to accomplish. Therefore, these rights are beyond monetary value. They don’t exist because we live in a ‘free enterprise system’. Rather, it is these birthrights that keep our system free. These birthrights are limited only by another person’s same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are going through a period of cultural confusion about the scope of these Constitutional birthrights.
Today’s Lesson From Genesis
illustrates the major point that having a birthright is important. It is a big deal, and it should not be bartered away as if it were a commodity.
Isaac & Rebekah gave birth to twin boys. Esau was the first born. He was: “red” and “hairy” (:24), and ”became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (:27). He also becomes the father of the nation Edom (:30), which will later contribute to the Arab peoples through Ismael.
The second born came out grabbing unto Esau’s foot, which is why he was named Jacob, which means “grabber” (:26). Esau and Jacob had opposite personalities and interests. Esau was impetuous and not future minded. He sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal of stew. Verse 34 says, So Esau despised his birthright.”
What Esau didn’t understand or appreciate as an impetuous young man – but apparently Jacob did, is that his birthright meant he would later receive the blessing of his father, the inheritance that went with it, and the responsibility to carry forth the covenant relationship with God established by their grandfather Abraham. None of that meant anything to Esau. It was in the distance, and he had an appetite to satisfy now. Jacob – undoubtedly coached by his mother – understood that receiving the blessing of the birthright meant his future would be secure. His life would be full and satisfying! Among other points the story of Esau and Jacob teaches us this lesson: In Ignorance, We Sell Our Future To Satisfy Today’s Hunger.
Both as Americans and Christians too many of us are willing to let go of precious, life-shaping, spiritually based birthrights to mistakenly gain for today something material. We are slowly and surely giving up our birthright of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” because it is risky and requires personal initiative and responsibility. We are giving up being in charge of our own lives for the promised satisfaction of someone else taking care of all our perceived basic needs – even if it means we give up our freedom to live out the life God plants in our hearts.
I asked a friend one day whose wife and he immigrated from France with the dream of opening a French Café what they would do if the worst happened. He said, “we’ll go back to France and I’ll get a job. Life is easy in France. The government provides everything for you; but living in France is like eating vanilla all the time and never experiencing the robust flavors that freedom to take risks bring.” Spoken like a true restaurant man.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: They are our birthright if we are brave enough to claim them and live them out. It’s risky to take charge of your own life and pursue the dream that God has planted in your heart. But it is not boring and tasteless. We cannot teach our children to be responsible adults if we are not living responsibly. However, As Christians We Also Have Some Different Birthrights To Consider.
What if someone said to you: “As an American you say your birthrights are ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, right? And, as a Christian you say you now have citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? So, what are the birthrights of Heaven?” What would you say? When I asked myself that question I really had to stop and think and pray. What are my birthrights as a Christian? What is given me freely to live into that I don’t have to earn or pay money for?
There are so many words, expressions, examples from Holy Scripture and personal experiences with God that I was almost stumped. I observed that all revolutions, effective ad and political campaigns, and great social changes thrive on simple, yet powerful, slogans. “Give me liberty, or give me death.” “Save the world for democracy.” “To the moon by the end of the decade.” “We shall overcome.” “Make love, not war.” And more recently, “Change you can count on”, and “Make America Great Again”. So, what would express our birthright as Christians? After some consideration, I’ve chosen these three words: Love … Mercy … Forgiveness.
We have a birthright that says we are loved. God, who is love (1John 4:8), loves us with an everlasting love. No matter how awful our life has been up to this point; no matter how unloved we have been treated and how unloved we may feel, we have the right to be loved – and our God does, indeed, love us. With this birthright, though, comes an equal responsibility; and that is to love others because we know the healing power of being loved. Jesus said the Great Commandment is to “love the lord our God with our entire heart, mind, soul, and strength; and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:25-28).” As Christians, love is a birthright and a social responsibility.
Our second birthright has to do with Mercy. God is merciful towards us, not counting our trespasses against us, yet God is also just. God is the judge who must mete out justice, yet remain merciful. Sometimes justice and mercy are in conflict. To mitigate that conflict God resolved the justice issue once and for all through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Disobedience to God – sin – requires an accounting. Because God is love and is also merciful, God does not desire to punish us for our sins, but will if forced to do so.
To try to avoid having to punish us, God came into this world in the person of Jesus. Through His perfect life – though tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) – Jesus became a righteous human being. As the righteousness of God in human flesh, Jesus offered his own life as a sacrifice for human sin. On that Cross Jesus paid the penalty for human sin, thus setting all who trust him free from sin’s penalty. As Paul said in today’ lesson from Romans, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (:1).”
God, in Christ, is merciful towards us whom He has forgiven. That is a birthright. However, there is also a responsibility that goes with the birthright; we are expected to be merciful towards others, showing them the same kind of grace God has extended to us.
Our third birthright as Christians has to do with forgiveness. Everyone who confesses their sin to Jesus will receive forgiveness. There is no one who is so bad God cannot forgive them, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “To all who confess their sin, God is faithful and just to forgive them.”
And, yes, this birthright to be forgiven also has a social responsibility attached to it. We are to forgive others their sin even as we have been forgiven. We acknowledge this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us … even as we forgive others …” (Matthew 6:12). In our Mission Statement we say that, “everyone deserves the right to know God through Jesus Christ.”
The issue today is holding onto our birthright. Esau gave up his birthright – his blessing – for food. As Americans we are slowly giving up our birthrights because we don’t want the hard work of personal responsibility and accountability. We want someone else to be responsible for our lives. As Christians we are to extend the blessings we receive from God to others. We are to love others, be merciful toward others, and forgive others – all as we have received from God Himself.
These spiritual birthrights are memorialized for us each week in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this holy sacrament we are touched by God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s forgiveness. God has given this sacrament to strengthen us in our daily life, and to constantly remind us of our birthright and responsibility for others. How are you doing in hanging onto your birthrights?