When You Run Out of Rocks
The text for today is about Jacob and Esau. I am making the story a little more contemporary. So not all of the background I am giving is exactly what you would call the Word of God.
Esau and Jacob were bad dudes, a mother’s nightmare. They duked it out in the womb. It’s in the Bible.1 I think they caught that on ultrasound, or something.
“Me first!” Kick.
“No way!” Pow! “Me first!”
Out they came. Esau first. Jacob was trying an old wrestling trick, a heel hold, trying to pull him back into the womb. The heel hold did not work as well as Jacob wanted. Esau was born first. That is sort of scriptural too.2
Esau was a man’s man. We are talking 100% testosterone. He looked like a red, wooly mountain main from birth.3 He was the kind of guy who was so hairy he had to shave twice a day in Kindergarten. By Grade 2, he gave up and let his beard grow. And you should have seen him when puberty kicked in.
In school, Esau took physical education, agriculture, industrial arts, mechanics, building construction, and outdoor education. He was a jock - into sports.4 Track and field, football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling. What a sight watching him wrestle. He almost looked like a red grizzly bear wrestling. And he was a hunter too. He loved hunting deer, elk, antelope, and bear. Esau’s hunting won him the affection of his father, Isaac. You see Isaac loved wild meat.5
Jacob was not like Esau. He was a skinny little mamma’s boy, hiding behind mamma’s apron.6 Jacob took computer education, home economics, drama, art, violin, literature, and religious studies in school. Why, he even enjoyed ballet.
Instead of leaving school at the end of high school, Jacob went to university and got a degree. His area was computers. Picture a skinny 90 pound weakling, with glasses, and no social skills hacking away at a computer, and you have an idea of what Jacob was like.
Jacob lived in a penthouse condo. He loved the condo life. No lawns to mow, now snow to clean off the sidewalks, no gardens to weed, no animals to kill. He had time to read, study, write poetry, compose music, and surf the internet.
Not all jocks are thick, but Esau was. One day he came back from working on the farm. There was Jacob, cooking some mean food in his condo. Esau wanted food, now, and bad!7 He feels he is starving to death. James Moffatt translates this part of the story, “I am dying of hunger!”8
Jacob the schemer has an idea. He tells Esau, “Trade ya for your birthright.” Poor, thick Esau replies, “Man that sounds good to me. A birthright is of no value when you are starving to death.” Family feud score - Nerd 1, Jock 0.
Isaac, the father, was old and blind.9 He knew he would not live long, so he decided to bless Esau. He asked Esau to bring him some wild meat and to receive his blessing. Well mamma heard. She decided to get involved. She talked Jacob into wearing Esau’s clothes. She made a costume out of animal hides, so Jacob would feel hairy enough to be Esau. All of those years of high school drama came in handy for Jacob. He set off to win an Academy Award. He pulled it off too. The old man gave Jacob a good blessing. He said Jacob would prosper, nations would bow to him, and he would master over his brothers.10
Later, Esau showed up for his blessing. Isaac realized he had been had! Isaac blessed Esau, but the blessing was not what Esau wanted. Isaac said Esau would have to live by the sword, and that Esau would serve his brother.11
Well Esau was mad as a hornet. He said, “After the funeral, I’m going to kill that little varmint!”12
Mamma heard the threats.13 She phoned Jacob on his cell. “Jay. This is Mommie. Esau wants to kill ya. Leave your condo. Move out of the city. Go live with your uncle, Laban. Stay there until Esau cools off. I will let you know when you can move back into the condo.”
Jacob did as he was told. No way he wanted to face the wrath of his brother. That could be courting the undertaker. And Jacob was not stupid. Off he scampered, with his tail between his legs.
Jacob was not sure if his brother was hot on his heels or not, but he was worn out, so he stopped for the night. The poor guy left home in such a hurry he did not bring his American Express card, so he had to sleep outside.
Jacob pulled up a rock and made it into a pillow.14 Not five star accommodations. No security system. Jacob was not sure he would live to see the morning.
In the night, he starting dreaming. He saw a ladder reaching into the heavens. Angels were going up and down the ladder.15 The Lord was standing above the ladder. God said, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac. This is going to be your land. Your children will be a nation so large, trying to take census will be like trying to count dust. Your family will bless all nations. I will look out for you until all of this comes about.”16
This is where we will pick up the ancient story from the Word. Genesis 28:16-19 (NRSV) Then Jacob work from his sleep and said, “Surley, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven.” 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel . . .
What Jacob saw in his dream might not have been a ladder, in the sense that we think of today. He might have seen a ziggurat.17 Ziggurats were mud-brick tower temples found in Mesopotamia.18 The temples had a square base. They had stepped sides that went up to a small sanctuary, a shrine at the top.19 The tower of Babel was a ziggurat.20
Ziggurats were thought to bridge the distance between humans and gods. A ziggurat at Larsa was named “The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth.” Jacob’s ladder bridged the gap between humanity and God. But there is a big difference. The ziggurat was humanity’s attempt, by the sweat of the brow, by works, to reach God. Jacob’s ladder was God’s attempt to reach humanity. Angels, which in Hebrew means ‘one who carries a message,’21 brought the assurance of salvation from death. The angels point to a Savior who bridges the gap, uniting humans and God.22
The ziggurats used by our homophobic brothers and sisters in Christ require gay, bisexual, and trans-identified people to leave their sexual orientation or their gender identification at the shrine on the very top, as a sacrifice to appease an angry God. The good news is that God’s messengers came down the many steps of that ziggurat, of that ladder to bring news of God’s love to queer and questioning people.
Jacob got up early. He took the stone he used for a pillow, set it upright, and poured oil on it. Setting this stone upright probably required enormous strength. Stones in some Canaanite holy places were about seven feet high.23 Pouring oil was a common way of dedicating objects to God. The act consecrated or donated the rock to God.24
The good old King James Bible says Jacob called the place “dreadful.” Every church should be a dreadful place,25 not a terrible place. The word dreadful has changed meaning over the years. What it really means is the place was awesome. Every church should be an awesome place where people can meet God.26 Those evangelical and fundamentalist churches that damn gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people to hell are terrible places, not dreadful places. They are not places where queer and questioning people can meet God. Thus, they fail at the basic purpose of churches.
God was prepared to give Jacob the birthright of the first born. Instead, Jacob tried to get that birthright by his own schemes and labors. When he tried to buy the birthright with his schemes, he got himself in trouble. Those gay, bisexual, and trans-identified people who try to buy the spiritual birthright God has given them by changing into straight people get themselves in trouble too. What they end up purchasing is a lot of hurt.
You may have seen the movie Forest Gump. Jenny is Forst Gump’s childhood friend. She never wanted to go home, because her father drank too much, and was always touching and kissing the girls. There is a scene of her father looking for her. She ran with Forest Gump into a field and hid from her father. In the field, Jenny prayed that God would turn her into a bird so she could fly away. Her bad childhood influenced her entire life. One of her relationships, as an adult, was abusive.
One scene shows Jenny as a mature adult. She is out for a walk with Forest Gump. They walk past the home where she grew up. The house is abandoned. Jenny picks up rocks and throws rocks at the house, until she falls down exhausted. Forest Gump watches, and comments, “Sometimes I guess there aren’t enough rocks.”
The abandoned house would not have fallen down no matter how many rocks Jenny threw at it.27 That’s the problem with throwing rocks at the things that are symbols of our painful past. No matter how many rocks you throw, there are never enough rocks. We cannot erase the pain of the past by throwing rocks.28
As queer people, we can stand and throw rocks all day at homophobic police departments, at the unjust courts, and at homophobic political and church leaders. We can do that until we are so exhausted we fall to the ground. But we’ve gained nothing in the process. All we’ve done is wound people who might have been walking past when we were throwing the rocks.
Jacob tried something different. He took the rock, dedicated it to God, and made it into a place of worship. We can dedicate the difficult and painful experiences to God, and make those experiences into places of worship.
There are many examples of people in the queer community who built an altar out of difficult events, out of hard situations. In fact, queer people are experts at building altars out of stones. I will choose just two of those stories - one from a pioneering generation of queer rights activists, and one from a new generation of queer rights activists. While working as a pastor, Troy Perry was excommunicated because he was gay.29 The gay man who was not welcome as a minister started a church in his home. The single church grew into the denomination we know as the Metropolitan Community Church. Waymon Hudson and his partner were in an airport. As they were leaving, they heard a person on the public address system announce, “A man that lies with a man as with a woman should be put to death.” They voiced their concerns to the airport, local political figures, and the media.30 There was a nasty backlash from homophobic people when it became big news that the person responsible was fired. The experience lead to Waymon Hudson to become a co-founder of Fight OUT Loud, a group that helps GLBT people and their allies fight hatred and discrimination.31
I want nothing but the very best for you in the new year. I hope you will never experience anything unpleasant in the next twelve months. Unfortunately, I know there will be some pain in the next year. And some of that pain will come from events of the past.
I do not know your pain. My prayer is that any pain you feel in the new year can be turned into a sanctuary, a safe place for others who hurt. Serving people, helping others, is an act of worship. When your pain inspires you to help others, you make your stone, your hardship an act of worship to God. Every act of kindness done for others is a memorial pillar, a stone altar, a sanctuary, a safe place. It is the oil of grace that makes each of those deeds holy and acceptable. 32 So our challenge for the new year is stop throwing rocks. Instead, use the rocks to make a sanctuary, a safe place, for others.
1 Genesis 25:22.
2 Genesis 25:26.
3 Genesis 25:25.
4 J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee. Vol. 1 (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Radio, 1981), 106.
5 Genesis 25:28.
6 McGee, 106.
7 Genesis 25:30.
8 Moffatt Bible, Genesis 25:32.
9 Genesis 27:1.
10 Genesis 27:28-29.
11 Genesis 27:39-40.
12 Genesis 27:41.
13 Genesis 27:43-45.
14 Genesis 28:11.
15 Genesis 28:12.
16 Genesis 28:12-15.
17 Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds. The NIV Study Bible: New International Version. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1985), 23.
18 Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Vol. 28, 154.
19 Barker, 23, and Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Vol. 28, 154.
20Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Vol. 28, 154.
21 Harvey J. Fields. A Torah Commentary for Our Times. Vol. 1 (New York: UAHC Press, 1990), 73.
22Luder Whitlock, Jr., et. al., eds. New Geneva Study Bible: New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1995), 56.
23 John C.L. Gibson. The Daily Study Bible. Vol. 12 (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1982), 165.
24 Adam Clark. Clarke’s Commentary. (Nashville: Abingdon, n.d.), 177.
25 McGee, 119.
26 McGee, 119.
27 David N. Clay. “Sometimes You Don’t Have Enough Rocks.” Internet Sermon. Norfolk, Virginia: Ocean View Baptist Church. (http://www.preaching.com/preaching/clay.htm), 1.
28 Clay, 1.
29 Troy Perry. Don’t Be Afraid Anymore. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), 18.
30 Waymon Hudson. “The Story that Started a Movement.” Fight OUT Loud. (http://www.fightoutloud.org/ourstory.html).
32 James Smith. Handfuls on Purpose. (London: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), 93.