Our community has suffered a very tragic set back this week. No doubt you have heard, it’s been all over the news. A 22 year old young man took the life of his mother on Wild Rose Road. This is heartbreaking and dreadful and a real set back to our community. I’ve come to understand the Orange community as a tightly knit town who genuinely cares for one another and comes together in times of distress. And now this. While you may not have known this family personally, you have to agree that something like this plays with your psyche. Murder and Orange in the same sentence just don’t compute.
Set backs happen. We know that. In the global community, in the local community and in our lives we can be assured that when we think we have boarded the train for New York City we wake from our catnap and find ourselves in Rochester. That’s the nature of life and that’s what we’ve got to work with. We thought we were a bucolic community outside of crime-ridden New Haven and while we are outside of New Haven, we are crime ridden too and it is a set back because we now need to rethink things as we go forward.
We are still reflecting upon the epic narratives of Jacob who has been exiled and in Haran. Remember last week he had this dream of angels and a ladder to heaven and a visit from God letting him know that all will be well, all manner of things will be well and that he was going to be the father of many nations. Remember also that throughout all of these stories we have delved into this summer, God has been faithful all along the way. With Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and now Jacob, their son.
It seems that Jacob is just getting his life back on track. He makes it to Haran and by chance meets some of his kin once again at a well. Here he also meets the love of his life, Rachel, Laban’s daughter…Laban being his uncle. He has reached his destination. Let us here today’s word of God from the NIV, the book of Genesis the 29th chapter….
As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
Ouch! I suppose you could say, “What goes around comes around” or “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Pick your favorite idiom! Jacob coerces Esau out of his birthright and then, with the help of his mother Rebekah he deceives his father Isaac for the blessing. Guess there is some proof for interfamilial conflict and actions that repeat themselves.
Deceit is in the lifeblood and DNA of this family and now Jacob; his own Uncle Laban deceives the master of deceit! He asks for Rachel, he gets Leah. He gains two wives in one week and has to work as an indentured servant for seven more years for a total of 14 years. Don’t think this is what he bargained for, do you? And yet he does it, in what seems to be in his estimation, a heartbeat. Polygamy back then was not unusual and it still exits today in some cultures.
But we see that in all of this dysfunctional and crude behavior God is steadfast to the promises made so very long ago, that Jacob would be the father of many nations. Leah gives birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulan and one daughter Dinah. Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden gives birth to Gad and Asher, Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden gives birth to Dan and Naphtali, and finally Jacob’s most beloved Rachel births Joseph. Thus completing the twelve tribes of Israel and God’s promise. You guessed it, Jacob was a busy man and not to mention a fertile one.
But that deception lurks in the background. Deception always destroys. In fact it has ruined friendships and shattered marriages because it chips away at your trust in someone who before you may have risked your very life. It was Sir Walter Scott who once said, “Oh what tangled webs we weave, when we practice to deceive.” Lie upon lie upon lie, the web of deceit grows and Jacob is now the one caught. He can’t move forward, in fact he is set back 7 years.
I think that we often find ourselves in a situation that is similar to Jacob’s. You’ve had some vision or awakening, you’re on the path into your future and BAM, something happens. A set back occurs. Could be of your own making or not, that doesn’t matter. A tree falls in front of your path and it’s going to take you longer to get to your destination, if that is even the destination where you are supposed to be.
You get down to a week before graduation only to find out you are missing three credits. A relationship that you thought was rock solid disintegrates before your very eyes. Life is full of setbacks, there is just no way around it and you might just commiserate with Jacob, you’ve worked hard for something then something else happens and you have to work even harder to find some relief.
It is in this very spot that you feel alone and helpless and that God is simply not responding to you. It’s here that your faith might be at one of its lowest points because our spiritual lives and our emotional lives are twined together.
But it is here in these moments and disappointments also that we remember the words of Paul in his epistle to the Romans…..
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. ‘The Spirit’ does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our…condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. ‘The Message” Romans 8: 26-28
Deepless sighs that is what will pull you through when a major setback, a life-altering event happens to you. Because with the deepless sigh, ruah, the Spirit of God intercedes and set you on your way once again. It’s just different than you expected!
Understanding God’s call for you to head into a different future than you had anticipated may be difficult and you may go into it kicking and screaming. It will take time and effort. But it will turn out because you are a beloved child of God, and God’s got you covered.
When setbacks happen accept and embrace them. Jacob didn’t turn around a run home to mommy and daddy; he didn’t take revenge or become an embittered man. He took it in stride and walked faithfully into a future of blessing. And you will too.
As one theologian prayed, “Help me see the good and the bad, O God, as equal opportunities to lean closer into your loving embrace.”[i] Let that be our prayer for today.