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Bless Me My Father
GENESIS 27:30-38, MARK 10:13-16
A plaintive, poignant, heart-rending plea, usually overlooked by us moderns, was made by Esau to his father, Isaac, "Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father." And then, according to Genesis 21:38, "Esau lifted up his voice and wept."
Esau pleaded with his father for his blessing. Esau had been betrayed, betrayed by his mother and twin brother who was born after Esau; in fact, when Jacob was born, he was holding Esau's heel, so he was named "Jacob," which means "to take by the heel, to replace, to supplant." One day when the boys were grown and Isaac was aged and blind, Isaac called Esau and said he wanted to talk to him. Rebekah, the boys' mother, was curious so she eavesdropped. Isaac told Esau, "I'm getting old now, and it is time for me to bless you. Take your bow and arrow, go out to the field, catch some game for me, and make me a feast of my favorite food." Now Rebekah favored Jacob over Esau. So she called Jacob, told him what she had overheard, and told Jacob what to do.
Most of us have been greatly influenced by our mothers' teachings and wisdom. Mothers are noted for their practical wisdom. A colleague shared with me some of the lesser known teachings of mothers of famous persons. For example, did you know Alexander the Great's mother often told him, "How many times do I have to tell you--you can't have everything you want in this world!" And Franz Schubert's mother: "Take my advice, son. Never start anything you can't finish." Achilles' mother: "Stop imagining things. There's nothing wrong with your heel." Sigmund Freud's mother: "Stop pestering me! I've told you a hundred times the stork brought you!"
So Rebekah gave Jacob practical advice, and Jacob, a good boy, entered into a conspiracy with his mother. Jacob put on Esau's clothes, put goat skin on his arm so he would be hairy like Esau, took his father's favorite food which Rebekah prepared, and said, "Here I am, Father, with the feast you requested." Isaac, mistaking Jacob for Esau, blessed him.
When Esau finished preparing a delicious meal for his father, he went to see his father and asked for the Blessing. Isaac asked, "Who are you?" Esau answered, "I am your first-born son, Esau." When Esau learned that Jacob had stolen the Blessing, he cried, "Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father." And he wept.
I am beginning a series of four sermons today on the ancient rite of Blessing. We moderns can learn a great deal about family relationships, and our own mental health, from the Bible. It is amazing how the wisdom and experience of the ancients are appropriate and relevant to us today. So much of what is wrong with us, so many of the hurts in our lives could have been avoided if our culture had retained the wisdom of the ancients, especially the ritual of Blessing.
I am indebted to Ed Dunn, with whom I participate in a sharing group, and who suggested that we use the book, The Blessing, by Gary Smalley and John Trent, for our study. As the book presents such a fresh perspective on family relationships based on the biblical Blessing, I have decided to use it as a basis for this sermon series. I commend this book, called The Blessing, to you for your reading and study. Two copies have been purchased and are available for your use in the church library. The thesis of the book is:
No matter your age, the approval of your parents affects how you view yourself and your ability to pass that approval along to your children, spouse, and friends. Many people spend a lifetime looking for this acceptance the Bible calls The Blessing.
Brian flew nearly halfway across the country to be at his father's side in the hospital. He leaned over the still form of his father who had lapsed into coma and pleaded, "Please say that you love me, please!" It was late at night in a large hospital. Only the cold, white walls and the humming of a heart monitor kept Brian company. His tears revealed a deep inner pain and sensitivity that tormented him. For years Brian had been searching for his father's acceptance and approval, but they always seemed just out of reach.
Brian's father had been a career Marine officer. His sole desire for Brian was that he would follow in his footsteps and be a Marine. Brian's father took every opportunity to instill in his son discipline and the backbone he would need when one day he too was an officer. Words of love or tenderness were forbidden. Brian was driven by his father to participate in sports and to take elective classes that would best equip him to be an officer. Brian's only praise for scoring a touchdown or doing well in a class was a lecture on how he could and should have done even better.
After graduating from high school, Brian enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was the happiest day of his father's life, but for Brian it was misery. He couldn't handle the Marines, and eventually was dishonorably discharged as incorrigible. Brian's dismissal from the Marines dealt a death blow to his relationship with his father. He was no longer welcome in his father's home.
Brian struggled with feelings of inferiority, and he lacked self-confidence. Even though he was above average in intelligence, he couldn't hold a job. He worked at various jobs far below his abilities. Three times he had been engaged--only to break the engagement just weeks before the wedding. Somehow he just didn't believe that another person could really love him. When he learned of his father's heart attack, he rushed to the hospital, hoping to mend the relationship with his father. "Dad, please wake up!" he cried. "Please say that you love me." He echoed Esau's plaintive cry, "Bless me, even me, O my father!"
Nancy also felt hurt and pain from missing out on the blessing. Nancy longed for her mother's blessing. Nancy's mother loved to socialize with other women at the club. When Nancy was very young, her mother would dress her up in elegant clothes and take her and her older sister to the club. But, unlike her mother and older sister, Nancy was not petite. In fact, she was quite large and big-boned. Neither was Nancy a model of tranquility. She was a tomboy who loved outdoor games, swinging on fences, and animals of all kinds.
As you might imagine, such behavior from a daughter who was being groomed to be a debutante caused real problems. Nancy's mother tried desperately to mend her daughter's erring ways. Nancy was constantly scolded about being awkward and clumsy. During shopping sprees, Nancy was often subjected to verbal barbs designed to motivate her to lose weight. "All the really nice clothes are two sizes too small for you. They're your sister's size!" Nancy was forced to go on a strict diet to try to make her physically presentable to others.
But, more and more, Nancy's mother and sister would go to social events and leave Nancy at home. Her mother told her, "You don't want to be embarrassed because of the way you look with all the other children around, do you?"
When Nancy married, she continued to struggle with her weight and feelings of inferiority. Then Nancy had two children, two girls. The older girl looked like Nancy--large boned and heavy. The younger daughter was petite and beautiful. Grandmother, of course, favored the younger daughter, and Nancy found herself, much to her dismay and better judgment, favoring the older child who looked like her, and feeling anger, bitterness and resentment towards the younger daughter who looked like Nancy's sister. Nancy was caught in a vicious cycle, doomed to repeat her own painful past. Nancy desperately needed her mother's approval, her mother's acceptance. Can't you hear Nancy repeating Esau's plaintive cry, "Bless me, even me, O my mother!"
For children in biblical times, receiving the Blessing was a momentous event. It gave the children a tremendous sense of being highly valued by their parents. At a specific time in their lives they would hear words of encouragement, love, and acceptance from their parents. Traditional Jewish homes, through the centuries, and even yet today, bestow a blessing on their children.
Perhaps some of you, as you reflect on your lives, realize that you did not receive the Blessing, and are still searching for it. The authors of the book, The Blessing, wrote, (p. 9)
All of us long to be accepted by others. While we may say out loud, "I don't care what other people think about me," on the inside we all yearn for intimacy and affection. This yearning is especially true in our relationship with our parents. Gaining or missing out on parental approval has a tremendous effect on us, even if it has been years since we have had any regular contact with them. In fact, what happens in our relationship with our parents can greatly affect all our present and future relationships.
If you feel you have somehow missed out on the Blessing, the good news is that there are second chances. When you understand what the blessing entails, you can then make amends and discover a blessing for your life now.
Jesus blessed the children. The gospel lesson this morning told how Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them. We are not told what the blessing meant or what was involved, but I imagine Jesus' blessing resembled the blessing given by parents in the Old Testament. In the next three sermons in this series, we will discover what the blessing included, and how we today might give the blessing.
If you are a parent or a grandparent, learning about the Blessing can help you give the Blessing to the children. However, the Blessing is not just for parents. The Blessing is also of critical importance for anyone who desires to enter into an intimate relationship with another person---a friend or a spouse.
Learning about the Blessing can help you give the Blessing to your spouse and friends.
Learning about the Blessing can help you understand your own life, your own journey, and help you discover a Blessing for your life even yet.
Learning about the Blessing can help us as a church develop an attitude and a ministry where people receive the Blessing.
What is the blessing that was bestowed in biblical times, and that is desperately needed by all of us today? Continued next week.
ã 1988 Douglas I. Norris