Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 “Freedom is Complicated [or A Very Expensive Bowl of Soup]”
Caitlin Trussell at Augustana Lutheran Church on July 6, 2014
Genesis 25:19-34 This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
[Please note the Matthew and Romans scripture are available at the end of the sermon post.]
Being a middle child of five kids sandwiched me between an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister. My younger sister is 5 years younger than me. The two of us began sharing a room very early on. Initially she was folded in with my older sister Hilary and me. Until the day we moved into the house where there was a bed nook just big enough for Hilary’s bed and her things connected to the room Izzy and I shared.
Mostly this room-sharing worked out okay. There were big belly laugh moments like the time Hilary and I were talking after Izzy had already fallen asleep on the top bunk, only to watch her sail by in slow motion on her way to the floor while falling out of bed asleep. (She was fine.) There were the typical off-limits kinds of things between siblings and over-time her tidier nature meant she had to have some patience for her big sister. And, of course, there were times when having my little sister around was just one too much to bear.
In my pre-teen years, we developed a ritual, Izzy and I. I would be doing homework or reading or generally hanging around and in would enter her five-year-old energy wanting to connect and play. I would walk over to my desk, open the drawer, pull out a few possessions I could part with and told her she could choose and keep what she wanted if she went away and left me alone. I was then free to continue whatever it was I doing without her being there. A negotiated freedom that happily met my own ends – I had what I wanted and Izzy got a win out of the deal too. Or so I thought.
Jacob and Esau, in the Genesis story today, are well into an age where sibling shenanigans aren’t quite as innocent. Although we might be able to argue that the underlying motivations are similar. Esau’s apparently been quite unsuccessful in the latest hunt and arrives home with a fierce hunger. He’s looking for freedom from his hunger. A hunger that blocked everything else from his mind and creates immediate need regardless of the consequences. Esau walks into the house and rides the smell of warm soup and fresh baked bread right on into the kitchen. And right into Jacob who is also nursing a desire for freedom. Freedom from his place as the second sibling; freedom into the rights of the firstborn. This moment between brothers is a perfect storm of self-interest that frees one brother from a raging hunger but at the cost of his birthright. A perfect storm that leaves the other brother free from his social location as the second in line but at the cost of relationship with his brother. The brothers’ freedom from their original problems came poorly thought through by one and highly manipulated by the other.
With freedom as a front and center topic this week, my first remembered Fourth of July came to mind. It was the Bicentenniel celebrated in 1976. 200 years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and just a few months had passed since we began living in Washington DC. It was like a red, white, and blue factory had exploded and the shrapnel blanketed the city. There were American flags both historic and current of all sizes. There were banners made of cloth, paper, and ribbons. There were fireworks, fireworks, and more fireworks. To my seven-year-old mind, everything around me was about the colors and sounds of Independence Day. At the same time that was happening outside of me, everything inside of me was aware of the new freedom that my family had found by our move to D.C. Having just left my mentally ill and violent father in Pennsylvania a few months before, we had a new found freedom from him and from the fear of him. My single mom and the five of us kids were negotiating that freedom in the face of our poverty. I learned early on that freedom is complicated.
That first memory of the 4th of July is a microcosm of the complexity of freedom on a larger scale. During the American Revolutionary War, thousands of people gave their lives for freedom from tyranny of all kinds – political, religious, moral, and financial. The Declaration of Independence describes the new freedom gained by the ultimate sacrifice of those who died and also served as the basis for freeing slaves well on into the Civil Rights movement. The flip-side is that these freedoms were gained on land where there were people already here enjoying it as their birthright. Freedom is indeed complicated.
Given my family’s experience with the mental illness of my first father and now my 19 year old niece, it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in mental health diagnosis and treatment. I recently attended a meeting of Together Colorado which is an interfaith group of leaders whose efforts include the issue of mental health. Several of the people at the meeting were Christian clergy who had just attended a walking pilgrimage at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. In 1864, 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe women, children, and elders were murdered and mutilated by 700 soldiers of the Colorado State militia. One of the pastors led a conversation with our group of 15 people about his experience at the site. He discussed the Christian faith of the perpetrators led by Colonel Chivington who was a soldier and a Christian minister; someone who considered himself a “good Christian.” He suggested that perhaps what the world needed were “bad Christians.” I piped up and said, “That’s where the Lutherans come in.” There was general laughter all around. Why? What did that inter-faith group of people think they knew about Lutherans?
Perhaps it’s because Lutherans experience sin and talk about sin as something real. It’s why we confess our sin when we gather for worship, knowing that God is using us in spite of our sin. The freedoms we negotiate between ourselves and by ourselves are fraught with the complication of sin. Whether it’s my 10 year old self trying to be free from my little sister; Esau and Jacob negotiating freedom between hunger and a birthright; my first father’s violence that sent my mother and us running for freedom; or the people of the United States fighting for their freedom in the 18th century even as they declared a country on land that other peoples already called home.
Sin is in bodies. Paul’s language for this in the reading from Romans is that it exists in the flesh. Sin exists in us. This is true for us as individuals, which by extension makes it true for us as church and true for us as country. We can be just as group-serving as we can be self-serving. Perhaps even more so when we’re grouped together, cloaked in anonymity. In a group it’s so much easier to justify our same sin when other people dealing with the same sin are giving us the thumbs up. In the same way, it’s easier to call out another’s sin over and above our own. Using their sin against them to dehumanize them while elevating ourselves as the arbiters of only the good.
Looking back to the 18th century, the good and the sinful are perhaps more easily recognized than looking back to last week to separate the good and the sinful. It is there regardless. The gift, or what Matthew calls “the good soil”, is to have our sin called out by the Spirit of Christ. This conviction comes from Christ who came in a body, in the flesh, and puts our sin to death through his body put to death on a cross. Christ’s humiliation on the cross saves us from ourselves and each other, collapsing our differences into a sobering oneness of the flesh. Through his humbled body on the cross, Christ infuses us with the humility that comes from such a death. So humbled, we are free to recognize the ways we are more like Jacob and Esau than not like them, the ways we are more like Colonel Chivington than not like him. Our need for Christ laid bare at the foot of the cross and in the public square – for his sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world.
 There are many resources that offer a full treatment of the Sand Creek Massacre. Here is one of them from Northwestern University: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf.
 Matthew 13:23; Romans 8:11
 Augustans Lutheran Church mission statement: “Guided by the Holy Spirit we gather in Christian community, reach out and invite, offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ, and walk humbly with God.”
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Romans 8:1-11 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.