Kaye took a well-deserved day off last Sunday and asked me to fill in for her. We were in the midst of a series of stories about Jacob in Genesis. It fell to me to talk about Jacob’s Uncle Laban promised to give his younger daughter’s, Rachel’s, hand in marriage to Jacob in return for seven years of labor on the farm. And then he broke that promise.
Uncle Laban threw a big wedding feast with lots of food and drink…lots and lots of drink. As the party died down Jacob staggered to his tent. Jacob’s uncle sent his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob’s tent. It was a really bad “morning after” for poor Jacob finding Leah in bed with him rather than the beautiful Rachel. Jacob stormed over to Laban and demanded to know why he had deceived him and broken his promise.
Uncle Laban had all the power in this transaction. He owned the farm. And he was the father of the young women. Further more Jacob had been sent by his parents to Laban to find a wife. It had been a long journey of at least two days. Seven years had gone by. He could not go back home without a bride. It was easy for Uncle Laban to simply shrug his shoulders and say, “It is not our custom to let the younger child marry first. Finish the wedding week with the elder and I will let you marry the younger for another seven years work.”
Jacob could do nothing but accept the offer. Laban had the power. In the ensuing years Jacob had sons by both Leah and Rachel, with their maids Bilhah and Zilpah thrown into the deal. Jaocb’s story in Genesis is the continuation of the creation stories earlier in the book. Jacob’s story is about the creation of Israel. His sons were the twelve tribes of Israel. (Israel being the name given to Jacob by God’s angel after Jacob won a wrestling match with him.) The story of Jacob is not unlike the earlier creation stories. They are true but not factual. They are stories that are true because of our faith in them over the ages.
Our God is a loving and patient God. Jacob had a lot of faults. He got his father’s birthright and blessing that should have been Esau’s, his older brother’s, through deceit and treachery. And because of that Esau was determined to kill Jacob.
Through our Judeo-Christian heritage we are children of Israel (Jacob). Today we live in a world of treachery, lies and deceit, resulting in wars, death, and destruction. Thousands are dying in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and the Ukraine because of broken promises. Where do we stand? Let us look at troubles closer to home and parallel in a way to Jacob’s experience with his Uncle Laban.
I am talking about the tens of thousands of children spilling over our border with Mexico. They are fleeing from the violence filled lands of Central America.
In most cases their parents sent them. Rebekah and Isaac sent Jacob to a new land for a better life and away from danger of death. Many of these children are vulnerable to the wiles of human smugglers, the sex traders, accidents, and death in the burning hot deserts on their desperate journey to the land of the free. Many people call them “Illegals” or “undocumented”. They are neither. They are children. And they are, by any definition, refugees. Where as Christians, descendants of Israel, do we stand?
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
That is the promise known around the world engraved on our Statue of Liberty. Uncle Laban broke his promise to his helpless nephew Jacob. As Christians let us take our stand. Let us make sure Uncle Sam does not back down from the promise to these refugee children.
Someone else said, “Let the children come to me.”
(Thanks to Rev. Glen Halbe, retired UCC pastor, for preaching and for sharing his words here.)