Monday, August 7, 2017

Shattering Our Expectations

Shattering our Expectations
Genesis 31
Chatfield UMC
August 6, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

I’m going to back this story up a little bit to when Jacob leaves his wives father’s home.
The family of Jacob, Leah and Rachel has lived long and prospered in the land of Haran. Some people would say it is because Jacob was such a good man. That he was God’s man. That is why his wealth increased and his family was doing so well. Some people would say that this was God blessing Jacob. But the bible doesn’t say that. The bible is clear that Jacob is wealthy and prosperous because he is a conniver.

His prosperity came to him as a result of tricking his father in law and being just a little-more-clever in the ways of livestock breeding.

Those of you who breed animals will understand what Jacob did to gain his fortune. He made some fences and when the animals of his father-in-law, Laban, came to the water troughs to breed he separated the weaker from the stronger. And he kept the stronger ones, while he sent the weaker ones back to Laban’s flocks. The resulting livestock was the strongest and the most colorful so that Jacob could sort out his livestock from the others.
In some ways, Laban got what he deserved. He put his sons in charge of his flocks who must not have been watching out for their father’s animals. He, obviously, wasn’t watching to his own flocks. He wasn’t managing the farm very well.
But instead of working with Jacob and helping his sons learn the trade, Laban got mad. And Jacob saw that Laban was mad.

So, self-centered Jacob decided it was time to go home.

He gets up in the middle of the night, and the bible says: Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 31)
They take off without saying a single goodbye to Grandfather Laban.

Now those of us who are grandparents can understand how Laban must have felt. Besides losing a bunch of livestock and household goods, his grandchildren have been taken from him. It is our greatest fear as grandparents that our grandchildren would be taken from us.

We would expect that someone as powerful as Laban would have demanded that Jacob return or at least give him back his grandchildren and daughters. And here is where these stories have their meaning.

Because in the midst of our expectations about how the story is supposed to go, our expectations are always shattered.
Because even conniving, sinful and prideful egotistical people like Jacob and Laban can hear God.

As Laban is pursuing Jacob to get his revenge, Laban hears a message from God: ‘let Jacob and his family go. Do not harm them, do not hinder them.
And this angry, conniving, self-centered man heeds this message from God.

I wonder what Jacob thought when Laban sets up an altar of stones and swears his protection and blessing over Jacob’s family? He has been worried that his fatherinlaw was going to come and snatch his wives and children and take them back to Haran. But instead he gets a blessing from Laban and an altar in the wilderness.
We read in the text that early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home

This is where we get the beautiful words of the Jewish Mizpah. Laban says to Jacob in a moment that must have broken his heart: “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”

From shattered expectations to renewed hope and family solidarity. I wonder if there is a lesson here for us?

I read an interesting piece this week about expectations within families. 

We have always heard that the two major threats to married life are sex and money. But, a marriage therapist said, no, those are only the symptoms. The underlying problem he said is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations.

You see we are taught, through social media and books and movies that families are places of peace and tranquility. That if we are really meant to be together as a family then supper will always be on the table when everyone gets home from work, the kids will always use polite words when speaking to their parents and other adults, there will always be enough money for all the necessities, and family vacations will renew and relax everyone.

When the reality is this: PPT

Unmade beds, toys scattered all over the house, dinner late or not at all, screaming kids, or parents in the car on the way to church, of all places…

This isn’t what we signed up for and not what we expected. And so we find ourselves frustrated.
With life, with ourselves, with each other.

One of the great thing about these biblical stories is this: families have always been full of unmet expectations. Always, even those biblical stories about people we think of as biblical heroes. As role models.

They are all, ALL, a bunch of self-centered, conniving, sinful, ungodly people who more often than not do not meet anyone’s expectations of holy living.
Until they start listening to God. Then, their behaviors begin to change into expectations of godly living. Then mean and angry men like Laban can say beautiful words that have been immortalized: May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”

Ok, so does that mean that when we start listening to God and living out of God’s way the toys will get picked up, supper will be on time and our children will be angels. And we will always have only blessed things coming out of our mouths.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice.

No, of course not. We will still live with chaos. But…when we start listening to God, who will always say to us, love one another as I have loved you. Even in the midst of chaos, anger and frustration. When we listen to God, our frustration can be turned into an opportunity to see the good in our lives. So that we can start expecting the best not the worst.

When we start listening to this message from God, daily, moment by moment, the toys laying around the room reminds us that our children are well off.
The supper that is late reminds us that we have food when others don’t and that we are necessary for the survival of the household.
The screaming child reminds us that this little being is dependent on us for their well-being and that is a tremendous gift from God.
The chaos of our lives reminds us that we are people who need God’s words in our lives to find balance and meaning and purpose. We are not self-sufficient. We are not without the need of a savior. We are not on our own with no safety net.
We are God’s child.
We are given opportunity to listen to someone greater than us who can teach us to go beyond our limited abilities and thrive as a person of God.

It is not all up to us. And shattering that expectation most of all can free us to live a life that is truly free. Free to love each other as God loves us.

(Thoughts about marriage and expectations from

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