Sermon for November 12th, 2017
24 When her (Rebekah's) time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Stew(ardship) – Jacob’s Stew
Today marks the beginning of our church's annual stewardship campaign. If you grew up in the church, you're probably familiar with that term, "stewardship." If not, it's kind of like the NPR or PBS annual pledge drive (please don't change the channel!). Like those institutions, we rely on generous donations from our members in order to keep the building running, feed the pastor's family, and provide the programs and services that are so meaningful to so many in our community.
But why do we call it a "stewardship" campaign, and what does that word, "stewardship" mean? Well, it comes from the Old English word "steward" (stew - ward) which referred to the person who was the guardian or "ward" of the stew. So stewardship is the effective management of the family's most valuable dinner resource--the stew.
Actually I just completely made that up. There's not really any linguistic connection between stewardship and the stew that you eat for dinner...but it sure sounds great, doesn't it? Never believe a pastor in the midst of a pledge drive!
Still, when I was preparing for this sermon series, and because of that convenient play on words between stew and stewardship, I thought to myself..."I wonder what the Bible has to say about stew?" I was kind of surprised that it had anything to say about stew at all, but amazingly a quick google search of the Bible (yes, you can actually do that) revealed that the word "stew" shows up in three places--which fits perfectly into the three weeks that we'll be talking about stewardship. And I promise I didn't make THAT up!
The Hebrew word for stew, in those three places where it appears is נָזִיד (nazid), which means stuff that is soaked and boiled. So, pretty much the same as what we mean by stew today.
And the first of those references is probably the most famous--the story of the twin brothers Jacob and Esau; how Esau came in one day famished from a hunting trip, and how Jacob sold his brother a pot of stew in exchange for Esau's right of inheritance as the first-born son.
Now, to be fair to Esau, in an ancient hunter-gatherer society, going hunting was not something leisurely. The life of the tribe (and availability of any future stews) depended on it. It would have been a physically intensive activity--one that spanned many miles and even days. It is absolutely plausible that one might come in from such a trip at the point of near starvation. What's an inheritance worth if you don't survive to actually inherit it? So perhaps Esau's seemingly rash decision wasn't so rash after all.
It is also true that this story has all the trappings of an etiological myth--an origin story meant not so much to convey actual historical people or events, but to explain where our people come from and how we relate to those people over there. According to the story, the descendants of Jacob are the Israelites, and the descendants of Esau are the Edomites. This story, then, is a convenient way of explaining why they are all such red, hairy, hunters, and why we are merchants who live in tents, bartering and exchanging goods. And why God favors us more, even though they are an older people.
Growing up in my six-person family of origin, there was never any question if, whether, or which of the evening leftovers would go into the giant stew-pot that lived in the freezer. Each night, everything that wasn't eaten for dinner got added to that stew pot and frozen, waiting to be thawed, reheated, and reclaimed at the end of the week. The only real question was how this particular leftover ingredient or that would affect the taste and character of the stew when the pot was full. And despite some highly questionable additions (like pancakes, or mashed potatoes, or applesauce) somehow the stew always ended up being surprisingly good--and different every week!