Genesis 33:1-17 – Reconciled

Meeting Between Jacob and Esau by Italian painter Bottalla Raffaellino (1613-1644)

Later that day Jacob met Esau coming with his four hundred men. So, Jacob had his children walk with their mothers. The two servant women, Zilpah and Bilhah, together with their children went first, followed by Leah and her children, then by Rachel and Joseph. Jacob himself walked in front of them all, bowing to the ground seven times as he came near his brother.

But Esau ran toward Jacob and hugged and kissed him. Then the two brothers started crying.

When Esau noticed the women and children he asked, “Whose children are these?”

Jacob answered, “These are the ones the Lord has been kind enough to give to me, your servant.”

Then the two servant women and their children came and bowed down to Esau. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down; finally, Joseph and Rachel also came and bowed down.

Esau asked Jacob, “What did you mean by these herds I met along the road?”

“Master,” Jacob answered, “I sent them so that you would be friendly to me.”

“But, brother, I already have plenty,” Esau replied. “Keep them for yourself.”

“No!” Jacob said. “Please accept these gifts as a sign of your friendship for me. When you welcomed me and I saw your face, it was like seeing the face of God. Please accept these gifts I brought to you. God has been good to me, and I have everything I need.” Jacob kept insisting until Esau accepted the gifts.

“Let’s get ready to travel,” Esau said. “I’ll go along with you.”

But Jacob answered, “Master, you know traveling is hard on children, and I have to look after the sheep and goats that are nursing their young. If my animals travel too much in one day, they will all die. Why don’t you go on ahead and let me travel along slowly with the children, the herds, and the flocks. We can meet again in the country of Edom.”

Esau replied, “Let me leave some of my men with you.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jacob answered. “I am happy, simply knowing that you are friendly to me.”

So, Esau left for Edom. But Jacob went to Succoth, where he built a house for himself and set up shelters for his animals. That’s why the place is called Succoth. (Contemporary English Version)

Repentance includes more than saying sorry. It also involves admitting wrong and making things right. Turning from erroneous thinking and forsaking past hurtful actions, lays the groundwork for an earnest attempt at reconciliation. 

For example, the Christian does more than a simple acceptance and acquiescence of Jesus, as if merely adding a bit of Christ to life will dash it up and make it better. Rather, we are invited into the very life of Christ. This life turns us upside-down and inside-out in a new and radical allegiance.

Repentance and reconciliation are a way of life. They are necessary skills requiring development through continual practice and use.

Broken relationships are the stuff of life. So, we need gracious approaches to deal with them so that bitterness does not take root in our souls. Connection and peace between two people are a beautiful thing. They bring emotional health, spiritual wholeness, and life enrichment.

From the get-go, twin brothers Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament book of Genesis had a contentious relationship. Their relations became so bad that Esau had homicidal ideation toward his brother. Neither Esau nor Jacob handled things well. Jacob ended up leaving, finding a wife, growing a family, and becoming wealthy.

Twenty years passed before they came together again.

Jacob, knowing he was about to meet his brother, had an encounter with God. It changed his identity from the old deceiver to the new Israel (Genesis 32:22-31).  In a demonstration of his new identity as Israel, Jacob worked at making amends for his old cheating ways. He sought to give the blessing he had stolen from his brother.

Jacob understandably had some dread in meeting Esau. He had connived and manipulated to take the family birthright and blessing from his brother. Fresh from wrestling with God, Jacob demonstrated a newfound courage and humility. He offered Esau respect, gifts, and honor – reversing his past pattern of disrespect, stealing, and dishonor.

True repentance is making things right. Merely having feelings of remorse is not repentance. To repent involves genuine sorrow; an earnestness to make restitution and reconciliation; an indignation over what happened; and, perhaps most importantly, a deep concern for the person(s) harmed by our wrongdoing (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

The reconciliation between the brothers was a surprise. Jacob was not expecting Esau’s response. It seems Jacob was bracing for the worse, which explains his high anxiety before the encounter.

Esau’s gracious response was an answer to Jacob’s prayer.  For Jacob, seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God. In fact, he saw both faces and lived! Jacob likely would not have seen his brother’s face until he had first seen God’s. His divine experience prepared the way for the human encounter.

We all experience times when relationships unravel and need to be mended. Jacob procrastinated for twenty years before working at reconciliation with his brother. What made the difference for Jacob was trusting God, who always works out divine promises, despite our human foibles. 

May you know and experience the God who reconciles and restores, and in so doing, extend that same earnestness to others.

Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you and against others through my own fault by thought, word and deed in things done and left undone. Especially I confess that I have _____.  I therefore repent; for these and all my sins I am terribly sorry and pray for forgiveness. I firmly intend to make amends and seek for help. I ask for strength to serve you in newness of life through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 12:57-59 – Seek Reconciliation

“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out, until you have paid the last penny.” (New International Version)

Relational problems and conflicts are endemic to the human condition. And, along with it, comes our anger.

Sometimes, I wonder if some church buildings have an aisle down the middle, is so that one group of people can avoid associating with the other group, like some childhood bedroom squabble where a line is drawn that the other is not to cross.

I also wonder if all schoolteachers’ lounges are a hot mess of anger. I’ve certainly been in plenty that are. And I don’t really have to wonder if most families have relatives they are estranged from – sometimes for years, even decades. Lord knows I’ve counseled plenty of them.

It’s inevitable that any group of people, complete with individual sinful natures, whether a church, a neighborhood, a family, or a workplace, will experience relational difficulties. After all, we live in a fallen world with a bunch of fallen people.

Relationships are important to God. And we need them. We cannot live without them because we’ve been created in the image and likeness of a relational God. So, God is concerned that we have good relations with one another.

Jesus is in the business of stripping away the layers of self-righteousness and peeling back the built up human rationalizations toward our sour relations with one another. At the heart of it all is our contempt for others and our misplaced anger. The only real solution to it is reconciliation.

Anger in and of itself is neither bad nor good; it just is. It’s a normal human emotional response to injustice. Yet, how we express our anger is very much an ethical affair.

Bitterness, nursing a grudge, bearing resentment, saying speeches to somebody in our heads we will never give, and flipping the finger at someone behind their back is the sort of angry response that completely sours relationships and drives wedges between folks.

Those inner attitudes are the factory where the anger will eventually come out sideways in verbal or even physical violence toward another.

Harboring resentment that comes out in name-calling kills people. And when we verbally decapitate people, there is a mess to clean up. Judgement is the lot for people-bashing. (Matthew 5:21-26)

“The holiness of God is at war with all bitterness and hatred and hurting. And where this holiness collides with our hostility the crash is called the wrath of God. God’s wrath is God’s war of love against everything that unnecessarily hurts others. God’s love would not be love if it did not work to remove all that ungraciously hurts. The wrath of God is the proof of the love of God; God’s love is a love that is not merely sentimental, for it grapples with inhumane forces.”

Frederick Dale Bruner

If you think to yourself that you have a right to nurse a grudge because that other person deserves it, you need to know that your hatred will not go unnoticed by God. 

If you have ever wished anyone was dead, hated anyone, treated anyone with contempt and belittled them; then, you have assassinated that person in your heart and come under the judgment of God.

And that’s the reason why we are to work hard at making things right with others.

There is no need for you to live with regret for the rest of your life because of stubbornly refusing to reconcile, and to have to stand before your Creator someday with nothing but hatred and contempt for another person.

Whenever personal relations go wrong, nine cases out of ten, immediate action will usually mend the problem.  But the longer it goes, the harder it is to reconcile. The problem grows and festers. Eventually, if reconciliation is not sought, it eventually spirals out of control. Then, there is full blown bitterness in which more people will be hurt. 

Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.

Hebrews 12:15, CEB

Bitterness becomes gangrene of the soul. It poisons us within and ends up making trouble for others. Its better to reconcile than to have God amputate a part of you. So, seek amends.

If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. Don’t give the Devil a chance…. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31, GNT)

We always have a choice when relationships are strained: Deal with it immediately, or let it fester. Maybe the reason why so many folks live without peace is that they have chosen unwisely.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Lord God, bring us together as one people, reconciled with you and reconciled with each other – healed, forgiven, and spreading peace rather than enmity, as you called us to do, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How Do We Start Our Ministry?

Welcome, friends! Luke 10:25-37 contains the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a parable of mercy, relationship, trust, and meeting a pressing need. It’s a story of God’s love for humanity. Click the videos below and let’s explore what it means to stop and help….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 10:25-37
The Maranatha Singers

God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom we serve,
Have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace. Amen.

Luke 10:25-37 – How Do We Start Our Ministry?

The Good Samaritan by He Qi

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (New International Version)

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Madrid, Spain

Start with Love and Mercy

The short answer to the question of how to begin any ministry is love, by providing relief through showing mercy. Compassion, mercy, and love are always behind every true Christian ministry.

Being available and approachable, crossing paths with people in need, noticing and caring about others is a merciful response. Following the example of Jesus, the Christian community ought not to pass by on the other side of the road. Instead, we are to stop and get involved smack in the middle of human need.

That isn’t what always happens, though. It can be far too easy to respond to the vast sea of human need by being judgmental and critical. We might observe people’s predicaments and write those persons off as being lazy, foolish, or of bad character. Just as bad, our prejudice or bias might see a person’s clothes, habits, race, ethnicity, or gender and immediately make sweeping negative assumptions about them – without having even engaged them.

Frankly, from a Christian perspective, it just doesn’t matter. Whether we believe someone deserves our help or not, all Christian ministry is to be driven by a spirit of love, compassion, and mercy – rather than a spirit of condemnation. We need to see all people, without exception, as image bearers of God who possess inherent worth and dignity as human beings.

The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Start with Relationships

It is good to give money, food, and resources to those in need. It’s even better to develop relationships and get to know the people for whom we are helping. Both handouts and hugs are good and necessary. In this COVID-19 world we are currently living in, I am using “hug” as both a metaphor and an acronym….

Hold eye contact. One of the things we all have discovered about masking is that the eyes communicate a lot. Looking someone in the eye is important. Far too many people in our world don’t feel seen by others. They wonder, if they fell off the face of the earth, whether anyone would even notice. Seeing people is a necessary ministry, in and of itself.

Understand another’s life and point of view. Be curious about their lives, their history, their faith background, and their experiences. Put yourself in their shoes. See things from their perspective. Empathy (communicating to someone that they are not alone) goes a long way. What’s more, we don’t have to agree with another to extend mercy.

Go to others, rather than waiting for others to come to you. Go where they are. Get close enough to show empathy and compassion, even if it’s an air hug. Half of any relationship, before any talking or doing happens, is simply showing up. The good Samaritan showed up and stopped. He was willing to go wherever the mercy of God sent him.

Start with Building Trust

Most needy people have been, at the least, ignored or dismissed by others; and, at worst, like the man attacked by robbers, beat down and berated by others and left for dead. Anyone who has endured past abuse or trauma is understandably guarded in trusting others. The last thing they want to do is be open and vulnerable to a stranger who might take advantage of them and hurt them.

It takes time to build trust. A person’s issues, a neighborhood’s concerns, and a city’s anxiety won’t be solved overnight. Those problems took a great deal of time in their development, and so, it will take just as much, or more, time to address and resolve all that is wrong.

As we lovingly and mercifully tackle those problems, we must always keep in mind that we fix problems and heal people – and never the other way around. Trying to fix people is a fool’s errand because people are not their problems. Nobody is a cancer, a disease, a schizophrenic, or a lunatic. People have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual illnesses but they are not inherently those problems. Anything we won’t possess in heaven is something we are not, as people.

Human organizations, systems, institutions, and culture can be a problem – but not people themselves. Whenever someone begins labeling people as “problem” people, or as “those” people, or even worse, as “monsters” or some other label, the judgment of God is not far behind. (Matthew 5:22)

Trust cannot be developed with putting adjectives in front of people’s names or replace those names with pejorative terms. Christian ministry can only thrive in an atmosphere of love, mercy, and compassion.

Trust is developed when we give people the dignity of choices and ask whether they would like help, or not. We don’t save anyone. God does. We are all responsible for our own choices and our own openness to accepting and owning our own problems.

The Good Samaritan by Paulus Hoffman

Start with Meeting a Need

The man alongside the road had a clear need for immediate assistance. The Samaritan stepped in and met that pressing need. The man would have died without it. Yet, some people’s needs aren’t quite so obvious. If we have worked at building trust, some of those needs become known. And there are always existing organizations who are diligently addressing many of those needs with whom we can partner.

Another way of meeting needs is to connect people with one another. Through consulting and collaborating with others, we can foster relational connections in which someone’s or a group’s needs can be met. Since no one person or community can meet everyone’s needs, many times the best approach is to help people meet one another.

When we get neighbors working together to care for one another and improve their neighborhood, they are empowered to make a difference. This is especially viable when a church commits itself to the place or parish in which it exists. By being involved, partnering with community organizations or neighborhood associations, the church joins others as a community connector and a place where the community comfortably gathers.

Conclusion

All Christian ministry begins with a loving attitude, a compassionate heart, and a merciful spirit. Then, it looks for opportunities to be available and show up with a compassionate presence. From there, we are able to discover and discern the real needs of people so that we are providing what is truly needed instead of what we believe someone else needs.

In one of the communities I once pastored, I noticed the town had a significant number of single parents trying to raise their kids. So, I did a bit of demographic work and presented it to the elders, pointing out the opportunity we have to make a difference in many of these family’s lives. The elders became excited about the chance for outreach, that is, until I proposed that we recruit two or three of those single parents to come, sit around the table, and help us understand their needs and how we might help…. The elders became eerily silent…. Finally, one of them spoke up and said, “We can’t do that. They got themselves into this single parent situation. They don’t know what’s best. We do….”

That response is just the opposite of what God is looking for in us. If we believe we know better to the point of not even asking others how we might help, then our arrogance and prejudice has blinded us to true Christian ministry in the way of Jesus. Now for a better story….

The Good Samaritan by Corinne Vonaesch

A woman and her husband were not from the area they were living, and so, every Thanksgiving they spent it only with each other, since both their families lived far away. So, when one Thanksgiving came around, they wondered if there were others like them, spending the holiday apart from family.

They found a few and spent that Thanksgiving together. Those folks had such a good time together that, next year, the woman and her husband asked if they could use the church fellowship hall where I was pastoring at Thanksgiving because they found more people who had no family to celebrate with.

To make a long story short, these two people now serve about two-hundred people in the community every Thanksgiving who gather together, and another two hundred shut-ins are delivered a Thanksgiving meal, along with some needed human connection. Many positive friendships and relationships are formed.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Mother Teresa

Small acts of kindness done with big love result in the kind of Christian ministry which pleases God.

Lord, help us believe we are all ordinary people made extraordinary through your vision and power. Take our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy and give us the courage to see ourselves and others as you see us, with gifts and potential to transform your world and build your Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.