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Edward F. Markquart

Take Care of Your Birthright

Confirmation          Genesis 25:27-34

Today is a confirmation sermon.  Today’s sermon is addressed to the seventeen young men and women who are seated before me, but the sermon is also addressed to all of us.

The text for today’s sermon is from Genesis 25. Genesis 25 is the story of Jacob and Esau.  I would like to retell this Biblical story so we are all reminded of it.  Jacob and Esau were two brothers.  Esau was favored by his father, and Jacob was favored by his mother.  Esau was a great hunter; and Jacob was a quieter person and enjoyed being around the home.  Now, one day Esau had been out hunting all day long, and he came back from hunting absolutely famished.  His brother, Jacob was a very tricky fellow. In fact, the word, Jacob means trickster, cheat or clever. Jacob, who was a very tricky fellow,  said to his brother:  “Esau, my brother, I would love to have your inheritance; I would like to have your birthright.”  The older brother, Esau, said, “You’ve got to be crazy, but what do you have to offer?” Jacob said, “Well, brother Esau, I’ll give you a good bowl of porridge.  I’ll give you some real hot oatmeal right now.”  Esau was very famished; he had been out hunting all day long; his stomach was really growling; he was light headed he was so faint with hunger.  He was also irresponsible, a little bit careless and a little bit impulsive, and so he blurted out, “All right, give me that bowl of oatmeal.”  But Jacob cleverly persisted,  “Can I have your birthright?  Can I have your inheritance?”  And the older brother said, “OK, but give me the food.  I am absolutely famished.”  He ate; he whoofed it down.  The next morning, the older brother Esau woke up, and he was absolutely sick; he was mortified; he was so ashamed of himself that he had given up his birthright, his heritage for a bowl of…(have a bowl of oatmeal nearby, as a prop if the preacher wants one)…oatmeal.

The telephone rang in the middle of the night.  The voice of a young man said to me, “Pastor, quick, would you come down to the police station.  I have to talk with you.” I could sense that he was nervous inside, and so I went down to the police station, and they told me the story.  The boys had been fooling around, racing in their cars between stoplights, and they came to a stop light. They didn’t stop in time.  An old Chevy pulled out into the intersection, and they smashed into the car and the car caromed off into a telephone pole, and stopped. They quickly got out of their car, ran to the old Chevy, looked into the window, to see the face of death for the first time in their young lives. They were upset; they were deeply upset by what they had done and what they saw.  The ambulance came;  the family came; the chaos came; and soon they were in the police station. They had called me and I came over to be with them.  I asked, “What happened?”  They said, “We were messing around.  We didn’t mean to.  We were just a little careless, and it was costly.  Very costly.”

It was in the newspaper.  It was in the old section of town and all the houses had been boarded up in this old section of town.  This one house in particular had been boarded up:  all the walls, all the windows; all the way around; it was boarded up so nobody could get in.  The man who had boarded up the house was a little careless and forgot the one lower window, down there on the edge of the basement. It was easy to miss.  The children of the neighborhood were playing “hide-go-seek” and the children were having a wonderful time. There had been heavy rains.  Nobody knew it, but the basement in that old boarded up house was now half full of water.  A little child came to that window which had not been boarded up, and the child thought that the window was a wonderful place to hide.  Four days later, when the police finally found the body, and they called the family of the people who owned the house.  They told what happened and the man knew full well what happened.  He lied as fast as he could and he said that someone must have taken the boards off the window.  Someone had been careless, just for a moment, and it was costly.  It was utterly tragic.

During the Viet Nam war, there is a story about a man by the name of Major Arkin.  Major Arkin was a Green Beret, a hero among his troops.  He had led a group of soldiers to a Viet Cong hideaway.  Carelessly, one of the soldiers left some traces behind him, and so a scout from the Viet Cong followed their trail back to their village, so the Viet Cong knew where they were hiding.  Well, the next night, it was inevitable.  The Viet Cong killed all the soldiers and the wives and the children living in that village.  Carelessness in warfare can be very costly for great numbers of people.

People leave drugs out on the medicine cabinet. Somebody goes deer hunting and they shoot at something red. A woman has a lump on her breast and doesn’t go see the doctor. A man has a palpitation of the heart and doesn’t go see a physician. Kids go drinking and hit an old car as it comes through an intersection. And everybody learns a very tragic lesson about life:  carelessness is immensely costly. 

I have discovered that very often, we do more harm and damage to the people around us, not because we hate them; not because we are mean or cruel; not because we are unintelligent; but very often, we hurt people most deeply primarily because we have become careless with that primary life relationship. 

Let me give you some examples.  God has given me an enormously good birthright.  God has given me a good birthright, just as God gave Esau a good birthright.  God gave me three wonderful children.  I love them very deeply.  Two are young adults and the third is a child.  These are the greatest gifts that God has given to me.  I absolutely love my children.  But even though I love them, I tend to become careless in my relationship with them.  I mean, I don’t hate my children; I am not unkind to them; I don’t beat them; but I can become careless with them.  And do you know what happens?  Well, I will tell you what happens.  It is like this:  they are all seated at the dinner table, and I am seated at my chair. Pretty soon I notice the body language and all their backs are at me, and their faces are pointed to their mother at the other end of the table.  Pretty soon I notice all the language goes to the mother and not to me.  Finally, after a month of this, I raise my hand and say, “Don’t you know that I am here?” And one of the children replies, “We hadn’t noticed lately.”  So tragic.  It is not that I hate my children; it is not that I am mean to them; it not that I am cruel with them. But if I don’t take care of my relationship with my children, pretty soon life will go by and I will have missed out on the most important parts of their young lives, and I can not get those years back.  I haven’t been hateful; I haven’t been mean; I haven’t been cruel.  But I have lost those special years with them. 

Similarly, God has given me a good birthright with my wife. I love my wife.  She is a good woman. She is a gift of God to me.  Again, I don’t hate my life; I am not mean to her; I don’t beat her; but if I don’t take care of my relationship with my wife, I guarantee you, it will be very costly. 

I don’t know why it is but it seems that divorce seems epidemic these days.  That is, we have all these young people from the life of the church who are coming to be married.  They come to see me as a pastor and they sit down there on the sofa together. They hold each other’s hands; they look at each other in certain ways that you know that they are not married. They paw each other as they are so wonderfully tender to each other in their young love.  Life goes on, and nobody hates and nobody is mean and nobody is cruel; but if they don’t take care of that relationship, it dries up like an autumn leaf, ready to drop from the tree.  Gradually, it dies and disintegrates and is no more. Carelessness. Carelessness in marriage is absolutely costly.  And this happens to good people who aren’t mean, who aren’t cruel, who aren’t hateful but have become careless.  I see more people crucified by carelessness than any other behavior. 

Careless is costly in our relationship to God as well.  God is good.  The presence of Jesus living inside of you.  The presence of Jesus living inside of me.  We have eyes to see the beauty of God all around us.  We have ears to hear the symphonies in nature.  And we become careless.  It is not that I hate God; it is not that I am mean to God; it is not that I am cruel to God; but I am one who can confess to you that is very easy to become careless with my prayer life.  It is easy to wake up in the morning and not thank God for a new day? To fall into bed at night exhausted and not have time to thank God for all I have seen and done? To read the newspapers and magazines and watch the news, but not have time to read God’s Word and worship? Gradually, my relationship with God dries up and starts to die, much like the maple leaves of autumn. 

What I am suggesting to you that when I see people hurting, it is rarely because someone has been intentionally mean, cruel or hateful.  When I see people hurting, it is almost always because somebody has become careless with important relationships.

Now, seated before me today are seventeen wonderful young people.  As I look across this class, you kids are absolutely the greatest, and God has given you an enormously good birthright.  If you think that Esau had a good birthright, yours is even better.  You kids have been blessed.  I know you.  I know all of you, and I know your lives, and I know you have been blessed.  You have been blessed with homes where you experienced true love; you have been truly loved by your moms and dads.  The quality of love that has been poured into you has been truly wonderful. 

The other thing I know about you is that you kids have suffered.  I have not had a confirmation class who has suffered as much as you kids.  You will not forget that night around the campfire, will you.  You won’t forget that night up at Camp NorWester when we shared with one another about the suffering you kids have experienced, whether it was connected with death or drugs or parents or grandparents.  The suffering in your life has been immeasurable, and you have survived.  You have survived it. You have survived some nasty things and are still living.  An example.  Last week, I was up near Mount St. Helens where the volcano blew its top not so long ago.  Right after the mountain blew up, everything around that mountain was dead and I saw it with my own eyes.  But I was there again last week, ten years later, after the mountain blew its top, and you should have seen the flowers at the foot of the mountain.  The seeds of life were stronger than death.  The seeds of life are stronger than volcanic power.  And the seeds of love which have been planted in you are stronger than any bad things that happen in your lives.  You kids are strong.  You kids have come through some absolutely terrible things, and you are stronger for it. 

You have a good birthright.  You have clothes on your back and shoes on your feet and God has given you good personalities, even if kind of weird.  Speaking of weird personalities, I would like to tell you the story of one weird personality in this group.  Her name is Kristen Colello.  She is weird for lots of reasons, but when she came into my seventh grade confirmation class, she could not stop giggling.  I wondered what was wrong because she would giggle so much.  For class entertainment, we would just pause and let her giggle for a while.  And finally, as a class, we concluded, this is what happened.  Kristen was born prematurely and put into an incubator and they left her too long on oxygen, and as a result, she has always been a little high.  There is no doubt that Kristen is a bit crazy, but so are all of these kids. You are all wonderful. 

God has given you a good birthright.  God has given you wonderful families who love you.  God has given you the power to handle immense suffering.  God has given you material possessions.  God has given you wonderful personalities.  

God has given you Jesus who lives inside of you.  When I listened to your papers last Sunday night, I was blown away.  When you as a congregation listen to three of their papers today, your hearts are going to be pealed back and you are going to be filled with the Presence of God because these are kids who know Jesus Christ. Their faith is not a game and it is not a charade.  When these teenagers peal their hearts back and you get to see inside, you will know what I am talking about.

You have a great birthright.  You have Jesus living inside of you.  God’s love, kindness, goodness. So I say, “Take care.  Take good care of that birthright that God has given to you, and don’t carelessly exchange it for a bowl full of oatmeal, some instantaneous pleasure, something that you think is so important at the moment, but you really lose your whole inheritance.”

What does it mean to take care of your birthright?  I would like to talk with you about what this means.

It means to take care of your relationship with your mother and or father. I want all of you kids to look at each other; smile at each other; see the faces of your friends. In thirty years, you won’t know each other.  That is a scary thing.  And all those friends at school that you think are so special, those kids at school that you think are the most important thing that you think ever happened to you;, in thirty years, almost all of them will no longer be your friends.  In all probability, in thirty years from now, you will still have a mom and or dad still loving and caring for you.  I don’t think you kid quite get it; you don’t quite understand what I am talking about.  I need to ask you to trust me again.  In thirty years, your parents will be there with and for you.  Your current friends at school and church will have most likely disappeared from your lives. There are always exceptions, but very few.  The point is:  take good care of your birthright, of your relationship with your parents.

I was visited by an angel yesterday.  It is not every day that a person gets visited by an angel but that is one thing about my job, I get visited by angels.  She didn’t fly in.  She just walked in.  The angels I know walk rather than fly.  She told me the story of how she had been married for fifteen months, and fourteen of the fifteen months her husband had been in a coma, due to an injury accident.  This was a very hard marriage that she was experiencing.  I asked her, “Who is taking care of you?” Knowing that most people are good caretakers for six weeks at the outside, I asked her, “Is your pastor taking good care of you for these past fourteen months?”  No?  “How about those good friends from high school?  Have they been there for all those fourteen months?”  No.  “How about your college roommates that you were so close to in college, have they been with you month in and month out?”  No.  “Well, who takes care of you?”  Mom and Dad.  That is the way it is in the real world. There are going to be some big nasty things that are going to happen to you and already have.  You have no idea how cruel life can be.  Just remember, in many years from now, it will still be your mom and dad who are caring of you.  Take care of that relationship. I am a fifty one year old child but I still take care of my birthright, including my parents who are there for me.

Now, the second thing is to take care of your relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is also part of your life, to have Jesus Christ living inside of you.  Jesus lives in every one of your lives and I love the way that Christ lives in you.  You are so fortunate to have Jesus Christ living inside of you, and to take care of that relationship is absolutely crucial.  When you the congregation hear a few of their papers read, “My Relationship with Jesus Christ,” you will know how sacred these relationships are. Unfortunately, you can lose that personal belief and trust in Jesus Christ.  It can happen to slowly.

To take care of your relationship with Christ is to take care of your relationship with the church. Take good care of your relationship with the church. Let me explain. In the first service, seated in the front row, was Mark Keller.  Mark was sitting here with Wendy, and I had married them this summer.  I remembered Mark from seventh grade confirmation.  There were thirteen boys and two girls in his class, and the boys were wonderful for the girls.  Mark still has a close relationship with Jesus Christ.  Mark Keller, handsome young man, twenty-four years old, is still close with Christ.  Why?  Because he took care of his relationship with the church.  His prayer life. His devotional life. His worship life.  His married life.  His life at the altar, kneeling to receive Holy Communion.  All the little things add up. 

What you have in Jesus Christ is your most valuable possession.  It is the church, the people of God, who helps you to hang onto that sacred possession. If you don’t, the carelessness is very, very costly. 

I would like to say a word to the parents who are here today, to all of you who have children.  I say, take care of your children and raise them in the Christian faith.  Take good care of their religious education.  We are so pleased to see your children in church with you.  I know that you parents are committed to raising your children in the Christian faith.  It is more important to give your child Christ than to give them money, education, status, a fancy car.  The most important thing you ever could give to your child is the possibility of them knowing Jesus Christ. If your child knows Jesus Christ, it is the most powerful influence they can ever have.  To all of you who are Christian parents, I say, “thank you for rearing your child in the Christian faith.”

I will never forget it.  The telephone rang in the middle of the night, and I was asked to come down to the police station immediately.  When I got there, I discovered that the two boys had been messing around, speeding.  They didn’t mean to, but their car hit the old car in the intersection and drove that old car into a telephone pole.  The two young boys, big young boys, jumped out and they looked into the window of that car and saw the face of death for the first time.  They felt terrible about what they had done, but not nearly as terrible as the family of the man who had been killed.  Later, when I was talking with the young boys, I asked what happened.  They said, “We were careless, and it was costly.”

I have found that people who have been hurt in life. It is rarely because of hate; it is rarely because of meanness; it is rarely because of cruelty.  When people are hurt in life, it is because they have become careless.  So my word to you is this:  Take care of your birthright.  Amen.

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