Take Care of Your Birthright
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.