Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us.
Some of us are built with fairly short fuses.
I think it is because we get personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.
But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and sometimes we behave in ways that are far from Christian.
So, this morning we are going to talk about patience through the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.
Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.
Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.
And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright and deathbed blessing from his brother, Esau.
Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him.
This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from some sore muscles – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question.
As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”
It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.
Usually when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.
We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.
But today, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan to the son who was left behind.
The fruit of the spirit we know as patience, is often translated as longsuffering.
It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you.
It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.
Barclay’s commentary writes that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.
Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.
Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward.
Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.
If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.
The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him.
If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him.
The straw that broke the camel’s back is this moment where everything is taken from him and Esau is pissed off.
But, even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.
I haven’t played a lot of disc golf this summer, but there was an afternoon a few seasons ago when I hit four trees, in a row, on four consecutive shots, before I ever got to the basket. I hadn’t been playing well all afternoon, and my frustration was building. My temper was getting the best of me.
If we truly think about patience as having the grace to not revenge a wrong, then patience would have been taking a deep breath, not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for it being in the way.
Many people in today’s world who had something done to them like Esau experienced would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.
Patience means being slow to anger and while Esau became angry, he didn’t allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He put his anger on the back burner.
In moments when you find yourself on the brink of acting out of frustration or anger, patience is taking a moment to breathe and to pray.
It is asking for God to come into the situation and remind you of what is really important… and if necessary to let go of the anger.
Esau also helps us to understand patience in how he lives his life after Jacob flees.
He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes.
When his brother is sent away, Jacob is commanded not to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau is not given this expectation, but he also chooses such a bride, always looking to please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.
And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.
Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother.
Not once does he try to make good on his promise that his brother should die.
No, he moves on with his own life.
He carves out the best possible future for himself.
In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures.
That is longsuffering. That is patience.
Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.
Yesterday, I had the honor of helping to celebrate the life of a woman named Renee. When our church began its work with the Women at the Well Re-entry Teams, Renee was the first person that we had the honor of walking with.
As I sat talking with her dad, Paul, he mentioned to me how you always think that someone else’s child would be homeless, or addicted, or abused. You never imagine that it could ever happen to your child. But it did.
From the ages of 4-14, Renee was sexually abused by a family member who also gave her alcohol. Her addiction began before most children even know what a drink is. That terrible injustice had a profound impact on her formation. In some ways, it led her to be scared of being successful – often getting in her own way. But in other ways, it provided the source of her ability to connect with people who were struggling, homeless, down and out. Her experience helped her to share her life story and God’s word with people who desperately needed to hear it.
In the midst of the hurt and pain of her life, she knew that God was with her and that her journey was not something to be ashamed of or to run away from, but it was an opportunity to share with others. As the Message translation of Isaiah chapter 50 reads, “The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, so I know how to encourage tired people.” And in spite of her addiction, Renee used her humor and writing to bring encouragement to people who needed it the most. She didn’t allow herself to be overcome with bitterness and despair.
That is God’s longsuffering patience.
Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through his ability to forgive.
We sometimes think of patience as simply the ability to wait… to hold out.
But the kind of patience that God invites us to embody is that grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t.
Had Esau simply been waiting for the opportunity to strike back then his moment would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.
And Jacob knows it.
Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.
Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.
If Esau had been “patiently” harboring revenge all of those years, he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.
But Esau was a man of godly patience.
He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred.
When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.
He looked upon all of those gifts, the wealth his brother had humbly offered, and Esau could have taken them all out of righteous indignation. He could have said, “it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back.”
Instead, he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”
The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers reunited at long last.
My family has experienced the kind of conflict and betrayal of family members that Jacob and Esau struggled with and I have to be honest that they have not yet reached the point of reconciliation.
It is difficult to forgive.
It will take time to forgive.
But I also know that when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.
My prayer for my family and for all of us who have experienced the frustration of relationships or illness or pain is that instead of holding onto revenge, bitterness, or despair, that we would instead seek God’s patience.
It is the kind of patience that our Master has with us.
In 2 Peter, we are reminded that God is patient towards us, not wanting any to perish but for all of us to be able to change our hearts and lives (3:9).
God’s gracious spirit chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed.
God’s gracious spirit waits until we finally turn back towards love, grace, mercy and peace.
God’s gracious spirit shows us true patience, waiting with open arms for us to come back home, no matter how many wrongs we have done in this world.
Amen and Amen.