Welcome Home #2
At times, don’t you wish there really was something like a Family Survival Kit that on the market? We’d all have a peaceful Thanksgiving or Christmas or Labor Day if it just weren’t for family right? When we gather, we know exactly what’s going to happen. The first couple of hours will be great. Everybody will be nice and polite. Oh, you might hear a snarky comment from an uptight aunt. You might even get creeped out by a weird uncle. But all in all, that first couple of hours will be fine.
But as soon as the meal’s over and sometimes in the middle of the meal, Uncle Ted will start in on politics or religion and berate everybody who doesn’t believe the same thing. Grandpa will tell the same old war stories that you can say in our sleep because you’ve heard them so many times. Hypochondriac Aunt Ethel will start complaining that she’ll probably never be able to walk again because whatever her sister put in the gravy made her knees and ankles swell. Great grandpa will start popping his teeth in and out of his mouth at weird angles trying to scare all the little kids. Uncle Joe will just sit there glaring at everyone for some imagined slight and then storm off in a huff. And under the table, the dog and cat will start fighting over that little piece of turkey that cousin Willie threw on the floor so he wouldn’t have to eat it.
And yet despite all the dysfunctional characters, we still love our families, don’t we. There is something about family that fills an emotional, spiritual and physical need. I think that’s why Jacob decided to return home. There was a deep need to reconnect with his family. We have that same kind of deep need to reconnect as well.
I. THE STORY:
A. You remember Jacob don’t you? Jacob the son of Isaac; Jacob the twin who was born second but always wanted to be first; Jacob the trickster who cheated his brother out of the inheritance with a bowl of lentil stew. Jacob who wrestled with an angel of the Lord and forever after walked with a limp. That Jacob. For whatever reason, Jacob decided to return to the land of his father and brother. But he did so with great fear and nervous anticipation. You see, he left under not so great of circumstances. Isaac and Esau were chapped beyond compare over Jacob’s cheating Esau out of his inheritance. Jacob left, and lived his life, on the run. Years passed. Jacob got older and wiser and decided to go home.
Don’t raise your hands, how many of you have ever done something wrong that you knew was wrong but wouldn’t admit it at the time. Then over the years you realized your mistake and decided you needed to make it right, but because of all the time that had past, because of all the acrimonious words and looks, you didn’t think you could be forgiven. Or you were simply afraid of the consequences?
Expectations, anticipation, our minds always seem to play out the worst scenario in the world. Most of which could never happen. Obviously for Jacob, the older he got the more his early trickery caught up with him and ate at him. What was once a cocky “I’m king of the hill. Look what I did!” kind of attitude turned into an “O my God, I can’t believe I did that.”
B. In Jacob’s mind, Esau had spent all those years planning and plotting how to get even, while exacting the most pain possible. But the truth is, it was all in Jacob’s mind. The passage from Genesis tells us how that reunion and the meeting of those two brothers actually went.
Genesis 33:1-4 (NRSV)
 Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.
 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.
 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Jacob was scared spit-less when he saw the 400 men Esau had brought with him. He nearly soiled himself. He nearly turned the whole caravan around and headed the other way. But that would have taken too long. Besides, they’d already been spotted.
So, instead Jacob divided his household into a couple of groups, hoping to soften Esau’s heart. Every time one of the groups passed Esau all he could do was holler, “Where’s my brother? Where’s Jacob?” With great anticipation and excitement, Esau was hunting for Jacob. And where was he? Jacob was hiding at the very back of the line, filled with shame, with guilt, with regret and fear. He was shaking in his boots.
The weight of all his past was about to overcome him. When he finally got to Esau he fell on his knees in front of him. But Esau lifted him up, embraced him and welcomed his brother Home.
C. The irony is that while Esau might have been mad at first, he simply went about his business. He continued to take care of Mom and Dad in their old age. He continued to live and run the family business. He maintained the old homestead. And I think, unbeknownst to his guilt ridden brother, longed for the day Jacob would return home.
And oh, what homecoming that was. Jacob expected the worst. Esau prepared the best.
Jacob looked at the horizon longing to go home; Esau looked at the horizon longing for Jacob to come home.
Jacob was filled with regret and thoughts of his brother’s revenge; Esau was filled with grace and thoughts of the day of his brother’s return.
Jacob expected punishment. Esau expected reunion
Jacob struggled under the weight of his guilt; Esau rejoiced over his brother’s safe return.
Jacob bowed down in shame; Esau lifted Jacob up in the embrace of forgiveness and said, “Welcome Home, brother, welcome home.”
A. We all have a deep need to hear those words. There is something within us that needs to know there is place for us to go. A safe place where we can be the true selves God has created us to be. We all need a place where we belong; a place where there is no condemnation; a place where we can heal and be forgiven. We all need a home.
You see, we all have a certain amount of guilt and regret in our lives. Regret, shame, guilt, fear, pride those are all heavy burdens weighing us down. There’s nothing physical there but the presence of unredeemed regret, shame, guilt and fear drags at us and pulls us down just as much as any physical weight.
We feel it in our spirit. We feel it in our soul. We feel it every time we try to do something good. We feel it every time we try to rise above it.
B. For a lot of us, the older we’ve gotten the smaller our accomplishments seem and the larger our mistakes and failures have grown, especially when it comes to family and the people we love.
There’s a minor event in our lives that Mary doesn’t even remember because she’s forgiven me and moved on. But every now and then it still surfaces in my memory and pierces my heart with the pain of shame and regret. For some reason I haven’t been able to let it go, part of it is simply because I love Mary so deeply that knowing I hurt her tears me up. It comes and goes muck less frequently but I’m still not sure why I can’t let it go and let it be healed.
Maybe it’s old family systems tapes running in my head. I thought I’d shut those off a long time ago but who knows. Maybe it’s that sense of shame or some deep seated need to wallow in guilt. I’m not sure. I just know that it’s there.
I’ll bet you have those little moments of regret, too. Something that you said or did to someone that you’ve wished a million times over that you could take back or do over. Things or words that sear your memory and pierce your heart even though you know the other person has forgiven you. They haunt us and we wrestle with them just as surely as Jacob wrestled that angel.
The truth is, we all have a deep need to hear the words Esau spoke to Jacob. “Welcome Home, brother, Welcome Home, sister, welcome home.”
There is something within us that needs to know there is place for us to go. A safe place where we can be the true selves God has created us to be. We all need a place where we belong; a place where there is no condemnation; a place where we can heal and be forgiven. A place where we can grow spiritually. A place we can call Home. We all need a home.
A. For me, that place was the Church and the United Methodist Church specifically. Why? Partly because of the people of my home church back in West Plains; partly because of the Pastor who welcomed me like Esau but mostly because of the message of grace which fills Wesleyan Theology. What I discovered was that it didn’t matter what you had been or what you had done; what really matters is who you are now and what God can do with you both today and tomorrow and for every day which follows. I learned that your past, is the past.
B. We all carry a load of guilt we think we can never get rid of.
We all carry the weight of past sins, that guilt weighs us down, sometimes to the point of immobility.
Sometimes it’s not what we’ve done but what has been done to us by uncaring and sometimes even well intentioned people. We carry the deep wounds which have never really healed.
Or we carry deep scars of shame, the kind of shame which makes us think we’re to blame for what someone else did to us. Along with that come the thoughts that no one could ever love us. No one would ever forgive us especially if they found out.
Sometimes it’s simply that we don’t feel like we measure up whether it’s because of our clothes, our job our education or lack of education. Sometimes it’s doubts.
But what we find out in this passage is that our minds make the biggest monsters out of the smallest shadows. Because what is really waiting for us behind that door which seems closed is a warm Welcome Home just like Jacob received from his brother Esau.
God doesn’t care about your past. What is past is past. You can’t change it. You can’t go back and edit it and delete those angry words you shouldn’t have said or alter the course of a bad decision. The past is past, you can never get it back. All you have is the present. But through the decisions of the present, you can alter your future.
God doesn’t care about your past. That’s why he sent Jesus. We still live with the results of the past but they don’t have to be the deciding factor of our future.
In essence, God gives us a do-over. Through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, God throws his arms wide open and welcomes us home with a warm embrace.
Through the forgiveness that we receive, God will never bring up our past again. We might try to but God won’t remember. We’ll remember so we can mend broken relationships.
We’ll remember so we don’t go there again.
We’ll remember so we can avoid future mistakes. But as we remember, as we look at that sin of the past all you will see is the word FORGIVEN stamped in big bold red letters over the top of it.
Esau missed his brother. He realized wasn’t whole because part of the family was missing. He longed for the day his brother would come home. And when he did, they rejoiced. Esau grabbed Jacob and held him in a Welcome Embrace. And that’s what God wants to do with you. That’s what God wants to do with your life.
Like Esau God has been counting the days, the hours, the minutes, longing for you to come home.
If you’ve been away for awhile; Welcome Home!
If you’re looking for a fresh start; Welcome Home!
If you just need a new focus; Welcome Home!
If you just need to be refreshed; Welcome Home!
If you’re looking for a new home; Welcome Home!
If you’re looking for a place to call home; Welcome Home!
No matter who you are or what you’ve done or haven’t done; what you know or don’t know all God wants you to hear is WELCOME HOME.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.