“Invisible Patriarch: Isaac’s Fear”
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
June 25, 2017
(VIDEO UNAVAILABLE THIS WEEK DUE TO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)
Fourteen years ago, I was opening a large box that was wrapped in fine paper with a colorful bow on top. Once I had ripped the paper and untaped the box, this is what lay waiting for me inside: these books, Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible by Ulrich Luz. They were a gift from my pastor upon my ordination, my inheritance of sorts from one pastor to another. They must have been quite expensive. I have only opened them once, as I was writing the thank you note, and, yes, they are as dry as their title makes them seem. They were not a gift I had hoped for and, I was certain, they were nothing I would ever return to again.
Jacob, our old rascal, and soon-to-be-leader of a people, got a gift once. He got it from his father Isaac just before he had to flee. Last week we read the blessing Jacob received, “May God Almighty bless you,” Isaac told him. “And may he make your life bear fruit.” It was an amazing gift to give but it doesn’t seem like it was that special to Jacob.
I say that because, right when Jacob leaves, God speaks to him in a dream; and then Jacob doesn’t mention God or pray to God or even seem to care about God for the next 20 years. The only time God’s name is even mentioned is once when Jacob is frustrated and he uses it as a toss-away curse word. Isaac’s gift of a blessing from God, it seems to have meant very little to Jacob all these years. He was too busy fathering children and growing a business to ever consider returning to Isaac or to his gift again.
Until one day Jacob receives a message from God that it is time to come home and, with that message, Jacob gets a second gift. He gets the opportunity to see his life through a whole new lens. For 20 years he does not mention God, or pray to God, or consider God’s hand in his life, but after this message, God is all he wants to talk about. “God has been with me,” he tells his surprised wives. “God has kept your father from harming me,” he continues. “God has been by my side this whole time or else I would have nothing,” he concludes.
It is only now in Jacob’s life that light dawns on him and he sees his life completely differently. He realizes, for the first time, that he has not been alone and his success has not been wholly of his own making either. Instead, it has been a blessing from God.
And a blessing from his father Isaac.
For Jacob, the two go hand in hand. When Jacob wakes up to God in his life, he wakes up to Isaac’s role in his life as well. The power of this is shown when Jacob and Laban are making a covenant and Laban swears by the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, who was Abraham’s brother; and Jacob makes his covenant swearing by the “Fear of Isaac.” Jacob uses this name for God only two times and it is only Jacob who ever uses it, no one else. Because God, for Jacob, cannot help but be Isaac-influenced, Isaac-shaped.
This happens to all of us. We all could share what our name for God would be, the person who has shaped his divine image so greatly in us that we would swear an oath by their name. For me, I would swear by the “Fear of Rudy.” I know, I don’t think it will catch on like “Adonai” or “Good Shepherd.” But Rudy Beard was my pastor for my entire childhood and he, more than most any other person, shaped God for me. Our family never missed a Sunday so I surely heard almost a thousand sermons of his over more than twenty years. And I can still remember how he would be preaching and then would stop and lean into the microphone, drop his voice and, in an instant, it was as if he was only speaking to me, a simple and honest conversation about God’s good news for me.
And it wasn’t just his sermons. Our families are good friends so I know him well and rarely have I met someone who can—in the span of five minutes—be thoughtful, deep and kind and then interject the same moment with these outbursts of pure joy. The “Fear of Rudy”: that is certainly one of God’s names for me. What would your name be? Was there a grandparent or a parent who shaped God for you? Was it, like me, a pastor who gave you this gift? Could God be the “Fear of Layton” for you or the “Fear of Mom”?
Whoever it was, they gave you a great gift. They gave you an inheritance. And you may not have recognized it yet or seen it as special. But I pray that you will receive from God the second part of that gift which is the ability to see what your inheritance has really meant; to, like Jacob, see the way that God has been moving in your life, walking with you, guiding and protecting you, this whole time. When you receive this second gift you will recognize the meaning and power of your inheritance too. That it is worth way more than a set of dusty books. I received these books from Rudy but what I really inherited from him did not come in a box with a bow.
From him I received God Almighty.
In Genesis, Jacob will very soon become “Israel” and he will be the head of God’s chosen people. His life did not stop with the inheritance he received from Isaac but moved forward into the inheritance he left for the future he would never see. Our lives are no different. We have, by the fact that we are sitting here in worship today, each received an inheritance from someone. Someone has blessed us with that first gift by passing the knowledge and love of God on to us. I pray that you will also take hold of the second gift: the opportunity to see your life through a new lens, to know that God has been your strength and stay this whole time.
Which leads us to the third gift: the opportunity to pass that inheritance on. Because everyone receives God under someone’s influence and in someone’s shape. Who will know God as shaped like you? Who will you pass the love and knowledge of God on to? Who will you bless so that, when they think of the Lord, they cannot help but also think of you? That is the third gift: this one we get to give, not receive.
I urge you to give it. You may think that who you give it to does not want it or will never return to it again, like these books that were not what I had hoped for. But your inheritance is not like that. Not at all. The inheritance you have to give is God Almighty.
But even more particular than that, the gift you give is like the “Fear of Isaac”, a holy name for God that only one person in the world may ever say but, for them, it is how they will always know the Lord. Amen.