February 05, 2023
• Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
Did anybody watch the IU and Purdue game yesterday? It’s ok if you didn’t because I didn’t either! I am a Michigan State or Michigan fan so I wasn’t that interested. However, I did watch people who watched the game. One of my kids had an indoor soccer game yesterday and when I first walked in there was a sea of people huddled around the TVs. I didn’t even know who was playing, but I knew it was important. They were glued to the screen. In fact, there was more people watching the game on the TV than the game being played on the soccer field. There was a sea of people in black and gold. And a sea of people in red and white.
From where I was sitting in the stance, I couldn’t see the game, I could just see the reactions of the people watching it. Something would happen and the people in black and gold would scream and clap. Then the people in red and white would scream and clap. (Let me remind again that youth soccer games were happening at the same time!). It was getting really tense. I could sense something was off because the people in black and gold started getting a little quiet. They looked worried. Their cheers turned to nervous banter as if their team was losing. The people in red and white started cheering louder. And then at one point the black and golds threw their hands up. Let out loud sighs of exasperation and started walking away from screen.
In that one moment, I saw so much. I saw a consistent sign of human behavior, even from myself. We love watching conflict, we just don’t like it when we are the ones involved it. Its easy to be a spectator when two sides are going to head to head, but its isn’t that fun when we are the ones involved.
Over these next few weeks, we are doing a three-part series on relationships. Heres Why....Relationships determine so much of who we are, who we become, what we achieve, what God is able to do through us, how we experience faith, how we grow in faith. How we live out our faith has so much to do with how we relate to people. God moves in our lives through people. God speaks through people. God blesses through people. Much of what God will do your life will involve relationships. And yet, one of the things we do so poorly at is what? Relationships. Why... Because most relationships, even healthy ones are like a really game of TUG OF WAR. Tug of war describes the natural and evidential pull of opposing forces that exist when people or groups of people are in relationship. It’s the constant pulling of gives and takes.(slide)
In every single relationship, you will find there is a tug of war happening. Their expectations are pulling against your expectations. Your generational values are pulling against their values. Your needs against theirs. Your dreams pulling against theirs. Your ways of communicating against theirs. The way you were raised against theirs. Most arguments with kids its just tug of war. A child’s pull for independence and the parents pull for protection. One coworkers definition of success against somebody else’s. The employees need for balance and the jobs need for production. And the more we pull the greater the tension.
(example). One of the first arguments I remember as a newly wed was over chores. Who did what and when. I noticed every few days, I was washing dishes and it seemed like I was the only one that got the memo. So I wanted to test something. I started to only washing the dishes that I use to send a message, but they kept pilling. And the tension kept pulling. We grew up with two kinds of dish washers. She grew up with the kind where you put the dishes into the appliance and start. My dishwasher wore these rubber yellow gloves and had a first and last name.
And for most people the goal is to pull as hard as we can do that the other person tastes the fear of defeat and comes on our side. How you handle tension that results from the constant pull determines the health and stability of any relationship.(slide). How we navigate the constant pulls in varied directions determines whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy. It determines whether the relationship brings you joy or stress. Many people have severed relationships, because over time they just get tired of pulling. There was only so much tension that the relationship could take. It’s a skill that we must master, because how we live out our faith is largely determined by what we experience in our every relationships.
We see that right in our text. Let me give you a spoiler alert. In the next chapter Esau and Jacob make up and embrace. They patch things up after 20 years. And we often talk about the power of redemption and their ability to reconcile and forgive, but how does get there?
But at the moment they don’t know it’s going to turn out like this. Here’s why I’m telling you this. Because before they get to a place of healing….Before they get to a place of reconciliation. Before they can bury the hatchet , they have to have a really uncomfortable tense moment. We learn right from the start that Healthy relationships are often the result of healthy tension (slide). There is no route to improving your relationships that is totally devoid of tension.
Jacob and Esau have not spoken in 20 years. The last time they saw each other, they didn’t end on good terms. Jacob stole Esau's birthright and blessing as the first born and Esau was furious. It gets so bad that their mother sends Jacob away to live with his uncle in fear that Esau will kill Jacob.
And after 20 years, Jacob is preparing to meet Esau and he hears that Esau is on his way with 400 men. He gets so nervous that he divides the camp so that Esau can’t take everybody out at once. He’s nervous. Hes scared. Hes getting ready for the worst possible scenario. Esau does not give him any indication of how he will respond. But what is Jacob to expect when he hears that the brother he stole from is going to meet him after 20 years, is coming with 400 men.
The natural response for most of us is to do what???? Most of us are trained to avoid these kinds of conflict. We tend to ignore those situations that could get Messy. But here’s the challenge. We avoid the very things that our relationships need. Because healthy doesn’t happen by accident. (slide). Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
But the one thing that Jacob does not do is run and hide. He does not avoid it. He does not head in the opposite direction. That may not mean anything to you, but Jacob has always found a way around dealing with difficult situations. He has always run in the opposite direction when the tension got really bad. It was who he was. Maybe after 20 years things have just gotten better on its on. After all time heals all wounds right?
My daughter has been was wearing a boot on her injured foot for the past 6 weeks. She broke her foot in three places running upstairs from her big brother. The doctor wanted her to wear the boot because he wanted her to stay off of the injured foot. He didn’t want the injured to bend. He didn’t want it to hold a lot of weight. He said with these kind of injuries, it’s best use to give them rest. So, all thought the day she had to wear it, so her foot could heal. Didn’t need surgery. Didn’t need any medicine. She just needed to leave to it alone. Sure enough, after about 6 weeks, we went to the doctor and gave permission to increase her activity because her foot had healed.
Here’s my worry. There some are some injuries that go away with time and others only get healed because we work at it. Part of the work is being willing to face unaddressed tension. We put our problems in these protective boots and hope they just heal on its own. What if I just pray about it? What if we pretend like it doesn’t exist? What if we just get used to pain and dysfuction
Important relations are not ruined by hard, helpful conversations. By temporarily avoiding the tension, I’m only prolonging the possibilities of reconciliation and healing. By avoiding the encounter, I’m also avoiding the potential of the good that can ultimately come from confronting what’s hard. The need for connection has to be greater than your fear of conflict. The importance of the relationship has to be greater than your fear of tension. For so many people the thing standing in your way is the willingness to dive into the tension. How these brothers handle the tension will determine the stability of their relationship and so much more.
Point 2. (You cant grow healthy relationships from broken places or broken people)
Heres who I know! For years I glossed over why they are even having this encounter. That is until you hear Jacobs plea and prayer to God. But within the plea, you hear God’s intentions. Listen closely, “‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good” (Some translations say, I will make you prosper.)
So, lets put this into context Jacob has been asked to return to the very place he left because he’s led there by God. God had a plan for Jacob’s life that included going back his home country. His nation would never prosper if the relationship with his brother is not addressed. Their fractured relationship could impact everything. Its really hard to grow and develop something vibrant and healthy in a place that’s already broken. It’s hard to grow healthy relationships from broken places and broken people.
In some ways, it’s the challenge of what our nation goes through every few months. Its our feable attempt to try to build healthy relationships or healthy connections from really broken places. The hope is that maybe the problem will either go away on its own. If we don’t talk about it. IF we don’t address it, then maybe it will heal on its own. And then we get a situation like we did in Memphis. What happened to Tyre Nicoles and so many other black men and women that are killed unnecessarily is not something that heals by being left alone. Time doesn’t heal it.
And what’s the first thing that many people do when we hear of instances like this. Lets wait for the facts to come out. What was the person’s background? Did they run? Why were they running? Were they under the influence? Why were they in that part of town? Why didn’t they just comply? Why were they resisting arrest? But here’s we must understand. For many who witness the atrocities, they are repeated signs of the brokenness in our country. The unjustifiable deaths of black and brown is nothing new. It’s a part of the history of people black people in America. Lynchings are a real part of our nation’s history. Emitt Till, a young teenage boy was brutally murdered in 1955. That’s just one generation ago. The beating of Rodney King in 1991. Here’s where I might diverge with some. Because historically, the standard of whether or not Black people deserve to die has been so low. You have to a robust resume, clean driving record, clean shaving, great job with two kids and never have bad days for the value of your life to be somewhat unjustifiable. And it many ways, we keep trying to come to a place of harmony without having really hard conversations. But the unaddressed conflict continues to hinder our nation from moving forward.
Jacob cant have a nation that thrives when hes already start from a place of feuding and pulling. And its hard to grow or develop something healthy from an unhealthy place. (Slide)
So watch what happens. Jacob prays that Esau doesn’t kill him. The reason why he prays that is because he knows what Esau is capable of doing. He knows what Esau said to him the last time they were together. So he prays this prayer and watch what happens. Listen to his prayer again, “Save me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with children.”
The night before Jacob meets his brother that he hasn’t spoken to in 20 years, the one coming with 400 men, the who promised to kill him the next time he saw him, Jacob has this famous encounter with a stranger. Some say he wrestled with God. Some say he wrestled with an angel. But after he’s done, his name is changed and Jacob will never be the same after that encounter.
God does not come to Jacob and remind him of how Esau has changed. God does not say, “I have worked this situation out and Esau is a completely different person. By the time Jacob shows up to meet Esau, he’s a different person.
Jacob had no control over what happened to Esau. He could not determine how Esau showed up. He could not control his anger. He could not control how he’s dealt with his own pain for the last 20 years. He had no control over how Esau would show up the next morning. It’s a hard reminder that You can’t control how other people respond or pull. You can only control how healthy you show up. (slide). God works on him before he works on them.
Esau doesn’t know how Jacob is going to respond! Jacob was a lier and and a deceiver! This moment has the potential to be so messy because neither party knows how the other one is going to respond. But the only thing they could control was how healthy they were willing to show up.
What difficult and/or tough conversations could God be leading you to have in this season. (slide)
Closing Prayer. God this relationship is important to me. There is some unresolved conflict that still lingers. Time has not healed it. I’m afraid of what they will say. I’m afraid that this might cause more harm than good. But we care more about them than I do my own fears. We risk being rejected. We risk being uncomfortable. So first give me the courage to wrestle with myself. Change me before you change us. My relationship with you leaks into all of my other relationships. We invite you into so many spaces, so today we intentionally invite you into our relationships. Help us to do and even heal what we can no do by ourselves. You have did it before, so I know you will do it again.