Wrestling with Generosity

I loved this box. I imagined for two whole days that one day this box would come to my doorstep. I love a good cardboard box. Sharp corners, clean, smooth outside, no dents from shipping. Some of them have flip lid top where the edges insert into the pockets.

Christmas time boxes are always so exciting – and some folks are really talented at wrapping them. Bows. Ribbons. Tout paper. I don’t have any of those boxes anymore.

I remember when I was 14 purchasing a $250 box from this company called apple. I had saved up for a while for this box. Have any of you heard of them? It was a box about 7 inches tall by 4 inches wide. I kept the box for about 5 years. It was sleek and white. I recently read that people have closets full of boxes from this apple company – and people keep them. I thought I was strange but it seems that I am not the only one. Anyone else have boxes from Apple in a closet somewhere? Some of us get a new box from apple every year – no judgment. While I don’t have any more apple boxes in my closet, because I only have something called android boxes, and Chaska makes fun of me for keeping some of these boxes.

With this box, I waited and waited for two whole days. A blue van pulled up to my house and rang the doorbell, but the person left before I got to the door. Few – I wouldn’t have to interact with a stranger. And there sitting on the porch was this box. I was so excited to see this box. I couldn’t wait to open it. I shocked it back and forth a couple of times. Thud Thud.

Kind of like this box. Shake it around. This box is thrilling! The nearly endless possibilities.

I opened up this box, and like any box you dumped out its contents onto the table, and suddenly I was much less interested in this box. This box had one of those strips you rip off which makes it impossible to close. Like a permanent wound that doesn’t heal. There is no mystery left in this box – it is empty. It’s disappointing.

Kind of like that sick feeling you get in your stomach on the afternoon of Christmas, after the long weeks of looking at all of the boxes, and opening them.

Unlike this box. I am sure this is making some folks squirm sitting in their seats with anticipation. I would be.

There are very few things that get in the way of this purchase process that we are all familiar with. I don’t need to drive to a store. I don’t need to interact with another human. I don’t need to get up off the couch. It is literally one click away.

Why do I keep buying? Why do we, in the United States keep buying, and buying and buying? Consuming consuming consuming. With no end.

I imagine in my mind a giant bottomless box. A giant void. A black hole that I sit on the edge of, and keep dumping stuff into. Food. Clothing. A house. Books. Toys.

Maybe this will fill up the box? Maybe this will? Maybe this will? The stuff starts piling into the box but it never seems capable of filling up to the edge. So I repeat, and repeat and repeat.

Will I ever have enough

There is something deeply spiritual about this process. How do we resist the social call to consume? Resist the Advertisements – the constant advertisements. The one click purchasing. How do we resist having everything you could ever dream of dropped at your door in two days. How do we tend to the feeling of emptiness that comes from not being fulfilled by the non-stop consuming – Like that six feeling on the afternoon of Christmas, when you realize that these gifts did not make you whole.

Today through the story of Jacob and Esau, we are going to continue the summer theme of Jubilee – and explore our human propensity to consume and accumulate, as well as the struggle to be generous with what we have accumulated.

Back to Jacob

The story of Jacob and Esaul can be looked at through this same lens of accumulation and consumption. Today, we did not read the part of the story, where Jacob willingly tricked his dad into giving him his brother’s first born inheritance. Whatever Jacob was going to be given as the second born was not enough for him. He needed more. More More More. This same spiritual crisis that we Americans still have today. Will more make us whole.

When I was in highschool, personal cash was hard for me to come by. I didn’t work during the school year, and I was trying to avoid pulling from my savings, and I wanted some cash to get a different pedal for my guitar. If you don’t know what a guitar pedal is, its a button that you stick on the floor that you step on if you want a different sound out of your electric guitar. A few years earlier I had purchased one for $80, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. I wanted a nicer one.

I had a friend at school who was looking for a guitar pedal, so I offered to sell it to him. (low whisper) For $120 – enough for me to get the upgraded pedal. He said yes. He trusted me to give him a fair price, and I upped the price to get my upgraded pedal.

Now I could logic myself the whole way around this so I don’t feel bad.. We could say that this is all fair in the games of capitalism. I said the price, and he agreed to it. He could have looked it up – ebay was alive and well in 2007. He could have bartered.

But regardless, my drive to accumulate pushed me to trick a friend so that I could make a quick laborless $40 extra bucks. Make a little profit..

And It wasn’t like I needed it. My needs were met. I had food, shelter, water. I had a pedal that worked just fine. But that new pedal. That would make me complete…right? Just like all the items that come in the mail. Well then why is it collecting dust 15 years later in a drawer? All of that trickery and manipulation of a friendship – for a dust collecting pedal in my drawer. (show pedal in the box that had something in it)

I am trying to be transparent with you, because this is the system that we have. One that is looking to take and profit at any moment, and holds the logic is that if I don’t take advantage and try to make a profit, some one else will.

And I know for myself that I am a person that is scared of being taken advantage of. Used car shopping is terrifying because you do not want a lemon, you do not want to overpay. And if you are like me, and know next to nothing about cars, it would not be hard for me to overpay for a lemon. And yet here I was, trying to get a few extra bucks off of a friend who didn’t do his research..

Tie together will to take advantage of others to make a profit, with the never ending deep, spiritual desire to accumulate in attempt to make oneself feel whole, and we have a recipe for a world that is hostile and consumed. Does that feel familiar?


Now back to Jacob. Decades after jacob tricked his dad into giving him Esaul’s inheritance, Jacob was going to have to face Esual, and he was terrified. Esaul knew that Jacob took advantage of him, tricked his dad, so that he could accumulate more and more.

Jacob hears that Esaul is coming with 400 men. Surely he is coming to seek revenge for the selfish act that Jacob had committed year ago. Because of this, Jacob separates out is assets. He divides up his flocks and his people so that they will not all be present when he approaches Esaul. He diversifies his portfolio so all of his assets are not in an aggressive one. Jacob was scared that Esaul will kill them all as revenge for what he did to him.

Jacob tells his servants to go out ahead of him and to give Esau a present. Maybe, just maybe in giving Esaul a gift, Esaul will forgive him. Maybe Jacob thought that since accumulating was so important for himself, that Esau might also appreciate getting a gift.

He tells his servant to go out ahead and give Esaul two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. That’s a lot.

That night Jacob sends his family, and everything he had across the stream.

He is left – completely by himself. In the dark.

The bible doesn’t say why he stayed back on the other side of the stream. I wonder if Jacob needed some alone time. He had an important next day. He was going to meet with his brother whom he duped out of his inheritance.

I don’t know about any of you, but when I have a important next day, I tend to lose sleep.

High amounts of anxiety, means low amounts of sleep and I have never had a “next day” where I wondered if my brother was going to kill me.

And the passage says that night that Jacob wrestles with a man. It does not say who this man is. In different Hebrew Bible stories, God and angels can appear in human form. Oftentimes this passage is interpreted as Jacob wrestling with God.

Perhaps Jacob is experiencing what St John of the Cross, a Millenia later, would call a “Dark night of the soul.” A crisis of faith. An extremely painful time in life. A moment of Darkness,, wrestling with God.

Jacob, wrestling with God, maybe asking – God why has this happened to me?

Like Jonah – God, why are you asking me to go to Nineveh.

Or like 90 year old Sarah laughing when she is told she is pregnant.

Wrestling with God is not fun. You can get burned. Your hip can be displaced. This type of wrestling is where change happens. In this kind of wrestling, who you are on the other side of it is not the same.

Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God, you are more open to the experiences of others.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God, you say no, or yes, to your addiction.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God, you come to terms with your mortality.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God you are ready to confront your boss, your mother-in-law, your neighbor, who has been mistreating you.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God your are ready to tell someone you love them.

Or perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God you now know that you are enough.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God you no longer believe in God.

Or Perhaps on the other side of wrestling with God, you are willing to gift your brother a third of your assets in order to seek forgiveness. A shift from accumulation and consumption, to generosity.

What if Jacob is wrestling with God’s call for humans to be generous. If I were considering giving away a large portion of what I have, I would be wrestling with God too.

Do you know that feeling?

Should I follow God’s call to generosity to those around me, or not?

The Dark night of the soul – the crisis of faith, changes us. God works in the darkness. It is this type of transformation that is needed to go from tight fists. Greed. Accumulation and consumption, to sharing, giving, and living generously with those around you.

Its the type of transformation reminds us that we will not become whole through consuming and accumulating.

That item in your cardboard box, whatever that is, will not satisfy you. It will not cure that itch.

That new book.

That new piece of tech

That sandwich or donut.

That $150,000 car.

That new house.

will not complete you.

I say $150,000 car because yesterday I was at fault in a car accident with a $150,000 Porsche. I know the value because of course that was the first thing he yelled at me when I approached him.

Also Lesson learned, do not pass someone on their right side on a two lane road when they are stopped and signaling that they are turning left. It’s your fault if they end up turning right and run into your car.

If all of those things – cars, books, technology, donuts did satisfy us, then why do we keep on consuming? Our economic system does not want us to see this. But to set ourselves free from the power of consumption we need to start wrestling with our desires and recognize that no amount of accumulation or consumption will ever satisfy us.

My getting $40 extra bucks, or a new guitar pedal was not going to satisfy me. I wish I had done a bit more wrestling with God before making that decision, because if anything, me trying to cheat my friend made my relationship with that friend more distant. Personal accumulation can make us more distant from community. From others.

Generosity creates connection. It creates community. In my story of the guitar pedal, my actions are even antagonistic towards connection. It was all about me. God’s calls us to generosity throughout the biblical text, not simply because it’s good to generously give things to others, but because it brings people together.

This past fall Chaska and I found on Facebook Marketplace a cheap piano that we were excited about. I love playing around on a piano, but I strongly dislike moving pianos. And so the big task wasn’t coming up with the funds to by this cheap piano, it was trying to figure out how to get it to our house. Because of my strong dislike of moving pianos, I really didn’t want to ask folks to help me move it, but I did – because it was going to fill that void, right? Isaac and Levi Schumacher, and Kevin King, generously helped me move the piano. I had rented a uhaul to get it to our place – and Kevin said, “why did you get a uhaul, there are a bunch of us around here that have trucks could have helped.” I was feeling sheepish and I did not want to ask much of others. Kevin, Levi, and Isaac were all very generous with their time and resources. What is beautiful about his kind of generosity, is how it brings us together.

I would like to read from Genesis how this story between Jacob and Esau ends. This is right after Jacob wrestles with God.

Verse 33. Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” Jacob said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

Accumulation and consumption got in the way of this brother’s relationship. Jacob gain the capacity to be generous and they were brought back together into community. But I don’t want to give Jacob that much credit. Perhaps what is most impressive about this story is whatever inward work or “Dark night of the soul” that Esau went through to have the capacity to forgive his brother and refuse his gift. That is some wrestling with God.

May we wrestle with God in our individualized consumption and accumulation. May we grow in awareness in how it doesn’t things do not fill us up, and may God continue to bless us as we find ways as a community to live generously with each other.