Cleaning Out the Sludge

November 5, 2000

Genesis 27

Gladys Thornapple is fixing lunch when in walks her son, Wilberforce, all decked out in his baseball outfit. Mom asks, “How did Little League go?”

Wilberforce growls, “Terrible, I struck out three times.”

Trying to console her son, Mom says, “That’s all part of the game, honey.”

Wilberforce exploded with exasperation, “Mom, it’s T-ball!”

Do you remember the final drive of the Tennessee Titans during the past Super Bowl? They were certain to score, but they were stopped within a few yards of the end zone and The St. Louis Rams won the game.

The cameras then began to seek out the visible expressions of shock and dismay on the Titans’ faces with alternating shots of the Rams’ exuberant faces. All the work, all the practice, all the grit and blood and guts, were consumed in a flame of pain a few yards short of the goal line.

Disappointment was the reward of the Titans’ while the Rams’ reward were the exuberant shouts of players, coaches, fans, families, and the accolades of the media.

All of us have experienced disappointment. It is a part of life. We, like poor Wilberforce, often come home and, with exasperation, or worse, in our voices, bitterly lament our misfortunes.

The devil, according to legend, once advertised his tools for sale at public auction. When prospective buyers assembled, there was one oddly shaped tool which was labeled, “not for sale.”

Asked to explain why this was, the devil answered, “I can spare my other tools, but I cannot spare this one. It is the most useful implement that I have. It is called Discouragment, and with it I can work my way into hearts otherwise inaccessible. When I get this tool into a man’s heart, the way is open to plant anything there I may desire.”

The third of five ways that Satan uses to try and keep us from becoming all that we can be as both a person and people of God is by using discouragement, and not joy, to trip us up. Closely behind discouragment is something even more discomforting – disappointment. And disappointment is about expectations.

In the Bible there is a story about great expectations being dashed and a family being shattered as a result.

It is the story of Jacob and Esau and Issac and Rebekah. There story is found in Genesis 27.

I am not going to read the entire chapter but will refer to it through my remarks this morning.

Usually the focus of this story is on Jacob and Easu. But, for us to understand the power of discouragement, of disappointment, of unrealized expectations, we have to include mom and dad.

Someone has said that the difference between courtship and marriage is the difference between the pictures in the seed catalog and what comes up. That’s true, isn’t it?

The expectations about marriage are some of the biggest expectations around. In fact, relationships probably have the greatest amount and intensity of expectations than anything thing else.

Take for example the nervous bride who was counseled by her pastor: “When you enter the church tomorrow, you will once again walk down the aisle that you’ve walked down so many times before. Concentrate on that. And when you get halfway down the aisle, concentrate on the altar, where you and your family have worshipped for so many years. Concentrate on that. And as you reach the end of the aisle, your groom will be waiting for you. Concentrate on him.

It worked to perfection, and on her wedding day the nervous bride boldly completed her processional. But people in the audience were a bit taken aback to her chanting, all the way down the aisle, what they understood as “I’ll – alter – him.”

In verse 35 of chapter 26 we read these words, “But Easu’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.”

They had such high hopes for Esau. They were hoping to see him marry a nice wife from their own people rather than one of those Hittite women.

But, he didn’t. He married two hittite women. And they made life miserable for the family. And the stage was set for trouble.

Time passes and one day Issac, sensing that the end of his life is coming closer and closer, realizes that he now must do what every good Israelite father does as he approaches the end of his life. He must pronounce the blessing on his firstborn son, Esau.

Firstborn sons were to carry on as the leaders of the family. The fathers passed on that place and position to them in the blessing, that was given to them.

But, in this family there was a problem. Mom, overheard the conversation and decided to make some changes to the tradition through deception. Jacob is disguised as Esau and unwillingly is a part of Rebekah’s plot to have the blessing given to him rather Esau.

What made Rebekah do that? Maybe it had something to do with the disappointment of a mother who had hoped that her son would have married better.

But, the disappointment did not stop there. It spread like a cancer through the family.

The deception works. Jacob receives the blessing that was rightfully reserved for Esau. Issac doesn’t know the difference and blesses his second and not his first born son.

Well, the quiet before the storm is shortlived and in verse 30 we read “As soon as Isaac had blessed Jacob, and almost before Jacob had left his father, Esau returned form his hunting trip.”

The deception is realized. Issac is shocked and Esau is first troubled and then livid as he exclaims, “No wonder his name is Jacob for he has deceived me twice, first taking my birthright and now stealing my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?”

Can you hear the pain, the hopelessness, the disappointment, the anguish, in his voice? “Don’t you have anything left for me dad?”

Then something else begins to set in Esau’s heart for sure – resentment. Resentment – one of the greatest acids of the soul. Along with disappointment and discouragment, resentment eats away at joy and hope and love. It is an acid of the soul that corrodes trust and hope in our souls and our relationships.

Then there is dad. We read that when Esau returned and spoke to the father that “Issac began to tremble uncontrollably.” He began to realize that he too, had been deceived. But, his health was failing him. He wasn’t as sharp as he used to be. His eyesight was failing, his hearing was going. His memory was getting faulty. Discouragement couched at the door to his spirit ready to attack.

Joy left this family. Conflict, that was already existing just below the surface, began to break out into the open.

Esau was angry with Jacob. Rebekah was disappointment with Esau and resented his wives. Issac was struggling with both ill health and anger at being decieved and Jacob was probably wondering where he stood with everybody.

This was not God’s will for this family. He did not want them to live in such chaos and turbulence. He wanted there to bejoy and hope and love.

God does not want us to live this way either. He does not want the church to exist this way. He does not want His followers to live joylessly, but joyfully.

How then do we overcome discouragment, disappointment, and resentment? How do we clean out the sludge in our souls that these things create and see our relationships with God and those in our families, schools, workplaces, and   churches become the right kinds of one?

We first of all have to examine our expectations because they drive our dreams, our goals, our hopes, and  . . . our relationships with God, other people, and ourselves. Our examination requires us to ask some very pointed and direct questions of ourselves so that we can begin to honestly face our disappointments, discouragements, disagreements, and resentments. Here are some suggested questions:

1. What do I expect from God?

An overweight man always stopped by the bakery on his way to work to pick-up goodies for the staff coffee break. This practice was scrapped when the man went on a diet, and the staff understood. One day he had to drive by the bakery on a work-related manner.

As he approached the old bakery, he said to himself, “Maybe God wants me to stop by the bakery this morning and pick up some goodies for the office.”

So he told the Lord he would only stop if God made a parking spot available right in front of the bakery. And, sure enough, there it was, a parking spot, right in front of the bakery – on his eighth trip around the block.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But there are a lot of people who think and act this way and then expect God to come through and when they don’t discouragement and disappointment set in. What do you expect from God?

2. What do you expect from the church?

Now, at this point, I could start sharing a humorous story or two about church life and we would probably laugh. But, I would also bet that they would perhaps leave a bad taste in our mouths.

In fact, I did look through my illustrations and found a lot of stories about church life and committment that were funny. But, they left me experiencing a certain shallowness about the church that leads to cynicism.

Then I came across this poem by David Foley,

I love to step inside a church,

To rest, and think, and pray;

The quiet, calm, and holy place

Can drive all cares away.

I feel that from these simple walls

There breathes a moving sound

Of sacred music, murmured prayers,

Caught in the endless round.

Of all that makes our human life;

Birth, and the union blessed

Of couples at the altar wed,

And loved ones laid to rest.

Into my soul this harmony

Has poured and now is still,

The Lord’s own benediction falls

Upon me as I kneel.

Once more, with lifted head, I go

Out in this jarring mart,

The spring of gladness in my step,

God’s peace about my heart.

I love the church! It is a not an institution. It is a family. It is a group of people with all of their flaws and beauty.

And when I have taken stock of my actions and my attitudes that have led me to either be hurt by or to hurt the church, I have come to realize that I have often had unrealistic expectations that have gone unfulfilled. And the result has been not joy, but discouragement, disappointment, and resentment.

What do you expect from the church?

3. What do you expect from people?

Someone has written that there are four kinds of bones in the world.

The WISH BONES who spend their time wishing someone else would do the work;

The JAW BONES who do all the talking, but very little else;

The KNUCKLE BONES who knock everything that anyone else is trying to do;

The BACK BONES who under the load and do the work;

What do you expect from people? We expect a lot. We live in a time and place where the demands for quality are high but, to some, committment to making that quality is low.

We expect a great deal out of store clerks, doctors, cashiers, politicans, teachers, preachers, and parents. And when they don’t deliver, we get angry, resentful, discouraged, frustratred, disappointed.

Management it seems doesn’t understand what is going out on the floor and labor doesn’t understand what is going on in the marketplace.

And disappointment, discouragement, and resentment abounds everywhere.

And Satan dances with glee. He likes to set us up for a great disappointment by getting us to have high expectations so that when they are not fulfilled, we go crashing to the bottom and lay there lifeless and joyless.

Eventually Jacob and Esau are reconciled to one another. But, it takes a long time for that to happen. Jacob has to deal with his deceptive ways and wrestle with God and his conscience before he is able to. But, God brings good out of the bad. And he can for us in the midst of our disappointments.

This has been a hard sermon to prepare for and preach. I like to provide you with sermons that are helpful and hopeful.

And yet, if we are wanting to be all that God wants us to be we have to address the sludge in our souls that keep us from walking with God day in and day out. And one of the things that we have to address is our disappointments and the accompanying resentments.

I wish that I could say that this will be easy. But, it often isn’t becuase we have to examine our hearts and lives and revisit situations that we would rather forget. We may have to talk with someone that we find it hard to talk with and clear the air by asking for or granting forgiveness.

But, we don’t have to do that alone. The Lord wants to help us. He wants us to be free from our disappointments and resentments. He wants us to be at peace with one another, with ourselves, and with Himself.

This morning, I invite you to take a risk and step out in faith and begin the process of cleaning the sludge out of your souls by seeking God’s help and touch. He wants you to be joyful and be all that you can be in Him. Amen.

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