This Week's Words: The Rev. Henry G. Brinton

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By This Week's Words
Saturday, November 29, 2008

This the latest installment in our occasional series featuring the sermons of Washington area clergy. This week's is from the Rev. Henry G. Brinton, senior pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church.

The football season is upon us, and the Washington Redskins are in action. What will they do if they find themselves in a fourth-and-one situation?

Well, if history is any indication, they'll punt.

Last fall, the Redskins were playing the New York Jets. With just over five minutes to play, they were on their own 23-yard line facing a fourth-and-one situation. The Redskins, ahead by just three points, chose to do what teams normally do in such a situation: They played it safe and punted, instead of trying to go for the first down.

The Jets stormed back and kicked a field goal, tying the game and sending it into overtime. It took another field goal, a 46-yarder, to enable Washington to emerge with a victory.

Unfortunately, football teams tend to play it safe, even when this hurts their chances for a win. And so do many of us. We may say we have a goal and are willing to do everything we can to achieve it, but then our behavior departs from the best path to achieve that goal.

Instead of going for it, we punt.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious divine being next to the Jabbok River. It's a fourth-and-one situation for Jacob, but he doesn't punt. No, he wrestles until daybreak, and he receives a blessing.

So how did Jacob get into this game? This story is part of the larger tale of his preparations to meet his brother, Esau, from whom he has been estranged for many years. Jacob was a sneaky character who, with the help of his mother, swindled his older brother Esau out of his birthright -- out of the special blessing given to the firstborn son. Jacob fled from his family in Canaan and went on to live and prosper for many years in the service of Laban, his uncle, in northern Mesopotamia. There he acquired wealth and two wives, Leah and Rachel, as well as a number of children.

But Jacob's relations with Laban soured when he prospered at his uncle's expense. He returns to Canaan, and while he is on the way home he learns that his brother Esau is advancing toward him with a large force of men -- as imposing as a group of Super Bowl champions. Fearing the worst, Jacob divides his large family, hoping that if part is destroyed by Esau's front line, the other part might survive.

Can you say, "dysfunctional family"? We think we have problems today -- and we do. But it's nothing new.


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