Presented July 30, 2017 at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Sacramento CA

The story of Jacob's betrayal by Laban regarding Jacob's marriage to the lovely Rachel

The New Testament reading is Matthew 13:31-33 and 13:44-52, wherein Jesus gives examples of the Kingdom of Heaven


We are all familiar with the story of the California Gold Rush, which began on our backdoor about 40 miles from here. James Marshall's discovery led to one of the largest voluntary migrations in human history - 300,000 people coming to California and its environs - most of whom can still be found on Highway 80 during the commute hour.

But not everyone came straight across. Some folks stopped at the Sierra Nevada mountains during winter and chose to stay in Nevada until the snow melted - one such place being what is now Virginia City.

To while away the time, they chose to pan for gold on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and they were very successful, sometimes pulling more than  $1000 a day out of the earth. The only problem they encountered was the strange blue dirt that clogged all their other mining equipment terribly. They cursed the stuff and for weeks they were throwing it anywhere to get it out of the way.

The exasperated prospectors had already dug up tons and tons of the blue stuff and were dumping it in huge waste piles all over the area they were  mining. It was nothing but a nuisance.

On a whim, someone had the ore “assayed,” or analyzed, to see what was in it and if it was worth anything.

The assayer estimated that an average ton of the ore would yield about $1000 worth of gold. This was not a surprise, as the miners knew there was plenty of gold in the ore. But what really stunned everybody—including the assayer, who was so incredulous that he tested the ore a second time—was that each ton would also yield nearly $3,000 worth of silver.

The dirt that was getting in the way of the miner's success - that was laying around in what amounted to garbage piles - was actually “an almost solid mass of silver.”

While the miners were looking for gold - and finding themselves successful in obtaining it - they were ignoring what would later yield the equivalent of billions of dollars in silver.

You can't always get what you want.

Jump ahead a few years to that same area, where a fella from Hannibal, Missouri traveled to Nevada to find his fortune in gold and silver. Fortunately, he was a remarkable failure as a miner and took to writing for the local paper. He seemed to have a knack for the written word and would later go on to pen "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and a few other notable stories. 

Mark Twain - and the world - are richer for his failure as a miner.

You can't always get what you want.

Let's look at the Old Testament reading shared with us by Kathryn.

We first learn about Jacob in Genesis as the twin brother of Esau, hanging on to Esau's heel as Esau was being born first. Being the first-born, Esau had the birthright, a very important and sacred thing, including the family name and titles and a chief portion of the inheritance. Additionally, in the special case of Esau and Jacob, they were the children of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham to whom God made the covenant that the Messiah would pass down Abraham's line - the Messiah we know as Jesus the Christ. We sometimes forget, the Bible is one long, wonderful story, not a bunch of unconnected events in a book.

Esau, however, did not appreciate his birthright and sold it to Jacob for a dish of stew. Jacob's trickery would come back to haunt him.

Jacob worked for seven years for the beautiful Rachel. All we know about Leah is that she had "weak eyes," the specific translation of which varies greatly. We have no reason to believe Leah wasn't a lovely person, honest, delightful company, a great cook.  But apparently not good enough for Jacob, who toiled for seven years so he could wed the lovely Rachel. But when the big night came, under what we can only assume to be a cover of darkness and a veil, Laban slipped in Leah instead of Rachel. I can only imagine there wasn't a lot of conversation prior to the "you know what," for how else can you explain Jacob's ignorance in taking Leah as Rachel? Nonetheless, he did, the deed was done and…

You can't always get what you want.

To further explain this passage, a wedding usually took a full week, which is why Laban implored Jacob to "Finish this daughter’s bridal week," after which the soon to polygamous Jacob could marry Rachel, in exchange for the promise of another seven years of labor for Laban.

Two brides in two weeks.

You can't always get… well, you know what I mean.

Our local and biblical history of filled with examples of how our plans and God's plans don't always coincide, as much to our betterment as not. But what about our ultimate plan - what is our Kingdom of Heaven?  Is it a place large enough for "birds to come and perch in its branches?" - a translation that might say, "Heaven is big enough for all of us, no matter how different?" Is it a field laden with treasures?  Is it a place where we are separated, the wicked from the righteous, with the wicked suffering the ever popular "gnashing of teeth?"

Our afterlife is unknowable and we have only the Bible's faith-based words to give us comfort. So, we do our best and hope for the same. But what about a "heaven on earth' - a goal we should all strive for every day?

Are we looking for that treasure in the field, only to ignore the riches that surround us - the friendship of a loved one, the song of a bird, the warmth of the sun? Let's not take Jesus' parable too literally, for while we are digging for gold, we may be shoveling piles of silver into the waste.

The same is true of that pearl we read about. Don't give up the things, people, and events we love in exchange for what might be considered "the big prize."

In accepting Christ as our Messiah, we believe a place at the table is set for us and though the body will die, our spirit will live. It is a concept easily derided as fantasy but our faith makes it real.

But what are we doing to live the life that Christ wants us to live? How will we know what is the right thing to do? Another one of our lectionary readings today is from 1 Kings, wherein the Lord appears to Solomon and says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon replied, "Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong." To put it cinematically, "he chose wisely" and continued to do so throughout his reign.

How so can we, then, "choose wisely?" To put it another way, what does the Lord require of me?  Micah tells us "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

We could do a sermon on each one of those by itself. Jesus also taught us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, be welcoming to strangers, clothe the naked, and look after the sick or imprisoned.  Of course, there are the Ten Commandments, the foundation of our rules. Leviticus, if you really want to go crazy. But let's make it easy.

Our Kingdom of Heaven - either after we are gone or here on earth today - is attainable through two simple rules; rules that Christ gave us 2000 years ago which are just as relevant today. Reading from Matthew, when Jesus is  asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?",  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus continues, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Whatever we plan, however we act, we must do so with those two rules in mind and in doing so, our plans and God's plans will coincide.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to "let your light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father, who is in heaven."

Put another way, our friend from Hannibal wrote "Let us live so that when we die, even the undertaker is sorry."  Because while the gold has played out and the Comstock Mine is closed, the treasures of Christ - of a life rich in blessings and the promise of a heavenly eternity - live on, for 2000 years since and after we have been here ten thousand years…

You can't always get what you want

You can't always get what you want

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.