Sermon Text: Genesis 29: 15-28
One of the things I’ve been missing most, especially during our in-person worship, is all the singing. You know, church is one of the few remaining places where we sing in public. It was here, in these walls, along with a healthy dose of belting out tunes with the radio, that I developed a love for singing. I never dreamed that this love would take me as far as it did.
The Thiel College Choir was one of the things that really sold me on Thiel College. One of the Choir’s best sales pitches was Choir Tour—trips it would take every Spring Break around the country. Choir Tour was the big ticket item that we prepared for all year long. Sure, we learned the music, but then we had to pick out roommates, design and order the official Choir Tour T-Shirt, and research things to do in whatever city we had our free days, like Charlestown, Savannah, and New York City. Nearly two weeks of concerts, practices, antics, and touring the country on a Chartered Bus. Doesn’t that just sound fabulous?
Of course, the absolute selling point about the Thiel College Choir was the international Choir Tour that took place every four years. That Choir Tour was the stuff of dreams. It’s why several people stuck it out in choir for years. It was the opportunity to travel internationally for cheap, to see many famous cities and sights, and to have the unforgettable experience of singing in historic venues. The year I graduated we toured Austria and Italy and it really was the outstanding experience we all dreamed of and planned for.
When you have a highly anticipated goal within your grasp it can make the troubles of the world melt away. It can be transformative. Just imagine the plans that Jacob drew up as he worked those seven years to marry the love of his life, Rachel. Rachel and Jacob met as he came to the end of his journey north, to Haran, and it was love at first sight. Then Jacob worked in his Uncle Laban’s fields for seven years as a dowry. That 2,556 days to pay for his bride, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Imagine the two love birds over the course of those years. The glances Jacob would steal. The future plans he was making of homes and children. The love notes he would pass along to her through her sister Leah. So often marriage in the ancient world was based on business and strengthening family prospects and security. But this marriage, this was built on love and passion and dreams.
Seven years come and go and on the day of the wedding we find that Uncle Laban and Jacob are cut from the very same cloth. Laban pulls a switcheroo and somehow Jacob makes it through the ceremony, the feast, and the wedding night without noticing the ruse. And then, the big reveal (you have to love this line): “When morning came, behold, it was Leah!”
You have to feel bad for everyone in this situation. Jacob didn’t ask for this. Rachel would have been crushed. And Leah doesn’t appear to have any say in the matter. Laban’s explanation is simply: Listen partner. That’s now how we do things round these parts. Round here we marry the eldest off first and then the youngest.
Oof. I mean, what could go wrong? Sisters married to the same man…and that man has a clear and known preference? Who knows, maybe Leah had a preference for the Esau types of the world, strong and masculine. But now she’s married to Jacob, and all she gets with him is a weeklong honeymoon before Jacob is allowed to marry her sister Rachel. All of this so Laban can get 14 years of indentured servitude—what a despicable man.
We are told that Rachel is graceful and beautiful. You get the idea that Jacob is writing poetry about her, making charcoal sketches of her by the campfire, and dreaming of her every night. But Leah, all we hear is that she has…um…well, she has lovely eyes. Or maybe weak eyes. The Hebrew word is uncertain and the translators have to make a choice. But that in and of itself speaks volumes. Now she is in for a lifetime of misery. Thanks Dad.
I can scarcely imagine what life must have been like in this love triangle, especially when you consider the seven years of hopes and plans and visions that Rachel and Jacob made compared to the unknown level of chemistry that existed between Leah and Jacob. Jacob probably put Rachel on a pedestal and he probably thought Leah was a project of suffering and turmoil.
Alright, so where exactly is our entry point in this story today? For starters, I will not be lifting up the Biblical model of polygamous marriage that we see here today. There’s no way that ends well, and it’s illegal. In fact, we’re not going touch marriage with a ten foot pole. Instead, we’ll explore the notion that there are two sides of life—the Leah and the Rachel.
The Rachel side of life is the part we yearn for. It’s what we dream about and put on our bucket list. It’s what makes us excited. It’s the pictures we actually dare to print and frame and hang on our walls. The Rachel side of life is the stuff of fantasies and discretionary spending. These are the capstones, the choir tours to famous church of Austria and Italy. Singing in the Pantheon of Rome or the Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart used to play to organ. That’s Rachel. We spend 90% of our time thinking about her, but probably experience her 10% of the time.
And then…there’s Leah. The other 90% of our lived experience, but we never think about her. The mundane. The overlooked. The things in life we do out of compulsion and necessity. The things that never excite us and the best we can say is that she has nice eyes. Doing the dishes, ironing, paying the taxes, practicing a skill, studying, working, dieting, changing the oil, and all of the other daily things that are usually as exciting as professional golf commentary. Leah…
One of the things they gloss over when you are taking the tour at Thiel is that the Choir practices Monday through Thursday for at least an hour a day. That’s nearly every school day between the hours of 4 and 5 PM. Add another two hours a week if you are in the Chamber Choir. I love singing, but sometimes those practices were brutal, at the end of the afternoon, right before dinner. Even as amazing as our director was, it could be a drag. We spent many hours learning music, getting every detail perfect, and memorizing notes and lyrics for 15 to 20 songs. The Choir Tour and the concerts were Rachel and the practices were Leah.
But you know, those mundane moments brought about just as much, if not more joy, relationships, and memories than the bucket list ones. If we spend the majority of our time in the Leah side of life, it is only natural that God will bless us while we are there. The repetitive, daily aspects of life are still rewarding, even if they sometimes feel like a grind. God can bless us, and does bless us, when we are least expecting it.
So it was with Jacob. God see that Leah is overlooked and unloved and God opens her womb. In this Biblical sage from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, this promise and quest for land and family, Leah will bear a total of six sons for Jacob. Meanwhile, Rachel will remain barren for many years until she has two sons. Blessings abound from both.
God has given us the entirety of life to be a source of joy, wonder, excitement, and blessing. It would be a mistake is we put blinders on and only focused on the 10% of life that we long for, dream of, and put on our bucket list. Life is so much more than that. We miss so much if we ignore and cast aside the everyday things God has given us. Together, holding the hands of both Rachel and Leah, we will experience the fullness of life that God intends for us. AMEN