Sunday, July 12, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
"What You See is What You Get"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
Most people who know me would describe me as a pretty transparent individual. I don’t hide a lot. While I don’t always wear my emotions on my sleeve, they are pretty close to the surface. My opinions are generally known. There is not a whole lot of me that is left to the imagination. I’ve found that such transparency has served me well in parish ministry. Folks generally trust someone who is honest and open with them. You may even hear me say from time to time, “What you see is what you get.”
So, I did a little research on this phrase – because I was interested in its origin. It also seemed a perfect title for my sermon this week – given the story we have just read. Unbeknownst to me, 'Wysiwyg', pronounced 'whizzywig', is supposedly one of the best-known of all acronyms. I don’t know how that ever escaped me. It is generally understood that the phrase 'what you see is what you get', the acronym 'wysiwyg,' and the computer interface to which they refer emerged in close succession. But that is not my recollection – nor does it make any sense to me whatsoever.
My memory (much more simplistic – and probably reflective of my personality) is of Flip Wilson where he coined the phrase 'What you see is what you get' in performances as his drag character Geraldine in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in the late 1960s and then later on The Flip Wilson Show. Perhaps some of you remember that. Wilson may have popularized the expression, but it was already in general use before he adopted it as a catchphrase.
I ask you to keep that phrase in mind – “what you see is what you get” to see whether it rings true as we revisit this crazy story from the book of Genesis – one that turns this phrase – and a whole host of family dynamics – on end.
The situation involved the birth of twins – who apparently brought “sibling rivalry” to a whole new level. Even struggling in utero – they had wildly different personalities that attracted the favoritism of their respective parents. Isaac preferred the outdoor nature of Esau, while Rebekah was completely smitten with the gentle spirit of Jacob.
Their rivalry came to a head one day as Esau returned home after a day of hunting. He was completely famished – “hangry” as we say in our home. His brother was making a pot of delicious stew which drove Esau wild. “I’ll give you anything for a big bowl of that,” he cried. Jacob could see he had him by more than just “the heel” on this one.
He offered him lentil stew and bread and a nice cold beverage – and it only cost him his birthright. That may not sound like much to you, but in that culture birth order determined everything. The firstborn (in this case Esau) would inherit 2/3 of all the family assets at the time of the father’s death. All the other children (of which Jacob was one) would split the remaining 1/3 between them. Esau must have been mighty “hangry” because he was willing to give all that up for a meal while Jacob gladly received the spoils of his culinary skills.
We’ll read more of the adventures of these two brothers in the next few weeks, but today I want to draw your attention to two important aspects of their lives that will affect the outcome of this story.
First of all, that phrase “what you see is what you get” is not always true – at least that’s not the case in this instance. Esau, the hairy outdoorsman is pretty simple. Stifled by the confines of home, he loves working outside. He doesn’t seem to care much about the finer things in life – roughhewn, he would rather go and hang out with his buddies, shooting game for sport, racing camels and tipping sheep is more his thing. You never knew whether he was coming home for dinner – he did things “his way.” But he was apparently loyal to his father who adored him.
Jacob, on the other hand, more like the elder son in the famed parable of the Prodigal, was always there – consistent, a rule follower, and quiet. He curried the favor of his mother who was always by his side – yet the scriptures refer to him as “the trickster.” Always scheming, his well-behaved nature hid a jealous heart. He despised his brother and used his skills in deception to bring him down. To make matters worse, his mother was right there to cheer him on.
So, we have Esau – the elder son in this case – as transparent as they come, while the younger son, Jacob, is deceptive and sneaky – he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Remember those characteristics. They will play out in important ways as we continue to follow the unfolding drama between these two.
But I want us to spend the rest of our time today thinking about another aspect of how things are not always what they seem when dealing with family dynamics. “What you see is NOT ALWAYS what you get,” when you unpack the full story. [Pause]
I’ve really been enjoying our weekly Wednesday Zoom calls at 11. If you’ve not joined us, please consider doing so. While our conversations can run the gambit, we typically begin by focusing on the passage I’ve chosen for the following Sunday’s sermon. This past week, I invited folks to do something I ask you to consider as well. Using the Jacob and Esau story as a backdrop, I invite you to recall what life was like in your family of origin? If you had siblings – what was that relationship like? What are those relationships like today?
Or you may want to think about the nuclear family you helped to create through marriage and the subsequent birth or adoption of children. What were the relationships like? How have they changed over the years?
You see, I believe, this story has much more to say to us than birth order, hunger, and deception. I think the stormy relational dynamics between Jacob and Esau – and the favoritism demonstrated by their parents are not uncommon at all. In fact, divisions within the house are rather commonplace – aren’t they?
Without going into any detail at all, I will never forget the surprise and shock I experienced in my own family of origin on November 9, 2016 when a “discussion” unfolded regarding the presidential election just held. I thought we all were all quite clear regarding where we stood politically on a variety of issues. Apparently not. “What you see is not always what you get” and the privacy of the voting booth made that very real for members of both political parties.
What has happened since that time has been the growth of a deeper division among members of my family – and the inability to be completely honest with one another resulting in a fragility in our relationship rather than honesty and candor expressed with a sense of mutual respect and the desire to truly listen and hear one another.
We see this extrapolated on so many fronts today as predictable lines seem to be drawn on issues people are very passionate about such as civil rights for all citizens, women’s rights, the earth’s right to breathe – I could go on and on.
The point being, that deception and unethical behavior can only serve to tear apart a family – and a nation. What is needed is for each of us to engage in a time of personal reflection – self-examination, to determine our motives and whether our actions are helping to strengthen or destroy that which we claim to love.
Just as the biblical story, this week, leaves us with a kind of “cliff-hanger” so, I hope, the questions it invites will get under your skin, causing you to reflect, think and ponder. When folks look at your life – what do they see? What do they get?