Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 20 July 2014
(Genesis 28:10-19 Psalm 139 Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“God Finding Us in Strange Places!”
In our O.T. reading from Genesis 28, we find ourselves in the middle of the fascinating story of Israel’s name-defining ancestor, Jacob. By the time we get to this point in the story, Jacob has already stolen both the patriarchal birthright and blessing from his older brother, Esau. Today we find him at a spooky mountain on his way to find a suitable woman to be his wife. He is on his way back to his grandfather Abraham’s homeland.
He’s been living in the land God swore to give Abraham—but nothing of God’s great promises has been fulfilled. So Jacob is on the move, hoping to figure out where God fits into his life, because everything God has promised thus far seems to have been lies and half-truths. Jacob’s belief in God is at an all-time low!!
We pick up the story whenJacob leaves Beersheba, heading for the family homeland of Haran on the upper reaches of the Euphrates River. On the way, he stops at a “certain place.” He rests from his flight, using a stone for a pillow, and that is when he begins to dream.
In his dream, he sees a “ladder set upon the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven.” Probably, more like a ramp (ziggurat) connecting earth with sky.
On this ramp Jacob sees “angels (literally messengers) of God ascending and descending on it” (vs 12). Then suddenly in his dream, God is standing right beside Jacob. This is when it really gets confusing and terrifying because God says to Jacob, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you. (vs 15).
This isn’t really good news for Jacob, because, remember that Jacob is pretty much of a jerk—to his father and to his brother, for sure. He wasn’t really looking for God. In fact, he was pretty happy not to have God to worry about!
That is what makes God so incredible for what God does NOT say as for what God does say. We hear without doubt the free gift of God’s blessing. And it is noteworthy that this gift is given to THIS man at THIS time. This is, after all, Jacob, liar, trader, manipulator of his brother’s gullible hunger and his father’s aged blindness. Would we not imagine God might have something a little different to say about Jacob’s blatant disregard for the basic rules of family life and sibling care?
Might God not have said something like, “So just who do you think you are, you lying twit! Do you think you are so clever as to get away with such nasty tricks? Do you think that you can deceive me as you deceived your dying father?” Some sort of divine displeasure, I think, would be most appropriate! But not here! From God Jacob gets the promise and the blessing of a lifetime, without question, protest or objection! God will always be there!
What I hear in this text from Genesis is the ability of an alternative reality to break into a world overrun by fear, terror and sin. In Jacob’s dream, which he dreamed somewhere in the middle of nowhere, he is directed to imagine an alternative way of being in the world. God stands at the foot of Jacob’s ladder with messengers assuring Jacob (us) of God’s presence in a complicated, confusing, and fatigued world. Jacob realizes the gift because he makes it into a holy place!
What I also hear in this Genesis text, the promise that God is most certainly present in ambiguous, challenging, complicated and dreadful situations. But this is not a guarantee that everything will turn out just fine.
Sometimes we do not choose well. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes very wrong. The promise is not that faith prevents hardship. The promise is that we are not justified by our right choices, but rather by God’s grace through faith. The promise is also that God is to be found, very often when we do not expect to find God, and also at times when we’d rather not have God around.
This past week has been filled with much ambiguity, I suspect, for all of us.
Let me share just a few of mine. I was involved in a most amazing VBS this week where 140 children from Prince of Peace Episcopal, Christ Lutheran, and St. James, where we truly experienced God’s wonders! So many people working together to make this happen! And then flashes before me all the children the world over and close by, who have no VBS and no home and no family. And as I leave Christ Lutheran on Thursday, I hear the news that a plane has been shot down with almost 300 people killed. There is no way to make any sense out of the disconnect between such experiences!
I spent much time on Friday preparing for this weekend’s worship services where two little girls received Holy Communion last evening for the first time with so much enthusiasm; where four adults will join this community of St. James this weekend, where we will commission five youth and two adults who are leaving for a week of work camp, where we will baptize a tiny child into this faith community.
At the same time, new fighting erupts in Israel, and I hear the on-going disagreement over the immigration of children into this country. I then hear of two friends newly-diagnosed with cancer.
My point being, we live in a world colored by confusion and disagreement and tragedy, as well as so much good; and we are all faced with countless challenging decisions, to which there are often no clear answers.
Hear this text where God remains standing with Jacob, God staying with Jacob until all God’s promises are fulfilled! And with this ladder to the heavens comes the assurance that God will forever hold our lives together in love.
So we are here together as church today, here where I want us to acknowledge that here is where we have the support of each other, and where we return each weekend to this faith community, to hear words of forgiveness, grace, and sending as we go back, yet again, into the world to confront the difficult choices and crisis situations before us as we live to be the people God has called us to be in Baptism.
And so, please realize that very often we all are Jacob, caught between having made many wrong choices, struggling to figure out where God fits into our lives and into the life of the world—but, no less, being assured that God stands beside us at all times. This ladder to the heavens makes sacred who we are. Always believe that an alternative reality is begging to break into our old ways of living life! Always believe that God is close at all times, even when all we have for a pillow is a stone. Amen.
Children’s Message: based on Matthew 13 text: “Don’t treat anyone like weeds; by God’s grace we all have good within us!”