A Sermon Preached at Christ the King on July 20, 2008
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 (Semi-Continuous)
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus)
Last week Pastor Tim framed the Genesis story as a soap opera, full of intrigue and human drama. This week’s episode focuses on Holy Promises, Holy People, and Holy Ground. And like any good soap opera or mini-series, the story of Jacob son of Isaac and Rebekah, grandson of Abraham and Sarah continues with a twist this week.
After stealing the birthright from his twin Esau, our main character is now on the run, estranged from the family he loves and all the prestige and comforts he sought to gain. We are left to wonder how the grace filled promise of God’s relationship with the chosen people can be kept through the lineage of a jerk like Jacob.
Jacob’s story is familiar and in an odd way comforting. Jacob and the other characters are much like us… imperfect people who get jealous, caught-up in infighting, sibling rivalry, competition and materialism. People who get so wrapped up in trying to get their way all the time are left with no where to turn, and often try to escape from it all.
A recent series of Southwest Airline commercials shows people who have made major mistakes or done embarrassing things with the tag line “Want to Get Away?” These commercials remind us of the Jacob-like circumstances that we may have experienced in our own lives.
The characters in the Jacob story from Genesis are not “perfect saints we learned about in Sunday School” but regular people (sinners like you and me) who get caught-up in the messiness of everyday life. Their story is the human saga; we too share their imperfections, longings and urge to sometimes want to just get away from it all.
But this book from Torah and the rest of Hebrew Scripture are not just an Old Testament of Christianity’s ancient family tree… it is our story… one that is alive with the hope and promises of the God through Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac, his wife Rebekah and their second son the heel grabber we get to know more about today.
Jacob is alone and on the run. He is heading to Haran, a city his grandfather Abraham moved to as a child and where he lived until he left for Canaan. This was also the home of his mom Rebekah and where he will meet his wife as well (but that’s a story for another episode).
The fugitive stops to sleep in a random place along the way and lays his head to rest on a stone. He sleeps outdoors rather than risk being seen by someone who might know his shady past. What happens next is not a result of Jacob’s usual work of scheming and cheating, rather it comes unexpectedly, a God Sighting if you will, in the form of a dream.
God renews the covenant made to Abraham and Isaac of promised land and abundant offspring. And that all the families of the earth will blessed through Jacob and his descendents. But most remarkable is God’s gift of protection in verse 15: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” God loves Jacob and will keep God’s promises throughout all of his future challenges and wanderings.
This text shows a God of forgiveness and love. God, who finds Jacob asleep and on the run, meets us at our own Bethel wherever we are. God, who came to Jacob, comes to us as well, protecting us from evil, gracing us with blessed dreams, and keeping grace filled promises.
Martin Luther related to Jacob’s struggles and in his writing and lectures on Genesis reflected on God’s promises and God’s time. Luther writes: “For if God immediately gave everything God promises, we would not believe but would immerse ourselves in the blessings that are at hand and forget God.”(Luther’s Works Vol. 5 28:10, 11 p. 202) Wise words.
We do have a tendency to get so caught up in everyday life that we can easily miss God in it all. We sometimes lack passion in our spirituality because we expect God to be seen only in mountain top experiences. We sometimes fail to look for God… in the abundance of our daily blessings, the beauty and wonder of creation, or in the gifts and relationships with one another.
God’s dream is transformative and life changing because of the relationships God builds with each of us. God meets us where we are with abundant unconditional love we could never earn or do anything to deserve. God promises to be with us, calls us to be in relationship, and to experience the holy.
The Bible as our book of faith details the story of how God surrenders divine privilege, choosing to build relationship with us, God’s chosen people. Genesis is full of examples of God calling people to be in relationship with God and then the people messing it up. God’s gracious love continued throughout the Scriptures and continues today as a result of the promises revealed in Genesis.
And like Jacob, we mess-up, we long for, and we are surprised when we encounter the presence of God.
It seems to be in the messing-up that we get bogged down. In Gerhard Forde’s book Where God Meets Man, he uses the image of a ladder and how as sinners we try to “climb up” to heaven through our knowledge or good works. In many ways we are like Jacob, looking up the ladder for God, dreaming to be more holy and thinking we have to do something to encounter God. Instead Forde points to the Gospel and reminds that God doesn’t use a ladder… there is nothing we can do to reach God. God came and stood beside Jacob, loved us so much that God became truly human through Jesus Christ and is with us always through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It is human nature to struggle with how as a sinner, one can be holy in God’s eyes. In our story today perhaps Jacob felt the same way. Jacob, to use the words of Paul from Romans, is someone who lived according to the flesh. Jacob, like you and I are in bondage to sin, there is nothing we can do to fix it ourselves.
We are tied up in the mess of life, worrying about enemies or weeds around us, judging others, trying to do it all ourselves, and avoid being in relationship with God. We like Jacob before us are living examples of how “good” and “evil” (or wheat and weeds) can be within each of us. As Jacob experienced and Paul reminded, we are children of God. And we are the inheritors of the promises of God.
One might think that because of Jacob’s past behavior, he did not deserve the gift of God’s presence in his life. And yet it was always there… even when he was unaware of it. In the Psalm today, our relationship with God is inescapable. God searches our hearts and gets to know us completely. No matter where we go, or what we do, God leads us and holds us fast. God reassures us that regardless of our past behavior and sins… God will be present in our lives. Like Jacob, God is always with us, even when we may be unaware.
Holy people… how aware or unaware of God’s presence are you? Have you had any God Sightings lately? If unlike Jacob, God has not been in your dreams, perhaps you’ve seen God at work in other ways. It could be something, someone, or someplace you’ve experienced here at Christ the King or elsewhere. God works through more ways than we can imagine so your sense of connecting with the divine or being in a holy place may be uniquely personal.
Because we are called to share the Good News of what God has done and continues to do, I encourage you to listen, look, pause, pray, and share your God Sightings with others.
“Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” says Jacob following his God Sighting. Following this experience he exclaims “how awesome is this place!” having experienced it as a “gate of heaven” a place where God meets God’s people. We as “Easter People” living in a post-Pentecost world know that God lives among us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The holy ground of Jacob’s experience, the gateway to his awesome God Sighting he called Bethel, the house of God. Our holy ground can be anywhere but as Baptized members of the Body of Christ our Bethel is also within each of us.
God continues to turn expectations of what is holy upside down. God comes to people with little faith or hope like Abram and Sarai, appears through burning bushes, speaks to fugitive con men like Jacob, changes persecutors like Saul and most importantly, redeems the world through the death of God’s own Son on the cross.
Here in this place and in our lives, surely the Lord is present, even if we aren’t fully aware. Holy people the Lord has searched you and knows you. You and I… saints and sinners… children of God are loved and called to live as wheat among the weeds. But we are to leave the weeding to God and there are no ladders to climb, good works required or other conditions to God’s gift of grace.
For we live under the promise of the cross and resurrection. God is in our lives, waiting to be experienced in our own God Sightings.
Holy People, God is here… Gathering us together as the people of God, Speaking to us in reading, preaching and singing, Blessing us to live and serve in the world.
Holy People, God is here… And the God Sighting we are about to share Comes before us as the real presence of Jesus Christ The Bread of Heaven and The Cup of Salvation Given for you. Thanks be to God!