Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 17, 2011

2011.07.17 “Sacred Journey” – Genesis 28: 10 – 19

CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

“Sacred Journey”

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 28: 10 – 19

July 17th, 2011

 

“Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place
and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones
there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway
was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were
going up and going down on it.

          Then God was right before him, saying, “I am
God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground
on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will
be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north
to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your
descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and
I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done
everything I promised you.”

Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, “God is in this place —
truly. And I didn’t even know it!” He was terrified. He whispered in awe,
“Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of
Heaven.”

Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took
the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and
poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House). – Genesis 28:
10 – 19a, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

On the short shelf of books I have read in my life that have influenced me most, one is The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner, published in 1982.

 

The Sacred Journey is theology as autobiography, which Buechner continued in subsequent autobiographical books, Now and Then (1983), Telling Secrets (1991), and The Eyes of the Heart: Memoirs of the Lost and Found (1999)

Says Buechner in The Sacred Journey:

“It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that if God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is
into our personal lives that he speaks.
Someone we love dies, say. Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty
touches the heart or makes our blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend
fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging
the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary
happens at all—just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of
days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun
and are depressed.  And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days,
God speaks.  (The Sacred Journey, p. 1-2)

Today, in our Genesis story, just this happens. We encounter a man on a journey. He doesn’t know it yet, but his journey is about to become a sacred journey.

 

Jacob, son of Isaac, is on the run. Once a son in his father and mother’s house, now he is alone.  His twin brother, Esau, has threatened to
murder him on sight for stealing both his family birthright and his father’s blessing. On his mother and co-conspirator Rebekah’s
advice, Jacob is fleeing to her family and people until Esau cools off, not that’s about to happen. Up to this point not only has Jacob shown not himself not to be particularly religious, but a liar and a cheat, and because of that, now he is a fugitive.

 

But if he has remorse or guilt for what he has done, he doesn’t show it.  Exhausted from his
journey, he has nothing but a rock on which to rest his head.  When he sleeps, he dreams. In his dream he sees a stairway leading to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. More importantly, he sees the Lord, not in heaven but right before him, who says:

 

“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you
and to your offspring; who shall be like the dust of the earth, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.  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 have promised you.”

“Wait, God,” we may want to say. “Are you paying attention?  Have you seen what he did to his brother?
This is Jacob, the liar and cheat you are blessing, not Esau the firstborn.”

And yet, God does. We think God only speaks to holy people.  And so we think, “If I am good enough or holy enough, God will speak to me.”

But the story of Jacob shows us the opposite of that.  Jacob was not a good person up to this point, and only mockingly religious.
And yet it is to Jacob God speaks. It is the mystery of what we call grace, that we, though unworthy, should be the recipients of God’s goodness and blessings, God’s call and mission.

Even after his dream, it’s not clear how much Jacob has been changed. When he wakes in the morning not only
has the place been transformed, but so also is he. He says, “God is in this place, and I didn’t even know it!”
He is terrified, as people are so often in the Bible when God shows up, and whispers in awe, “Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven.”

Point is, God seeks us and takes us where we are, in all of our unworthiness, with all of our
faults and imperfections.  God does not require of us first that we be the best or the brightest.  God takes us as we are, to make us the kind of
people God wants us to be.  We are all a work in progress.

“Wait, God,” we may want to say.  Not there, not out in the wilderness, to a man using a rock for a pillow.
Surely not there.

 

And yet, God speaks to Jacob there.  Sometimes we may think God only speaks in sacred places, only in a cathedral or a church or a chapel.

Yet the truth is, God can speak to us anywhere and in any way.  Places become
“holy” because they are where God speaks to us; God does not speak to us because we are in holy places.  If we, like
Jacob, were to take rocks and go back through our lives and build memorials to God in places where God has spoken to us, we might find some of them in the strangest places. In delivery rooms, and at death bed scenes. In living rooms and
hospital rooms.  At places of meeting and places of parting.  Yes, even in church.

As the old saying goes, attributed to many, “God is a circle, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is
nowhere.”  Therefore every place is holy, and when your eyes are opened like Jacob, you see God standing right in front
of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that when you see through the eyes of the soul, you feel as if you’re on another planet.  You’re in the same place, but suddenly you say, “What’s this?  I’m in the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” “How awesome is this place!”

“Wait, God,” we want to say.  This is not a man with his hands folded in prayer, not a man before an open Bible.  This is a man using a rock for a pillow.  Surely you don’t speak in such ways, like that?

 And yet God does.  Certainly, with hands folded in prayer, before an open Bible is one of the best, most common ways God speaks to us,
just as God still speaks to us through Jacob’s story. In the story of Jesus, God spoke to us in an ultimate way, a way we can understand, as a human being like us. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament opens with these words, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
(Hebrews 1:1)

But beyond this, sometimes God speaks to us in even more mysterious ways.

Sometimes, like Jacob, God speaks to us when we are most vulnerable, when we may be listening
more carefully. Jacob, on the lamb, is leaving behind everything he knows for a future that is unknown. Most of us know what that feels like. Times of moving. Getting married. Sending off our kids, whether to kindergarten or college.  Facing futures alone after the death of a
spouse.  Aging and the decline of our bodies.

Another time we are more vulnerable, like Jacob, is at night.   In the day, we are assured, our front is up and our world is ordered; it is at
night that we are sometimes insecure and vulnerable, and God speaks in our dreams. When we go through times of turmoil in our lives, what happens at night? We can’t sleep and we toss and turn, and when we sleep we have fantastic dreams and nightmares come, and we wrestle, like Jacob later in this story, we wrestle with unknown assailants in the darkness.

Sigmund Freud said that our dreams are our unconscious minds speaking to us. Karl Jung said our dreams represent not just our unconscious, but the collective unconscious of the human race with therefore universal symbols and meanings. Most of us probably feel we live on a more mundane level, our experience being more like the man who dreamed he swallowed a giant marshmallow and woke up to find his pillow missing. Like Jacob, God still speaks to us in our dreams, revealing to us the desires that must be attended to and the wounds that must be healed and the angels or demons with whom we wrestle.  What are your dreams telling you?

It may even be that God speaks to us in different ways at different times in our lives.  As a young man, Jacob has a young man’s dream; everything is on the way up, and angels minister to him. Later, as a middle age man, he has a middle age man’s dream – you know, twenty years pass, and he has four wives and twelve kids.  Yeah, that would keep you up at night!

I’m still waiting to see what the old man’s dream is.  Maybe it’s like a birthday card I once received which showed two old men sitting on a park bench. One is sobbing, and says, (Sob) I’m married to a 21 year old cheerleader who is gorgeous and hot and all over me!” The other man says, “Then why are you crying?” The first one says, “I can’t remember where I live.”

Yes, just as God spoke to Jacob, whose pillow was a rock, in many and various ways, God speaks. In Genesis: A
Living Conversation
, Rabbi Burt Visotzky tells the story of driving with a friend between New York and New Jersey. The friend was really depressed, and he was smoking, covered in ashes. He said, “I’m so depressed. Here I am, like Job, sitting here, feeling lousy and covered in ashes” “You know, if only I could have a sign from God.” Says Rabbi Visotzky, I was just about to turn to him and
say, “Martin, it’s just not gonna happen quite that way,” when an enormous black Cadillac whizzed by us on the New Jersey Turnpike, and we both saw the same thing.  Martin pulled over to the side of the road and turned to me. “Did you see those license plates?” “Yes.” The
license plate, a new Jersey plate, said “G-O-D.”  If I hadn’t see it and he had told me he had, I would have said, “no, no, no, no, no, no.”
But there it is.  So how do you interpret it?”

Says Buechner, in one of my favorite quotes of his:

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Now and Then, 1983, p.3.)

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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