Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 20, 2014

2014.07.20 “Stories from the Family of Faith: Jacob’s Dream” – Genesis 28: 10 – 19

Central United Methodist Church

Stories from the Family of Faith:

Jacob’s Dream

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 28: 10 – 19

July 20th, 2014


Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside himand said, “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; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; 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.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.”– Genesis 28: 10 – 19, New Revised Standard Version


Our Old Testament story this morning – the story of Jacob’s dream – opens in a place many of us may find ourselves this summer: on a journey.

The person on the journey is Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. It is not a journey of his choosing. Last week we saw how, after cheating his older brother Esau out of his birthright and Isaac’s (their father) blessing, Rebecca, his mother advised him to flee, because his brother Esau was ready to kill him. In the light of this, Rebecca thought it an auspicious time to return to the home country to find a wife.  Thus it was that Jacob found himself on the road.  I’m assuming he had to pack quickly; so quickly, he forgot to bring a pillow.

I don’t know what it was like to travel in the ancient near east, but most of us know what it’s like to travel in the modern world.

I say this after having traveled almost 4000 miles by car so far this summer. Our cars are reliable and comfortable means of travel, but driving can still be like the job description of an airline pilot: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

For example, we were driving through Lexington, Kentucky, last week, passing a semi. We were just about even with the cab when one of his rear duals blew, shooting pieces of tire across the road behind us. I floored it to escape whatever was going to happen next, which – fortunately for us – was nothing.  We were fortunate only to have received another wakeup call, that attention while driving is always advised.

While our modes of transportation might be different, the tedium of travel can put us in a reflective, even vulnerable place. For example, I find that my driving habits have changed over the years. I used to listen to the radio when I drove, constantly changing channels to keep me awake. Then, for years, I played CDs; do you know I haven’t played a CD in the car in years? Now, as I drive (while the rest of the family sleeps), I think. I can drive for hours in silence, thinking.

Because, as we all know, on most journeys we have a lot to think about. Sometimes we are leaving the past behind: saying goodbye to one place and moving to another, to begin school, to begin a new job, to get married.  As we think about where we are going, we may not have friends, we may not even know where we will live, the future is unclear.  At least – hopefully – we are not fleeing for our life like Jacob.  In any case, there is plenty to think about.

I’ve made journeys like this, haven’t you? I can think of two in particular; in 1973, when I loaded most of what I owned into a yellow Ford Pinto to come up here to attend seminary; which tells you two things: how little I owned, and how lucky I was to have survived the trip, in a Ford Pinto. Then again, in 1976, after serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Memphis for three years, I packed up again to move back here to get married, saying goodbye to all that. It was not a journey without tears.

Do you think Jacob might have felt that way, too?  After all, he had cheated his own brother so badly that Esau was threatening to kill him.  It was costing him not only his brother, but his father and his mother, everything he had known up to this point in his life; the text never mentions that he saw them again. Did he feel any remorse; did he have any regrets?

Whether long ago or today, travelers still have this in common: when the sun sets, it’s time to find a safe and preferably comfortable place to stay. As a younger person, I sometimes drove all night; that is not a possibility for me today.  Today, I prefer to find a moderate, 3 or 4 star place to stay, neither low-end or high-end. I had a police friend years ago who did training in ultraviolent fluid analysis in hotel rooms: he said if you could see what he saw you’d never stay in most hotels again. So I don’t, at least the low end ones. But isn’t it boring how similar all those middle-of-the-road hotels have become?

Jacob, on his journey, did not have such options; perhaps it was safe, but with a rock for a pillow, I can’t see how it was by any measure comfortable. I’m amazed that he slept, and dreamt at all, using a rock for a pillow.  Although, I have had camping trips and even hotels like that, haven’t you?

As Jacob slept, he dreamt of a stairway reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it.  Most importantly, as the dream continued God stood beside him, saying:

“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; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; 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.”  (Genesis 28: 13 – 15)

At this point, knowing what we know about Jacob, we might want to step into Jacob’s dream, and ask God if we might have a word, to remind God who God’s talking to. This is after all Jacob, a liar and a trickster, who made use of a brother’s gullible hunger and an aged father’s blindness for his own selfish purposes. Might God have something to say about such blatant disregard for the most basic rules of family life? Should God not say, as John Holbert has suggested:

“Just who do you think you are, you little 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?”

In other words, surely some sort of divine displeasure would not be amiss? But it is not here. God’ promise and God’s blessing are given without question or remonstrance. (John C. Holbert, “Bargaining Jacob: Reflections on this Sunday’s OT Text, Patheos, July 15, 2011)

It reminds us, as Jesus reminded us, our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways are not our ways. God has not chosen not the high and the mighty, but the poor and the humble.  We may think we are the chosen people, but we must remember God is also free to choose those who have no relationship with God, as Jacob has not up to this point, to accomplish God’s purposes.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!

And, on the contrary, if we find that up to now God has seemed absent to us, that we have not hear the voice of God speaking to us, as others so glibly seem to, you never know what’s going to happen. Because whoever we are, whatever we have done, wherever we go, we are never out of range of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s promise, as Psalm 139 reminds us:

“O where can I go from your spirit,

or where can I flee from your face?

If I climb the heavens, you are there.

If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn

or dwell at the sea’s furthest end,

even there your hand would lead me;

your right hand would hold me fast.”

As Jacob was to find out.

If this was Jacob’s dream, let me ask you this: what are your dreams?  Because, in addition to when we are journeying, another time we are vulnerable, is – like Jacob – at night when we sleep.  In the day, we are assured, our front is up and our world is ordered; it is at night that we are insecure and vulnerable, and God speaks to us 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 both nightmares and visions come, and we wrestle, like Jacob later in this story, we wrestle in the darkness with the angels and demons within us.  Like Jacob, what are our dreams telling us?

When Jacob awakes, what does he do?  For a man – who up to this point has evidenced no devotion to God – in fact quite the contrary – he exclaims,  “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.”  He could be speaking of that place in particular, or his whole life in general, up to that point.  So he takes the rock, his pillow, and makes an altar of it, anointing and naming that place “Beth-el,” the “house of God,” before continuing on his journey.

I wish I could tell you Jacob had a remarkable conversion story and was a transformed man after that, living happily ever after, but that is not the case. In fact, the new Jacob post Beth-el acts remarkably like the old Jacob, not recognizing a gift when he sees it, continuing to barter with God.Even so, what Jacob dreamt that night so long ago, using a rock for a pillow, has become a powerful and enduring image for people of faith ever since.

One of my favorite books, which influenced me significantly, is Frederick Buechner’s The Sacred Journey (1982). What Frederick Buechner tells us The Sacred Journey is what the Bible is telling us in the story of Jacob’s dream.  Frederick Buechner:

“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)

When – in the midst of our daily lives, God speaks – as God spoke to Jacob so long ago, may we say, as Jacob said: “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.”  Amen.



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