St. John's, Centreville
July 23, 2017
Proper 11 A
Genesis 28: 10-19a
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and then use us, we pray, in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This morning, we will continue our journey through the great stories in the Book of Genesis. We have heard about the birth of Isaac to his aged parents, Abraham and Sarah. We heard about the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. We heard about the search for a suitable wife for Isaac and the calling of Rebekah to fulfill that role. Last Sunday we heard the story of Jacob and Esau, twins of Isaac and Rebekah, and how Jacob steals Esau's birthright as the oldest and later steals his father's blessing, who thinks he is blessing Esau, the firstborn.
In today's Old Testament lesson, Jacob is running for his life. His twin brother, Esau, wants to kill him, since he has stolen not only his birthright, which would give him double the inheritance as the older brother, but also his father's blessing, which is given only to the oldest son. Esau is furious and Jacob is on the run.
Jacob comes to a place where he sets up camp for the night. He has nothing with him, not even a pillow. So he uses a stone for a pillow - not very comfortable if you ask me. But as he goes to sleep, Jacob has a dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that stretches to heaven. Then God speaks to Jacob in his dream, first announcing who he is, the God of Abraham and Isaac, then announcing that all this land will be given to him and his offspring. And then God says one of the most important statements in this passage: " Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go...for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Know that I am with you! And with a start, Jacob wakes up and realizes that God has spoken to him and that God is in this place. So Jacob takes the stone that he had used as his pillow, pours oil on it and names the place Bethel, an Old Testament custom of naming the place where one has encountered God.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of us could encounter God so clearly in our dreams and know so clearly God's message to us? Jacob is given all this land by God for himself and all his offspring - land to the north, south, east and west. They shall inhabit this land.
Many of us have had encounters with God, though they may not have been so vivid or dramatic. Maybe we have felt a pull or tug to do something, to volunteer or help others in a variety of ways. After we have an encounter with God, we are never the same again. Something has happened. Our lives are changed and we can never go back to the person we used to be.
Look at Jacob. He was a scoundrel, a cheat, a thief. He stole his brother's birthright and blessing and is on the run from the anger of Esau. But then he has this encounter with God and he becomes the leader of many generations who will inhabit the land that God has provided for him and his offspring. Later he will be called Israel. He is not the same person after his encounter with God. And neither are we.
Our former life is over. We may no longer be a first grade teacher but also a volunteer at the local soup kitchen. We may no longer be a company manager but also a worker in the inner city. We may no longer be a nurse but also a medical missionary, helping those in the far reaches of the world.
God gives us the same promise that God gave to Jacob: "Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go." God gave the same promise to Abraham: "I will establish my covenant....to be God to you." And to Moses God says: "I will be with you." And to the disciples, Jesus says, "I am with you always, to the end of the age."
When we feel that God is calling us to do something, we often come up with a variety of excuses, such as: "I can't be a tutor for children. I don't do well with kids. Someone else would do a much better job." And God says, "I am with you always."
"Go on a mission trip to Guatemala? I can't do that. I don't speak the language and there is so much poverty there and I don't know if I can handle that." And God says, "Know that I am with you always."
"Work at a soup kitchen? I don't have the time." "Know that I am with you always."
When I felt God was calling me to join Covenant Players, an international Christian drama company, I had all sorts of excuses: I can't live out of a suitcase and a van for 5 months at a time; I am terrified of getting up in front of people; I can't memorize lines and act. God, can't you see you are calling the wrong person?" But after two years of arguing with God, I joined Covenant Players and toured with them for a year and half and it changed my life.
We all have encounters with God, whether we recognize them as encounters with God or not. God is with us always, leading us, guiding us, sometimes pushing us, to places and encounters with people or activities that we may not have chosen for ourselves. Sometimes we need to be dragged out of our comfort zones to do what God has called us to do. Sometimes we go kicking and screaming, but we go, knowing that God is with us.
Jacob started out as a scoundrel. As we leave Jacob this morning, he has recognized God in his life, in his dreams, calling him to populate the land that God is giving him. Later we will read about Jacob's reconciliation with Esau. But that story is for another time.
"Know I am with you always," God says to Jacob. And God says the same thing to us, particularly when we are called to do something hard, something we may not want to do, but we feel we need to answer the call of God, for God is with us always to strengthen us and sustain us. Amen.