This sermon is, of course, all ‘borrowed’ material, knit together in a way that makes sense to me…thus, I am alot like Jacob.

THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

July 17, 2011

 

“Hold On To This Ladder”

Genesis 28:10-19a

 

There isn’t much about Jacob that I like.

 

So far, he has swapped (swindled) birthrights with his older brother for a bowl of soup, and tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. As a result, his family doesn’t like him much either. And in the part of the story that we don’t get to see in our reading, tempers flare at the old homestead.
As one might imagine, neither Jacob’s brother, nor his father is very pleased with him, (finding out you’ve being played is never easy to accept). But Mom, (Thank God for Moms!) Rebekah, through this whole episode, has never lost her cool.

 

This young man is the son of a very pious father.  If you go looking for his father, it is likely you will find him in prayer.  Or, you may well find him acting in response to a prayer he offered.  In word and in deed, his father is faithful.  Not so much for this young man.  The role of God is clear and active in the father’s life.  Not so much for this young man.  He even called God, “Your God.” when he had spoken with Isaac earlier.

 

I think I know why a child, raised in a good home like the one provided by Isaac and Rebecca would do this.  Greed is the motivating factor here.  It is plain and simple desire.  Or, as the law might state it: this young man ‘covets’ his brothers property.  This is not a rare and unfamiliar personality.  Most of us share some of the very character traits this young man possesses. 

 

Don’t pretend that this is a strange situation.  One of the things that get in the way of our perceiving the presence, and thus blessings of God, is that we know we are not worthy to receive them.  Like this young man, we all have a twin. From the day we are born we are measuring ourselves against some sibling, some standard of what we think we should be. This isn’t just a twin. He is also the person you and almost everyone else think you have to become before you are going to get any blessings. The twin is the person who is like you, but better. He is your preferred twin, the better projection of your potential.  This can get in the way of experiencing God.

 

A second thing that stands in our way of being aware God’s presence and blessing is distraction.  There are many other things that command our attention.

 

Before this night this young man had been dreaming that if only he could climb the ladder of success, he would make these wonderful things happen. So he climbed and he climbed-but he never got to his dreams.

 

You know what it is like to spend so much time, doing whatever it takes, to get up the ladder only to keep falling off. Or worse, to succeed and discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong building and now you realize that all your hard work has taken you to a place where you do not want to be.

 

Many of us know more about that than we want to. We have been trained to look at what our neighbors have, or what the participants on some ‘so-called’ reality show have, and yearn for it.  This is a yearning that will suck the life out of you.  A life whose ethic is determined by material wealth is, to say the least, a life that lacks much of the joy and the excitement and the meaning and the purpose that we think should be parts of a life that is real life.

 

This young man, on the one hand has succeeded.  But today we find him exhausted from his travel.  He has been cut off from his family, traveling the desert, with little or no provisions.  He is just looking for a large stone to lay his sleepy head.  What he is looking for here is rest.  He does not expect to encounter God, nor does he have any real reason to want to have such an experience.  He is just tired.

 

For most of us here this morning, we are a lot like Jacob, in all but one respect.  We come with expectation.  I know that many of you come here, to a place we expect to encounter the sacred, exhausted from pursuing many other lesser god’s offered up to you out there in the world.  I know this because there are times and seasons when I, too, pursue them, and it wears me out.  So we come to a particular place where we anticipate God’s presence.

 

I want to tell you today that the Lord has a good word for you.  As you are, God has a good word for you.

 

This young man, who has run the race of worldly wealth, who has shaped his conscience and his ethics so that he can do what is necessary to achieve it, he who has achieved it at the cost of relationship and family, this distracted unworthy young man receives a blessing from God.

 

He has a dream, a vision.  Apparently his Father’s faith has made enough of an impression on him so that he recognizes this for what it is.  What he sees is a ladder of sorts, a ramp, connecting heaven and earth, with angels (messengers) going up and down. 

 

The real true meaning of the vision occurs after the brief description of what Jacob saw: “And the LORD stood beside him and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac’” (Genesis 28:13).  And God promises that this presence is not restricted to just this place, this beth-el, this ‘house of God.’ The image of the LORD standing beside Jacob in verse 13 is one that the LORD gives to Jacob to take with him for comfort. Language of protection and providence burst from the mouth of the LORD towards Jacob: “Know that I will be with you…will keep you…will bring you back…I will not leave you” (Gen 28:15). 

 

The reality that there is traffic between heaven and earth has the potential to convince this young man that he is never traveling alone.  The messengers serve as an indication that God comes, is present, and powerful, in the most unlikely of situations to the most undeserving of people. 

 

To this young man, whose priorities are all screwed up, and whose dreams of wealth and power have caused him great pain; God comes to transform the future.  God is not distant and irrelevant.  This God’s promises are reliable.  This is a God of change for the better.

 

Hang on to this ladder.  Do not let the concerns of this world make you let go of this ladder.  Hang on to it!  It is not a ladder for us to climb, as the old hymn suggests.  It is a sign, a reminder, it is a promise.  The surprise in this story is not the vision, the surprise is that the vision and the promise is given to him…it is given to each of us as much as it was given to Abraham, and Isaac, and yes, even Jacob.  There is a word for you today, and the word is this: That God is the keeper of all his people, worthy or not.

 

Even when the promises of God seem to be withdrawn or hidden, God may yet surprise us with speech, with a word.  God may intrude even into our sinful ways, breathing life and hope into our lives. 

 

Jacob had a dream, and when he woke up, he had to decide what to do with that dream, just like we do. He had the opportunity to interpret that dream any way he wanted to, just like we do.  Did you notice? Jacob contributes little to this blessing, except one thing, to say yes when God spoke.

This is the benediction I plan on using on Sunday, with the children helping me with the hand movements.  It is actually a prayer,  known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

  Christ with me (hug yourself),

Christ before me (both palms up in front of you),

Christ behind me (arms behind you),

Christ in me (hands over heart),

Christ beneath me (spread legs and firm your stance),

Christ above me (hands over head),

Christ on my right (hand out to right),

Christ on my left, (hand out to left)

Christ when I lie down

(make a pillow with your hands and lay your head in it),

Christ when I sit down (sit down),

Christ when I arise (stand up),

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me (point to head),

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me (point to mouth),

Christ in every eye that sees me (point to eyes),

Christ in every ear that hears me (point to ears).

 

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