7th after Pentecost
July 23rd – Rev’d Diana McHardy …
Readings: Genesis 28:10-17 Matthew 13:24-30,35-43
The biblical book of Genesis is actually a good read. There are lots of “reality” stories. As a child – with my small kid’s bible – or at junior church – I was totally drawn in – with great delight, or with great discomfort, and also with great relief.
At home, I have an immense lectern bible given to my great-grandfather, an Anglican priest in the 1870s at Trinity Church, Cornwall, Ontario. He marked all his sermons. I was curious about the Genesis reading. Did he mark Jacob’s dream? No, but he did mark the Jacob and Esau story that led into Jacob’s dream, which should be included in the context of this morning’s reading for Jacob’s dream to make sense.
In the big picture of Genesis, God is very much involved in the “reality” life stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God made covenants of relationship with these three patriarchs of the Hebrew people.
A couple of Sunday ago, we heard about Isaac and Rebekah in one of the great biblical love stories. Next in the sequence comes one of the great biblical family rivalry stories. Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons: Esau arriving first and Jacob second. Isaac’s favourite was Esau. Rebekah’s favourite was Jacob, and she supported him against his brother. Jacob’s behaviour was more than questionable: he wanted approval, he needed to be first, and he was both acquisitive and dissembling. He stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his father into giving him the family blessing. Esau was furious, wanting to kill him, and so, with his mother’s encouragement, Jacob took off in a hurry, heading for Haran, his mother’s homeland.
Questions arise: What do we think? What do we feel? How could that be? Read on. One of the great old testament stories unfolds around Jacob’s mysterious dream in which God intervenes.
Remember the bumper stickers on cars, “God isn’t finished with me yet”. And, God was not finished yet with Jacob. On the way to Haran, Jacob stops to rest for the night. There are no pillows, so a stone under his head has to work. (Either the stone, or the weight of a stone for his conscience, never-the less he dreams). He dreams of a ladder, like a stairway leading from the earth to heaven (similar to the ramps leading into the temple). Angels are going up and down (in scripture, angels are perceived as the spokespeople of God). In the dream God comes alongside Jacob and speaks to him, saying the most extraordinary words: ‘Know that I am with you. I will keep you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. I am blessing you. You will have many children that can’t even be counted. All the families of the earth will be blessed by you.’
[As an aside, it is helpful to know that in scripture, dreams are understood as a spiritual norm to symbolize God’s direct intervention in a person’s faith development, and, also, to symbolize God’s presence within the context of a person’s life journey. Rather like the “thin places” where we know that we are in a different place emotionally and spiritually, mysteriously intuiting an encounter with the holy.]
Jacob wakes from his dream. We need to notice: although his encounter with God takes place while he is asleep, the experiential presence of the holy is so strong and so vivid that when he wakes up, he deeply knows in his spirit that God is real and will be with him at all times and in all places, no matter what. Jacob knows that deep down he has encountered the Holy One. The spiritual insight is very clear, as he says: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not previously know it”, as in how could he have missed it.
Suddenly, Jacob’s whole being is directed toward the encounter. Suddenly, his life journey and his spiritual journey are integrated for the first time with God at the centre. Suddenly, he responds to this most amazing grace by taking the stone he used as a pillow and using it to mark Holy Ground. He names the Holy Ground Bethel, which means “HOUSE OF GOD”.
Despite Jacob’s relationship with his family, and the fact that the purposes of God have been tangled in his own web of self-interest and self-seeking, the narrative is now positive. Jacob has transitioned to the recognition that God is present and active. We will always feel for Esau. However, it is Jacob who is called to endorse the reality that God is the source of all life and all being, very much present on the human journey at all times and in all places.
Questions arise: What do we think now? What do we feel now? How could this be now? The Spirit works in all circumstances of everyday life, and not necessarily where we would expect it (as in church, or our prayer space, or even a beautiful nature setting). Might we ask where we have encountered God when we would least be expecting a religious experience? Sometimes it is clear. Sometimes we intuit that we know. Sometimes we feel the ‘thin places’ of unity with all that is. Other times we lean on our spiritual prayer practice of the daily review of our day, seeking to discover the sacred in experiences and in relationships with other people. Sometimes I am reminded of the painting in the Sistine chapel, gazing at the hand of God reaching downward to take hold of our human hand reaching up.
And to ask: How is Jacob’s dream story in service to us? Are we invited to openness around the dynamic of relationship with God? And to a deep understanding that God works in and through our humanity? And to a trust journey with the cosmic source of our life whom we call God?
So often, people ask: How does the bible story speak to me? Going deeper, might we reflect on the spiritual practice of reading scripture with the expectation that as we intentionally listen to the leading of the Spirit with the ears of the heart, something will stir within: an interior feeling, or a holy longing, or a sense of wonderment, or a question wanting to be answered, or a challenge around change, or a memory of a God experience, or gratitude, or other. With these ponderings, where does the Spirit move you in this story of Jacob’s dream. What words, phrases, actions, technicolour images, or other ideas speak to you? Perhaps you are aware of how God has already intervened in the reality of your everyday life. Perhaps you are aware of how the Spirit is gently integrating your spiritual journey and your life journey at this present moment.
In prayer, we can come to a close, quoting from the Jesuit web site space “Daily Prayer”. “Be still and know that I am God”. Loving and gracious God, may your Spirit guide me to seek your presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world. You have engraved my name on the palm of your hand. Even if others forget me, you never will.
THANK YOU. AMEN.