July 20, 2014; 6th Sunday after Pentecost – A – Climb the Ladder
Genesis 28:10-19 – Jacob’s Ladder
Matthew 13:24-43- Parable of the weeds
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:17.
Jacob’s Ladder is one of those Bible stories, that we know so well, we’ve heard so many times in SS, etc. It’s such a famous story that perhaps we might dig in a little deeper to see what rich, spiritual truths God has to say to us through it.
Isaac was an old man and was dying and was going to give his blessing to Esau. But Jacob, Esau’s brother, tricked his father into giving him the blessing instead. Esau, understandably, was livid about this because he was to inherit nothing from Isaac as a result. So, in 27:41, Esau says, “The time to mourn my father’s death is near; then I will kill Jacob.” Rebecca, Esau and Jacob’s mother, overheard what Esau said and warned Jacob and told him to go and stay with his uncle in Haran until Esau’s anger cooled off. So Jacob leaves home and flees for his life. And that’s where we pick up the story.
Jacob is running for his life; he is scared, tired, lonely, he is carrying deep pain inside, feeling guilty, feeling remorseful for what he has done. He sees no hope for the future, he wishes he could turn back the clock and be reconciled with the brother he’s hurt so badly. Jacob is in a dark, dark place.
Essentially, Jacob needs a healing experience from God. Because we know that healing comes in many different ways. God can bring physical healing. God can bring mental healing. God can bring us a conviction of forgiveness. God can bring healing as we seek reconciliation after a broken relationship. God can bring healing of memories.
Perhaps some of us are here needing healing from God – healing in any number of ways. And so this story from Genesis 28 can speak into our situation. Here are 3 points I want to make from this passage:
1. Healing is a Journey
One way we can describe our spirituality and our relationship with God is as a journey; that we are on a pilgrimage to God. In 1 Peter, we are reminded that we are aliens and exiles. The journey of the people of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land has many lessons for us.
The sad reality is that on that great journey from the cradle to the grave, many people seem to have lost their way for one reason or another. Many people on their journey through life seem to be between places with no control over their own journey and with no religious agenda at all. Genesis 28 is so pertinent for us.
Jacob is in the same predicament as so many people today.
“Jacob left Beersheba and started towards Haran. At sunset, he came to a certain place and camped there.” The wording is important for us. Jacob was on a journey, but when the dream happened he was just in a “certain place”. A place with no name, an anonymous area. He was in no man’s land. His journey had come to a temporary halt; he was languishing and tired. Jacob had no religious agenda – he was not expecting anything to happen, in fact, his only concern was survival; he was running away from his brother Esau who justifiably wanted to kill him. His only thought was to avoid the anger of his brother and live.
This picture of Jacob reflects the life situation of many of us. Some of us here are tired, some are scared, some are not feeling in control of their own destiny. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we may be questioning our belief that God will bail us out.
Jacob is a lonely, sad, depressed traveler, with no real hope for the future. Often in life, we are in a place – like Jacob – a place that cannot be named but a place where we are being eaten up inside. We may find ourselves in that place, whether as a result of physical illness or psychological scarring or an inability to forgive someone who has hurt us or whatever it is…we are on our journey through life and we currently find ourselves at this certain place, which is an uncomfortable place to be. And we may be feeling just too tired to do anything about it…or not know what to do about it or maybe feel unworthy to have God put the pieces back together for us…Like Jacob, we find ourselves at this certain place of discomfort.
If that describes you, then there is Good News…
2. God meets us on that Journey
The point of the passage is that God chooses to meet with Jacob and brings healing to him and encourages him into a life of faith. There is an encounter here between Jacob and God. And that, ultimately, is what healing is: it is a personal encounter with the Living God.
God wants to encounter us. He wants to draw near to each one of us wherever we are on our journey, whatever ‘certain place’ we may find ourselves in…God wants to encounter us and bring us all the healing and comfort and peace that we require in our own situation.
That is the message of the Church.
That is the message of the Christian Gospel. A. W. Tozer was quite critical of churches that did not have any real expectation of God’s healing power in their midst. He said: “In many churches, Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that if it were poison it would not hurt anyone and, if it were medicine, it would not cure anyone.”
We do not want to fall into that trap. The Gospel is full of expectation and hope, that God loves each one of us and wants to encounter us on our journey and bring us all the healing that we need at this time and in this place. We are expectant of an encounter with the living God.
But what might that encounter look like? This story of Jacob tells us 3 things about an encounter with the Living God
2a. That our encounter with God will be all about grace
This story of Jacob has a beautiful picture in it; the picture of a stairway from heaven to earth and there are angels ascending and descending. It’s a beautiful picture of how, through grace, heaven comes down to meet us here on earth; most completely, of course, in the Person of Jesus. It’s a beautiful picture of an incredible truth: that earth can be linked to heaven: that there really is a “Stairway to Paradise”: a way for us to have a relationship with God that is real and alive.
The truth of the Christian message, the truth that brings us so much hope for healing is simply this: Through the grace of God, revealed and completed in Christ, we are united with God forever. Healing and Salvation are not just possibilities: they are now realities through Jesus. Because that Stairway to Paradise is Jesus himself. He is the Ladder. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is through Christ that the healing power of God flows. It is through the Spirit of Christ in our midst tonight that the glory of heaven will meet the broken mundane-ness of our earthly existence and transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.
The message of God’s Word to us is one of Grace. God longs to encounter each one of us in the broken places of our being and through the Spirit of Christ in our midst to bring healing and new life. Heaven and earth mingle in this place and grace is on offer to each one of us.
2b. The central feature of Jacob’s encounter with God is God Word to him
Now this may seem like an obvious point but it needs stressing: This story is often known as Jacob’s Ladder. But, actually, the Ladder is not the important point at all… What completely revolutionizes Jacob’s life is not the Ladder but what God says to him. The Ladder is just the Introduction. What counts is the promise that God makes to Jacob.
It’s so typical of us as human beings, isn’t it? We are so interested in all the side-issues, we get side-tracked…We read this story in Genesis 28 and we think “Wow, what an amazing story… A ladder from heaven to earth, A mysterious dream, Angels, Mysterious events, Paranormal activity – What a great story!” We get so side tracked with the supernatural stuff that we miss the whole point.
If we want his healing, what will God say to us? In Gen 28, there is a 3-fold Promise from God to Jacob.
The Promise of Presence: v. 15: “I will be with you”.
The Promise of Protection: v. 15: “I will protect you wherever you go”.
The Promise of Blessing: v. 14: “Through you I will bless all nations”.
The Word of God to Jacob, the Word of God to each one of us, the Word of God that brings us the healing we need is simply this: God promises to be present with us through our trials in life. God promises to protect us in our most vulnerable times. God promises to pour out abundant blessings on our lives. Healing begins when we receive this word from God, when we encounter God’s presence, protection and blessing.
And when we encounter God in this way, our lives become radically transformed.
3. Jacob’s Response
The reality is that, when we are encountered by God, we must make a response to Him.
Jacob, in this story, responds in 3 ways…
First, v 18: “Jacob got up early the next morning, took the stone that was under his head, and set it up as a memorial. Then he poured olive oil on it to dedicate it to God. He named the place Bethel which means House of God”.
The place where people find God becomes a holy place where God is worshipped. It is that which transforms communities. Rather than just being a place to gather, it becomes holy ground. Because this place in which we sit today is holy ground. This is holy ground because last night it gave rest to 27 fellow Christians on a Mission Trip… It is a place where our ministry begins. It is holy ground because we reach out to area youth in our Vacation Bible School next week.
And it is holy ground for us today because God will encounter us here.
Jacob begins this story and we are told he is in ‘a certain place’. But by the end of the story, he has encountered God and the place has a name: Bethel: House of God. You may have come here finding yourself in ‘a certain place’ but you have the opportunity to transform that certain place into Bethel – the House of God. This space – this place – can be for you a place of transformation, a place of healing, a place of encounter between you and the Living God.
First, then, Jacob responds by marking the place of encounter and so we should mark this place in our own hearts as the place we were encountered by God.
Second, Jacob responds by making the promises of God personal to him. In v 14-15, God said: “I will be with you, I will protect you, I will bless you”. But by v 20, Jacob had reflected on those promises and internalized them and made them personal to himself: “You will be with me, you will protect me, you will bless me”. He makes a personal response to the promises of God: quite literally, he takes them to heart.
Today is a time for us to make a personal response. We have journeyed here and we are confident of God’s desire to bring us healing and we are confident of God’s promises to us.
Of course, that is easier said than done. It’s a scary thing for us to step out in faith and make a response to God in asking for healing. What if your faith isn’t strong enough? Well, this passage gives us real hope and comfort.
Receiving God’s healing is all about Ducks. Yes, you heard me right – ducks: Fluffy Ducks! That’s what the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says anyway!
He tells a story about Duckland. Duckland is a place far, far away across the seas, a land inhabited only by ducks. One day, the ducks woke up – it was Sunday – so got dressed up in their Sunday Duck-best and waddled off to church. And they put their little duck bottoms on the little duck pews, sang some duck hymns, prayed some duck prayers and the Duck Minister opened his Duck Bible and read a passage: “Ducks! You have wings and with wings you can fly like eagles! You can soar into the sky and fly high above the seas! You can be as beautiful as swans! Ducks! You have wings!” And all the ducks shouted “Amen!” and “Hallelujah” and they got off their little duck bottoms and waddled home to eat their Sunday lunch.
I guess the temptation is for us to be like the ducks. We can sing the hymns about God’s grace, we can say prayers, rejoicing in God’s healing power, we can listen to a sermon and hear the wonderful promises about who we truly are, what we can become, what God has in store for us…and then we can waddle off home and reflect over a service that left us with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
That is not the life to which we have been called. God has so much more in store for us. God calls on us to respond to what we have heard; to respond to what we know to be true.
We are not called to be Ducks. We are called to a life where we can soar like the eagles and glory in the gifts God has for us.
The Word of God in Gen 28 speaks of the immense opportunity open to us. We are on a journey through life and for this moment, we inhabit this space, this place. This is not an empty or meaningless place; it is holy ground because this is the place that God has chosen to encounter with you.
And it is up to each one of us how we will respond to that offer of encounter. Will we waddle off home, or will we pray to a holy God and ask Him to pour out His good gifts upon us that we may know His transforming and glorious power at work in our lives?
We make our response, not in our own strength but in the strength of God: Jacob’s God, Our God. His words are as true to us today as they were to Jacob all those years ago: “Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised you.”
God encounters us here.
The response is up to you..