Tim Harland jokes and says he has his “affiliation for falling off motorcycles” to thank for his commissioning as Hospital Chaplain... read more
7pm Service 29th Sept.
Intro/Context: It’s a little odd working with the lectionary sometimes! I’m not familiar enough with it to see it’s pattern and understand why the scripture has been divided the way it has. But for your information, if you’re on the preaching roster for any of the services, there are three passages you can choose to preach from. I decided to go for this one as the context felt a little easier to describe than the Revelation passage!
So,Genesis 28, we’re dropping into the history of Jacob who was to become Israel. Just prior to this passage is the bit where Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright and now he’s fleeing for his life, being sent up North in order to look for a wife from among his fathers own family, rather than marry one of the local Canaanite woman.
And it’s on the way to Haran that Jacob has to pause and rest...and he has this amazing encounter with God...
Now, I want you to think, if you can, of a time when you were particularly aware of God’s presence. It might have been in church, outside in nature, seeing something spectacular and knowing God made it so, hearing a particular story of how god has used a persons life in some amazing way....it could be something grand (Rome), or something very simple (sun on a field). Both of those have been ‘God places’ or ‘God moments’ for me. They’re very different, and my awareness of God was different at each place, but nevertheless, there was a sense of an awareness of something...holy...there. Have you ever had an experience like that....? Keep that feeling in mind as we look at this passage together....
1: vs 10-12 - God is Connected
So first of all we have this dream, this vision, of a ladder or stairway, or even a mound...a big thing which has angels going up and down it.
The ladder/stairway is a sign of the connection between Heaven and Earth. Angels are continually going up and down, carrying out God’s orders. There is a huge amount of comfort here, both for Jacob and for us. In this vision we see that Heaven is aware of what goes on down here and is doing stuff about it. Jacob is on his own in the wilderness, knowing his brother is likely to give him the beating of his life - probably even kill him, the next time he runs into him....he hasn’t got a tent or even a sleeping bag - just a rock for a pillow and the open sky above him. He’s probably tired out after a long journey and probably wondering why on earth he can’t just stay home and marry one of those Canaanite women. And then in this dream, God himself speaks to him...
You know how when you’ve had a bad day, and everything seems to go wrong and usre, maybe you made a few decisions that didn’t help either, but then right at the end of the day, something good sheds light over the shadow that was hanging over you all day? Maybe your favourite film is on tv and you catch it just as it starts, maybe you have your favourite food for dinner, maybe someone just gives you a timely hug...maybe your daily Bible reading just speaks right into your heart unexpectedly...Imagine how Jacob must have felt on the receiving end of this awesome vision....
When God speaks, all earthly worries and discomforts seem to be forgotten...there’s a little card on my desk sent by my friend, and it says ‘Keep your face turned towards the sunshine and you will not see the shadow.’ When our faces are turned towards God, when He has our attention, we will not be so much in the shadow of our fears, doubts and worries.
But how does Jacob’s vision comfort us? I mentioned that this ladder/mound/whatever is a symbol of God’s connectedness with earth, and wonderful image that it is, we have an even better sign...Jesus himself.
Jesus is our bridge, our only means of reaching Heaven.
Our prayers are heard in Heaven because of Jesus. We ourselves will be allowed entry to Heaven because of Jesus. We know that God has our best interests at heart because of Jesus. Our ladder, our stairway to heaven has flesh and blood. So let us look to Jesus and trust in his promise that where he has gone, he will one day bring each of his people.
2: vs 13-15 - God is Faithful
This is the covenant God made with Abraham. We can split it into three sections and see how they applied both to Jacob, and to us:
Land - Inheritance of the land. A physical place to live. For Jacob that meant literally the land that he was lying on! For us? It means Heaven. but also here, the land we stand on today is a gift to us. How should we treat it accordingly? How should we anticipate the inheritance of a Heavenly kingdom?
Descendants - In that time and culture, a large family was seen as a large blessing. To have the security that family brings, that you will be remembered/cared for/included. For Jacob that literally meant the huge family! Many sons and daughters who go on to have many sons and daughters of their own...generation after generation.... but for us, essentially that’s what family means to us, all of that, wrapped up in that sense of belonging. We are adopted into this family through Jesus, accepted because of his sacrifice. We are counted among those descendants...I bet Abraham and Jacob are marveling at how God has been fulfilling that promise!
Blessing - God’s very presence and protection. God personally guarantees that He will be watching over Jacob and keeping him safe. That’s a pretty enormous promise...think about that for a minute. The God who created all of this, (pic of universe/earth) is on your side. In Disney’s Aladdin there’s a song called ‘A Friend Like Me‘ sung by the Genie. He’s basically making his case that Aladdin has scored a mighty ally...how much more true is this for us with God on our side! ‘I will fear no evil, for my God is with me, and if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear?‘
We might go so far to say that we have it even better than Jacob, God, the Holy Spirit, takes up residence within us! And though we can’t find the Spirit under a microscope, we know it’s there, we can’t describe it properly to others, we just know. Just like that feeling you had when you knew God was in that place at that time. Words don’t articulate it properly. But you know.
Now, these promises are unconditional. God manifested himself and his favour to Jacob when he was asleep and purely passive; There was nothing that Jacob had done to impress God or to earn this vision. In fact, Jacob had been a bit shifty and more than a little dishonest. But God still met with him and still kept his promises to him.
Note, Saying and doing are not two things with God, whatever they are with us.
And how do we know that God is faithful to these unconditional promises? After all, they were made to someone else, not us, and were made such a long time ago!
You’ve heard it said that ‘All God’s promises are ‘Yes’ in Jesus.’ (2 Cori 1:20) there is not one promise that God has left unfulfilled that either has not, or will not be completed in the affirmative by Jesus.
3: vs 16-17 - God is Worthy
All this goodness from God requires some kind of response from us.
Jacob shows two responses - awe and worship.
He’s stunned - and rightly so! Waking up he realises that God was in that place - and he wasn’t aware of it.
How often have we been so caught up in busy-ness and have walked upon holy ground without realising it? How often have we walked past a burning bush?
It can be so easy to get wrapped up in our daily tasks that we forget that God’s promise of His constant presence is still standing firm today?
Or those places, or moments, when we’re for whatever reason, more aware of God’s presence....are we so busy that we forget to look for them?
I know I certainly miss them. But there is encouragement here. God came to Jacob in his sleep....if God is willing to come to Jacob like that, how much more willing do you think God is to come and meet in a special way with those who actively seek to be in his presence!
I want to encourage you, God does not give up meeting with us, even if we aren’t so good at meeting with him. He is more faithful than we are.
But I also want to challenge you, and myself, to cultivate a better awareness of God’s closeness with us wherever we are. It is not the place that makes us experience God’s grace, but the God who graces the place.
We sometimes meet with God where we little thought of meeting with him. He is where we did not think he had been, is found where we asked not for him. No place excludes divine visits, wherever we are, in the city or in the desert, in the house or in the field, in the shop or in the street, we may keep up our intercourse with Heaven if it be not our own fault.
Jacob was filled with awe - as in the real meaning of awesome. Awe is that feeling you get when you know you’re in the presence of something much more powerful or bigger than yourself. It’s that feeling of ‘Whoah....’ It even says he was afraid. In Proverbs 9:10 it says that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ But we also know that ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ 1 John 4:18 - So do we have a contradiction? No. Because this ‘fear’ of Jacob is more connected with awe with respect, than terror.
Jacob’s second response was to worship. Awe of God, being in His presence, thinking about Jesus sacrifice draws praise from us like water from a natural spring. When we truly meet with God we forget our shadows, praise rises up out of the depths of us...True, we often come to worship not really in the mod for it, but I’ve often found that when you make the decision to be worshipful, things change. Troubles and doubts don’t always disappear, but in the light of the cross they loose their power over us.