Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give Us the Vision

Hello Friends. The blog series has been on hold as I'm drawing some new boundaries in my own life -- practicing before I preach, I hope. I will return to the series as things settle. In the meantime, this is the sermon I preached from the Lectionary this Sunday, on Genesis 28:10-19a -- better known as Jacob's Ladder.

So... Jacob. Human, flawed Jacob. 

To recap: Jacob is on the run because he stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing. His family is fractured because of his actions.

I’m really tempted to distance myself from this guy. He’s a thief. A con artist. A backstabber. His life, boiled down to a few pages of text, leaves an ugly trail (although, if our lives were reduced to the same literary fate, I suspect it wouldn’t be too flattering, either). While culturally, Jacob’s life is light years away from my own, from our society, I can’t honestly separate us too much from him.

Let’s update the culture a bit. Imagine if the story of Jacob’s ladder were instead the story of Jacob’s corporate ladder, we’d have the makings of a great corporate success. In this context, he’s scrappy. He’s innovative. He’s intelligent and seizes opportunities. He takes action.

There are other ways Jacob’s experiences track with my own. The consequences of my actions, and others’ actions have pushed me into the wilderness. I’ve lived godlessly, looking out primarily for “number one.”

If I indulge the urge to clinically view Jacob’s life as history, or myth, but regardless, utterly separate from my reality, I miss out on something truly beautiful and hopeful that happens when God presents Jacob with the vision at Beth-el. 

From the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
It turns out, I’m desperately in need of this vision. My world is in need of this vision. It’s my prayer that we’ll receive the vision God unfolds. Because here, for a moment, in a complicated, and sometimes dark narrative, God’s being grabs center stage with clarity.

We lose God in the Old Testament – at least the God Jesus manifested at the Incarnation. My own faith and faithlessness hits a brick wall with some of its passages. I think moments like this vision suggest God has always been God. That Jesus isn’t some fluke expression of the Trinity that just evolved a couple thousand years ago. Jesus himself says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father."

This text clearly reminds us there is more happening in the Old Testament. In this space God pierces the darkness of the human tale.

I see continuity between the God revealed in the passage, and the incarnated Jesus in four of God’s actions here (Side note: It’s important we don’t try to read Jesus INTO the original texts of people who had no concept of him. Rather we honor the reality that we read the texts THROUGH the lens of our experience with Jesus):

God pierces Jacob’s darkness and joins to the godless. Unbidden. Jacob’s shown no signs of spiritual awareness at all. He’s alone in the wilderness, on the run, SLEEPING. Not begging for signs or protection (as I would be). God just shows up, piercing into a godless life, and instead of standing above Jacob, demanding signs of repentance, stands beside him, promising unconditional protection.

God comforts Jacob and speaks to his present need. Promising to keep Jacob safe, and return him to the land. Relationship with God isn’t just about the cold and distant future – the present is changed as well.

God redeems Jacob’s reality. Jacob, the taker of blessings, the destroyer of family, will give blessing to all the families of the earth.

And then the overall context of the dream itself: this revelation that the spheres of earth and heaven intersect and interact – in the incarnation, Jesus clearly brought heaven to earth – but here we find that had been happening unseen from the beginning of time.

As Christians, we recognize God here because we’ve met Jesus. We can also see ourselves as actors in the dialogue between heaven and earth. So this vision carried to full meaning for us can be about God. In Jesus. In us. In the world.

That’s why we need this vision. Because, we are both Jacob, and reaching out to a world of Jacobs. 

Like Jacob we are primarily motivated to protect ourselves.

I had to confront this reality very intimately this week. I read an article about a woman who at one time was the type of angry, self-destructive teenager who, for many reasons, has entered my life. She now owns a nonprofit organization designed to grant the wishes of foster children, and bring the humanity back to these little people often relegated to a statistic. Reading of her success I had to face the fact that I’ve lost faith in so many of the children who have crossed my path. I’ve reduced a person to a label, overwhelmed in the immediacy of their problems, and lost the sense of their God-image, their potential, and love-worthiness. It’s about protecting the real estate of my heart -- as if my heart had a limited number of allotments.

But, if the vision is God in Jesus, in me, in the world, I can’t hide my heart and my resources. I’m a part of the ladder piercing hope into hopeless lives.

When starting my studies, I was tempted to write Jacob off as a hopeless cause. God merely sees him as a human cause, which is the prime motivation of all God’s grandest actions. When I write off a person, or a group of persons, I move exactly counter to God’s greatest desire. 

Like Jacob, I’ve also been running in darkness and godlessness. After seminary, I lost my faith. In my wilderness, I wandered into this church, which became my Beth’el. God used our church to pierce hope and light and God back into my life. I walked in, asking only to be respected in my faithlessness, and the Spirit of God in this place woke me up to God’s constant action in the world -- in my world.

This vision teaches us about our God and our human position in relation to God. Reminding us God reaches out to us, regardless of our condition. Showing us God’s intimate knowledge of our needs, and purpose for our lives. Revealing God’s constant interaction in our world.

Are you running? Are you in darkness? Do you know God can pierce that darkness? Perhaps, like me and like Jacob, even when you’re not looking or asking for it?

Are we as a Christian community prepared to take inventory of the way we put demands and limitations on other humans? Or the ways, large or small, we engage in the selfishness and violence of our world? Do we need our vision renewed, so we may participate in bringing God’s hope instead? Small success here, you’ve done that in my life.

May we receive the vision, and be motivated to take it to the world, bringing Kingdom and God’s will to earth.

In the name of the Father, The Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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