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Sunday's Sermon / July 23, 2017
Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Genesis 28: 11-22

    It is so funny the kinds of stories from the Bible you read as a kid, that you read again as an adult, and think, wait a minute – is that really right? Is that really fair? Is that really how the story goes? The story of Jacob and Esau is one of those stories, to me. Isaac and Rebecca for a long time cannot have children, and then when Rebecca does conceive, it’s twins, Jacob and Esau, who have already started fighting in the womb. That’s how much they struggle. Esau is born first, which means everything in that day and time. It meant he inherited everything his father had, it meant he would be the patriarch, the ruler of the family, all of it. Esau was also the stronger twin, the hunter, the one who brought his father wild game that he liked to eat. Jacob, on the other hand, came out of the womb holding on to his brother’s heel, and he pretty much kept right on grabbing at his brother for the rest of his life. As a matter of fact, that’s what Jacob’s name means – it means grabby or graspy. “Trickster,” as some people translate. Someone who is always grabbing at the heels of someone else’s success.
    He does this two big times to his brother Esau as adults. First, he tricks Esau into selling him his birthright, his inheritance, for a bowl of stew. Esau comes in famished from a hunting trip and Jacob refuses to give him food until he sells him his birthright. Not exactly a stellar example of brotherly love or mutual respect. Then, at the urging of his mother, when his father Isaac is very old and blind, he dresses up like Esau, puts wool on his arms to simulate Esau’s hairy arms, brings Isaac his favorite stew, and he receives Esau’s blessing. His father had intended to bless Esau, had asked for Esau, but Jacob came and tricked him instead. Just minutes later, Esau comes in with his bowl of stew and finds out he’s been had. Please, father, bless me too. But Isaac says, I’ve already given your brother everything, dominion over all I have, and over you – what kind of blessing could I give now? In those days, a blessing was more than just a nice prayer. It was sort-of part prophesy, part passing the baton from one patriarch to the next, and part reading-of-the-will, before the deceased was even deceased. It was prophesy, position in the family, and property. And it was done in the name of God. There were no take-backs, no re-dos, no mulligans. Father, can’t you give me a blessing too? Esau, son, I’ve already given your brother the prophesy, the position, and the property. What is left for me to give to you? Can you imagine how Esau felt, as his father lay dying, telling him that? Heartbreaking.
    After all this, Rebecca decides that tricky Jacob needs a wife, not from among the Canaanites, like Esau’s wives, but from her own people. Isaac agrees and they send Jacob on an errand. This may have been the real reason, or it may likely have been to shield Jacob from Esau’s anger. After all, when Isaac needed a wife, they sent a servant, but now they send Jacob himself. It was partly a matchmaking adventure and partly an escape from danger. So far, if you’re keeping track, Jacob has done nothing redemptive. He’s done nothing to earn our love or be the hero of the story. I mean, really – he fought with his brother in the womb, he came out hanging on to his heel, he pit his parents against each other, stole his brother’s birthright while he was starving, and then stole his poor, blind father’s blessing without his knowledge. And still somehow we tell this story like – isn’t that great, kids? All the awful things Jacob did to his brother? He was the chosen one! No.
    So Jacob the backstabber, the anti-hero, sets out to find a wife. He must’ve been traveling light, because he forgot a pillow. He sets out towards Haran, and when it gets dark, he lays down for the night, with a rock as his pillow.  And he has a splendid dream, of a ladder all the way to heaven, and angels of God, messengers of God, going up and down the ladder, and then God stands beside Jacob and says, ““I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
    Wow. What a vision. Jacob’s ladder is such a part of our religious imagery, we sing about it, we tell the story to kids. It is in famous paintings. There’s a children’s toy called a Jacob’s ladder, a quilt pattern called Jacob’s ladder, a movie by that name, and some kind of exercise machine that looks really hard and horrible. This short vision has inspired our imaginations in all kinds of ways. In one dream, it redeems Jacob’s whole story. It’s like the game of chutes and ladders, or snakes and ladders – you remember that board game? When you do something good, you climb a ladder. When you do something bad, you slide down a slide. In the Methodist church we might even call it backsliding. Your goal is to reach the top. Jacob, in his story, keeps getting the chutes, the slides down, because of all his bad behavior, and then suddenly he gets that one glowing ladder all the way to the top. The one that ends the game.
    Is that fair? – does the brightness of this vision that we love erase everything we know about Jacob? All of his trickery, all of that? Can you get a stairway straight to heaven? What do we do with it, now that God has made this pronouncement that Jacob is the one? Luckily, not even Jacob knows what to do with this information. He doesn’t immediately become a better guy, a Godly guy. He kind of fumbles around and does the best he could – he wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Which, wow, that’s an underwhelming statement. Jacob woke up from his bright vision and said, “Wow, God is in this place. Who knew?” Didn’t he know God is everywhere? Maybe he thought when he was doing all those bad things, God wasn’t watching, which could explain a lot. And then, the scripture says, Jacob was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So he takes the rock he was sleeping on, which, if you were using it as a pillow, can’t have been that big. What do you think this big? This? And pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Which, sure it’s nice, but it’s not like he built a temple or even a stack of stones. He pours oil on his pillow rock and calls it good.
    And then, Jacob makes some promises back. And he swears to God that IF, listen to that, IF, God will fulfill that promise, take care of him, provide for him, and bring him safely back to his own land, IF God will do all those things, Jacob will worship God and give him 1/10th of everything he has. Ever the bargainer, Jacob doesn’t fall flat on his face and worship God right then. Nope. He says, OK, I will worship you. Oh, no, not now. When you deliver on all of your promises. Oh, and when you do I’ll cut you in for a percentage. Ten percent, let’s say? Nice guy, right? Oh, Jacob. What are we going to do with you?
    Normally when we read this Jacob’s ladder story, Jacob’s sins get outshone by the bright ladder, the angels coming and going, the amazing promises of God. We forget Jacob’s past, and we think of him in new light. Well, if God is for this guy, who can be against him, right? But maybe this story isn’t so much about Jacob, and what a shining guy he becomes. After all, he doesn’t actually get to go up the ladder, he stays pretty firmly on the ground. Maybe this story is more about what God can do through even a trickster. Even a wheeler-dealer like Jacob. It’s always a good reminder to us, that God doesn’t operate on a merit system. We don’t earn God’s favor. We receive it, it is a free gift. Like a bright vision of heaven given to a con man, cast out by his family,  sleeping on a rock. That’s an important piece of good news from this story. God can use anyone, even Jacob, even us, for great and amazing things.
    But there is a second gem hidden here in this story – not only does God make huge, grand, promises to someone who is, by our standards at least, unworthy -- God also seems to genuinely care about Jacob. Crazy, right? God cares for this tricky underdog. After all, why give him this vision at all? Why not just do those things without telling him? Why tell him that you, God, are with him protecting him always? The end is about the same. But God, for some reason, wants to give Jacob this wake-up call. God wants, slowly, gradually, for Jacob’s life course to be corrected. God wants Jacob not only to be the father of a great nation, but to know God. To walk with God. God wants to have a relationship, not just a covenant.
    And you know what? Jacob’s life does turn around. Slowly. Very slowly. It’s not a ladder straight to heaven, for sure. It’s definitely the slow, tired climb the long way around. Jacob, on that climb will be tricked in return. He will wrestle with an angel that leaves him crippled. He will have all sorts of struggles with his own children. You know how your mama or daddy used to yell at you – I hope when you grow up you have kids that are just like you? Yep, that happened to Jacob. His kids were just as tricky. Just as awful to each other. But Jacob does grow closer to God. He reconciles with his brother. He goes back to his homeland. And he does become the father of a great nation. And this vision was his turning point. It was his wake-up call. It was his notice that God loved and cared for him, even with all the things he’d done, and was still doing, that were not what we’d think of as good behavior for a patriarch of the faith. He doesn’t get to take the shortcut, the ladder straight to heaven, he has to go the long way. But he goes. The ladder was his wake-up call. The ladder showed him what was possible.
    And the wake-up call started small. Jacob, remember, didn’t sit up from his vision, and think, wow, I’ve been horrible. I’ve got to change all my ways and fix everything I’ve done wrong. Nope – his whole wake up call was this: Wow, God is in this place, and I didn’t know it. That was it. That was the starting point. Small, small, small, gradual, and small. Just the recognition that God was there with him. That was it. That was all this vision accomplished.
    A spiritual teacher once asked me this very good question: What do you know, that you live like you don’t know? What do you know, that you live like you don’t know? Jacob probably knew intellectually that God was all around, with him all the time, but he lived like it wasn’t true. He lived like he didn’t know what God was there with him. This was his wake-up, that God was with him. So what is that thing for you, today? What do you know, that you live like you don’t know? I can give you easy examples, from my life. I know that I shouldn’t eat as much refined sugar. But I don’t always live like I know that. I know that I should floss more often. But I don’t always live like I know that. There are deeper things too. I know that God loves me. But I don’t always live like a beloved child of God. I know that God uses imperfect people, like Jacob, like me, that God even uses our imperfections, but that doesn’t stop me from being a perfectionist. From thinking that God would love me more if I was perfect. You get the idea. So what is that thing for you – what do you, right now, know, that you’re living like you don’t know? What do you know that you’re living like you don’t know?  
Because I believe what God wanted for Jacob God wants for us too. God doesn’t just want us to go down the good path set before us. God wants to walk it with us. God wants us to know that we are loved, protected, provided for.
    Re-read the story of Jacob’s ladder this week, and ask that question. What do I know, that I’m living like I don’t know? God might, even right now, be trying to wake you up. Might be trying to let you know that you’re loved, or give you a new direction. Listen for that call. Jacob woke up from his bright vision and said, “Wow, God is in this place. Who knew?”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

VBS Cookout / 6pm
Saturday, 22 July 2017

VBS Cookout
Tuesday, August 2nd
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Please sign up to bring our superheroes
something super to eat!

The sign up is in the Narthex

Operation Christmas Child / July Donations
Saturday, 22 July 2017

 In July we are asking for donations of:

                       School Supplies

Thank you for your help in working toward our goal of 150 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child this year!

District Meeting / 10-3pm
Saturday, 22 July 2017

Cedar Grove UMC is hosting the District Meeting and we need your help!

Please sign up bring something for lunch or help us decorate.

We’re also looking for two nursery workers– if you know someone that is good, who would like to make a little bit of extra money that day, let us know!
Monday, July 31st

10:00 a.m.– 3:00 p.m.

Weekly Reading & Lectionary Text / July 23, 2017
Saturday, 22 July 2017

“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”                 Genesis 28: 16-17


Today’s  Lectionary Texts

Genesis 28:10-19a   Romans 8:12-25

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Lectionary Texts for next Sunday, July 30

Genesis 29:15-28   Romans 8:26-39
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b   Mathew 13:31-33,44-52

         I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
                                      Psalm 122:1 (NIV)

Who did you invite to church with you today?

A Benefit for Barbara Buck
Friday, 21 July 2017

Benefit for Barbara

Spaghetti Dinner
Thursday, August 3
6pm - 7:30pm

Cedar Grove UMC
5218 Efland Cedar Grove Rd.
Cedar Grove, NC 27231

Come join us to celebrate Barbara Buck
and support her battle with cancer.  All
proceeds will go towards offsetting Barb's
living expenses, travel and treatments.

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