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Jacob's Ladder

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11)

23 July 2023

Year A

Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+

Genesis 28:10-22 (Revised)

Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Sunday Cycle of Prayer

The Church of the Province of Central Africa

Holy Cross Church, Winter Haven

St. Paul’s Church, Winter Haven

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

God is ever-present and invites us to draw near.

Just Two days ago Jacob hastily left home with Esau seething because Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing, Rebekah weeping her favorite son had to become a fugitive, Isaac waving goodbye from his deathbed. Two days into a 500 mile journey from Beersheba to Haran in Paddam Aram the southern most border of Palestine Jacob retraces his grandfather Abraham’s steps from Haran to the promised Land. Rebekah, who had helped Jacob deceive her husband, hoped a few months away amongst family would allow Esau’s anger to subside, Jacob find a new bride amongst his relatives and then Jacob to return home.

Two days into that journey Jacob has walked, pondered, and wondered what might have been, leaving home quickly, running for his life, breaking and destroying family ties because of his lack of moral compass. And as the sun sinks below the horizon Jacob approaches Luz, a town unknown to him potentially filled with strange and dangerous people. Fearful to enter Luz, Jacob camps outside the town

on a hillside strewn with rocks and boulders and rests his head on a large, flat stone.

Can’t you just imagine you and I when we have trouble going to sleep, Jacob’s mind being filled with disturbing questions and uncomfortable feeling, how long will my father live? how will I get along without my mother’s devotion ? will Esau try to follow and kill me?

I suspect amongst the emerging stars and strange night sounds Jacob realizes perhaps for the first time in his life he is truly alone, homeless, penniless.

Perhaps you have had a time in your life when hopefully you weren’t homeless or penniless but for whatever reason, you felt truly alone, vulnerable, discouraged, powerless.

And perhaps you have asked yourself as I suspect Jacob did “How did this ever happen to me?” And if he was honest Jacob realizes only he himself is to blame. He has cheated his brother out of his birthright, lied and deceived his ailing father, broken up his own family. Having acted like a scoundrel to get what HE wanted

Jacob is paying a painful price, running away from his family and even perhaps running away from God.

As he drifted off to an uneasy sleep Jacob has one of the most famous dreams in history, the original “Stairway to Heaven.”, for he sees a stairway resting on the earth, its top reaching to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it and the Lord standing above. And the Lord spoke directly to Jacob for the first time. While the Lord had spoken directly to his father and grandfather, Jacob who had learned about, but not truly followed the Jewish faith had not slowed down and been still enough to experience God in his heart.

But God, YHWH speaks to Jacob at his deepest moment of disgrace, when he had hit bottom in the middle of his vulnerable, powerless sleep.

As C. S. Lewis, the great theologian writes, God whispers to us in our pleasure and shouts to us in our pain. Pain, is God’s megaphone, to rouse a sleeping world.

YWHH comes to rouse and inspire Jacob even when he sleeps. Jacob experiences what ancient Celtic Christians call a thin place, a location or a moment in which we have slowed down and our sense of the Sacred becomes more profound. In a “thin space” it is as if the curtain between heaven and earth, between God as transcendent, living up in heaven and God as imminent, living here in our hearts and among us on earth is opened.

Thin spaces may be experiences you are not expecting or prepared for but where you can become aware of God’s presence to transform you, to pray and to draw near to God.

Perhaps you have had this experience while listening to a cherished song, praying in church or with someone, being somewhere and someplace –at the beach, in the a garden where you sense God’s presence particularly strongly.

Jacob’s “thin space” occurs in the form of a strange dream, a stairway or sullam in Hebrew, descending from heaven to earth resting on earth in his very location with angels of God going up and down the stairs.

Now most of us have lived our whole lives and not seen an angel of the Lord although if we are alert and anticipating them we will see angels around us, in the choir, in the kitchen, in the liturgy and maybe even in a snuggling therapy dog.

God pulls back the curtain to a “thin space” for a few people in history to see God’s angels working behind the scenes.

God awakens Jacob, the schemer and deceiver into embracing a “thin space” and seeing angels taking messages from heaven down to earth and messages from earth up to heaven. Descending messages initiated from God who knows our needs before we ask and our own ignorance in asking, sends messages which answer prayers, give guidance, provide protection and fend off the attacks of Satan.

Ascending messages for God along our connection from earthly to heavenly life. prayers of thanksgiving, joy, and sorrow, cries for help for ourselves, our sisters and brothers, appeals for God’s love and care for challenges here on earth.

God stands above at the top of the stairway sees Jacob’s potential and his future as one who could connect with God and develop into the man God intended him to be. For you see God recognized that Jacob, grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac

became a deceiver as he experienced God only as transcendent, too far away to catch him in his deceit.

Perhaps like many of us like Jacob can feel as if God is too transcendent, too vast, magnificent, almighty to ever be concerned about someone ordinary like us. And we may wonder if God has to take care of the whole world, How can God have time to worry about me?” This can lead us to believe, erroneously, if God is only fully transcendent we can only rely upon ME, MYSELF, and I.

Jacob has cheated, deceived, and stolen to get what HE wanted because he thought God didn’t notice, God didn’t care and/or God was too busy to help HIM out. But God still intervenes, rousing Jacob from sleep to remind him, Jacob, I’m nearer to you than you think I am. I am in heaven, you are on earth, a stairway reaches from me to you, travels with you everywhere and my angels are always watching out for you.

With you, I will keep the covenant promised to your father Abraham blessing you with land, offspring like the dust of the earth so you will become a people of all the nations of the earth, east, west, north and south.

And I will be with YOU, I will be your God Jacob to protect and keep you, bring you back to the land promised you and never leave you until all our work, mine and yours is complete.

Jacob’s dream reminds us: God is near no matter where we are or what choices we have made. God is faithful, ever present and promises to us, as God did with Jacob that God has plans for us, goes before us and is with us and will never abandon us.

Years later Christians believe that ladder from heaven to earth is our Lord, Jesus Christ, the mediator who came to earth to reconnect our relationship with God severed by sin, provide eternal life through the lineage of Jacob who will become Israel. Like Jacob you and I receive the very same promise, my child I know who you are, what you have done, nothing is hidden from me. I sense your fears and I forgive you and go with you to safely bring you home again to ME.

This is God’s promise to Jacob and to us this day. Jacob and the story of the Original Stairway to Heaven reminds us that God is a god of grace, omnipresent and goes before all of God’s people at work to shape our future, while we live in the present and sometimes in the past. And God invites us to slow down, open our hearts, let go of our defenses to accept God’s invitation as God draws near to us, for us to draw near to God, to experience the “thin spaces” where God reveals who God is and whom God is inviting us to become.

Thin spaces remind us of the nearness of God when we receive the Holy Sacrament and reveal a deep spiritual place of holy mystery. Be awake, alert

as well as open, experience the mystery of God, the nearness of God and willing to let go your own agendas. Because wherever you are, God is there. And wherever God is, there is a stairway to heaven], Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit reaching down from God to right where you are bringing God’s messages of love and carrying your prayers to God.

So this week be awake, be aware, be prepared to experience a “thin space”, a holy place where when you slow down, you will stop and listen for God’s still small voice speaking to you. There are the times you can be amazed and shout “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”


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