Sermon–July 20, 2014


6 Pentecost—Proper 11-A

July 20, 2014

William Bradbury

Genesis 28:10-19a

Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23

Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-46

Jacob has every reason to be on the move. He’s stolen the blessing of his blind father Isaac which rightfully belongs to his older brother Esau and Esau is furious!

In Genesis 27: 42-45 we hear:

42…Rebekah…called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran….

In today’s reading Jacob travels as far as he can to this unknown place and collapses in exhaustion.

He uses a rock for a pillow—which pretty much describes his situation between a rock and a hard place, but mercifully sleep comes.

But instead of Esau showing up to kill him, God shows up to bless him.

In a dream Jacob sees a stairway to heaven (which will remind some of you of the famous song by Led Zeppelin from 1971) filled with angels who are messengers of God going up and down between heaven and earth carrying out the will of God.

This in itself would be enough to stun Jacob but suddenly the dream gets personal: the LORD is standing beside him and says, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac” and then the LORD promises to Jacob the same land he promised to Abraham—which is to say God includes Jacob in the Abrahamic covenant—but we must notice this is not just a covenant for blessing Israel but is God’s way for blessing the whole earth.

God says: All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” If that’s not happening then Israel or the Church is not fulfilling its end of the agreement.

Here is a test of whether our religion is from God or from our mind: does our religion bless the whole world or only part of it?

Remember Anne Lamott’s famous dictum: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

And do we see that God promises to bless us but also intends to use us in God’s work?

In a recent Christian Century magazine a Lutheran pastor suggests that both clergy and lay folk take God’s call to spread the Kingdom seriously by engaging in what he calls, Clinical Evangelistic Education or CEE. All mainline clergy already have to go through during seminary CPE: Clinical Pastoral Education in which seminarians work as hospital chaplains under the direction of a supervisor along with a group of other seminarians. One of the chief tools of learning is called a verbatim in which you write down a conversation you had with a patient and receive often pointed feedback on how well or poorly you listened to the patient and shared the blessing of Christ.

Clinical Evangelistic Education would take verbatims from our everyday conversations with friends and co-workers so we could receive feedback on how well or poorly we listened to our neighbor and shared the good news of Christ.  In the article he shares part of a verbatim of a person talking to another parent at their kids’ soccer game.

If we really are covenant partners with God and called to bless everyone, then when the person asks us, “So, do you still attend that stone church?” we might think about giving them a more fulsome answer than just “Yes, I do.”

Jacob is being called not just to receive something from God but to be something for God.  God then also promises Jacob three things.

God promises—

First: Know that I am with you

Second: Know that I will keep you and protect you.

            Third: One day I will bring you back here and you will make this holy place your home.

Maybe T S Eliot is thinking of this promise when he writes in Little Gidding: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Then, of course, Jacob wakes up and has a choice: does he live now as a man of faith or a man of fear?

I suggest this is the central question for us. Shall we be run by faith or run by fear?

Now I know full well what our default setting is. We may have had the most wonderful day and then had beautiful dreams of angels, but the moment we come to consciousness the next morning the story of fear captures us again. Our thoughts seemingly out of nowhere start reminding us of all our so-called problems until as our feet hit the floor we are lost in fear and unconscious to the presence of Christ.

But because we have the Holy Spirit we have also have a choice. Instead of our fear we can call to mind the promises of God in Christ: “Do not be afraid…Lo, I am with you always until the end of the age…come to me all you that travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Jacob chooses faith over fear and immediately acts this out by turning his stone pillow into a sacramental pillar of faith, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

In 1960 All Saints Church erected stone upon stone to proclaim we too are people run by faith.

We are here today to make Christ visible in the sacramental bread and wine.

Several years ago my nephew James and I toured CNN headquarters in Atlanta. In a mock newsroom they showed us how the green screen used by the weather person functions. They had several people stand in front of a green screen and then a green sheet was thrown over them. As we watched on the monitor the people simply disappeared, just like what happens in Harry Potter with the invisibility cloak.

James Alison says the Eucharist is just the reverse of this. The Glorified Christ is everywhere but invisible until the consecrated bread allows us to see him, making the invisible visible.

Alison writes: “The material elements (of, for instance, bread and wine) do not hide a secret divine presence, such that if only we could peel away the disguise, we would find the real thing. Quite the reverse: materiality is not a disguise, it is what enables that which is invisible to be seen.” Jesus: The Forgiving Victim, P. 249

And if we can see Christ in the bread at church we will one day have the faith to see Christ in the bread at home and in the table and chairs, and most of all, in the people sitting around the table for they too are signs of Christ—and then there will be no room for any fear at all because Christ will be all in all.

Of course there is plenty of evidence that there are things to be afraid of when a commercial airline minding its own business at 35, 000 feet can be shot down.  We all know as Jesus tells us that there is both good and bad in the field of each human life, including mine and yours.

But Jesus tells us to focus on the good and leave the bad to God.

I like Martin Luther’s take: He says,

“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.” 

First thing in the morning and last thing at night we relinquish our life into the hand of God by remembering and claiming God’s promises for ourselves.

Then we like Jacob can wake up and say to ourselves and to our neighbors, “Surely the LORD is in this place.”