Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 11

We are climbing….

Matthew’s gospel tells us the story of wheat and weeds
growing together.
Good and bad—growing so close together
that they truly inseparable.

Today in the reading in Genesis,
we hear the story of a weed.
Yes, Jacob.

Lest you go faint from hearing me refer to one of the patriarchs
of the church as a weed,
know that the Bible is full of weeds,
and God embraces and lifts up
even the weediest.

If you remember,
Jacob was born holding on to the heel
of his twin brother Esau.
From the beginning, Jacob wants to be first—
even first out of the womb.

Jacob—with the help of his mother Rebekah—
manipulates his brother
and steals a blessing that rightfully belongs to Esau.

Jacob is greedy.
He wants what he wants
and he wants it right now.

But then Jacob becomes afraid—
afraid of what his brother might do to him.
So Jacob flees.
There is a threat of trouble and harm,
so Jacob runs away.

He leaves Beer-sheba and travels far north toward Haran.
Night begins to fall.
Jacob is tired.
(Running away makes us tired.)

Jacob stops for the night.
He stretches out his weary body
and uses a stone for his pillow.

He falls asleep and he dreams.

He dreams of a ladder.
some say a staircase.
The Hebrew word has multiple translation possibilities.

Ladder, staircase….but regardless, the dream is the same.
Jacob sees the angels of God going up and coming down.
And God speaks directly to Jacob.

Here is this misfit, this questionable character,
this man who has little respect for his birth family,
and God says, “I am going to bless you and all your children.
God says, “I will not leave you.”
All those promises to a weed.

Jacob wakes up and says “Oh, my!”
“Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”
Suddenly Jacob is able to see--perhaps for the first time--
beyond his own needs and desires.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.

And Jacob understands.
It is not just the ladder that goes to heaven,
It is this very day in this very place--
this day—this day that God has made—that is the real gateway to heaven.

Jacob realizes how blind he has been.

Sometimes, like Jacob,
when we get just that fleeting glimpse of heaven,
we are then able to embrace what is here on earth--right before our eyes--
as more precious.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.

That could be our theme song
when we suddenly realize that life cannot be lived in isolation,
that life is not just about us.
When we suddenly realize that God calls us over and over again
into community, into relationship.

It is interesting where this reading stops in today’s lectionary.
The three verses that follow
Tell us that just as God has promised Jacob,
Jacob in turn promises God:
Of all that you give me, I will surely give one-tenth to you.

God has already told Jacob he has the blessing.
Jacob doesn’t need to cut a deal with God.
But Jacob, for the first time in his life,
understands the grace and mercy of God
And he offers what he offers—one tenth of all I have—to God.
He offers it in thanksgiving.

Jacob gets it.
He understands and is grateful for God’s blessing.
And he promises to give back to God.

We call that a tithe in the church—to give 10 per cent.
Tithing is not something church administrators or vestries
or priests made up.
Tithing has deep, deep biblical roots.

As much as we hate talk about (or hear about) money in church,
the reality is our money is one of the chief sacraments of our lives.
It is an outward and visible sign
of what is really in our hearts.

It is almost a cliché but there is still powerful truth
when we say that if you really want to know what matters to us,
look at our checkbook, look at our credit card statements.
What we spend our money on
is what matters to us, what we value in our life.
You might also glance at our calendars—
how we spend our time and energy.

Yet God gives us a blessing without asking for our promises.
But Jacob offers God his own promise—
because Jacob is a changed man,
with a changed heart
and a life that is beginning to be transformed.

Whatever hardships lie ahead
(and if you already know the rest of Jacob’s story,
you know there are hardships aplenty ahead of him)--
but still,
Jacob chooses to live the rest of his life with gratitude,
in thanksgiving to God.

This dreamy and holy night at Bethel is not the end of Jacob’s story.

Jacob’s story is about his commitment here on earth.
He does not try to fall back asleep and dream of more angels.
He commits to living a life
that recognizes God is in this place, this earthly place.

Jacob is very clear on all he has done wrong in this world.
In his dream, God appears to tell Jacob how much he is loved.
In a way, the stairway to heaven
allows Jacob to look in the mirror
And see not a weed,
But the finest of wheat God can grow.

Henry David Thoreau wrote,
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our head.”

He was right.
There are angels moving all around us.
The abundant blessing of God’s created world surrounds us.
Every morning we wake to a new day,
a day that offers us that gateway to heaven—
on earth as it is in heaven.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!

God is here.

What will we do with this day that the Lord has made?
How will we live in this holy place that is our “one wild and precious life”?
When will we really believe
in the immensity of God’s love for each one of us,
for every one of us?
What will we offer in thanksgiving?

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