July 23, 2023
Genesis 28. 10-19. Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven. When he awakes he says, “Surely God was in this place and I—I did not know.”
Psalm 139. God is present everywhere and aware of us and participating in our lives, no matter where we are or in what condition.
Romans 8.12-25. It is the Spirit that enables us to connect with God. All creation waits for redemption, longing for our connection as God’s children.
Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43. The parable of weeds among wheat, and an explanation.
As is typical in the Bible, Jacob’s revelation comes in a dream. I don’t think this is about nighttime dreams alone. Our communication with God is not in a rational state of thought, but a different realm of consciousness, in fact largely what we might think of as the unconscious. As The Could of Unknowing says, God can be loved but not thought. Or Martin Buber: “God can only properly be addressed, but not expressed.” It’s when we stop trying to understand God that we connect with God.
Interestingly, the angels are “ascending and descending.” One might think that since angels are from heaven they’d be be descending to earth and ascending… but, nope. Hm. Maybe angels’ some base is here, not there. In any case, this world and the unseen one are tightly braided together. There’s more passing back and forth than we think.
In the dream God promises four things to Jacob. We usually notice the first two, the usual stuff: land and descendants. But God also repeats the promise of blessing made to Abraham: “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” God’s election isn’t about us being special, nor just about our having a special protected place, or being able to prevail. It’s not about us, really. It’s about us having a calling to share God’s blessing with the whole world. Sort of like being baptized. And fourthly God also promises what God always promises; “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” It’s a good promise for Jacob to hear because he always gets himself in a lot of trouble.
One of the sentences in the Bible that always hangs in the darkness and shines like a neon light for me is “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I—I did not know it!” We always apprehend God right after the moment—like astronomers seeing the light of stars from the past. I think that’s what it means when Moses wants to see God and God says “I’ll cover you and pass by and as I recede I’ll uncover you so you can see.” Not that we never get to see God’s face (everything is God’s face), not exactly that we only get to see God’s backside, but that we see after the fact. We seldom realize in the moment that what we’re seeing is God. Which suggests that our experience of God’s absence is a sign of God’s presence. Our longing is God, and that sense that there’s an emptiness is, metaphorically, God’s hand covering us. Our feeling that God isn’t there might be disappointing, but it’s a reminder that God’s isn’t a feeling, and that what we want is not the feeling of God, but God. Jacob’s awareness of God is not in his sleep, but in his awakening, his trust that God is there when we don’t know it. He’s aware that God is not to be found in warm fuzzy feelings but in trust.
In Hebrew Jacob repeats the “I”: literally “and-I not I-knew.” As if there are two I’s: there’s the rational, intellectual self—essentially the ego— that can’t sense God’s presence, and the spiritual self, the soul, that knows that, that is aware of his own ignorance, that lets go of his ego. It’s the soul, not the mind, that connects with God. God can be lived but not thought. “God can properly only be addressed, not expressed.”
Any sentence in this dense passage is worthy of a sermon.
• “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The “deeds of the body” are ways we act as if we are contained and defined by our bodies: our pwn private physical survival. This doesn’t mean we should think poorly of our bodies or be cruel to them. It means we are truly alive only when we honor our deep interconnection to all other people and beings in the Spirit.
• “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” We aren’t people on trial before a demanding judge; we’re children of a loving parent.
• “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Ours is not a fear-based religion. Fear is precisely what we’re set free from.
• “We are joint heirs with Christ—if we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” We don’t earn anything. We inherit it. Faith is a mixed bag, neither all glory and privilege nor all suffering, but accompanying Christ in the fullness of life.
• “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed.” This isn’t pie in the sky. The glory is not in the future, but right now; it’s just that we can’t see it yet. We’re one little bit of the great picture of God’s story. Only afterward will we be able to see the whole thing and how we fit in.
• “Creation has been groaning in labor pains.” God’s work is to bring abundant life and wholeness—including everything, even all Creation. Creation shares our longing for wholeness. (Notice how Paul uses many metaphors for faith, including being born, giving birth, and being adopted.)
• “We wait for adoption.” I think we’re already adopted. There’s nothing unfinished in God’s claim of us as God’s beloved. But maybe Paul is thinking of a future time “when all things are revealed,” when later on we come to see everything more clearly. Maybe it’s like we’ve already been adopted, but the paperwork hasn’t arrived yet? So we hope. As in:
• “We hope for what we do not see; we wait for it with patience.” Hope is not wishing about the future but trust in what is already present even though we can’t see it. I hope the sun will rise tomorrow because I know it’s already rising.
Again, be wary of an “explanation” of a parable. A parable isn’t just a rebus with a certain picture standing in for a particular idea. It’s a mystery, open to many ways and angles of interpretation. Maybe this one is about how we shouldn’t judge people but let God sort it out later. Maybe it’s about how we shouldn’t judge our own lives and how mixed they are. Maybe it’s about how God will not destroy us even when there’s evil in our lives. Maybe it’s about how the evil in our lives isn’t solely our own fault—an enemy has done this! After all, we’re subject to the wounds and attitudes we were given as children. Maybe it’s about not judging things in our lives that we don’t like: maybe they’re more mixed, with some valuable aspects, than we realize at the time. It’s definitely about not judging other people. The “weeds” and “wheat” are not necessarily other individuals, but both are the fruitful and unfruitful aspects of my own life. And, who knows? Sometimes what we think of as bad may actually be fruitful in God’s eyes. Notice that what’s thrown in the furnace of fire (v. 41) are the causes of sin.
Call to Worship
Leader: Creator God, you are in this place.
All: God of light and dark, God of word and Silence, you are in this place.
Saving God, guiding God, you are in this place.
God within us, you are in this place.
We greet you! We thank you.
We worship you. Open our hearts to your presence, now and always.
Leader: Loving God, Infinite parent, you birth us and claim us.
All: We are in awe, and we praise you.
Gentle Christ, you love us and walk beside us.
We are made new, and we thank you.
Holy Spirit, you breathe your life into us and re-create us each moment.
We are your children, and we live in your love.
We worship with praise and thanksgiving.
Leader: Gracious God, you are present in this place, in this time.
All: You are present in our lives, in every moment.
Open our eyes to be present to you,
to be mindful in this and every moment
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
4. [Psalm 139. 7-12]
Leader: O God, where could we go from your Spirit?
All: Where could we escape your presence?
If we rise above the earth, there you are!
If we make my bed in the grave, there you are!
If we take the wings of the morning and fly to the farthest sea,
even there your hand will lead us, and in your gentle arms you will hold us.
We could say, “Let the night cover us, and everything about us be total darkness,”
but even the darkness is not dark to you: the night is bright like the day,
and with you even the darkness is light.
In your light, Lord, we turn to you.
In your presence, we worship.
Leader: God of All, your Creation groans in childbirth, the labor pains of life.
All: Life groans in us, yearning for wholeness.
We come to listen to the moans of the world.
We come to give voice to the yearning of your Spirit.
Even now you pray in us, God.
We will hold the silence and the space.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of grace, surely you are in this place. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts. As we breathe in and out, you are around and within us. Open the depths of our souls. May we be present to you, who are so infinitely present for us. Amen.
God of glory, Lord of Mystery, Jacob dreamed of the angelic ladder bridging heaven and earth. We stand upon that ladder now, your Presence ascending and descending as we hear your Word and respond. Bless us, who stand always at the gate of heaven, that we may be mindful, and grateful. Speak to us, God, your living Word. Amen.
Gracious God, in our lives we hear so much chatter, so many voices. Help us to winnow out the good wheat from the weeds, the truth from the noise. Grant us your Spirit, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with gladness what you are saying to us today. Amen.
Holy God, Infinite Love, Intimate Lover, Faithful One, we come from you. We rest in you. We listen for you. Open our hearts to your presence. Open our ears to your Word. Open our arms to your children. Open our future to your grace. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
Loving God, we are not dreaming.
You are in this place.
Your grace passes between this world
and your heart.
We open ourselves to the mystery of your presence.
Prayer of Confession
God of love, you have been present for us
and we did not know it;
we did not act as if you were there,
as if you loved us, as if we cared.
By the grace we know in Christ,
awaken us, forgive us, heal our fear,
and renew your Spirit in us. Amen.
Pastor: God of love, in our lives there is wheat,
beautiful and blessed, and a gift from you.
We recall those moments when your grace was fruitful
in our lives and we give thanks as we hold them before you.
In our lives there are also weeds, ugly and unfruitful,
that choke out the goodness.
Trusting your grace, we recall those moments,
and we hold them before you.
God of grace, gather in your harvest,
separate out what is good in us and what is not,
that our lives may bear fruit
for you and for the world.
All: In the grace we know in Christ,
receive us, forgive us, heal us,
and renew your Spirit in us
as your beloved children. Amen.
Psalm 139 — a paraphrase
O Holy One, you see me from the inside out.
You know me better than I do.
You take every step with me;
you have already walked all my journeys.
Even before I speak
you know my thoughts.
You are around me and within me;
I feel your hand on my back.
I can’t imagine the greatness of your love;
I can only trust it.
God, for your love, I pray…
Where could I go from your presence?
In outer space, at the core of the earth—there you are.
If I ran away to the farthest place,
you would be with me all the way.
I could try to hide in perfect darkness
but to you the darkness is light.
God, for your light, I pray…
You formed me before I was born;
you made me by hand in secret.
I praise you, for you are wonderful!
For I am wonderfully, awesomely made.
How amazing is your wisdom, O God,
how infinite your presence.
When I try to comprehend, you are beyond my understanding.
But when I simply become aware—here you are.
Search through me, O God, and know my heart.
Root out what is unloving, and lead me in your life-giving way.
God, for your way, I pray…
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We love you, God, infinite creator of all that is, and we rejoice that we are your children. We come from you; we are born of your love. You create us as living images of you and your grace.
We follow you, Jesus, Christ of God, Word made flesh, love made real. You healed and taught. You welcomed and blessed all God’s children. You included all people as siblings. You included the outcast, the wounded, the children. For your love and courage you were crucified; but in love God raised you from the dead. You live among us, calling, guiding, blessing.
Holy Spirit, we live by your grace. Born of God, adopted by God, blessed by God, we live by your life and power in us. You lead us to live lives of love and courage, to bless all our siblings, to live together as children of God in harmony and joy,
We give thanks to you, O God, and promise to live as children of your love. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Child of God (Original song)
I’m a child, a child of God,
God’s beloved in whom God is pleased.
I will live in the peace of God.
You’re a child…