Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Wes Smith
Whilst growing up, I always had it in my mind that the New Testament, for some reason or another - was just better than the Old Testament. Who knows, maybe I learned that somewhere, or maybe I just was young and susceptible to the culture of bigger better and newer. Somehow the seed was planted in my mind, and because of that seed, I did not spend a great deal of time studying or really caring to learn about the Old Testament in my younger years. Of course, I knew all the basic stories: Creation, Moses, Noah, Jacob, David, but for some reason the Old Testament to me, was, well…just old.
It wasn’t until sometime later, probably seminary - when I came across a helpful way to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament and the New Testament are like two different acts of the same play. It’s not that one is better than the other - it’s that you can’t have one without the other, and to fully dismiss one or the other not only does a disservice to the church – as it dismisses from whence we came, it also fails to recognize that both testaments are a part of God’s grand history of salvation; the history that you and I are actively living.
Generally, pastors, well - Lutheran pastors at least - usually preach on the gospel lesson for any given Sunday. We are a church rooted in the gospel; we are rooted in the good news – it certainly has its place. But it is also important to remember that the good news and grace found in the New Testament is also found in the Old Testament. It may not be as overt, but Grace like God can be found in all and unsuspecting places.
Case in point: Jacobs Ladder. It is a short yet eternally memorable story.
Genesis 28 picks up in a rather tumultuous time in Jacob’s life, however self-inflicted it may have been. You see, right before Genesis 28 Jacob steals his father’s blessing away from his brother Esau. Since their father Isaac was old and blind, Jacob used that to his advantage, and he deceived his father by disguised himself as his brother Esau. The crazy thing is that despite his blindness Isaac still had his suspicions, but ultimately blesses Jacob. This blessing may not seem like a big deal to us, but it all but ensured that Esau would live under Jacob’s thumb for as long as they lived. Esau was both brokenhearted and angry and as many stories in the Old Testament go - tempers flared, and Esau vowed to kill his brother. But wait, there is more, just when you think Jacob was acting alone - the plot thickens some more. Jacob’s mother, Rebecca played no small role in Jacobs acquisition his father's blessing. She was something of a puppet master, working behind the scenes to make sure this event came to pass – truly it is a sermon in and of itself, but the reason Jacob finds himself sleeping on a rock in Genesis 28 is because his mother warned him of Esau‘s nefarious plan of revenge, and because of that Jacob fled.
So, if you are thinking that Jacob just enjoys sleeping on rocks - that is not the case at all. Jacob found himself sleeping with a rock as a pillow because he had run away and quite frankly, he was at one of his lowest points.
But what do we know about God? God has a way of coming to us in those moments and in Jacob’s case, through a rather remarkable encounter, and dream.
It goes that while dreaming Jacob saw a ladder set up on earth and it reached all the way to heaven. On the ladder there were angels ascending and descending from heaven. Suddenly God then stands before Jacob – and he receives the most remarkable gift. Jacob may have stolen his father’s blessing from Esau, but God gave Jacob something holier, something timeless. God gave Jacob the same promises he gave to Abraham – that promise being that his descendants would multiply, and they would be led to the promised land.
I have always found this to be a rather grace-filled encounter. Especially because of the preceding events.
God has ways of coming into our lives in unsuspecting and surprising ways. And to think if God can enter the life of someone like Jacob, how much more does God enter our lives? Now of course it isn’t to say that we are better than Jacob, that’s kind of our thing as Christians - we are all in need of God‘s grace and redemption, but what’s this story highlights is something so important about God, what this story highlights, what Jacob’s dream highlights is that God comes to us. Our relationship with God is top-down.
Now, you might be wondering how exactly it is that God comes to us. God has not been in my dreams; I don’t see angels going to and fro from heaven. Well that is okay, and it is a lot simpler than you might think. The only place you need to look is to the cross. That is where God emptied Godself for our sake. That is where our salvation was secured and that is where Christ fully enters our lives. It is where our lives are inextricably connected and wrapped up in God’s plan of salvation – The cross is where we are made right with God, and blessing upon blessing – we do nothing to receive that gif, neither did Jacob. And you might be thinking, well Jacob lived before Christ, that doesn’t make any sense, he received this grace too?! – to which I would say, fair point, but let’s leave the dolling out of grace to God. Yet even if that explanation does not offer you any consolation, consider this. God kept his promise to Jacob – and if we know anything about God, if we trust in the gift of salvation, we believe in a God that keeps promises. If not, what is the point? Why worship?
God keeps God’s promises – full stop.
…Okay – change of gears. Sort of.
If you are of a certain generation or have a good musical ear the hymn of the day - We Plow the Fields and Scatter - will likely cause a little bit of anxiety. It causes a little bit of anxiety for me because I cannot sing this hymn without thinking about God Spell and the ever-popular rendition and distillation of this hymn.
I read the lyrics and the sound comes out, but I really want to be singing God Spell – but that’s neither here nor there.
There’s so much to love about this hymn, but the second part of the third verse is my favorite – No gifts have we to offer for all your love imparts, but what you most would treasure – our humble thankful hearts.
When I read that, when I hear that song, it simply reinforces God’s grace, yet I am also reminded that while our salvation is in God’s hands we need to be ever reminded that the cross and our faith doesn’t ensure that nothing bad will happen – it ensures that when the clouds come and evil rears its head, Christ is ever-present. Christ is with us through thick and thin. And many of us might be feeling like we are at that point currently – just given the state of the world, but we didn’t need coronavirus to bring us to that realization, it highlights the insatiable lust for control we humans covet, and it brings to light all the more that God is in control.
And I get the sense that that’s what Jacob drew from his dream. He learned that God is the one who is in control. It is God who has Come to him at his lowest point and offered a word of hope, peace, and consolation. Jacob had no gifts to offer, but God’s love was given regardless.
And Jacob’s response was to glorify God. And part of the way he did this was by erecting a stone. On it he placed a name: Bethel, which means house of God. Now if you couple that name with verse 16 something amazing happens. Verse 16 – it is almost a throw-away line something you might read past if skimming – Jacob says: Surely the Lord is in this place: and I did not know it.
I just love that line. That is just the story of life – and what is more his realization gives us both hope and grace for the future of the church.
Jacob’s realization reminds us that the whole world – every inch of it; not just our buildings, are God’s house. Whenever God enters our lives we are in God’s house.
And for as hard or even odd as it may sound that is the gospel hope I gleaned from the Old Testament reading. Genesis 28 tells us that wherever we are and when we least expect it, we are in God’s presence, we are in God’s house. and when we are in God’s house we are in God’s presence and whenever we are in God’s presence we are showered with grace and love, amen.
No I don’t know what spoke to you most about this reading from Genesis today, because God speaks to us all differently, but because of the cross we know that God‘s grace is all encompassing and meets us wherever we are, and if you like Jacob find yourself sleeping on a rock, if you are at a low point, if you feel like there’s no further down to go, know that God is with you, rest easy in the shadows of the cross and go forth in the knowledge that God keeps God’s promises.