Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rock Solid

Genesis 28: 10-19
I have a collection of rocks that grows with each trip I take.  They are not pretty rocks per se.  And I don’t try to balance them or stack them like Bill Dan out in Sausalito, California who balances all sorts of rocks on top of one another in an amazing feat.  In fact quite the opposite, I have them in small bowls and trays.  They are not rocks with turquoise ribbing or rocks that are studded with garnets.  Most of them are everyday pebbles that you’d usually just walk by or over. 

I collect them because I want to remember a particular place that I am in and so to take one home is to take that very special place with me.  I’ve even asked friends to collect a rock or two for me from places they are going.  Recently a friend brought back pebbles from the Iona Community in Scotland.  They are so smooth and beautiful I love holding them; I feel peace. 
I’m sure many of you have bent over to pick up a stone just because it called to you or it glistened in the water or maybe it was a memento of some very special moment or place in your life.

The fact is rocks (I’m not talking about crystals and healing stuff) are significant in many, if not most cultures and in many ways. Unfortunately they can be used to harm others or they are used in positive ways like memorials, or directional devices, maybe even as makers to indicate that someone has had an experience with the divine, which we will see in today’s scripture because Jacob uses stones for that very purpose.

We are continuing the Ancestral history of the founding mothers and fathers of Israel as recorded in Genesis 12-50.  They are great epics and sagas that are beautifully stitched together like a family’s heirloom patchwork quilt. 

Today’s scripture is purely about Jacob.  There are no other people, just him and as we will see, his dream and his God.

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.
Marc Chagall
Jacob is now in Haran, the land from which Abraham and Sarah, his grandparents migrated.  Why did he go back there?  Because he’s on the run!  Why is he one the run?  Because Jacob cons Esau into selling his birthright to him for a measly bowl of lentil stew.  That doesn’t make for good family relations and then the family runs into hard times because there was a famine in the land and so Isaac, Jacob’s father, goes to Gerer in the land of the Philistines ruled by King Abimelech! 
But Isaac turns that around and farms the land and becomes a very wealthy man but the King wasn’t so happy so Isaac and his family leave that place and go to Beersheba.  It is here that the human art of deception rears its ugly head once again. 
Jacob is not an exemplar by any stroke of the imagination.  He tricked Esau out of his birthright and on top of that Jacob and Rebekah trick Isaac into giving Jacob his final blessing another big deal like the birthright.  Twice duped out of a birthright and a blessing Esau is, understandably so, angry, and angry enough to kill his brother.
So Jacob flees as an alien to the land that he will soon be inheriting.  It is funny how, at this clear-cut moment in time God chooses to come to Jacob and confirm his status, not condemn his actions.  God knows that Jacob is the one to bear Israel’s name in spite of Jacob’s less than honorable actions. 
My how God works through the most unlikely people.  Like a two year old child trying desperately to gain independence, or an adult with dementia trying to tell you what’s on his mind, or a 12 year old dog who unconditionally loves and accepts love, God is present and real and works really hard to make God’s self known through all sorts of people and situations.  God goes into overdrive to show us this amazing love that is for our taking.  But there is more. 
Jacob up until now knows nothing of God’s presence.  He can’t hear God, feel God, see God or even notice God in his life until now.  And after dreaming about angels climbing up and down a ladder to heaven he awakes from his dream and knows for sure that he has been visited by the one and only God of Isaac and Rebekah, of Abraham and Sarah and now him.  He went from unknowing to knowing, from blindness to sighted, from ignorant to aware.   
Let’s not ‘psychologize’ and try to interpret his dream in today’s parlance.  Let’s understand that the dream was divine communication.  God came to him in his dream in this place of exile, this place where he was alone and probably very frightened since there was a bounty on his head.  God came to him even though he had unforgivingly twice tricked his brother and father to further his status in the clan’s family tree.  
He was never alone, not for a minute.  And he places a rock in the sand and anoints the rock with oil because God was surely in that place and now he knows it.  And he calls that place Beth-el which means, House of God because God sought him out and still loved him after all that he had done and then God made promises to Jacob for an abundant future.  
Now that’s my kind of God!  Two thumbs up, if I were on Facebook at the moment.  I think all of us can relate to Jacob’s story in some way – think back to a time in your life when you felt exiled and removed from everything familiar, when you woke up and thought how did I enter this scary drama where I don’t know the characters or when it’s all going to end.  Or perhaps at some point in your life you made a serious mistake that hurt yourself or someone that you dearly love. You feel unloved, and dispensable, maybe you even feel unforgiveable and despicable.

But please think again.  Our God is a compassionate, forgiving and loving God and we learn from Jacob’s story that God will seek you out when you least expect it and in the most unlikely of places.  Like Jacob, you are beloved.  

The rock structures, carin’s left around the landscapes of this world can attest to those individuals who have known and have experienced the presence of divine grace no matter where they happen to be in this awesome world or in their own little world; no matter how much luggage they carry with them.    

God loves.  God forgives.  God is present.  God is here.

 Jacob's Dream in the ancient city of Jaffa, Israel


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