The Third Wednesday in Lent
Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-17
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[a] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[b] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
- Genesis 28:13 Or There beside him
- Genesis 28:14 Or will use your name and the name of your offspring in blessings (see 48:20)
Sermon: “This Pillow is Hard As a Rock”
My name is Jacob. I assume many of you have heard of me, given that my name is usually one of the most popular for babies born in your country. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why.
After all, even your Bible must admit that I’m a liar, a scoundrel, and a thief. It all started when I tricked my brother Esau into selling me his birthright for a bowl of stew. That was just the beginning.
Later, when my father Isaac lay dying, I also stole the blessing that rightfully belonged to my older brother. While Esau was out hunting wild game to fix one last meal for my father, my mother Rebekah and I went into action.
We cooked a stew using two young goats from our herd. Then, wearing Esau’s clothes, I put the hides of the goats on my exposed skin, trying to fool my blind father into thinking I was my much hairier—and much smellier―brother.
It worked like a charm. Pretty slick, huh, cheating my brother and tricking my blind father all at the same time?
The thing is, it worked so well that I had to run for my life before Esau got ahold of me. I left—alone―supposedly to find a bride among relatives in my father’s homeland. No one offered to go with me. I’d taken care of that, all right.
Was I sorry? I was sorry for myself, that’s about it. “Poor, poor, Jacob,” I said to myself. “So misunderstood, so alone. Woe is me, woe is me!”
As I lay down in the wilderness that first night, a rock for my pillow, I fell into a fitful sleep. Then I had the most remarkable dream. I saw what some of your translations call a “ladder.” The Hebrew word your Bible uses means something closer to a ramp―but, whatever.
There were angels going up and down from the bottom, which was here on earth, to the top, which climbed into God’s presence in heaven.
That would be vision enough for most people, but then the LORD stood beside me. Dream or not, I was terrified. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “All of my lying and scheming has finally caught up with me.”
I was amazed when, instead of blotting me out from the face of the earth, God blessed me instead.
“I’m the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I’ll give you and your descendants the land on which you’re lying. Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth, spreading out to the west, east, north, and south, a blessing to every family of earth. I’m with you now; I’ll protect you everywhere you go; and I’ll bring you back to this land. I won’t leave you until I’ve done all that I’ve promised.”
When I woke up, I was still alone in the wilderness. My brother was still out to get me, and rightly so. My future was at best uncertain, resting in the hands of a family that I’d never met.
Still, there was God’s promise, a blessing for me in this time and place as well as provision for my coming journey.
Trust me, I’m usually not a loss for words. This time, though, I didn’t know what to say. I did know that I’d experienced God in a powerful way. “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I didn’t know it!” I said.
Then I fearfully added, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Did that meeting instantly change in my life? Not so much, to be honest.
I first cut a deal with the LORD, promising to worship God if, and only if, God fed and clothed me, brought me home in peace, and kept me safe along the way.
That done, I went on to cheat my uncle Laban out of a fortune in cattle. Hey, he cheated me first! After I’d burned all those bridges, too, there was nowhere else to go but home.
When I heard that Esau was planning to meet me with an army 400 men, I prayed. I mean, I really prayed, maybe for the first time. I begged for my life as well as for the lives of my family. Just to be on the safe side, though, I sent my family ahead of me, along with a massive bribe for my brother.
Hey, all it took last time was a bowl of stew!
Late that night, alone in the wilderness once more, I met God again, this time as a stranger with whom I wrestled. At the end of the evening, I limped away with a dislocated hip, another blessing, and a new name. I was now, God said, Israel, “the one who strives with God.”
I kept on striving, my own sons later deceiving me as I had Isaac. That’s another story, though.
The thing is, we all strive with God, each of us in our own way. Places like the one I remembered with my stone pillow mark the sites of those struggles, all of them mile posts on the long journey of faith.
And that’s the point, you see. We can’t lock God away in one place or in one people or in one time. God’s promises to me were for the journey, all of it. We meet God along life’s path. Just how we each one do that―that you’ll have to discover for yourselves.
God saved God’s most powerful promise to me for last. “I won’t leave you until I’ve done what I promised you.”
As you make your way through these days of Lent, you mark the fulfillment of that promise in what you call the incarnation. In my descendent, Jesus, son of Joseph, God’s very being took on flesh among you.
You celebrate his continuing presence in broken bread and out-poured wine, in water dripping down the forehead of an infant, or in dusty ashes spilling down, tickling your nose.
You see, we can trust God to fulfill God’s promises. Can you say the same thing about your promises to God?
Don’t make the mistake of locking God away in this sanctuary, or in one hour of one day spent in worship.
Where is God present in your lives without your knowing it?
Who are the people through whom God speaks, the situations in which God acts?
Some you will recognize. Others will suddenly burst in upon you, catching you, as they caught me, unawares.
My advice is to grab a rock, take a nap, and see what happens. One thing’s for sure, you’ll be surprised—and forever changed.