10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He 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.
12And 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. 13And 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; 14and 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. 15Know 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."
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place-—and I did not know it!" 17And 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." 18So 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. 19He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz.
Prayer – Psalm 86:11-17
Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.
O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set thee before them. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid. Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me. KJV
We've had disturbing news about COVID-19 continuing to spread across the USA, with hotspots especially where people haven't been taking precautions of wearing masks and staying six feet apart. Our short worship videos have been wonderful and will be great to have in the eternal archives; checking out what churches around the world are up to has been a gift, but real-life in-person gatherings will be so much better.
Today's First Reading
We're in the first book of the 66 that comprise the Good Book: Genesis, about origins or beginnings. Today's Jacob episode comes midway in his very long story, after he deceived his father Isaac to steal his brother's birthright, a while before he reached his uncle's place in Haran and married Leah and Rachel, a few chapters earlier than the wrestling match that dislocated his hip, caused God to change Jacob's name to Israel. You may remember Jacob as father of the twelve tribes of Israel?!
This is one of several dreams so life-transforming they got into the annals of scripture.
• What other dreams and dreamers in either Old Testament or New Testament do you remember? Do you have a favorite?
Places in this passage include Beersheba that means well of the oath because legend says Abraham dug the well after he and Abimelech made a pact or agreement (Genesis 21:31). Isaac also called the well Beersheba (Genesis 26:31-33). Jacob is on the way to Haran, a place name that means "parched." After experiencing the wondrous presence of God where he slept, Jacob calls it Beth-El, "house of God." The place name Luz that probably refers to an almond tree also is the same as the familiar Spanish word for light!
When we talk about and act upon God's call for us to do God's work with our hands we are being soooo scripturally authentic! We can trace God's charge to humanity for stewardship and care back to Adam and Eve; Jesus promised we'd do even greater works than he did! Most likely I speak for everyone when I say how satisfying helping people can be. As the pandemic continues, everyone appreciates and prays for frontline essential workers whether at a medical or care facility, supermarket, fire or police, to name a scant handful.
Jacob "…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." When he recruited Nathaniel, jesus said, "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man/ Human One." (John 1:51) In Jesus of Nazareth, God is here with us at the bottom of the ladder, walking among us and with us, clothed in the vulnerability of our humanity, in a body that's subject to woundedness, death, and decay. In Jesus, God lets down a ladder and comes to us. As the King James Version of today's psalm sings, "thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me." God especially comes to us in of Jesus, the ultimate Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Just as for Jacob – and for Nathaniel – God is here with us; God wants to bless us and God will bless us. This story is about Jacob; it's about us as the contemporary people of God, but mostly it is about God who is with us unbeckoned, unmediated, in spite of everything we've done (we probably haven't been as outrageous as Jacob). We often call this narrative "Jacob's Dream." Even more than the inspired biblical writers, we know sleeping and dreaming are different overall conditions than our waking hours.
Often we meet Jesus face to face in those acts of service and compassion. In our actions, people frequently encounter Jesus face-to-face. And it's not about being human doings rather than human beings; it's about living the way God calls and enables us to live.
Back to Jacob at Bethel
Jacob's sleeping dream when he heard God's promise of land, descendants, blessings to all, and constant protection made him especially aware of God still being with him after he woke up—so much so that Jacob declared it was Beth-El, house of the Lord. Last week I asked where in nature you especially sense God.
• For this week, outside of times you meet God face-to-face in another human, where can you simply be, and know you are in a holy place, in God's house?
• Where do you ordinarily most expect God to show up?
• Do you expect to meet God in your dreams?
Maybe you know the African-American spiritual "We are climbing Jacob's Ladder?" There's another Jacob's ladder song with much better theology and a tune's that's a lot more fun—though a little harder to sing. Some readers of this blog may know it; I'll add the music to the tune when my image hosting starts working again.
1 As Jacob with travel was weary one day,
at night on a stone for a pillow he lay;
he saw in a vision a ladder so high,
that its foot was on earth and its top in the sky:
Alleluia to Jesus, who died on the tree
and has raised up a ladder of mercy for me,
and has raised up a ladder of mercy for me.
2 The ladder is long, it is strong and well-made,
has stood hundreds of years and is not yet decayed;
many millions have climbed it and reached Zion's hill,
many millions by faith now are climbing it still: [Refrain]
3 Come, let us ascend! All may climb it who will,
for the angels of Jacob are guarding it still;
and remember, each step that by faith we pass o'er,
many prophets and martyrs have trod it before: [Refrain]
4 And when we arrive at the haven of rest,
we shall hear the glad words, "Come to me all the blest,
here are regions of light, here are mansions of bliss."
Who would not want to climb such a ladder as this. [Refrain]
tune: Jacob's Ladder or Jacob's Vision