Sermon text: Genesis 28: 10-19a
I want to take you back eight years to the summer of 2012. I had just completed seminary, which was a good thing, but my situation was somewhat undesirable. First, the congregation the bishop matched me with was not fully prepared to take on a new pastor, and I decided to withdraw from the call process. That was a big blow and it did not feel great at the time, especially since there were no immediate calls available in the area and the countdown clock on my student loan repayment was ticking.
Second, I was living at Camp Sequanota in a cabin called Women’s Faculty. As many of you know, I absolutely love camp, but now I was living with my spouse and two cats and half of everything we owned crammed into this positively dilapidated cabin. By the end of the summer everyt overhead light had shorted out and gone bad, the plumbing was leaking to the point where we had to use the main shut off valve to control the water…and that was leaking, and there were mice and chipmunks and God knows what else living in the ceiling, driving the poor cats crazy.
Third, that summer, leadership at camp was falling apart and I was constantly at odds with the program director, who had been a dear friend. I was desperately trying to help, but as a permanent volunteer with no position I was continuously cast aside, ignored, and thrust into undesirable circumstances. It was tense and awkward and made for a horrible summer.
I was pretty miserable that summer with all of the temporary problems. All I wanted to do was run away, but I didn’t have anywhere to go and I certainly didn’t have much money to pay for an escape.
Instead of running away from my problems by getting into a car and never looking back, I took to the woods and trails of camp. I ran away a hundred times in the forest, attempting to forget my problems. I took my short-time friend with me, a yellow, two-headed ax. The two of us went traipsing the woods, clearing trails and cutting through fallen logs or chopping down dangerous, dead, overhanging trees. I chopped through 11 trees that summer with that ax. Sweat pouring, blisters burning, heart pounding, my arms exhausted, and feeling like lead. It was wonderful, but it was only a temporary fix. No matter how hard I tried to get away, or swing away, cut away, the problems all remained when I came back to main camp.
Fortunately I was in a holy place, I place where I could commune and connect with God and gain solace and understanding for my problems.
Jacob is running away in our lesson today. He is on the run because of the choices he’s made concerning his brother Esau. First, he tricked Esau out of the family wealth—the birthright. Then he tricked him out of the family promise from God—the blessing of family and land. Esau is furious with Jacob and wants to kill him so their mother tells Jacob to go north, get out of Dodge, and stay with you uncle until this whole thing blows over.
But now, on the run, we see that Jacob isn’t simply a man wanted by Esau. He is also wanted by God, which is the ultimate “you can run but you can’t hide” scenario. Jacob began on what was a physical journey, but now this has become a spiritual journey too.
I suspect that many of us are on the run, or have been on the run at some point in our lives. We are all fugitives at one time or another, even if we are not be fugitives of the law, or of a twin brother who wants vengeance. Perhaps we are running away from our past, or guilt, or regret, or shame, or failures and disappointment. Maybe we want to escape pain and loss and brokenness. Sometimes we just want to leave the parts of ourselves we dislike behind and in the dust.
Or, perhaps, we are running into the future, in the hopes of securing something new. A job. An education. A place to call home. A relationship. A group of friends. A quest for answers.
Certainly we can remember life before Covid-19. Life that was on the run with horribly busy and chaotic schedules. The endless to-do lists. The expectations and demands that chase us and put us on the run.
We all have a story to tell about life on the run. We are all Jacob in our own way, caught in between Beer-Sheba and Haran, which is much more a spiritual place than a physical destination. It’s that place where we ask the honest questions of “Who am I?” or “What am I doing here?” It’s when life is stuck in a doorway, in a liminal moment, when you are neither here nor there. It’s uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable. And that’s alright, because in those moments God comes to us.
Behold Jacob’s ladder. This dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven. The image could be of a ladder, or of a great set of stairs like a ziggurat—the great pyramids of Mesopotamia—like the tower of Babel. In this vision we have the reverse of the Tower of Babel story. Humans aren’t trying to climb their way up to heaven. But, as we again and again in scripture with Jesus, the Day of Pentecost, and the visions in Revelation, God comes to earth. God takes the first step to establish a relationship.
That’s the moment of grace we receive from God. When we are on the run, God comes to us. When we are afraid of the past or the future, come comes to us. When we are lost in the middle, God comes to us. Even when we’ve been scoundrels like Jacob, God comes to us. There’s no where we can hide, for this ladder, comes from heaven and intersects the path to wherever we are headed.
This dream of Jacob reveals an important truth: heaven and earth, the divine and the ordinary, the created and the uncreated…it’s all connected. Once again, this is much more a spiritual story than it is a physical one. God reveals to us a ladder of connection, a ladder of love, a ladder of compassion and grace that plops down into our messy lives.
When he wakes up Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Throughout our lives, even when we are fugitives and on the run, may we have the spiritual sight to know and see God’s presence. No matter where we run, no matter how hard we hide, this ladder from heaven will connect with us and Jacob’s words will be our own. Surely, the Lord is in this place. Surely, the Lord is with us. Amen