by Rev. Jane Courtright
Genesis 25:19-34, 28:10-22
I don’t spend every day talking to people
who have just received messages from God!
Divine communication is not a common thing
(at least, not a reported thing!)
After all, this is the modern world!
Sure, we do hear many voices –
and we receive a seemingly infinite number of messages.
But, most of the voices we hear
come to us through our cell phones, the internet, Facebook,
streaming, cable, podcasts & more.
Today’s Hebrew Scripture readings tell us about a man
who DID receive a message from God!
But first, in our readings,
we meet that little twin brother, Jacob.
We discover that he’s a bit of an upstart!
The name Jacob means ‘heel’ or ‘Grabber,’
referring to the fact that Jacob was born grasping on
to the heel of his older twin Esau.
Jacob isn’t called ‘Grabber’ for that reason alone.
Since that day when he tricked poor Esau out of his birthright,
Jacob has been busy with even more schemes.
With his poor father nearly blind and on his death bed,
Jacob dressed up so that he’d FEEL to his father
like his hairy twin Esau.
He duped his father into giving HIM Esau’s blessing….
grabbing every cent of the inheritance
that SHOULD have gone to his brother!
And THAT’S the way that so far,
Jacob has made his way in the world…by hook or crook…
liking nothing better than to put one over on poor, Esau.
I told you, Jacob wasn’t named the ‘Grabber’ for nothing.
In fact, Jacob WAS quite a HEEL!
After being cheated of his birthright AND blessing, Esau says,
“After Dad’s funeral, I’m going to kill this little swindler.
You kind of can’t blame Easu for FEELING this way!
Luckily enough for Jacob,
his mother Rebekah warns him of Esau’s plan,
and Jacob gets out of Dodge just in time,
slipping out the back door of the funeral home…so to speak!
He is now a fugitive, an outlaw on the lam.
He had wanted, more than anything,
to inherit the old man’s estate….to have it ALL….
including his brother’s share.
Now, look at Jacob,
out there somewhere between Beersheba and Haran,
which is to say, NOWHERE!
Without family protection or support, BANISHED!
In the play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare tells us what THAT means:
Ha, banishment! Be merciful, say ‘death;’
for exile hath more terror in his look,
much more than death.
Do not say ‘banishment.’
Banished is death mis-termed;
Then cut off my head with a golden axe,
and smilest upon the stroke that murders me.”
Alone, vulnerable, NOWHERE.
That’s where we meet Jacob this morning.
It is night, a time when wild beasts and dark fears wander.
And Jacob gets ready for bed with nothing
but a stone for his pillow and protection.
The sleep of an exiled person is a restless sleep.
Between nowhere & no place. Between a rock & a hard place.
Have you ever slept, like Jacob, far from home…
away from your own familiar pillow?
Your first overnight at a relative’s house, or in an army barrack,
a dorm room, a strange motel?
Feeling like you were somewhere between
Timbuktu and Kingdom come?
JACOB’S STORY IS A STORY ABOUT THAT.
Jacob, with his defense down.
Now, NOT the striver, the grabber, the conniver…
but instead the naked, defenseless one…alone in the night.
So, Jacob sleeps….tosses and turns and dreams.
And WHAT a dream he has!
Sigmund Freud who first noted
that one of the functions of dreams
is to replay past events in our lives,
especially really painful events.
They tend to bubble up in our subconscious as we sleep.
Now, it that is true,
then what a dream Jacob SHOULD have had!
There were enough colorful, wretched memories
in HIS subconscious to make a movie with several sequels!
But, let’s remember, this IS JACOB.
Do you think he ever had regret over the way
he tricked his old man?
Or guilt for how he has bamboozled his twin brother?
DON’T COUNT ON IT!
But Jacob DOES sleep restlessly &has a spectacular dream:
Jacob dreams of a great ladder or maybe more accurately,
a great stairway.
Several years ago,
at a place about 25 miles northeast of Bethel,
archeologists discovered the remains of a stairway
leading from the city down to its source of water.
The stairway was clearly divided
in order to separate the traffic
going UP the stairway form the traffic going DOWN.
It’s most likely that Jacob dreamed of a stairway
such as this one.
At any rate, in Jacob’s dream, a great ladder or stairway
is thrown down from heaven right to where Jacob sleeps. “
And the angels of God
were ascending and descending on it!
Angels are messengers from God.
&they were going UP & DOWN.
It WAS a 2 way staircase.
These messengers are not only carrying messages
from earth to heaven, but also from heaven to earth.
DREAMS. Have you watched lately
that rereleased childhood film,
Walt Disney’s ‘Cinderella?’ In that movie,
Cinderella said it well:
“A dream is what your heart wishes
when you are fast asleep.”
If that is true, then even our best dreams
are only exaggerations of our best wishes.
Dreams in which we yearn for things to turn out the way
WE want them to turn out…OUR WAY, OUR DREAM.
We can hope to accomplish our own dreams,
but not to be transformed by them
in the way that God can transform.
Now, Jacob had already had
his OWN dreams or magnified wishes:
A dream that would inherit & run the family business,
and that his big brother Esau would be HIS gopher.
Likely, Jacob had been sending that message TO heaven
for a long time: “God, make me, give me, get me.
It’s the American dream: each of us knows it well:
Give me, make me, got me.
But remember, angels or messengers from God
were also coming DOWN that staircase.
God has a message FOR Jacob.
& God won’t let Jacob go until Jacob is changed, transformed.
You see, Jacob may be a dreamer, but SO IS GOD!
It does take quite a while for Jacob’s dream to come true.
Jacob wakes up and after God promises in the dream
to always be with him, and to bless his descendants,
what does Jacob say to God?”
“OK, God, if you will clothe me, feed me & take care of me –
if you’ll give me land, I’ll LET you be my God.”
Can you believe this guy?!
Is there NO limit to his grabbiness?!
Well, we’ll see. For Jacob,
there will be another lonely night beside a dark river,
when he’ll be confronted not by dreams of angels,
but the iron grip of God determined to use Jacob,
to transform him, for purposes other than Jacob’s .
But we’ll hear that story a couple of weeks from now.
FOR TODAY’S STORY, let’s notice that the old song
we just shared doesn’t tell the whole story:
“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
every round goes higher, higher.” NO!!!
Again, let’s remember that ladder or staircase
is a 2-WAY street!
You probably came to church this morning because
you want to reach out to God.
But this story says that God
is also busy reaching out to YOU!
No matter where you are…
maybe especially in a dark, lonely,
strange, nowhere place, late at night….
no matter where you are, you will get a message:
‘I am with you, I will keep you, I will bring you home.”
And then, like Jacob, lots of us,
whether confronted by signs from God or
beat up by events in our own lives…
will find ourselves bargaining with God. WHY?
Because we want God with us,
but we also want to know what lies ahead in our paths.
We want GOD & SECURITY!
We want GOD & A HAPPY ENDING.
The message from God to us in this story of Jacob
is that God understands why we bargain,
& stays with us regardless.
God has higher dreams…purposes for Us
that WE CAN dream.
The Force of God is with us! Amen.