SURELY THE LORD IS IN THIS PLACE
Faith In Real Life Blog
Rev. Vernon Gramling
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 21, 2022
11 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. 12 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. 13 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; 14 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. 15 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.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 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.”
18 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. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
Our curriculum has us examining various aspects of Joy. Since we believe that there can be no greater joy than God with us, it would seem logical that we would examine how the risen lord manifested his presence in the world after his crucifixion. Instead, we are in Genesis reading part of Jacob’s story. It turns out God’s message has not really changed in the two thousand or so years between Jacob and Jesus. Our understanding has certainly changed but God did not. He continues to show up in places and with people we do not expect.
To appreciate this fragment of Jacob’s story, we must understand how it was he ended up in a desolate terrain using a rock for a pillow. As the first born, if only by a few minutes, Esau was entitled to be designated as head of the household, the right to not only inherit his father’s estate but was entitled to receive a double portion of whatever was passed down. In one of the worst trades in biblical history, a very hungry Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. His short term gain cost him a huge financial loss. Then, to add insult to injury, Jacob disguised himself and tricked his nearly blind father into bestowing the paternal blessing to himself rather than the rightful recipient—Esau. So, through exploitative business practices and then through lies and deceit, Jacob had gotten the best of Esau. His victory, however, came with a cost.
Esau was murderously angry. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27:41) Realizing her son’s life was in danger, Rebekkah warned Jacob to flee until Esau’s anger abated. “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away” (Genesis 27: 42-44). She then convinced Issac to send his son to Haran to seek a wife.
This brings us to today’s reading. Jacob was escaping his brother’s wrath. He had been on the run until dark. He was in the middle of a desolate terrain and so exhausted he slept with a rock for a pillow. Though he had the legal right to the bulk of his father’s inheritance, he had no assurance he would survive long enough to claim it. (In fact, when he finally did return, he created an elaborate plan to placate Esau because he knew full well that even after a twenty year absence, his life was still at risk).
When you realize that Jacob was a self interested, conniving man who outright lied to his father, the realization that God chose him is amazing. Jcob did not qualify as an honorable man, much less as the recipient of God’s promise that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring”. If you need a reminder that God loves sinners, you need to read no further. Whenever we think we know who belongs to God, we are proving our pretentiousness. God loves as God loves and God includes who God includes. Humankind has a very difficult time giving up our categorization of people. Jesus was teaching the same point two thousand years later.
Jacob’s story is wonderful. If God can choose a man like Jacob, it means no matter what we think of ourselves, God can (and does) include us. I’m not sure there is a greater joy than trusting God’s care for us. Many of us would say what Jacob said when he awoke. When he realized God’s presence in such an unlikely place and to such an unlikely man, Jacob said: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” How awesome, how wonderful, how joyous. Anytime anyone thinks we are cut off and alone or we are not good enough, we need to be reminded that human measures are not God’s measures. Read the story of Jacob. Be amazed. Be grateful and experience the joy of a love we cannot understand.
I asked our FIRL group to describe times they discovered God in places they did not expect. How were they surprised by God? There were several stories of feeling lost and alone in a different country and discovering connection when they expected it least.
There were other stories and I found it impossible not to listen without being touched. We find help and connections when we least expect it. I’m pretty sure that is what Jacob felt when God visited.
God promised Jacob (and us): “ 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.” It was a long wait. Jacob spent twenty years away from his home. As it turns out, the trickster and manipulator was himself tricked and manipulated. And, when he finally left his uncle’s lands, he still had to deal with Esau. When Esau learned of Jacob’s return, he went to meet him—with four hundred men. This did not bode well for Jacob. But perhaps just as amazing as Jacob’s dream in the desert, the two men reconciled. Jacob was finally able to return in peace. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” (It is a good story, read it in Genesis 32 and 33)
There is great joy in these moments. Sometimes they are dramatic but they are often simple and ordinary. Be awake and alive to them.
That is what it means to practice joy. Let it be so.
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