Sermon July 23: The Morning After

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Faith United Methodist Church

July 23, 2017

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Prayer for Illumination (Unison):

Search us and know us, O God.  Test our hearts and know our thoughts.  See if there is any wickedness that clings to us like dew to the grass.  Search us and know us, O God.  Lead us in the way of everlasting life.  Amen. 

Sermon:  The Morning After

Do you know that feeling of waking up the morning after you’ve made a really bad mistake?  For a few seconds everything seems right with the world but then….. you remember.  You remember what you did and how it hurt the ones you love and how your life will never be quite the same because of it.  I suspect that is how Jacob felt on the morning we read about in our Scripture lesson, waking up with a stone pillow under his head.

You see, Jacob was on the run.  He was fleeing from his brother who was in a murderous rage because Jacob tricked their father and stole two of the most precious things one could – his brother’s birthright and blessing.  As the great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor put it, “…he has simply pushed his luck too far and has left town in a hurry.  He is in-between times and places, in a limbo of his own making.”

Because of his actions Jacob has become the black sheep of the family – the odd or disreputable family member who gets pushed outside the inner circle.  Jacob had always been a little bit of an outsider.  His brother Esau and his father Isaac liked the same things.  They were outdoorsmen while Jacob enjoyed being inside.  They hunted together and tended the flocks together while Jacob stayed with his mother to cook and clean.  Maybe he even longed for a better relationship with his father and brother, but didn’t how to make that happen.  Isaac and Esau probably made fun of Jacob, calling him a ‘mamma’s boy.’   And Jacob probably got fed up with it.  But what Jacob did put him firmly outside the family circle, on his own in the wilderness, running for his life.

So when Jacob, physically and emotionally weary from running, falls exhausted for what he could only expect to be a fitful night of sleep in the wilderness he took a stone for a pillow and prayed that no wild animals would come along and eat him in the dark.  Instead of a restless night of sleep, though, Jacob received a beautiful gift, a dream that assured him his place in the family of God.  Jacob was not the black sheep in God’s eyes.  In his dream there were angels traveling up and down from heaven on a ladder.  One scholar suggested that the angels came down to earth to carry the fear, the guilt and the suffering of Jacob up to heaven.  In his dream, God also spoke, “I am the Lord…. the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;… Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob, whom some have called a cheat and a scoundrel, found out that he could not flee from God.  The morning after his amazing dream Jacob took his stone pillow and used it to mark the spot where he heard God’s voice and saw the angels.  Up until this point in the story Jacob had only referred to God in relation to his father (your God).  Now Jacob experienced God himself, saying a few verses after the end of our lesson, “The Lord shall be my God…”

Jacob’s situation is not unique.  As William Holladay puts it in The Christian Century, “Some of us have never had an opportunity to be affirmed by our fathers; some of us have despised a sibling.  Many of us have cut corners to get ahead; many of us find ourselves alone in our lives.”  So I wonder if you have any stories of learning the importance of family only after leaving?  Running away from family only to run right back?  Recognizing the wisdom of mother or father or brother or sister once you are out on your own?  Returning to the faith of your family after having rejected it? ….

(Sharing stories)

Jacob stole his brother’s blessing, but found out that God freely gives blessings.  Jacob thought he was alone, but found out that God was with him.  The ancient rabbis suggested that Jacob’s very sense of alienation and disconnection led him to find God.  Out of the bleakest moments of our lives, when we feel we have messed up in the worst ways, we may discover that God is with us after all.  We may discover that there are no black sheep in Go’s family.  That’s what we call grace. 

It was 20 years ~ and multiple wives and children ~ later that Jacob returned to the land of his father, the Promised Land.  We’ll wrap up Jacob’s story next week.  Jacob’s marriage to Leah and then Rachel.  How they fled from Jacob’s uncle Laban.  Jacob’s imperfect reconciliation with his brother Esau.   Even the morning after his dream of God, Jacob remained human, as we all do, and continued to make mistakes.  Yet his dream did mark the beginning of his journey into a new way of living.  Living with a bit more grace, a bit more gratitude and a bit more trust in the God of his fathers, and himself.  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  Amen.