July 19, 2020

Sunday Online Worship July 19, 2020

Passage: Genesis 28:10

July 19, 2020 Sermon

Gospel Lesson Genesis 28:10

(10) Jacob left Beer-sheba. . . He called that place Bethel.

Let us pray “Almighty God, may the meditations of our hearts and the words from my lips, be acceptable unto you, my rock and redeemer.  In Christ Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Well now, here we are.  Jacob was quite the trickster.  He had pulled the wool over Isaac’s eyes and had literally stolen the blessing that was set aside for Esau, the older of the two boys, the twins, and he had to get out of town fast.  He feared what Esau may do to him.

And in my mind’s eye, he gathered just a few things and he struck out and he had only walked one days’ worth and the sun had set and he ended up in this place.  And the place that Jacob was in his heart was an uncomfortable place, it had to have been.  What was behind him, he knew it was uncomfortable, even unsafe for him.  What lay ahead in Haran, he wasn’t sure what fortunes he would find at his uncle’s house, Laban.

He was in what he thought was a godforsaken place.  He didn’t even have a pillow to lay his head on.  And then, he pulls this rock up, I don’t know how big this rock is but, who knows, but he lays his head on it and he goes to sleep.  He is surprised, even though through this dream he encounters the divine, he encounters God and God speaks to him and makes an astounding promise to this one we know as Jacob.

This one who had tricked his brother out of his birthright and then most recently having thrown the fleece over his father’s eyes had swindled Esau’s blessing from his father and now almost as a fugitive was now on the run.  Yet God was still there, and there is something about this that transcends Jacob’s personality.  Perhaps God saw something in Jacob that he knew was redeemable and indeed that will play out a little later in this story.

But I want to stick with this idea of place, this ordinary, even uncomfortable place where Jacob found himself.  Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.  And in the most unlikely of places, God shows up and is present with him and promises to go with him, even beyond the promised land of his father and his father’s father.

Remember Abraham and the promised land.  And he goes to this place called Haran, which is also known as Mesopotamia.  There he finds a wife and you may know the rest of the story, if not, pick up your Bible this afternoon and read Genesis.  You can start with chapter 28 and read the rest of Jacob’s story.

God makes this promise, and he, also in this place, Jacob recognizes it.  He knows he’s been blessed by God’s presence and God’s promise to go with him, to watch over him, to protect him.  And so, he takes something very ordinary, this stone on which he had laid his head as a pillow, he sets it upright as a pillar, as a monument—as something to remind him of this place and he names it Bethel.

Bethel meaning “the house of God,” as a memory, as something tangible, something real to remind him of that time and to remember and acknowledge God’s promise to him.  But not just to him, but God’s presence in that place.

I want to ask you this morning, what’s your Bethel?  Where have you found Bethel in your life?  You know, there are some Bethels in the most unlikely places.  Some places that we recognize them.

When I was a boy, and I was in boy scouting, one of my service projects, and I started this when I was 13 years old, with my twin brother, I didn’t cheat him out of any birthrights or anything by the way.  I want to make that clear.  Randy and I would, every Thursday afternoon after school and even through the summer, we would show up at church and the bulletins would be prepared and the secretary would set them in the choir room and there was a table in the choir room and actually the choir room wasn’t where the choir rehearsed, it was where the robes were and there was a couch in there and a chair and a desk and whatnot.

Randy and I would sit at that table and we would fold the bulletins.  We did this right up until we went to college.  One day when I was in high school, Randy wasn’t there that day, I don’t remember exactly the circumstances around it, but when we would get the bulletins folded, we would take them out and set them by the doors in the sanctuary where the ushers could hand them out to the people as they came in.  And this one day after setting the bulletins out for the ushers at the entrances, it was a beautiful spring day and I was alone in the sanctuary, and it was so quiet, and I sat in the pew, and I just had a sense that came over me and I thought, surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Many of us have had that same kind of experience.  There was a woman on my first appointment whose name was Wanda.  Wanda has gone on to join the saints now.  I would often visit her and at her kitchen table there was always a copy of the Upper Room.  It had a special place on her kitchen table.  Every morning Wanda would have her morning coffee, her Upper Room reading, her Bible, and the Lord.  In that little kitchen in that little house, that sat up on the mountain, surely the Lord was in that place.

When I worked for the railroad and I was a trainee, I got to ride on the head end of a locomotive out of Russell, Kentucky, down through the Big Sandy, going through Louisa and almost all the way into Elkhorn City but not quite, which is in Eastern Kentucky.

The locomotive engineer was quite a man, kind of a legend, he grew up on the trains and had been engineering from the time he was 17 years old.  When he turned 17, it was 1943 and coal was running heavy through eastern Kentucky to help the war effort of WWII.  He was an amazing guy.  He loved his job.  His daddy had been a locomotive engineer and he had started out in steam and now was running those diesel electric locomotives.

He had a huge sack of candy in the operating cab of that locomotive and myself and the other boy who was a trainee, we were just boys then.  We came along and in eastern Kentucky you know, it’s so narrow in some of those places you’ve got the railroad tracks and a house and sometimes the tracks went right behind houses and he said “Boys, right up around this next bend, there’s a group of houses and on that first house there will be a little girl there on a porch swing and she’ll be expecting you to throw some of that hard candy out the window for her.  I’ve been doing that for years.  Her mother used to receive that candy and she’ll be waiting for it.  And we threw candy at other children as we ran along!  I don’t know if that was legal or not!  I don’t know, but it’s been so long ago that I’m sure no one cares anymore!

But I thought, what joy this man brought to his work and how he found ways to bring joy to others as he went along his journey every couple of days, up and down the Big Sandy.  Surely the presence of God was in that place.  Who knew?

I’ve had this experience and some of my friends have.  I know my friend John, who is now a retired pastor, when he looks out across a mountain stream in our beautiful mountains and sees the miracle of a brook trout, he sees and understands that that moment marks the majesty of God’s creation, one marker of it.  And John will tell me that he’s had some of his most sacred moments in conversation with the Lord while he was on a stream enjoying God’s creation and God’s gifts through nature. Surely the presence of God is in such places.

Many of us have started a new life in a new place and, in that, finding our way.  Knowing what was behind us and not sure what is going to be coming up in front of us.  We’ve had moments of doubt or despair or felt like we were sleeping on a rock and we’ve had that encounter with God and know that God is with us.  And we can get up and proclaim surely that God is in this place.

I don’t know where you find yourselves this morning.  You may be in your living room or kitchen table or desk.  You could be on your iPhone listening and it could be two or three days from now or next month.  Wherever you’re at, we have gathered together, even virtually, and at this very moment we’re seeking fellowship not just with each other, but with the Holy.  And folks, I’m here to tell you, God does not disappoint.

Through the promise of Jesus Christ, Christ told us that his followers would never be forgotten, would never be forsaken, He makes a place for us.  Not just in the future.  I believe that place is even made now for us.  Even in this uncomfortable time, that there is a place where we are in God and God is in us.

And we can proclaim those wonderful words, surely the presence of God is in this place, wherever you find yourself in this moment listening to God’s word, praying, singing—it’s all through the promise we have of God through his son, Jesus Christ and the power of his spirit.  Surely the presence of God is in this place.  In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.