Genesis 28:10-19; 32:22-31
The earth, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 24, and indeed the whole of creation is holy & sacred, because it is all within the embrace of God. The fact that we don’t always see it as such is NOT because it’s not true, but because of how we allow our circumstances/ our habits to blind us to it!
I’m currently being blessed by Barbara Brown Taylor’s book ‘An Altar in the World’ – a very timely and prophetic read for where we currently are – I’m drawing freely from it today.
It’s true that people, everywhere, are yearning for more, and whether aware of it or not, that yearning is for more of God. Of course we may not always call it ‘God’ preferring to describe it is a yearning for meaning, for truth, for purpose, substance, authenticity… But there it is: It’s a longing for something deeper, holier, something more sacred… …something that goes to the heart of things – that will kind of bring it all together for us…
We may sense it in art as we admire something of beauty. Or in nature. We may glimpse it or in some act of respectful kindness, or of some particular courage as someone is moved to step back for the sake of another. We may even sense it in times of grieving perhaps: those times our hearts are breaking after the death of a loved one and we find ourselves leaning hard into the hope of something more… And as we sense it, we know we want more of it.
The tragedy is that we as the Church’ – whose main purpose is to address that – have so often just got in the way! And so there are the yoga weekends, the Himalayan retreats, the mission trips to far away countries, the exploration of other religions, beautiful honest effort to reach out, to reach beyond – this longing which is not always being met within our church structures.
Has that been your experience? Is it your experience? If not you, perhaps it’s your children’s experience? Or their children? Even for those of us who do still SO love the traditional church – what about now when (with Covid-19) our familiar structures are being so severely curtailed? Just where is God, where do we to go for more awareness of holy sacredness?
Barbara Brown Taylor wonders to what extent it’s true that one of the main reasons we can’t see that elusive red X that marks God’s spot is because we are standing on it? That’s reminds me of what Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once said, something to the effect of: if we can’t know God and all the holiness of God right where we are we should not try looking elsewhere because God is everywhere, and if we can’t find God here we won’t find God anywhere…[i]
Here, then, is this golden nugget of our faith: It’s as we become fully alive in Jesus Christ so we get to embrace our Oneness with God and with all of what is created. ONE! It’s the realization of my most fully restored humanity that allows an awareness of how there is no way to God other than by my embracing of who I really am/ where I really am: real life, in this, the real world!
Which brings us to the first of our two readings today, from Gen.28:10-19 Jacob really wasn’t a very nice person. His name means ‘fixer’ or ‘deceiver’ and it’s entirely appropriate because that’s just what he was – it’s all there in scripture: how he and his mom Rachel colluded to steal his brother’s birthright.
They were twins but because Esau was born first, it was he who was to receive their father Isaac’s blessing. But Rachel had always favoured Jacob. Esau was big and hairy, powerful, impulsive, while Jacob was fairer and smaller, like her. Also, deliberate. Conniving. When Esau learnt of how he had been tricked he was furious, threatening to kill Jacob, who ran away.
…that night Jacob had that dream of an opening between heaven and earth and a staircase, with angels going up and coming down. And God right there with him, blessing him, despite how unworthy he had been. Jacob woke up. Deeply moved, and realizing now how there truly was no separation between God and creation, he anointed the very ordinary stone on which he’d been sleeping, marking it as ‘Bethel’ – the place of God. He meant it to be a sign reminding us of how God is right here where we are and everywhere.
HE WAS GIVEN TO SEE WHAT MOST OF US MISS: That God is not just to be associated with religious building or practices – but with everything! ALL OF THIS IS BETHEL – THE PLACE OF GOD! Surely that’s the whole reason why we have churches in the first place, not to try to confine God to just us, but to be used by God to remind us/ to point us to the sacredness of God everywhere. That’s the real goal of worship: ‘Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus’
Don’t you love for how many 100s of years God was actually quite happy to have holiness marked by a tent of nomadic meeting. A tent: mobile – here, then there, then there etc as opposed to being confined to the static walls and roofs that we erect!
I think that’s something of what COVID-19 is forcing us to acknowledge! With the doors of our buildings now largely closed, and so much of the religious God-activity that we know and love severely curtailed, we are being forced to engaging other ways of addressing our need for the ‘more’ authentic and Godly truth for which we all yearn. It was a mistake for us to associate our encounter with holiness so exclusively with the hour or two that happens in worship on Sundays! For too long we, the church, have been allowed to imply that we are somehow primarily where God is to be found and that it’s up to us to convert the whole lost world to become like us. God is LIFE! LOVE! HOPE! And God is everywhere, and wants to be known as we embrace and live that truth, everywhere…
That’s what St Francis of Assisi taught 900 years ago: God is in faithful people yes, but also in all people, as well as in whales, & goats, and (kata Mt.6 and Ps 98) in the flowers of the fields so beautifully dressed [ii], as well as mountains that sing praises and trees that clap their hands [iii].
But what when our life circumstances make it REALLY difficult for us to see that? Perhaps it’s our wealth or our successes that has distracted us – blocked our view. Or perhaps it’s our struggles: …you know, when the medical diagnoses are bad, when the money dries up, relationships sour…? What when this COVID-19 isolation begins to suffocate us?
Our circumstances so easily eclipse our vision, steal our joy/ darken our emotions?
…and we lose that sense of all things within the sanctity of holiness…
That’s clearly something of what Jacob was experiencing in our second reading today – as he was about to meet his brother Esau whom he had cheated so badly – remember? He was terrified! This brother who was so much more powerful than him: the same one who had previously threatened to kill him…
Our second reading is Genesis 32:22 – 30 This was Jacob experiencing the best of himself encountering the worst of himself – you know, when ‘a man’ began wrestling with him’.
Some suggest that this was actually a profoundly inward struggle – that Jacob was forced in his isolation to confront whatever turmoil was going on inside – his worst ego self wrestling with his best ‘called-by-God’ self – and that in the facing of this inner stuff, he was given to be wrestling with God!
And so, bringing our two readings together today: it seems that they’re suggesting that
- It’s as Jacob was willing – for the first time in his life, probably – to face the hard work of true-self-discovery – that he comes to be named ‘Israel’
- Our wrestling with God is our being willing to deal with whatever stops us from embracing our best selves & being able to appreciate BETHEL:
God’s holiness all around us! The opportunity we as the church now have, is to take this time to address with whatever confused religious agendas we may have developed over the years and to come back to simply bearing witness to the holiness of all of what actually is!
Thank God for this love that will not let us go![iv] Thank God for the holiness of God’s love that holds us and all of creation, despite the worst of ourselves…
We are not the containers of God and God’s work, but the reflectors of what actually always was/is/and shall forever be! God everywhere!
How aware are you of God’s Christ-revealed holiness all around you, and even within you?
How aware are you of the spot on which your life is currently standing?
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[i] Both quotations probably not exact as paraphrased from memory
[ii] Matthew 6:28
[iii] Psalm 98:8
[iv] Romans 8:35,38,39